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March 5, 2021
By Dianira Piceno, Senior English Major
SOU alumni, Michael Kerr, graduated Summa Cum Laude Laude with a degree in English and Writing from SOU in 2009. After graduation, Kerr ventured into the writing world and has written for dozens of publications including VentureBeat, Portland Business Journal, Forbes, and the Financial Times. As of 2021, Kerr currently works for ChargePoint, where he writes thought leadership articles about electric mobility and the future of transportation. He currently lives in Corvallis, Oregon with his fiancée Jocelyn, a rambunctious dog, and two black cats. Though Kerr is often busy writing, he does take solace in uncomfortable silences.
In this guest post, Kerr writes about his journey since graduation, which has been full of pivotal moments for him. In his essay, he shares his struggles and triumphs throughout his career. He credits his education at SOU for the many opportunities that he has been very fortunate to be a part of.
The company I work for recently went public. It’s a big deal. I’m a writer for ChargePoint, one of the world’s largest electric vehicle (EV) charging networks. Listing day was a momentous occasion for the company, of course, and an important milestone on the road to a clean transportation future. It was also significant for me personally. My fiancée, Jocelyn, and I have been talking a lot about moments recently. About how, in an instant, the decisions you make can determine the course of your life, for better or worse, for years, for decades, or even forever.
Kerr and his fiancée, Jocelyn.
Looking back over the past 15 years, since before I re-enrolled at SOU in 2006 as a “mature student” who had already had a career as an entrepreneur and small business owner, there have been many such moments. I remember each one vividly. At the time my former-wife and business partner, Nikki, and I decided to sell our successful frame shop in Bend, Oregon to open an art gallery closer to family and friends in Ashland. I remember the exact moment I decided to give up management to return to school to finish my degree. I remember the moment in Kasey Mohammad’s class when I was inspired to pursue English and writing as a career.
In 2008, while enrolled in Bill Gholson’s creative nonfiction writing class, I submitted my first essay for publication in an obscure online literary journal called Prick of the Spindle. It was a long piece (with a very long title) about an unfortunate trip Nikki and I had taken to Greece with my brother, Greg, and his then ex-girlfriend. I remember hopefully checking my email, while simultaneously bracing for rejection. There was a moment of elation when I learned my story would be published. There was an even bigger celebration when it was nominated for inclusion in that year’s Best of Creative Nonfiction by W.W. Norton. It gave me the confidence to keep going.
Shortly after graduation in 2009, I got lucky and landed a gig writing short trivia pieces for a popular book series. Eventually, I realized “pay upon publication” wouldn’t pay the bills, so I decided to take the advice of every English teacher I’ve ever had: write what you know. I began cranking out articles about small business; one after another, for years. The compensation wasn’t much better than for writing funny stories, but I kept at it until I had built both a portfolio and some credibility. In 2012, I decided to try my hand at more lucrative subjects including healthcare and technology. By then, I had moved to Portland and I’d been published thousands of times.
In 2014, I still didn’t know how to turn freelancing into job security, so I reached out to a new friend who had been doing it successfully for years. Michelle agreed to meet me for coffee to discuss my dilemma. It was one of the pivotal moments of my life. She suggested I connect with a talent agency she’d used in the past. I did and, a few months later, I was offered an eight-week contract writing remotely for local tech darling, Jive Software. Then, there was another moment that, in retrospect, was so deceptively simple, yet so monumental, it would completely and profoundly alter the course of my life.
As my contract was wrapping up, I was contemplating the next thing when I discovered I’d set up my temporary Jive email address incorrectly. I’d nearly missed a message from Jive’s Content Manager, Judith Rich, inviting me to come in-house for another eight-week contract. I’m sure it wasn’t the first time Microsoft had inadvertently nearly destroyed someone’s career. That contract turned into a full-time position and a three-year run that only ended because the company was sold and the new ownership replaced the entire staff, many of whom had become like family to me. Had I not realized my earlier error, it’s likely you wouldn’t be reading this post today.
Chargepoint, the company Kerr writes for.
In late 2017, while contemplating my career options, one of my former Jive colleagues, Kim, reached out via LinkedIn to ask if I knew someone who would like to write for a growing EV charging startup in Silicon Valley. I had no idea what that was, but I was intrigued. I wrote back, “That sounds like me.” Despite the fact that ChargePoint rarely hired remote employees, I was offered a contract. I signed it the very first day I was in Corvallis looking for a place to live to be closer to the person who would eventually become my fiancée. As with Jive, that temporary job turned into a full-time position. Now, three and a half years later, that company has gone public, almost certainly ensuring my financial security for the rest of my life.
Not everyone gets to do work they love, much less for a company that shares their values and is changing the world for the better. I am so fortunate — for my experience here at SOU and for all the opportunities my education has unlocked for me. These days, I try not to take a single moment for granted. It’s easy to forget sometimes that one decision can make all the difference. But it can. They all can. And each one, strung together over and over, year after year, can make a life. And if you’re lucky, your life can even help change the world. I hope someday mine will. I’ll let you know.
Thanks to Michael Kerr, ’09 for this essay. If you have an idea you’d like to see featured on our Stories page, send it to email@example.com.