An interview with Kalan B from UO Freedom, a guy who has lost it all repeatedly and had to start over again before finding himself back where he started: Running and developing a server for the 15-year-old game, Ultima Online.
[1.] Jessi: So I hear you have a pretty interesting story. Could you tell us about it?
Kalan: Well, I started programming in high school, on graphing calculators. I used to write things like a magic eight ball script, etc. I just picked it up on my own and went to town, and it kind of grew on me. At that time, around 1999, I played Ultima Online. It was really big then. There was a big emulator called Sphere and it was run by a guy named Damien. Basically, I got interested in how Ultima worked on the back-end and started running sphere-powered servers on a dial-up connection from my home.
As time passed, my parents split up. My mother was really suicidal so I went to Las Vegas with her. It was a pretty nasty time. When I got back to GA (Georgia), I got a job at a cell phone stand in the mall, repairing cell phones and selling accessories. I got really good with customers and made manager within a year. The next year, the company bought a gas station and they moved me there for the next six years, in which time I had a child. I end up getting into drugs really heavily. I was broke and hungry, big time. The old lady and daughter moved out and left me there, and then I lost my job.
Jessi: Wow, that’s really rough.
Kalan: A couple of friends ODed (OD stands for “over dosed”) and then my house got raided. They tried to cut a deal, but things didn’t plan out. My cousin got murdered right around the same time. Shit basically spiraled out of control.
[2.] Jessi: Sounds like it. So what happened then?
Kalan: So there I was, starving, couldn’t sell drugs any more to pay rent. I lost everything due to the raid. I managed to stay out of prison and left everything behind, friends and all. And then I moved into a garden shed by my dad’s house. It had power, no heat, and I was down to 150lbs (I’m 6’2″). I stayed there for 3 months until I cleared my head and got medicated by a psychiatrist. I started to focus on ways to make money.
[3.] Jessi: What kind of work did you start doing?
Kalan: I did everything from selling poems on Ebay for a dollar up to the point where I had a clothing business started called Body Scrap where I sold lingerie and adult toys to porn stars. I got into some more tax trouble and lost all of that.
[4.] Jessi: So things were turning around?
Kalan: That’s around the time I met my wife. Throughout the next four years, my servers grew and grew up to the point where I didn’t even need a job. It was pulling in around $40k a year at that time.
THEN I got in with an Anonymous guy from Australia. He would take out my competition when they messed with me with DDOS attacks, etc. Well he ended up hacking a government agency in Australia and he got raided (the video of the raid is online). He’s still in prison. Before he went in, I got on his bad and he attacked me, completely shut down my business. He completely ruined the server, deleted backups, everything.
Kalan: So I got a job in Tennessee as a web developer. I got lucky ’cause they had clients like Sears, Kmart, PBS, RJ Reynolds, Walmart and a bunch of others. I ended up making lead developer on Craftsman.com.
THEN Sears took all their work in-house and I got laid off. Two days after that, I got the job where I’m at now. Once I started that job, I started building UO Freedom. Another developer I know in the scene started it with me and eventually left when he got a development job. So yeah, here I am now, running a server with over 11k active accounts, working my job full time and happily married.
[5.] Jessi: So you’ve done the “lost it all, started all over again” thing a few times now, eh?
Kalan: Yeah, but I’m better off now than I’ve ever been. We finally surpassed the 10k mark and working to get higher.
[6.] Jessi: Do you actually play UO now? Or is it only the server side that interests you?
Kalan: Eh, I diddle around sometimes but I mostly just develop. Running a server this big requires all of my extra time. I’m up to five employees and it’s still a boat load of work. I just released a new publish last week and already well into the next.
[7.] Jessi: What’s your favorite part of developing it?
Kalan: It’s all a big puzzle. I get all of these ideas for systems and then I put them together. And all the while, I become a better developer. I’ve got quite a following now. It’s funny. My friends joke that I’m UO famous because even if I log on any other server with my name, I get surrounded.
[8.] Jessi: Do you run any other sites, servers, etc?
Kalan: Nothing serious. I run a lot for work, but I can’t name them. We run 14 ecommerce sites, 3 video sites, and I’ve also written them two custom CMSes. I’m a beast with PHP. I do their MVC development, too…zend framework, magneto, etc.
[9.] Jessi: How about some fun questions while we’re at it? What’s something you always have in your friend? And if you were a car, what kind would you be?
Kalan: Salami and Swiss. I’ve been on a ketogenic diet for over a year and I’d be a Volkswagen. My mother is German, so it just seems right.
[10.] Jessi: Is there anything else you want to cover?
Kalan: My favorite band is Modest Mouse. And before you die, you should see the Flaming Lips live. It’ll change your life. I got to meet Jimmy Urine once, too, from Mindless Self Indulgence. He called me a gangster and signed my Newports, and then my mom threw the pack away.