This isn't some kind of overly negative statement or anything of the sort: Other than a few small HTML snippets, and possibly a PHP line or two copy pasted from various websites, I had never written a line of code, and probably couldn't have if I tried. (I did look at the guts of a Perl based AIM-bot at one point, and got confused by "$string =~ m/$1/".)
3 years ago, I was regularly hacking on LiveJournal, but not much more than that -- a few patches in Zilla, translation/internationalization support, etc. I'd written a small webcam captioning application (primarily for braindrain's amusement) and had recently started Plogs.net, the recently shut down LiveJournal alternative designed for a more professional user. (Interesting, since many people think that may be what Vox is trying to be... I don't really know.)
Plogs.net and I split ways about 5 months after it started -- not before I could implement Trackback for Plogs.net though, a feature which LiveJournal has still chosen not to replicate. I also wrote code that matches almost exactly the current 'You have posted an entry' page, right down the the bulleted list of things to do, that came about a year later on LiveJournal. (It's hardly like they 'stole' it, since it's such an obvious design I doubt anyone from LJ ever saw it on Plogs, but it still amused me.)
Jess and I met each other in person for the first time just less than 3 years ago. I was working nights for $9/hour, amazed I could make that much money doing data entry. I was about to make a road trip from Chicago -> Seattle -> Worcester->New Hampshire, and be in the White Mountains again for the first time in a long time. It was the summer of one of the first visit to the place I now consider home (the Northeast) more than I ever did the Midwest.
Two years ago, I'd done a fair amount more PHP, mostly spurred into it by my roomate, and the FOAF project. I had just started working at wedü, my first salaried job. I was a developer, with a business card that said so, for the first time ever. I was no longer a volunteer hacker for an open source project: I worked for a web design and development company. I had essentially decided to drop out of school, but I was afraid of my parents reaction, so they didn't find out for another month and a half. I got invited to speak at the FOAF conference in Galway, Ireland, and almost went but for lack of money. People cared about work I was doing in a way that I had never experienced before.
Shortly thereafter, I started working on Redlandbot/Julie, one of my more popular semantic web projects, and learned Python in doing so. I also started Python/Symbian hacking about 18 months ago, still something that has interested me off and on since then, and something that led to my presentation at Where 2.0 last week. I still get regular clickthroughs on my Symbian-Python work, and for a while, I was 'the' resource for the work I was doing, cause no one else was doing it yet. It was interesting to see the response that you get being in the mainstream for a little while.
I also got Slashdotted (thanks to idigital) regarding LJ's buyout by/sale to SixApart. I started a 'weblog' seperate from my LiveJournal entries, "Technical Ramblings", which is still relatively popular, and is (or was) read by Marc Andreesen, who hired me to work for Ning about one year ago.
After moving to Cambridge, I left wedü, and have been an itinerant hacker at various places since. I did some hacking for Sensatronics at one point, although it didn't really pan out. I worked for Ning for 6 months while doing a small amount of moonlighting for Platial on the side. For both of them I seemed to be kind of a Wunderkind: The young hacker who can do everything you throw at him and then some. After leaving Ning, I've split my time between MetaCarta and Platial, and tend to have a similar Wunderkind status, although less so at MetaCarta, which is filled with young brilliant successful people, although I don't think I've met/seen any who are the same age as me quite yet.
I got written up in Wired. (Thanks annalee!) I've been mentioned by various people as up and coming. Di-ann, my boss at Platial, was selling me so well that three people at Where 2.0 tried to buy me off from Platial. MetaCarta sales people stood by and watched as I sold the products we had worked on presenting, in something that seemed (to me) akin to amazement.
And now I realized that I've started taking for granted the fact that I'll be doing a startup at some point. No longer am I so convinced that I suck that I can't imagine why anyone would want something I have: I've come to realize that there is something I have that is unique, special, and that I've been doing an awesome job displaying that to people. I don't always have ideas first, but I seem to be regularly doing them better or faster than most other people out there, and that's got to count for a lot.
I've grown up a lot. It's happened in my personal life too, but it's been a lot longer since I've looked back and evaluated my professional life. 4 years is not a lot of time to get from where I was to being an invited speaker at the most awesome conference in my field, getting written up in a magazine, and more.