I wrote this in 2004. July 7, 2004, to be exact, as a part of one of my many attempts to soul search for who I am. It was then called “Dissertations on Geekdom”, in some attempt at light humor and After this week, meeting, sharing with, and thinking about all the amazing people in my life, and being able to understand their impact, I’ve decided to share, unedited, the original post as an affirmation of who I am and where I was going. This week, I really think like, I’m finally 100% ok with it. And that makes me happier than I’ve ever been. Thank you all for your friendship, love, affection, and belief in me.
After looking at a lot of resumes, and sites, and trying to understand better what being a geek really means, as compared with the unabashably negative connotation of the 1980s, I figured I’d tell the four of five of you who read these pages the story of how I became a geek, why I bother blogging when noone reads this stuff, and why it is I can do what I do, and what it really means to me. As part of figuring out what I really want to accomplish with my career and my life, I’ve been sort of stricken with deeper meaning (take two haikus and call me in the morning kind of things). I’ve figured that somehow, a lot of creative people like myself turn to their blogs as a sort of catharsis – a chance to take a step back from what they do in daily life. The blog is a pretty simple concept, but at the same time much bigger than the digital bits and bytes that put them together (After all, most blogs use really simple web technologies to create content, and while Movable Type and Blogger and seemingly ideal thoughts. Blogs allow geeks to talk about how they are people, who happen to love computers, and how they aren’t that different than anyone else. Our means of expression isn’t an easel, a notebook, or a video screen (at least not usually). It’s this moving, living thing called that couldn’t have possibly been imagined when Tim Berners-Lee invented the WorldWideWeb application back in 1990, and when BB&N connected with Stanford University over the “Internetworking” of computers in the 1960s. The answers are both simple, and complex. It starts with the fact that for me, computers were a way out.
It all started sometime back in the late 1980s. My brother’s computer progression left me with his leavebehinds every so often. It was a CoCo 2 with a cassette recorder that allowed us to play Sands of Time, or a VIC 20 and it’s funky character sets that provided an escape, and a future to a family of good working class people, who didn’t really do much of anything substantial in life, because of the combination of bad luck and few opportunities.
My father served this country in Vietnam, and came home to a job at New York Telephone (NYNEX->Bell Atlantic->Verizon), when it was still possible to make a passable living with few specialized skills and no college education. He spent the latter part of his career lying the T1’s and fiber optic cable that would power the Internet as we know it today.
My mother was an aspiring nursing student, halfway through her schooling when her mother passed on, leaving her to be the alpha female of a family of 3 sisters. Most of her life from there on, she spent most her time taking care of people, to this day, never risking even the notion of egotism.
Fast forward (or commerical skip, to use slightly newer technology) back to the 1980s, and late nights with my brother introduced me to a CD player sometime in 1988, years before any of my friends had even HEARD of such a thing (that first $88 Emerson CD player lasted until I got a CD boombox system for high-school graduation in 1996), the Simpsons in 1989 (still one of my favorite vices), and the PC and online services in the early to middle 1990s.
In 1996 or so, when the Internet was still a new place, most people didn’t even know about CompuServe, Prodigy, or this relative newcomer called America Online. I had run DOS based versions of Compuserve (I think I was something like email@example.com, please thank for the ubergeek who decided that number combinations were a great way to set up email addresses), and America Online, on a IBM PS/2 4Mhz with an eyepopping 20 MEGAByte hard drive. I think it may have had 1MB of main memory, back when there was such a thing as basic memory and “extended” memory. The modem was a 9600 baud tank recycled on from my brother, who by this time, had run a Bulletin Board system, had an Amiga (years ahead of PCs at the time), used Video Toaster, which launched him very nicely into his current career (more on that later), and knew more about computers than anyone I had ever known.
Slowly, I began to connect with people online. Painfully shy for most of my childhood, talking with people over AOL and CompuServe, before the stalkers, and the perverts, and when you could get a screenname like, Lenny32, or ILikeHomer96, I met a lot of great people in the early 90s, some of whom I still talk to today. This online vehicle was finally allowing me to express myself. I didn’t quite understand it totally then, but I had found my calling.
In school, I was a pretty creative thinker. I’d write a lot of off the wall stories. I guess it was my sort of quirky side leaking through. But socially, it just didn’t happen. I didn’t know what to make of myself. I don’t really think that people knew what to make of me either. I was a geek, and didn’t really know what that meant. Technology was just starting to provide an avenue to helping to understand myself, and it all happened just when the Internet was born.
The first ISP I ever connected to has since gone by the wayside (Connect2 Internet Services on Staten Island), and with a signup there, $19.95 a month bought me a few floppy discs with a WinSock application (at this point, Windows 3.1 didn’t have such a thing available), a copy of Eudora Lite email and most importantly, Netscape 1.22. Netscape 1.22 provided my first look at the Internet, and back then, there were only a very small handful of websites (I think Yahoo! was around, Wired Magazine’s Hotwired, and very primitive versions of CNN.com), and very simple web designs (colored HTML tables and different fonts didn’t even come out until HTML version 3.0, most websites were still using 1.0 or 2.0). I used to keep a notebook of the websites I came across, because there weren’t very many. IRC provided a free way to chat with people through the ubitiquous mIRC, and there, I meant a lot more people my age, still enamored with this THING, this World Wide Web, because noone really knew what to make of it. The novelty of chatting with people all around the world never got old.
One day, I decided to take a spin at building a webpage. This was before you could get any of those instant-build-your-own- website-in-5-minutes sort of things. I did a Yahoo! search (Y! was still the preeminent search engine of the time, but it was more a directory than a search engine, Google, and search marketing were still years and years away) and found an “HTML Crash Course”, which I promptly took. It taught me HTML 3.0, and finally clinched what I’d be doing with my life. I built my first webpage sometime in High School, and while it wasn’t great by today’s UI/IA standards, it was something. And best of all, it was something that noone else had. I’d make that quantum leap to geekdom almost overnight, and I didn’t totally understand that this monkeying around with HTML would someday become a career.
That HTML experience grew into graphic design experience. That graphic design experience grew into User Interface Design experience. That UI experience grew into Information Architecture. Through my 3 1/2 years at About.com, I learned just about everything that went into a website. Servers, programming languages, application environments, graphic design, business development. I was lucky enough to have some very gracious teachers who were willing to share some of their technical skills with me. And through that, I’ve come full circle, with developed skills in just about every aspect of web development. My current job allows me pretty good opportunities to innovate at a company who is all about innovation.
But most importantly, the person beneath it all has grown too.
So, why do I blog? Because it’s in me. It’s the perfect mix of creative writing and technology. This Internet has grown with me, and I with it, and the permutations continue. After all, I’ve met great people online, and continue to, and they have helped me to become who I am today. Still geeky after all these years.
Matt, I love this post. Loved it the first time, and again with the repost.
My favorite line? “Why do I blog? Because it’s in me.”
Wonderful post, Matt! Lovely to get to know you. 🙂