Welcome to Growing Up Geek, a new feature where we take a look back at our youth and tell stories of growing up to be the nerds that we are. This week we have our very own Associate Editor, Vlad Savov.
Yes, I grew up in the monochromatic nation of Bulgaria. As geek starts go, I doubt anyone could come up with a more unlikely one than being born in a village in the southwest corner of a country known more for its sporting and culinary exports than any sort of technical expertise. That's not to say that Bulgaria was a tech backwater, but it's the sort of place where you spent more time reading about gadgets than actually using them. Fortunately for me, my mother worked in a local computer club, where the bright youth of the day would gather to use Pravetz machines -- finely crafted Bulgarian Apple II
KIRFs -- and it was a spot that I would inevitably retreat to after a thoroughly regimented school day. That's another thing about growing up in the former Communist bloc: education was intensive and rigorous, though you shouldn't let that rebelliously turned up collar in the image above fool you, I was madly in love with my studies (as any true nerd should be). Somewhere between that boy pushing buttons and tearing down floppy diskettes for fun and the current London-based cynic pumping out copy for Engadget during the American night shift, my life happened.
A frank and open discussion of my geek credentials must commence with the confession that my love for gadgets is not unconditional. I like them, don't get me wrong -- some of them I even love and the ones I own figure prominently among my most valued possessions. But I'm no Chris Ziegler
. I don't find scientific calculators alluring simply because their cold electronic hearts beat to a digital rhythm. My relationship with any device is entirely an exploitative one: it's about what you
can do for me
. I've done my part, whether in spending my carefully pinched pennies to buy that Game Boy KIRF or in putting together a lovingly constructed Athlon Thunderbird PC. What follows should be the fulfillment of the gadget's side of the bargain. Admittedly, in most cases that amounted to just turning on and staying stable while I played Tetris
, but the first precondition for my affections was that a machine would do what it claims to do. Call me crazy!
Getting back to a more chronological narrative, I'd say there wasn't much hot gadget action in my life until I jumped on a plane to London way back in 1997. It wasn't long thereafter that my techie passions were inflamed to their peak by my first encounter with the original PlayStation. Coming from a land of older-gen Nintendo KIRFs, I had no idea what this 3D graphics madness was all about, so you can imagine the adolescent wonder that befell me upon playing my first bout of Tekken 3
. I'd call it a life changer if I could pinpoint what exactly it changed for me -- gaming had already become the third cell type inhabiting my bloodstream -- but in terms of its own industry, Sony's console redefined what we could expect from modest-looking boxes stuffed with electronics. Film was no longer the most immersive format, games had grown up.
Playing about on consoles was just a diversion, however. The PC was and remains the place I feel most at home at and in 1999, I obtained my very first personal
, as in one I didn't have to share with anyone else, computer. It served as the conduit through which I first met the World Wide Web and helped me nerd out for
weeks on end with such classics as Championship Manager
, the Total War
games, and the daddy of them all, Civilization
(every one in the series). I learned what words like "theology" meant just by playing Sid Meier's classic, but for once, it wasn't just games taking up my attention. A little program named Photoshop crossed my radar in the early '00s and its expanse of tweaking, corrective and creative options has been fascinating me ever since. My interest in sports led to me joining online fan communities where young gents of my age would compete to create the most compelling desktop wallpaper featuring their favorite overpaid athlete, and many a night were spent composing such magazine-worthy collages in an unlit bedroom. Time well spent
, I'm sure you'll agree.
On a more serious note, my experience with Photoshop does illustrate the most wonderful thing about technology in my eyes: its typically multifunctional nature allows you to learn new things and develop new skills all while having fun and exploring the capabilities laid out before you. Maybe humanity was capable of doing such things before graphical user interfaces and a massively interconnected globe became the norm, but there's no denying that it's much easier today. A question like "can you fly over the top of a thunderstorm in New York on your way to Las Vegas" can be answered instead of withering away in the back of your mind. Like an extremely knowledgeable friend, the web actively stimulates curiosity, though unlike such a friend, it tends to keep its condescension in check.
So, you surmise, being a web fanboy with fingers crafty enough to know their way around a motherboard, I was a perfect fit to write for Engadget? Well, perhaps, but my working life was headed down (I use that word advisedly) a very different trajectory before the Engadget Express crashed straight into it. I had studied the social sciences for most of my academic career, culminating in a couple of law degrees, and found myself suffering the unfortunately all too common trudge that is a London office job. Few things were further from my mind at that time than attending international trade shows, McLaren supercar unveilings
, or being seated in the WiFi deadzone immediately behind Peter Chou as he unveiled HTC's latest Android phones. But now each of those things has taken place, in spite of me technically being better qualified to draft a prenuptial agreement than a mobile app worth its salt.
If there's a trite moral to be gleaned from this meandering exposition, it's that opportunities arise from strange places. You just have to be prepared to grab them and then hope that you're lucky enough to find a mentor halfway as awesome as our legendary Thomas Ricker