Welcome to Growing Up Geek, an ongoing feature where we take a look back at our youth and tell stories of growing up to be the nerds that we are. Today, we have our very own Senior HD Editor, Richard Lawler.
This picture was taken in 1985 and despite the time that's passed, the excitement I felt then holding that Atari joystick returns each and every time I plug in, boot up, or log on to find something new. Like so many other geeks of the era, the world of videogames found in reams of bootlegged games contained on Verbatim 5.25-inch floppies were early training in the value of knowing my way around computers. The initial desire to play The Last Starfighter / Solaris without needing anyone to set it up for me would years later lead to long sessions of editing .bat and .ini files to hear sound effects in Wolfenstein 3D and after that, easy work setting up and fixing computers. Still, as great as using technology is, it's nothing without spirited discussions amongst like-minded individuals and after the schoolyard debates over 8-, 16- and 32-bit console wars ended (fortunately, Sega is out of the hardware game now or I would have to recuse myself from any news or reviews) I headed online to make myself heard.
Growing up in the tech blogging hotbed of talent that was Metro Detroit (not far from our founder Peter Rojas) I was often bored in class and as a result, usually had a magazine like Game Players, GamePro, Next Generation, The Source, Popular Science or Car & Driver tucked into one of my textbooks. I've never felt like the actual act of nerding out was limited strictly to things that go bleep and bloop, and as such dived into every topic I found interesting headfirst to find out even the smallest details about it.
While the cross-section of black overclocking Quake III fans that love NASCAR is probably larger than you'd think, it's still somewhat limited but I quickly learned how to reach out and find people talking about my topics of choice. Thanks to all those magazines and the unbelievable support of my family, I had a pretty steady supply of devices to tear into and the knowledge of how to do it. I got my start on PCs with a 486DX2 powered system in the early 90s, which my stepdad and I slowly upgraded with ever growing hard drives (400MB! who could ever fill all that space?), SoundBlaster sound cards for the aforementioned iD gaming escapades, CD-ROM drives and eventually a 33.6 modem to get online.
Being able to access the internet from home -- again, that old Atari had seen some BBS action in its day -- changed everything. Thankfully, unlimited pricing options arrived soon after or else this would be the part where I tell you I ran up thousand dollar phone bills because I was hooked. I quickly realized that the web meant I could publish content right alongside the same magazines I read in my spare time, and as a result started (and abandoned) a number of websites that are probably still trapped in long-disconnected Geocities servers. Those early experiments left me decently versed in HTML however, and I quickly found my favorite, though unpaid, job in high school writing for a site called BX Boards under my alias, Rjcc. I was a fan after using one of the mainboards the site was named after to build my own Intel Celeron-based PC (300A oc'd to a mindblowing 450MHz) and somehow talked its owner, a British guy who went by Andy Drake, into letting me post daily news updates and reviews. No one was calling it blogging and without RSS feeds staying up on the latest news was a complex process, but I was writing, people were reading and that was more than enough. Around the time I got my driver's license my priorities shifted and I did what seemed like the sensible thing, following the lead of my former colleague Thomas Ricker by heading off to Ohio University intending to major in computer science. However, once I was there I discovered the only part -- other than Halloween parties -- I truly enjoyed was my work study job in IT, so I left after a year or so and put my skills to use in the job market.
While we've all taken our own winding roads to become Engadget staffers, mine hinged almost entirely on a casual decision of whether or not to purchase an HDTV when I got my own place. In late 2003, I had only seen a few actual high definition broadcasts and while the picture was sharp, the NCAA Final Four on CBS that year was constantly marred by artifacts and five years after HD had launched, it just didn't seem to be catching on. Luckily, my good friend Donnie Seals talked me into changing my order over to a Sony CRT HDTV and after quickly becoming hooked on the little HD content that was available -- oh, how I suffered through the tape-delayed 2004 Summer Olympic Games broadcast and that one advertisement that played throughout -- I eventually stumbled upon a site (then called HD Beat) that had frequent updates with the latest information. After long days spent scouring AVS Forum for information (did I really need a TV with HDCP? it seemed like Blu-ray was never going to come out) they happened to be looking for writers so the editor Kevin Tofel agreed to give me (and my podcast partner Ben Drawbaugh) a shot.
A site merger with Engadget and 6,400+ posts later, I'm right where I want to be, doing the thing I love to do the most, which is hopefully bringing accurate, useful information to people that care about it every day. Outside of an extremely late growth (and talent) spurt or an NBA decision to scrape the absolute bottom of the barrel for scab labor, it's a dream job and I take pride in it and the people I've been privileged enough to work with. Now excuse me, there's a Google translated press release about a product that's never coming out here and I must read it.
Richard Lawler is the Senior HD Editor for Engadget. He has more shoes than any one person should and is @Rjcc on Twitter where he's probably still ranting about why he won't listen to Watch The Throne.