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 CNBC technology contributor, Natali Morris.
These days I spend more of my time raising geeks than growing up as one. I gave birth to my daughter just seven weeks ago, so there is little time to geek out, but the force is still there. Temporarily dormant. I am a TV journalist who specializes in geek, as a technology contributor to CNBC. I got an early start in television. I was Miss Fremont 1984. Maybe you recognize me from the parade float with Sylvester and Tweety Bird? No? Odd.
That's me on the left with my younger sister on the children's show Romper Room in 1984. Question: When we talk about my geeky childhood, do we mean that I had special geeky talents? Because I'm not sure I was a geek as much as I was a nerd. I was a rule follower. An overachiever. I always got the best grades in my science classes, had my term papers written weeks in advance, and always kept my textbooks covered with brown bag paper the way school policy required. I also had braces and headgear. And bangs. So what do you think? Geek or nerd? Or idiot?
Actually no, I didn't always follow the rules. I used to cheat on the Nintendo Power Pad by pounding on the pressure sensors with my hands instead of my feet when I was feeling lazy. I used the code to get 30 extra lives on Contra. Although is it really cheating if it is built into the game? But I digress.
I was raised in the Silicon Valley, so being interested in all things technological came easy. I didn't go out of my way to embrace technology until high school when my dad encouraged me to explore the wonders of Prodigy. He called it "an encyclopedia that you can interact with." I liked the idea and let him sign me up for a screen name. I still remember it: firstname.lastname@example.org. Catchy!
These were the days before AOL came along and let you choose your own screen name -- a novel idea at the time. I stuck with Prodigy despite the horrific email address for another several years until I got into college and my sister and I wanted to fool around in chat forums for people who loved the band Cake. (Don't ask.) We decided we needed better screen names so I called myself some variation on the word "Princess." Embarrassing to think of it now.
In college, I became increasingly interested in computers when I won a full-ride scholarship for my junior and senior year. I convinced my parents that since they weren't paying for school, they should buy me a new computer. They went for it, and I ended up ordering a custom-made PC with what I thought was a totally awesome processor: the new Intel Celeron!
I took a programming class in college and became quite good at HTML. I didn't go much further than that unfortunately, but I did fall in love with the Macintosh back in those days. Our design labs had the candy-colored Macs, and I learned programming and graphic design on them. I wasn't very good at graphic design. I can use Photoshop, but I lack imagination. I'm too left-brained.
I fell into technology reporting quite accidentally. After graduate school, I took a job at a high-tech public relations firm in San Francisco. I was rubbish at that job. I worked hard, but I couldn't bring myself to care about meticulously producing meeting notes for clients who barely read them. I left to be the business reporter for The San Francisco Examiner. I got to cover events like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates keynotes and it was then, at an RSA security conference, that I fell in love with the industry.
It was a fun ride from The Examiner to PC Magazine to TechCrunch where I lasted all of three weeks. In my defense, I worked every day of that three weeks, and only cried about once per day. It wasn't the workload that got me in the end. It was the comments. I was 27 and had skin that was not thick. Then one day Adam Curry -- AKA The Podfather -- called.
"I'm sorry, what is it you're trying to pitch me?" I said, frantic that I might be missing a story for TechCrunch before GigaOm got to it.
"I'm not trying to pitch you," Adam said. "I'm trying to hire you. To do a show. For my network. On camera."
Did not compute. I wasn't TV-ready, as far as I was concerned. I had tried an internship in TV news and I was miserable at it. I wore a pink neck-high conservative shirt that turned out to be see-through during my one and only shoot for a demo reel. I was so mortified that I never went back. Please God, let that tape be long gone!
Again, I digress.
Adam gave me an amazing opportunity to learn to present the news on camera. He was such a pro and he taught me a lot. From PodShow -- now Mevio -- I went to CNET, which became CBS Interactive. Now I cover technology for CNBC. I sometimes can't believe they let me run my mouth on television, but they do and truth be told, I do know that of which I speak. Most of the time! It's in my Silicon Valley blood after all.
I work part-time for CNBC while I am rearing little geeks in training. My son is the most iOS-proficient one-year-old the world has ever seen. Trust me on this. I'm his mother. He's a genius. My daughter is only seven weeks old but I am hoping she inherits her mother's nerdiness. I predict many "it's my turn now!" fights over what we call "pad pad" in my house once she starts swiping.
I also married a geek. This geek, actually. My poor children have no chance at escaping geekdom. It is their birthright and inheritance. Like royalty. Or bunions. Although I wouldn't mind if they were just consumer-grade geeky instead of programming-level geeky. I will probably want to put parental spyware on their electronics, after all.