Growing up Geek: Dave Altavilla

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 the Editor in Chief of HotHardware, Dave Altavilla.

Growing up on Cape Cod, Massachusetts has its pluses and minuses. Certainly, in the summer time, being so close to the seaside made for fantastic boyhood memories at the beach, but in the off season you need to find ways to keep yourself busy. My fascination with technology and computers began with an Atari 2600. Then it was called a "Video Computer System," but now we all know better. That joystick marked it much more akin to a console, but don't hold that against me. Regardless, many hours were logged in on the Atari in scenic South Yarmouth, at least when it wasn't a beach day or if Dad wasn't heading down to the harbor.

If you've ever watched Discovery's "Deadliest Catch" (and who hasn't?), that was pretty much the life my Dad led, at least for a decade or so. Though he was a stone and brick mason by trade, being a Capey (as we affectionately like to call ourselves, but you can't...) Dad got bitten by the fishing bug. He was a Lobsterman for about ten years, probably the best ten of my boyhood. On weekends and summer days off from school, I would go with Dad to the Saquatucket Harbor in Harwich, MA. Sure, I played some ball and whatnot around the neighborhood like the other kids did, but at "Satchweetucket," as Dad like to call it, that's where the magic was. Dad would work on his boat, a 55 footer or so, with a crew of up to three sometimes, and I would explore. I made my own fish stories. The scup, fluke, dogfish and eels weren't safe. And in between fishing there was all sorts of trouble to get into, not to mention colorful people and other fishermen to meet around the docks.

For Dad it was a tough, gritty gig, but he loved it. I went on a few trips with him when the waters were mostly calm. I have been out in ten foot seas. Even on a 55 foot boat, you get slammed around like a pinball. Somehow I figured out how not to barf continuously. He navigated 50 footers and survived, just barely, more than once. If there was ever a lesson I learned from Dad, it was about toughing it out and "building character," as he liked to call it. And from my saint-like mother, I learned tolerance and acceptance, as she stayed home taking care of me and my two sisters, with an Italian mother's love and home cooking.

The masonry and construction work I helped Dad with was also back-breaking of course. Going up a ladder with a 100 pound chimney flue on my shoulder when it was 95°F in the shade, he'd say "that's why you're going to college, right?" You bet my tired, ragged ass I was.

I went to Fitchburg State College. It wasn't Harvard or MIT, but hey, we were working-class folks and school at the time was a bit tedious to me. Fitchburg State had three primary solid programs back then, Business, Nursing and Communications. Though I was a Business major (zzzz... where is the keg party tonight?), I hung around with a lot of the Communications types and had a good job at the college radio station as an afternoon DJ. 91.3FM – WXPL – "pray for waves." It was the thick of the 80s. Depeche Mode, New Order, Gang of Four – all the good stuff. Oh, and I was Class President all four years that I attended, though I ran unopposed for two of them. I wasn't much of a politician and frankly I think most of us were more concerned about when or where the next party was anyway.

Regardless, little did I know that my Communications experience back then, though my degree was in Business, would help me so much later on in life. Out of college I was fortunate enough to land a job from an ad I answered in the Boston Globe 'Help Wanted' section. I spent the next 17+ years in the semiconductor industry in various sales roles and that's when the tech bug bit me as hard as fishing got a hold of Dad. I built my first computer sometime around the early 90s. It was a 486DX-33. Yeah baby. I can't recall what the hard drive size was but it was probably around a couple of GBs, with 16MB of RAM . It was the pre-Pentium era. I had a Vesa Local Bus video card in there (Tseng Labs?) and my favorite games were Wing Commander from Origin and F15-E Stike Eagle from Microprose.

We had 14.4K modems as I recall, and I played co-op missions with a buddy of mine over that modem, if you can believe that. There was no internet back then, but gaming kept us connected. We even had in-game chat. Pure sweetness. There was no turning back from there. I educated myself about computers, intimately, from a hardware point of view, so much so that it was becoming a costly hobby with each new generation of technology and the inevitable upgrade. At one point, a small online reseller friend of mine sent me a motherboard to look at, and then helped me setup a static HTML website that I decided to name "Hot Hardware." The vision back then was to test, evaluate and review the hottest computer hardware on the market. Slowly but steadily the business took off and I met my right hand man Marco Chiappetta, who offered to help with the testing and writing.

Dave, Marco and fabulous folks from Intel, Western Digital and Asus

Today we've greatly expanded our team of writers at, as well as our product coverage scope, but the mission is the same. We're all technology and computing enthusiasts at heart, whether on the desktop, laptop or in our pockets.

Dave Altavilla and Wallace Santos, CEO of MainGear Computers

I try to keep our small team focused on two primary goals: delivering the best site experience we can for our readers, as well as delivering the best, fair and objective product evaluations and tech analysis we can. We also like to give back to the community as well and hold monthly sweepstakes, where folks can win full gaming and multimedia PCs, just for hanging out with us and joining the conversation. Moving forward, we hope to bring folks more of the same, only bigger and better.

HotHardware's reviews and breaking news coverage has been regularly featured on Engadget. HH focuses on in-depth coverage with just the right amount of technical detail for the die-hard geek, but not so much that the mainstream enthusiast is left slack-jawed and drooling. Dave is also one of the geeks that host the weekly "Two and a Half Geeks" webcast at HotHardware, along with Marco Chiappetta and Iyaz Aktar.