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Growing Up Geek: Billy Steele


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 Contributing Editor, Billy Steele.

See that dapper young fellow right there? You'd never think someone dressed that goofily as a kid would grow up to be a tech blogger, now would you? It's true -- and I never thought so either -- but, as I would come to find out, my unorthodox childhood would help shape my nerd sensibilities in more ways than one. It all starts with the fact that I was raised by my grandparents, which was awesome, but usually meant that I was at least a year behind on all the popular gadgetry. This also meant that I was forced to hold on to things a bit longer, so while my friends were sportin' the N64, I was still rockin' Contra on the NES (no shame).

Let me take a step back for a moment. My first exposure to technology of any substance was a high-mileage Atari at my mom's place. She had an entire library of games, but the only two that I cared about were Frogger and Grand Prix. A couple of years later, when I obtained that coveted O.G. Nintendo, I survived on a constant diet of Excitebike, Bases Loaded and Tecmo Super Bowl. After playing until I couldn't see straight -- on several occasions as an elementary lad -- I was able to string together a handful of undefeated seasons with America's team the Dallas Cowboys. I've now taken on the plight of a Panthers' fan, but I digress.

Other watershed moments from my childhood include, for the most part, memories of my grandfather insisting on buying things used and fixing them himself. I lost count of how many lawnmowers we owned, but it seemed like each summer, we had a new-to-us model that would take two solid months to get up and running. Fortunately (or unfortunately, if you ask my grandmother), some parts of this DIY attitude rubbed off on me. And, now that I think about it, this is probably the reason why I'm still cranking out work on a 2006 iMac. As you may have guessed, most of the parts under the hood -- spare that first Intel appearance in an Apple all-in-one -- I have replaced myself or with the help of my computer nerd cousin-in-law.

During the process of all these "restoration" projects, parts would always go missing once they were removed to remedy the problem. I remember my grandpa figuring out someway to make my go-kart run, even if it meant that the engine had no original bolts in it, and could come apart at any moment. I never seemed to care, because things would always end up working... at least for a little while. He would even let me take things apart, but he knew that whatever I touched would never go back together. Thankfully, there was plenty of observation to be done as something was always in need of being fixed. Even today, I still have the itch to get my hands dirty from time to time, whether it be on a piece of tech or changing the oil in my car.

Throughout high school and college, I dabbled in the vices of my early years. My roommate and I would have some epic NCAA Football battles between chicken tender night in The Caf and Simpsons reruns. Eventually, we had to turn up the difficulty and play with teams like Akron and Central Michigan just so the computer had a chance. I think we both won national championships with those teams, which just meant we played that game way too much.

It was around this ten year period or so that I began to geek about an entirely new realm of technology: music. Starting in high school, and continuing through my college years, I was completely obsessed with playing music. At one point, I'm sure I could stand at the back of any venue and give you a full rundown of what equipment the bands were using -- not that most of my friends really cared. I remember pushing my way up against the stage on several occasions, with a bandmate in tow, just so we could nerd out over the guitarist(s) pedal boards. During those years, I was pretty much a walking Musician's Friend catalog, driving around North Carolina playing any place that would have us... and feed us a buffet of cold cuts, of course.

Around the time undergrad was coming to a close and I was moving on to graduate school, my focus shifted to all the technology surrounding graphic design. I traded in my guitar and 2 x 12 combo for the aforementioned iMac, an inkjet printer and a super crappy Kodak point-and-shoot camera (metaphorically speaking, of course). My life and my livelihood would depend on Apple products and Adobe Creative Suite from this point on. I learned just enough about digital cameras and large-format scanners to be dangerous, and by dangerous I mean crank out some pro quality graphics on an ultra-modest budget. I would have never imagined that all the hardware and peripheral knowledge that I amassed pulling all-nighters and sweating out print jobs would be super handy down the road. I'm sure glad I did though, because now I get to write about the tech that has shaped my life and share rad stuff with people who geek out over the latest printers and 4TB external HDDs just as much as I do.

No, I don't have any serious plans to replace that iMac anytime soon. It's getting a bit slower, but it hasn't let me down yet... plus, that piece of me that remembers my grandfather's DIY attitude won't shell out the coin for a new one just yet. Even though in recent years, devices like tablets and smartphones have enabled designers to interact without use of much ink, I still like to put things on paper from time to time. You can call me old fashioned or slightly behind the times, but I feel like that affinity for printed materials balances nicely with a lifestyle that is dominated by technology. But you know what? I think I'm really just a product of my grandfather's handy man apprenticeship, and being thankful for my three year old NES. Now that I'm exposed to new tech on the regular, I'm super stoked to be able to write about it and share all the geek-outs with more people than I could ever imagine.

Billy Steele usually hangs out in the twitterverse (@wmsteele) spitting commentary on a variety of topics, with the occasional shameless design self-promo thrown in. When he's not trying to convince Richard Lawler to break his "Watch the Throne" holdout, he can be found on a porch smoking a pipe, scheming how to bring Friday Night Lights back to television.

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