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Growing Up Geek: Ben Drawbaugh

Ben Drawbaugh

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 HD Editor, Ben Drawbaugh.

Unlike many adults I knew growing up, I don't think being a kid is easy. Maybe it is for some, but growing up geek in the small hick town of Clewiston, Florida means you learn you're a geek the hard way. This story of struggle turned out great, though, and now I wear that geek badge proudly as it's no doubt the secret to my success in almost every facet of my life.

CapselaMy first realization of my future geek status was my fascination with Legos and later Capsela. My two brothers and I weren't exactly nice to our toys and when my mom noticed I actually took care of these, she continued to nurture the interest. After I followed the directions and built what was on the box, I loved to make my own creations and discover what worked and what didn't.

Unlike most other geeks I know today, I'm not a gamer, but I was in Nintendo's golden age. My mom bought me the original Nintendo and Zelda for my birthday, which totally sucked up much of my life until I was about 15; though, I haven't done much gaming since. It was one of my first passions that I geeked out on. I remember receiving the very first edition of Nintendo Power Magazine, I read it cover to cover the day it hit my mailbox. If my photography skills were as good as my gaming skills, you'd be able to see the high score in the image below.

I finished playing Final Fantasy about the same time my older brother got a car, at which time my new passion became car stereos. I transferred my subscription from Nintendo Power to Car Audio Magazine and spent my high school years designing speaker boxes and wiring up amps to speakers. I never accomplished anything truly amazing, and learned I wasn't a carpenter, but enjoyed traveling to shows and working at Circuit City selling and installing stereos while I was supposed to be going to class at Tallahassee Community College.

Still refusing to accept that I was a geek, as well as face the realities of adulthood, I sold my amps and woofers and used the money to buy an intake and header for my '88 Honda CRX SI. My best friend and I both preferred working on cars to going to class and we applied our ambitions to starting a small business -- and stopped going to class almost completely. This is when my geek status really started to bloom; I had no fear when it came to swapping car engines, rewiring cars to facilitate other ECUs and even mixed and matched gears to get the optimal ratios for racing our high revving Honda engines. It was tuning automobiles when I first realized what my high school friend's dad told me years ago was true: with the right tools and documentation, there was almost nothing I could not do. I believe this realization is the source of power of a true geek. It is the closest feeling I'll ever have to the one Neo experienced when he started to see The Matrix.

Cars are fun, sure, but not even I could postpone my adulthood forever. I soon realized that turning wrenches wasn't the life for me, so I turned to my next passion -- computers. This time around I hit the books harder than ever, always went to class and ripped through thousand page Microsoft Press books like they were dime novels. I excelled at it for the same reason as my previous obsessions, because I really liked it. I did eventually earn my degree in Information Studies from Florida State University and my main gig is still in IT today.

I think the best way to ruin an avocation, though, is to turn it into your vocation. Lucky for me, a colleague and friend exposed me to the wonders of HDTVs, and my next passion. Our weekly talks about the development of the HDTV industry turned into a weekly podcast, and eventually, lead to my Contributing HD Editor status at Engadget. It's funny to find where your geekness will take you. You see, I've always struggled with the English language, both verbal and written -- certainly a result of growing up in a small hick town -- so learning to express myself in print at the level Engadget demands was a challenge. The skill, though, is one that I can apply to everything I do, no matter what my next passion may be. Speaking of which, I'm still looking. I suspect it'll be related to something one of my two small children will get involved in. Personally, I hope it is karting, but then again, who knows. The only thing I do know is that as long as I'm alive I'll geek out on something, and will love every minute of it.

Ben Drawbaugh can be found recording the Engadget HD Podcast live on Mondays, zipping around Tampa in his EK hatch, at a Buccaneers or Seminoles football game or on Twitter at @bjdraw.

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