Welcome to Growing Up Geek, a feature where we take a look back at our youth, and tell stories of growing up to be the nerds that we are. This week, we have our very own Steve Dent!
If you make a bad career choice when you're young, don't worry -- I'm living proof that everything can still work out. Maybe I should've known I wouldn't be a great civil engineer when I pursued it after high school. My predilection for daydreaming wasn't suited to such a rigorous field, and resulted in early childhood trauma like the infamous "spacing out in class during a fire drill" episode -- which was not great considering that the school I went to at the time actually did burn down a year or two later (luckily while empty). In fact, as a child living in Vanderhoof, BC, Canada, I was happiest with a book, or Spider-Man comic, and being plopped in front of the TV, and it was a good thing that video games still hadn't arrived. When Pong ushered in that era, I became dangerously obsessed, even though we had a bum Atari machine that only worked for a few minutes before the ball would weirdly pass through the paddle.
After being one of those kids that could goof his way through school and still get decent marks, I ended my high school days at the top of the typing class and number two in English. That should've given me a clue about a possible career choices, and in fact I took a part time gig typesetting for the local paper. I even wrote a couple of letters to the editor that prompted the publisher to offer me a job as a reporter at the age of 18, which I turned down, still not getting that I should maybe lean toward writing. Because of great tutoring by my parents -- both teachers at my high school -- I was also good at math and physics, so the decision was made: engineering it was. They also sprung for a Pentax ME Super camera as a grad present, which was the best gift I'd ever received to that point and started a photography obsession that continues to this day.
I underachieved my way through the University of British Columbia's (UBC) civil engineering program, but luckily I discovered something that would eventually take me in another direction: the personal computer. I nabbed an 8086 PC clone with a monochrome (amber!) screen and dot matrix printer with my summer job earnings, and was soon using it to do spreadsheets, papers, graphs and play games like Chuck Yeager's Advanced Flight Trainer. A UBC structural steel prof decided that we'd do the entire final exam in that course on IBM PCs using Lotus 123 -- a school first -- which I aced, getting the best mark by far of my university career. That made me realize that PCs were kind of a thing for me, and because of (or despite) them, I managed to graduate.
Working as a construction coordinator on the Toronto SkyDome (now Rogers Centre) put the final nail in my engineering career, as I realized I hated the industry, though I still have good friends working in it. Naturally, I gravitated toward the PC industry and another love, video and film post-production. Putting the two together, I serviced and sold the first (and maybe only) DOS-based non-linear video editing system called D/Vision, which eventually moved to Windows NT and was purchased by Autodesk, which killed it. Since such software required the most powerful PC hardware you could muster, naturally it was an ideal job for me -- I was always playing with the latest dual-Xeon setups with high-end pro graphics and copious amounts of RAID storage. Though the product died, my technical expertise allowed me to shift over to video editing, special effects and 3D graphics. It was at that point that a passion for cameras and image editing began to flower as well.
I loved the post-production industry, but my French wife Cécile and I decided that we loved the joie de vivre in France even more, and made the fateful decision to move here. Unfortunately the French economy, along with that entire industry, were beginning a slow decline and I was only able to work part time doing 3D animation and website design. After whiling some time perusing the same site you're looking at now, up popped a post seeking an editor -- in Europe. Quelle chance! Though my last gig working for any kind of a publisher was just after high school and pre, pre, pre-internet, the listing emphasized that technical skills and gadget love would be very handy too. Since the one and only consistent thing throughout my school and career was exactly that -- gadgets -- I figured I just needed to dust off my English skills, and voilà, new career.
Fortunately Senior European editor Sharif Sakr and Darren Murph must've both been suffering from rare brain cramps and hired me. I was highly deluded about my English skills and all the other patient editors had to blast the aforementioned writing dust off with a jackhammer via hundreds of edits. But with the weird collection of skills I've picked up through the years and eternal gadget love, I couldn't have found a better workplace -- or more amazing colleagues. And don't worry, every time I hear a fire alarm now, I'm the first one out the door.