Growing Up Geek: Mat Smith

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. Today, we have our very own Japan Editor, Mat Smith!

Growing Up Geek Mat Smith

I didn't want to be an Engadget editor. I wanted to be an astronaut. Yes, there are (admittedly few) British astronauts, thank you. Unfortunately, I was completely put off from learning the deeper secrets of science and maths during those lessons at my local leafy comprehensive school. Do I regret not following through on the science stuff? Possibly, but working here has plenty of different perks -- and when Virgin Galactic starts offering space for willing journalists, I'll be one of the first in line.

While I dreamed of space, the school grind (tests, homework) came pretty easily to me, although I was never going to make the local soccer football team. I was a hyperactive, scrawny kid and wearing astonishingly thick glasses since childhood had formed a nervous disposition to never head the ball -- plus a general lack of talent for the sport. So in school, it was back to the books or the sluggish crawl of Yahoo on the library's shaky internet connection. Fortunately, I was already pretty familiar with computers before I even touched one in school. My parents were forward-thinking enough to buy an Atari ST, our family's first computer and one that barreled into a series of Commodores and yet more Atari systems.

However, filling a screen with my name on the Atari turned out to be the peak of my programming prowess and I spent more time with the Atari loading up tapes to play Boulder Dash and, er, Zorro. For anyone who thought the sound of 56k dial-up was bad -- try an Atari cassette.


Then we got a 386 PC. It was no mere desktop, though, and miraculously combined a Sega Mega Drive (Genesis) with a Windows computer, aptly named the Mega PC. The best of both worlds and my first games console. Hindsight is 20-20 and being a militant Sega fan as a kid (ignore the cake pic above -- I'm the Pagemaster on the right), I had to ignore the delights of Super Mario Kart and all those Square RPGs until later. It was all a precursor to my PlayStation years, however, and an obsession with the Final Fantasy series that lasts to this day. Those people that continue to buy the sequels of sequels and all the smartphone remakes? Sorry, yep, that's me.

After school, I headed to the University of York in the north of England. I love my family, but a six-hour drive away from Hampshire seemed like an appropriate distance. I studied economics for four years, realizing in that time that I didn't want to study economics. Instead, I put most of my energies into the student newspaper, York Vision, a brash tabloid publication that gave me my first taste for news, writing and chopping up two photos for a sometimes-cheap laugh. I filled my summers with (thankfully paid) placements at several magazines and the local newspaper, before managing to scrape up a handful of commissions for The Guardian and its then-weekly tech section.


As university wound down, I realized that walking into a full-time writing job was going to be a difficult feat -- especially in something I was properly interested in. Instead, I decided that I'd go work in Japan. As you do.

I signed up to the JET Programme, which sends thousands of graduates into schools across the country to assist in English teaching. Those hours of gaming contributed to the appeal, but in my cold, careerist heart, I also felt that I needed some sort of extra skill to stand out -- and learning Japanese seemed to fit the bill. One year turned into two, then three and I had managed to get my nihongo up to a decent standard (after playing plenty of Japanese games I'd finished once in English), as well as earning my black belt in judo. I haven't torn the sleeves off my judo gi just yet.

By the time I flew back to the British Isles, my luggage included a high-end sonic toothbrush, a PSP, two Nintendo DSes, a hulking 24-inch VAIO AIO PC and a PS3. I had to pay tax duty on those last two items, as well as invest in a new 15kg transformer to power them both on UK voltage. I regret none of it, though I probably should.

DNP Growing Up Geek Mat Smith

After returning to the UK and heading to London, I cut my teeth for a while at a tech site, Recombu, writing about mobile and tablets and I soon met up with future colleague, Richard Lai. A brief weekend of coffee, talk, karaoke and a blossoming bromance convinced me to sign up to the Engadget machine -- so it's his fault I'm here.

I'm now approaching my two-year anniversary and in that time I've survived two CESes; two MWCs; reviewed a pile of phones, tablets and games consoles; and now, after a few years of working from the UK, I'm now back in Japan -- specifically Tokyo. I'll be reporting on all the robots and future-grasping conceptual demos I can find. I'll probably shrug off a few minor earthquakes too. If there's anything interesting going on in Japan that you think I should investigate, don't hesitate to get in touch with me through Twitter. I'm @thatmatsmith.

Kore kara mo douzo yoroshiku onegai shimasu.