Most of my generational cohort should remember the first few times they actually saw or laid hands on a personal computer. I'm pretty sure I do; my childhood friend Bradley Konia was the guy who always had the most interesting gadgets, and he claimed both a Sinclair ZX80 and an Atari 800 in his collection.
We stayed up way too late typing BASIC commands on the Sinclair's membrane keyboard, or watching Hollywood Medieval simulate tunnels and hallways on the Atari while listening to Tubular Bells. (It seemed like a good idea at the time, I can't explain it any other way.) A classmate owned an Apple II, and we did indeed play Oregon Trail on it for hours on end.
My elementary school was fortunate to have a legitimate computer lab in the late 1970s, and I was fascinated with the OSI unit (considered the "power option" at the time) and the three or four Commodore PETs across the room. My friends and I would take turns laboriously hunt-and-peck typing in programs from magazines, including the ever-popular Hunt The Wumpus game, and then saving those programs onto cassette tape. Forward-thinking teachers, including David Bloomfield and Marilyn Nelkin, helped us glimpse a future where these exotic, clunky machines would become so ubiquitous as to verge on invisibility.
My first computer? My folks brought home a Commodore VIC-20 from a school auction one night, and I could not have been more excited if they'd bought a pony. Some of the excitement may have been from the Colecovision that also made its way home with them, but the VIC-20 was my new little friend. I agitated for the graphics expansion pack (8K of RAM! 256 colors!) and game cartridges like Mars Lander. Although the VIC was barely functional by modern standards, I loved it dearly. I even used it to enter a graphics program competition in 8th grade, only to have my entry completely outclassed by a magnetic field simulation program written by a clever 7th grader who went on to some notoriety as a font designer.
Even before I got to junior high, I had already taken a two-month typing course at a local secretarial school -- my handwriting was so illegible that my teachers insisted I learn to type. That turned out to be a great leg up, as I found myself able to use the early word processing capabilities of my father's office equipment; first a Lanier dedicated workstation (a daisywheel printer was a thing of beauty, but having to swap boot floppy disks to repaginate was not) and later, an IBM PCjr (quite possibly the least satisfying personal computing experience of all time).
With the ability to put words into semi-professional-looking form, paired with easy access to copiers, I co-founded two 'zines at my high school covering RPGs ("The Hunter Hobbit") and videogaming ("Venture") with my friend and classmate Charles Ardai. Charles later went on to found the Juno internet service, but he has since returned to his editorial roots as the publisher of the Hard Case Crime series of pulp novels. Helping to create and write those simple black-and-white periodicals -- which, if memory serves, we sold for $0.50 each until our free photocopying ride hit some bumps -- was my first experience with putting my writing out where the public could see it.
In early 1984, my mother was starting up a new consulting business, and she needed a computer that could handle the basics without getting in her way. Thank goodness she bought a Mac: a 128K, later upgraded to 512K. I didn't care that it was slow and tiny; it was perfect. Eventually she got an SE (dual floppy drives), which allowed the 512K and the ImageWriter to become the primary machine for my brother and I to do schoolwork, MacPaint art and eventually full-page comics with Mike Saenz's astonishing ComicWorks. Between 1985 and 1987 we swapped the 512K for a Mac Plus, which is the machine I took with me to Carnegie Mellon in August of 1987.
Adding a 40 MB SCSI drive from Jasmine (yes, that's megabytes, not gigabytes) to the Mac Plus gave me plenty of expansion room during my first few semesters of college. Keeping the computer hand-me-down rotation going, my younger brother got the Plus in early 1989; I used my student discount to upgrade to the shiny new SE/30. Let's just put this down for the record: pound for pound, the best Mac ever made.
In college -- while the Mach project that would later spark NeXT's OS was underway -- I split my computing time between the Sun workstations that comprised CMU's Andrew network and the Macs that filled the offices of The Tartan, the campus newspaper. I clearly remember us getting our first Mac II at the office, and later the IIfx (soooo fast).
At The Tartan, we ran Aldus PageMaker and carried floppies full of PostScript files down to the Linotronic across campus. We waxed halftoned photos and pasted them down onto the page boards. We drank lots of coffee and talked way too loud. We had a lot of fun. I worked at the paper for my entire undergraduate tenure, serving as the entertainment section editor and managing editor, alongside great colleagues like Howdy Pierce, Judy Haraburda, Drue Miller, Karl Barnhart, Dustin Frazier, Grant Carmichael, Stephen Glicker, Bruce Kasrel, Nathan Fullerton and Javier Grillo-Marxuach. Most importantly, there was the proofreader and copy chief I started hanging out with back in 1989 -- we're coming up on our 14th wedding anniversary.
While I was learning on my feet on the student side of the desktop publishing revolution, the big leagues were beginning to recognize the changes coming to the editorial and publishing business. I got a summer internship at Time Inc., pulling film and making MatchPrint proofs in the middle of the night at the company's central imaging facility, but found myself helping explain and support these odd new computers that were sneaking in around the edges.
I came back to the company after my sophomore year, and began working with the editorial technology management team across the magazine group, which continued into a full-time role after graduation. I took a job with Time's P.ink team (partnering with the German development house, including Andreas Poliza and Greg Rewis, that would later go on to produce Adobe's GoLive web editor), working on an edit solution for the Mac to supplant Kodak's legacy ATEX system. I was privileged to learn from smart, capable folk like Eileen Bradley, Gerard Lelievre, Chris Green, Anne Jackley, Tom Vincent, Harry Wilson and Ken Baierlein, but most of all from my mentor Dennis Chesnel and my colleague Jerry Sarnat. Dennis was a great boss, a wise teacher and a good friend; Jerry was a vivid demonstration of how someone could succeed in remarkably different areas (he had been a Broadway dancer and choreographer before he took up typography and systems integration). Both of them are gone now, and deeply missed.
After working on the P.Ink project -- we got a little bit sideswiped by the toolkit that eventually became the Quark Publishing System -- I moved over to an editorial technology role at Entertainment Weekly. Over the next few years, I helped expand the Mac footprint at the magazine, running QuickMail and Novell servers while deploying a truckload of Power Computing Mac clones, and also contributing to the review sections and special issues. For our Star Trek tribute edition, I had to track down a translator to tackle reverting Hamlet's soliloquy back to the original Klingon.
For a brief period, I took on a split-personality set of jobs (if you look closely at the EW mastheads from the summer of 1996, you'll see me listed twice) running both the edit tech and new media operations for the magazine. My team launched EW onto the web as part of Time Inc.'s Pathfinder supersite, and as one of the first few magazines to debut on the traditional AOL service. Little did I know that my early exposure to AOL would come around again years later when I arrived at AOL-owned TUAW -- or that I'd leave Time Inc. only weeks before the star-crossed AOL/Time Warner merger was finalized. Back then, had we known the term "content management system," we might have thought that was a clever nickname for the interns. All our HTML was artisanal, crafted by hand in SimpleText, and uploaded one story at a time.
Post-EW I moved over to LIFE magazine, where the photos told the story, and ran edit tech there as well as covering a similar suite of online responsibilities. It was an honor to work with some of the legends of American photojournalism, learn from fantastic colleagues (Dan Okrent, Bobbie Baker Burrows and more) and to be present for what turned out to be the twilight of a great brand. The monthly LIFE was folded in the spring of 2000, which I found out via a call from managing editor Isolde Motley -- while I was on my honeymoon. In New Zealand.
Given my sudden underemployment, I did what everyone should: I began freelancing. My brother, who had also spent several years in the Time Inc. editorial tech cycle, was the IT lead at a small events & training agency called MJM. I went to work for him for a bit, then I took a few months off coinciding with the birth of our first child in early 2001. When it was time to go back to looking for work, MJM called my number. I ended up spending almost 12 years in IT, operations and creative technology at the company, which was acquired by WPP in 2001. In my final role there, ending May of this year, I was helping other companies up their technology game for their events as the creative director of digital.
During my time at MJM, I got to work with hundreds of fantastic, talented professionals, including one of TUAW's founding bloggers, Laurie Duncan. When the site was on the hunt for additional talent, Laurie was kind enough to recommend me to top editor Scott McNulty and our producer (now editor-in-chief) Victor Agreda, Jr. After a few months of back-and-forth, I proudly joined the site in late 2006, and here I've been ever since. I was glad to sit virtually alongside several of our contributors who've gone on to additional Internet fame (looking at you, Chartier and Warren) and I remain delighted to work with our current team, which absolutely rocks.
As of late May 2013, I've transitioned over to a new "day job" role as a senior sales engineer at Salesforce.com. Working for a world-class technology organization is thrilling and a little bit daunting, but the good news is that I plan to continue on as a part of the TUAW family; you can't get rid of me so easily as that. I still find Apple technology just as exciting, fascinating and mysterious as I did the day that 128K Mac arrived, full of promise and potential.
PET image via Steve Maddison