These days, I am almost always within reach of a computer. I've largely forgotten what the days were like when I wasn't switching among the screens of various smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktops. My apartment is cluttered with numerous gadgets and devices, from a barrage of home automation and mobile accessories to a beast of a desktop in the middle of a rebuild. I am the family member who gets all those fun text messages requesting tech support with printers and social media settings. (Here, let me Google that for you...)
After 10 years of being a writer and editor at over half a dozen tech magazines and online tech publications (most recently here at Engadget, huzzah!), I can safely say that I am often the geek in the group. I built my gaming desktop with my own damn two hands; I have a Steam account; I am constantly testing and deleting new mobile apps; I have multiple backups in place; I am perfectly comfortable working in HTML; and I can tell you in detail what GPU, CPU and PEBCAK stand for.
However, I did not grow up geek.
There is a 97 percent chance that someone was yelling, "Heels DOWN!" when this photo was taken.
I just wasn't a tech geek as a kid. I spent a good portion of my childhood on horseback, and aside from Lego, my toys were a fairly typical array of non-tech items like Barbies, My Little Ponies and Cabbage Patch Kids. I didn't take apart the VHS player and try to put it back together. I didn't have a yearning to understand how mechanical things worked, nor any deep desire to make software comply with my commands.
My household had no gaming system until 1993, when we got an aging NES console that required a book to be wedged into the slot to keep the cartridge in the machine. We had no CD player until roughly 1995. When I first moved to San Francisco to attend college, I had a hand-me-down beige desktop PC running Windows 98 and no cellphone to speak of. So how did I get to be a geek?
Bears a striking resemblance to the PC I went to college with.
Via the mailroom. Oh, it's true. My geekhood began in a decidedly analog environment. After a short and disastrous stint in hospitality, I snagged a job delivering mail and packages to editors at PC World. Within eight months, I'd been booted up to editorial assistant, writing a consumer advocacy column and getting a crash course in laptops, desktops, printers, smartphones and more.
While I wasn't born a tech enthusiast, being surrounded by a testing lab, gadgets aplenty and knowledgeable folks piqued my interest. Without really intending to, I picked up a variety of information and skills: from knowing how to get better Google search results, to understanding how to troubleshoot problems with laptops, and knowing the shortcuts and "secret" commands in mobile OSes. My friends started asking for my advice on which tech items to buy, and my family started calling me with support questions.
In the decade-plus since I first stumbled into tech writing, my interest in and affection for technology has only grown -- I built my first desktop (and am currently working on upgrading and overhauling it), reviewed high-profile products like the first Windows Phone, attended trade shows in places both near and far, interviewed creators and CEOs, installed home-automation hardware, tested fitness and wearable devices, successfully troubleshot a variety of software and hardware issues and continued to pick up as much knowledge as possible.
At the time, my mailroom job seemed like something I had just stumbled into before becoming a big-time fiction writer (which is, hilariously, what I thought I'd be when I majored in creative writing in college). However now I see it as a stroke of pure luck -- I still get to write, about a constantly changing and evolving topic that affects all areas of modern life, and I get an unparalleled education in technology. It's a privilege to get to do something I love while learning new things every day, and I am now firmly a geek at heart. Long live the geeks!