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 Senior HD Editor, Richard Lawler.
This picture was taken in 1985 and despite the time that's passed, the excitement I felt holding that Atari joystick returns each and every time I plug in, boot up, or log on to find something new. Like so many other geeks of the era, the world of bootlegged videogames found on Verbatim 5.25-inch floppies were early training in the value of knowing my way around computers. At first, I just wanted to play The Last Starfighter or Stealth without needing one of my sisters to set it up for me. Later that lead to long sessions of editing .bat and .ini files to hear sound effects in Wolfenstein 3D, and eventually easier work setting up and fixing computers. Still, as great as using technology is, it's nothing without spirited discussions among like-minded individuals and after the schoolyard debates over 8-, 16- and 32-bit console wars ended (fortunately, Sega is out of the hardware game now or I would have to recuse myself from any news or reviews) I headed online to make myself heard.
Growing up in the hotbed of tech blogging talent that was Metro Detroit (not far from our founder Peter Rojas) I was often bored in class and as a result, usually had a magazine like Game Players, GamePro, Next Generation, The Source, Popular Science or Car & Driver tucked into one of my textbooks. I've never felt like the actual act of nerding out was limited strictly to things that go bleep and bloop, and as such dived into every topic I found interesting headfirst to find out even the smallest details about it.
While the cross-section of black Quake III fans that love NASCAR and multiplier unlocked CPUS is larger than you'd think, I quickly learned how to reach out and find people talking about my topics of choice. Thanks to all those magazines and the unbelievable support of my family, I had a pretty steady supply of devices to tear into and the knowledge of how to do it. I got my start on PCs with a 486DX2 powered system in the early 90s, which my stepdad and I slowly upgraded with ever growing hard drives (400MB! who could ever fill all that space?), SoundBlaster sound cards for the aforementioned iD gaming escapades, CD-ROM drives and eventually a 33.6 modem to get online.
Being able to access the internet from home for the first time -- although that old Atari had seen some BBS action in its day -- changed everything. Thankfully, unlimited pricing options arrived soon after or else this would be the part where I tell you I ran up thousand dollar phone bills because I was hooked. I quickly realized that the web meant I could publish content just like the people behind those magazines I read in my spare time. As a result I started (and usually quickly abandoned) a number of websites that are now trapped in the hard drive of a long-disconnected GeoCities server somewhere. Those early experiments left me decently versed in HTML, and I quickly found my favorite -- albeit unpaid -- job in high school writing for a site called BX Boards under my alias, Rjcc. I was a fan after using one of the mainboards the site was named after to build my own Intel Celeron-based PC (300A oc'd to a mindblowing 450MHz) and somehow talked its owner, a British guy who went by Andy Drake, into letting me post daily news updates and reviews.
A photo posted by Richard Lawler (@richardlawler) on
No one was calling it blogging then, and staying up on the latest news in a pre-RSS or Twitter era was a complex process, but I was writing, people were reading and that was more than enough. Around the time I got my driver's license my priorities shifted and I made what seemed like a sensible choice, by (unknowingly) following the lead of my former colleague Thomas Ricker to Ohio University and majoring in computer science. However, once I was there I discovered the only part -- other than Halloween parties -- that I truly enjoyed was my work study job in IT, so I left after a year or so and put my skills to use in the job market.
While we've all taken our own winding roads to become Engadget staffers, mine hinged almost entirely on a casual decision of whether or not to purchase an HDTV. In late 2003, I had only seen a few actual high definition broadcasts and while the picture was sharp, the NCAA Final Four on CBS that year was constantly marred by artifacts and five years after HD had launched, it just didn't seem to be catching on. Luckily, my friend Donnie Seals talked me into changing my order over to a Sony CRT HDTV and after quickly becoming hooked what little HD content was actually available -- oh, how I suffered through the tape-delayed 2004 Summer Olympic Games broadcast and that one advertisement that played throughout -- I eventually stumbled upon a site (then called HD Beat) that had frequent updates with the latest information. After long days spent scouring AVS Forum for information (do I really need a TV with HDCP? At one point it seemed like Blu-ray was never going to come out) they happened to be looking for writers so the editor Kevin Tofel agreed to give me (and my podcast partner Ben Drawbaugh) a shot.
A site merger with Engadget and thousands of posts later, I'm right where I want to be, doing the thing I love to do the most, which is (hopefully) bringing accurate, useful information to people that care about it every day. While next year I plan to officially retire from not being in the NBA, writing for Engadget is a dream job and I take pride in it and the people I've been privileged enough to work with. Now excuse me, someone tweeted a link to a Kickstarter for something that shouldn't exist and probably never will -- I have work to do.
Richard Lawler is the Senior HD Editor for Engadget. He has more shoes than any one person should and is @Rjcc on Twitter.
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