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How I Got Started In Tech

husband, father, tech enthusiast
This is a post from February 2024 about how I got into tech, computers, and the web, from my archive over at my old Scribbles blog.

When I was in 6th or 7th grade (1993-1994) my parents bought a Packard Bell. If my memory serves me it was a Legend model with something close to the following specs:

  • 66MHz 486
  • 8MB RAM
  • 500MB hard drive
  • 3-1/2” floppy disk drive
  • CD-ROM
  • Windows 3.11

This was a huge deal to me because basically none of my friends had computers in their homes. My parents were not technical people, not college educated, and did not work in tech. Not only that, but they were barely scraping by, financially speaking. So it was a huge surprise when this very expensive computer showed up, in several very large boxes.

I remember feeling very proud that I was able to get everything connected and working (while following the included instructions). I was able to log on and test out the word processor and some games. We didn’t have any internet connection yet but I enjoyed using the software that came with the computer. I believe it came with Encarta encyclopedia, so I spent a lot of time playing around with that.

We did eventually get an internet connection, via AOL, of course. I can’t tell you how many disks and CD-ROMs they sent us. Dozens, at least. I specifically remember sitting there with my mom in the evening and signing in for the first time. One of the first things we found was a directory of people. My mom mentioned that my dad had a friend years ago that he had lost touch with. We did a search for his name, and what do you know, we found him! And he lived only about 2 hours away. The last time my dad had heard from him, he was moving to the west coast to work for Boeing. At some point he had moved back and was working for Harley Davidson in PA.

This friend of my dad, he was an engineer. It was kind of poetic that we found him using this technology that was so new to us, because over the next several years he would be hugely influential in enabling me to acquire and learn about new tech. My parents did the best they could, but they could not afford to buy me the newest tech and video games. I very clearly remember my dad putting in a couple days of overtime because I asked to upgrade the RAM in our computer, so I could run some new software or games. In those days, even 256MB of RAM could cost a couple hundred dollars. That’s the kind of parent my dad was. Always making sacrifices for his kids.

My dad’s friend would bring me the newest tech to install in my computers, and take me and my dad to computer shows, so I could pick out parts for my next build. He gave me video cards, sound cards, CD-ROM drives, CD-RW drives, Zip drives, motherboards, etc. He would come visit and chat with my parents, but we would inevitably end up talking about tech for hours. He showed me how to solder a chip onto my Playstation motherboard to enable it to play pirated and imported games. He taught me to be curious, to look below the surface, and figure out how things work.

I remember having three desktop computers sitting around my parents’ old dining room table, which I had moved to the basement when they replaced it with a new one. I had networked them together, so my friends could come over, and we could play Unreal Tournament or Descent, or whatever game we were into at the time. At some point, I got a job and had money of my own, so I was able to buy more and more computer parts. That’s when I started experimenting with Linux, and building computers for family and friends.

Anyway, to wrap this up…I would not be where I am today and have the passion and appreciation for tech that I have today without the people in my life who made sacrifices and encouraged me to learn. I’m glad I grew up in a generation where we had access to technology that was accessible but also not handed to use on a silver platter. I had to experiment. I had to break things, and I had to fix them. As a parent of teenagers now I try to impart some of that curiosity and experimentation onto my kids, so that they too look below the surface and figure out how things work.