It’s 1981. ish. It’s kind of blurry now as I look back on it.
I’m in 5th grade. I still think that what’s passing for adult contemporary radio is cool, because my parents listen to it, and I’m not nearly hip enough to know that’s actually the kiss of death for coolness. I still spend a whole mess of time playing sports. I’ve got a pretty active circle of friends, and I’m not a social pariah at school. In short, I’m your typical early-80s 5th grader.
And then, for reasons that to this day I still don’t fully understand, I’m selected to be part of an experiment. Mrs. Miller has navigated some sort of grant- or aid-program and acquired a brand new Apple II computer. It’s sitting in one of the lower-grade classrooms, and she is the sole arbiter of who is permitted to touch this magical beast. There’s only two students who are allowed to touch it: her nephew [nepotism FTW!] and me.
To say that I was all over that like white on rice is an understatement that makes “epic proportions” seem small. The two of us are writing programs, playing games (Bobby Miller has apparently acquired an illicit copy of Castle Wolfenstein and we’ll play that from time to time when nobody’s looking).
The next year, the computer has moved to the library, and Bobby and I are put in charge of helping a bunch more, although still relatively few, of the students deemed “Gifted and Talented” by the school learn how to use the computer. Tron has just come out, and I’m still young and naive enough not to realize that the fictionalized commands Flynn uses in the novelization don’t actually do shit, and I’m really disappointed when I type them into the Apple II when nobody’s around and find that precisely nothing has happened.
When I get to Junior High, I get my first taste of an actual “computer lab”. This is, apparently, what they’ve been prepping us for the past school-year and a half, to have a small core of students who really know what these things are and what to do with them. Over the next six years of Jr. and Sr. High School, it’s here that I’ll meet some of my life-long friends. It’s here that I’ll spend so much time that hanging out with my core “neighborhood friends” will basically go by the wayside, that I don’t really play sports much any more, and that I begin to show all the classic signs of becoming the social pariah that will later simply be called “Computer Geek”.
We can’t afford an Apple computer ourselves at home, so I end up buying a Commodore VIC-20 computer instead. It’s fun, and make no mistake, I have a lot of good times with that computer, and its various Commodore-made successors, but I still secretly wished I could have had an Apple.
It’s in high school that I start entering into computer-programming contests that the school used to run each year. I enter into it every single year (except the year I “went pro” because a computer store in Rhinebeck was having a similar contest the same day, but with cash prizes, baby!). And it’s in high school that I really decide, as any computer-oriented kid in the Hudson Valley in the 80s would, “I want to work for IBM some day,” not knowing that IBM’s own internal troubles are going to make that a pipe dream in about three more years.
When I get out of high-school, I go to college for computer science. But I’m a fuck-up, and basically get kicked out in a scene reminiscent of Animal House (“GPA… Zero. Point. Zero.”) I then end up going through the usual post-high-school-no-college series of dead-end jobs until I finally end up working part-time for a tiny local Internet Service Provider. This was perfection – I got a free account since I worked there (and my day job wasn’t paying me enough to pay for one) and I got to really get back into computers “for a living”.
I got to enjoy the entire life-cycle of Apple computers, from hot upstart, to the time when I (and everyone else with any sense) abandoned them as completely uncool pieces of crap. Later, once Steve was back, I’d eventually become an “Apple bigot”, refusing to use any computer that didn’t have that familiar fruit-shaped logo on it, because I knew that (once again) it stood for quality hardware that was powerful, easy to use, and stable.
I would climb the entire ladder of IT management, starting off as a help-desk monkey, then working as a Perl programmer, web developer, Linux system administrator, all of which led me through varying levels of responsibility until I got to what I’ve spent the last six years doing, managing great teams of network and systems people at various organizations, a dream that started over thirty years ago.
A dream made possible by – heck, a dream carved out of whole cloth by – a pair of hippies in a garage who decided they should be aggressive about getting cheap Apple II computers into the hands of educators.
So, Steve… Thanks for giving this geeky kid a vision of what he wanted to do for a living, and providing the tools for thirty years (more or less) to help me do it.