My Technical Origin Story

written in Career

I didn’t have any idea I would ever do anything with computers until after I left college. I was a Theater major.. well, Performance Production, to be exact. I specialized in set and lighting design for dance, spending hours on top of a ladder with a wrench. After my junior year of college, I took the proverbial Year Off and started working full-time as a stage hand with the local branch of IATSE (the stagehand’s union), eventually landing a role as Technical Director of a regional opera house, supplementing slow periods with working in the office, helping them manage subscriber databases; one of my first paid software gigs was building them a visual “map” of the theater and all its seats in Access, so you could see which seats were available, click on a seat.. er, cell.. and see which patron had that ticket, when we’d last mailed them, were they season ticket holders, etc..

Ah, MS Access… Ah, the 90’s…

Anyway, the thing about working in a stage hand in Northern Vermont is that everything is so damn pretty.. and legally has to stay that way. No, seriously — there are state laws that restrict new development and modifications to buildings more than N years old unless they’re aesthetically pleasing (according to a committee) In a state that bases its economy on tourism, this makes a lot of sense. Unfortunately, its means that almost all the theaters in a 2 hour radius lack that most simple of modern conveniences: air conditioning. Not a huge problem, except the 6 weeks every summer when it hits the mid 90’s in both temperature and humidity in New England, and did I mention these are usually massive brick buildings? Essentially they turn into pizza ovens.. so in the summer time, theaters shut down. Now, if you’re an enterprising stage hand, you do what I did – get a second job in the theater office, line up some tours, rock festivals, etc. One good rock festival would pay for your entire summer (god bless overtime pay!)

However, this summer, the theater I worked at had a teensy-weensy embezzlement incident, leading to closing the office so the forensic accountants could untangle what exactly the Executive Director had done before quietly slipping out of state one night.. and several big festivals and tours failed to materialize that year, so there wasn’t a lot of extra work for stage hands in New England — especially those who had just made Journeyman and were at the absolute bottom of the union’s call sheet.

So I did what you did in the 90’s. Back then, kids, Craigslist was a printed sheet of paper that was delivered to your door every morning, hyper-localized for where you live – as a service! As I scrolled, or as we use to say, “thumbed” through the job listings, one caught my eye, for a “Webmaster” job. “Hell, I know what the Web is! I should apply..” After all, I’d had a modem back in the BBS days, and I played a lot of MUSHes in my spare time, hung out on IRC, and had even built a crude web site for the theater, so obviously I was qualified…

I called and the person I spoke to (my later boss) told me that they had a stack of applications, but I was welcome to drop mine off. I think I surprised them by showing up 15 minutes later with a printed resume.

2 days later, I got the call – without even an interview, the job was mine, if I wanted it. Turns out that of the 50 or so applicants, I was the only one who’d even /heard/ of the “World Wide Web” – let alone dabbled in HTML. I rushed to the nearest Borders Bookstore, bought myself a “Teach Yourself HTML In 24 Hours”, and crammed all weekend.

Since that first Monday, I’ve spent nearly every day scrambling to learn as much as I can, just in case. Most days, I can’t believe my good fortune and privilege to have been at the right place at the right time in history. Not everyone gets a chance to be lucky like that, and I don’t ever want to take it for granted, or fail to pay it back with interest.

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