My Geek Origin story, what's your story?

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This post was inspired by Michael Kordahi, well known to many as @delic8genius, who put out a call encouraging to geeks to share their geek origin stories.

My geek origin is shrouded in the mists of time.  It was so long ago that there is no only one photographic record [update: which is now in the hands of Michael Kordahi, heaven help me].  But there was a revolution going on and I became part of it.

During school and university I had no interest in technology or gadgets.  My passion was for the humanities – history, philosophy, anthropology.  Nothing to do with any of the so-called ‘hard sciences’ or mathematics.

But my first job was in a bank, one of those boring jobs I mentioned recently. Thus my first exposure to computers was to the mysterious mainframes to which one submitted requests that were returned, if you were lucky, two days later.

Yet I was still not attracted to technology. After all, what was there to love about the cold hard mainframe? And where was the immediate gratification?

After escaping from the job in a bank to a stockbroking firm I was given client trust accounts to manage.  There were lots of things to track. Again we relied on the slow and klunky mainframe (oh the joys of JCL and TSO I could recount).  Then a colleague showed me his new gadget – a personal computer running MS DOS – it was the only one in the office, nay the only one in the building.

That gadget fascinated me and, before my colleague realised it, I had co-opted the machine for myself.  I was suddenly able to keep track of things using new fangled things called spreadsheets. Then I discovered you could make it do what you wanted by writing programs.

Not yet a geek, but well on my way toward it.

Landed my next job partly due to my PC skills, still doing finance work.  But one day I was standing in the kitchen chatting with the CEO (as you do) and happened to mention that there was a problem with the computer system in the office.

[Pro-tip: never casually mention problems to a CEO unless you are prepared to help fix them]

She mentioned that we needed an IT manager and, since I sounded like I knew about that ‘stuff’, asked if I wanted the job.  My ‘prudent’ response (having no experience at all for this job) was “yes”.

Thus began my geek apprenticeship: inheriting the world’s most unstable and unreliable Unix system and applications. From there I discovered how hardware, operating systems, networks and databases work; and how various programming languages work (starting with shell scripts and moving on from there). It was endlessly fascinating.  Eventually I had to accept that no one can ever know everything about technology. I also had to accept that I am a very bad software programmer and an even worse metadata modeller.

The next interesting thing I came across was a guy in Finland who proposed an open source version of Unix, eventually known as Linux. In retrospect, by that time, there had been an evolution in my life: from the early days of humanities studies, to hanging out with friends for days on end (eating pizza) while we fooled about reverse engineering kernels. By this stage I was an unconscious geek (i.e. a geek but completely unaware of this fact, even though a member of AUUG).

Then came the web.  From the first time I heard about the web and hypertext it held enormous fascination. The power inherent in the notion of hyperlinking and hyperconnecting documents, people and things seemed to have great promise.

From the early days of the web I worked on enterprise web development, managing teams who were building large scale web applications.  The roles varied: project manager, enterprise architect, software development manager, consultant.

In the late 1990s I worked as one of the architects on a large scale middleware application – we called it a “multi-channel integration architecture” – that enabled multiple front end channels to interconnect with heterogenous backend systems.  Off-the-shelf middleware like we have now did not really exist so it had to be created from scratch.

From there I moved onto development of early e-commerce for both B2B and B2C, and customisation of supply chainERP and CRM systems. The power of technology to revolutionise business and business models inspired me to study management, marketing and e-commerce at university.

While working on all these large-scale enterprise systems, I was also playing with what has come to be called web 2.0 and experimenting on my own time. Learning HTML and other scripting languages for fun.  Started blogging for fun too, before blogging tools existed.  Was an early user of Blogger, Typepad and finally migrated to WordPress.

It was during the blogging that I finally became conscious of my geekiness.  But I didn’t really come out of the closet then since there weren’t many women geeks in my circles of acquaintance.

But with the advent of Twitter, and connecting with many amazing women who were also geeks, I finally came out of the closet and embraced my geekiness.

And that is the story of my geek origin, what’s your geek origin story? And, as Michael Kordahi (a.k.a. @delic8genius) said:

“This year at TechEd (super secret but super high profile project for now), I want to profile and capture your Geek Origin Stories.

What memories do you have that define you?

I’m looking for your personal stories that tap into what makes you geek. Stories like mine that tap into your geek DNA and the (tacit) attributes that define you.

So, please email me one or a few of your Geek Origin Stories. Also please include a photo or video of you being a young geek.

Email me at michael.kordahi@microsoft.com or post your own online and send me a link.”

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