Steve Job’s passing yesterday got me thinking about where I am and who I am because of technology. Looking back, although many people contributed to my career choices and my passion for technology – one person sticks out personally – someone that was my personal Steve Jobs: My Grandfather.
Growing up, I remember idolozing my Grandfather for what he did: He played with computers for a living. I still don’t know everything about his past (some Air Force, some IBM), but when I came into the picture he was teaching for a technical school – even more – he was teaching computer classes. At the time, computers were still exotic and new and interesting. (Today, at least for me, they are still exotic and interesting.) My Grandfather used to let me tag along with him sometimes to see these great big machines and one thing most importantly: the robots.
They had these robots that would talk to you, do rudimentary things like hand you something from their mechanical pinchers, or just ultimately stand there and blink. For a gradeschool kid, it was like stepping into Science Fiction. I used to peruse over his programming books – everything from Cobol to QBASIC, to just Basic – to Perl: it didn’t matter. I was hooked. I used to spend hours plugging in different code examples into his Monochrome 8088. Once, I spent two weeks with him one Summer and all I did was stay glued to his computers.
People often tell me I have a gift for technology. That may or may not be true, I think it was more that a passion was instilled at me at a young age. My father also embraced it. While every other kid on the block was getting a new bike or an autographed football – I was getting things like an external Iomega Parallel Port Zip Drive, or a US Robotics Courier Everything. I remember the day my Dad brought home an EGA Adpater so we could have more colors on the home computer. I’m pretty certain that a lot of the toys my Dad brought home were way over our normal household budget – but he made sure to embrace something he saw in me and my brother. For that, Dad, I’m eternally grateful.
As I got older, I ran with my passion – eventually winning my parents over to multiple phone lines in the house so I could dial into BBS’s (local dial-in message boards before the Internet). It opened up a whole new world of possibility. By 13, I was running my own BBS. I remember one night me forgetting to turn off one of the speakers on a modem and waking my parents up because someone was calling in to download the latest message forums for that day.
We got dial-up Internet the day it was available. Years later, we were the first on the block with Cable Modem access. By Middle School, my room consisted of nothing more than computer parts, cables, laptops, servers, and whatever piece of junk I could dive out of the dumpsters at the local ATT Telecom area (no, I’m not kidding). You could barely sleep at night in my bedroom because of all the blinking lights (come to think of it, not much has changed).
Throughout all of this, I grew increasingly fascinated with the leaders that were making this technology possible. I read everything I could get my hands on about these visionaries – from Gates, to Jobs. From Jobs, to Linus. I could not get enough.
In high school, I grew increasingly bored. I hated school. My Senior year, I somehow (by the grace of God) convinced my guidance consoler to allow me go half days and work at a local computer shop in the afternoon for school credit. I learned amazing things at the store, under the wing of a boss that was eager to teach. To this day, I still hold Grant Thompson as one of my technical mentors to success.
Eventually I went on to make it a true career after technical college. I now work for a great company, doing what I love in a capacity that somedays still blows my mind. Not a day goes by that I don’t look at my servers, the blinking lights, or a technical diagram without remembering what got me here.
To some extent, as I watch the generation come behind me get into the technical field I see that sense of amazement and wonder – that passion, slowly fading or sometimes even nonexistent. They are more accustomed to it than I was. I will always value that I grew up with the world buzzing around me at a pace that I had the chance to embrace that passion.
And for Jobs?
Jobs managed to bring some of it back : people waiting in lines for iPhones, iPads – the Apple stickers on the bumpers of cars.. Jobs might be gone, but there are others out there that grew from his inspiration, and that of those like my Grandfather –
I want you to know, Mr. Jobs – we’re still around – the guys that still look at these things we all take for granted – starring at them with the wide-eyed wonder of a Grade-school kid figuring out a programming language with his Grandfather for the first time.. we’re still there.
For everyone who helped spark that passion, Including you Steve, Grandpa, and Dad – Thanks for making that possible.