In Part 1, I talked about my ham radio experience and how it gave me a head start on the idea of social networking, meeting and talking with people all over the world from the comfort of my own home. I also got an early start in computers, sometimes in conjunction with ham radio, to experience the online world a bit earlier than many people.
I got into computers at an early age, when the Radio Shack TRS-80 was the latest and greatest in home computing technology. We soon moved onto a Commodore VIC-20, and soon our house had a fleet of C-64s. One was for general household use. My dad had two in his office/ham radio shack – one dedicated to his own personal use, and the other for radio purposes. He had it connected to a terminal node controller (TNC), which was basically a special kind of modem that plugged into a radio instead of a phone line. Now, rather than talking or sending Morse code to people all over the world, he communicated by digital means – mainly radio teletype, AMTOR, and packet radio. Packet was particularly interesting, because there wasn't always a live human being on the other end. There were also BBS stations, similar to their telephone tethered equivalents, where you can send and receive mail with other hams by specifying their callsign and the callsign of the BBS where they would receive it. My dad also got involved with a new packet radio network forming in New England based on TCP/IP.
You're using TCP/IP right now to read this article, but in the late 1980s, access to the internet was still limited mainly to government, schools, and a few major businesses. There was no world wide web yet, either – you still had to telnet to other sites, or FTP files, or finger them to get their information (I always thought that sounded a bit dirty). Email, however, could be configured to be delivered directly to your computer automatically, rather than having to connect to a BBS to get it – a novel concept at the time.
I still enjoyed talking with live humans on the other end of the radio link, and soon discovered CROWD nodes. These were stations we could connect to that were an early version of a chat room. The conversation was slow, as each of our messages had to be relayed through several radio links and back again, but I had a great deal of fun doing it. I met a few other people around my age on one particular CROWD node from upstate New York and Ontario, and became good friends with them.
After leaving school, I ended up working in computers, rather than journalism and broadcasting as I had gone to school for, because that was a job I could find and do. Customer service soon gave way to technical support, and through an opportunity at a small startup that no longer exists, technical support led to technical writing. A year later, I owned all of the online documentation in the company. Each position was more involved and more lucrative than the next. I was out of the industry for several years after the dot com bust, including a move to Maine where I found no computer work. After moving back to Massachusetts, I did some IT work to get my feet wet in the industry again, and picked up enough current knowledge to land my current position doing technical writing and quality assurance for a growing software company.
I think much of my success in my computer career has been because I got such a head start with computers. I grew up with them, as most young people are doing today. I'm glad I got that head start, growing up being comfortable and familiar with technology, because it's helped me out ever since.
Time has caught up with me. People think nothing of talking to people all over the world on a regular basis thanks to the internet, and you don't need a radio license to use it. But that's not a bad thing. I know how much my connections, the people I've met through ham radio and the internet have influenced me over the years, and I appreciate it. Now everyone has access to similar experiences, which I think is great.
(Photo credits: softwareinsider.org, kf6hi.net, apple-history.com)