“Think back to the first time you saw the Internet. Not just saw it, but really got it. That ‘oh wow’ moment when you realized how important this could be. It doesn’t matter if it was last decade or last week. We want that story.”
Then I had a talk with my multimedia professor. (Shut up. It’s what it was called back then.) He was moving on to a job in San Francisco, and they were looking to hire a whole slew of “Web Designers”. He thought that I showed potential learning new things quickly and might be able to transition to this brand-new field.
I had been on the internet (well, AOL) before, so it sounded kinda cool. My friend Jovino had hooked me up with a shoebox-sized 2400 BPS modem and an AOL 1.o CD (which, by the way, I have kept to frame for my office one day), and I spent pretty much every waking hour I wasn’t working or in school on it, smoking cartons of cigarettes and guzzling Big Gulps all night long while downloading free fonts, talking design history with students in other time zones, reading John Styn’s Prehensile Tales and piling up $200/mo bills. (Internet history tidbit: AOL used to be like a taxi—the meter kept clicking as long as you were on. Some nights, when I was downloading a huge 500k file, I would set my alarm so I could wake up and turn the computer off at 4am so I didn’t keep racking up charges).
It was cool, but hadn’t changed my life or anything (yet). I didn’t really go to “Web Pages” other than John’s and mainly stayed in the gated enclave of AOL most of the time. I hadn’t even touched the copy of Adobe Page Mill I’d won at the last AIGA event I’d gone to. It was mainly a way to exchange snarky repartee with other people like you.
So I asked my current paramour (who, luckily enough, is still sitting beside me on the sofa drinking her coffee and looking just as cute) if she was down for a week in SF, my treat, so I could go on this job interview and see what this “Web Designer” thing was all about. She said yes, we hopped a plane with 3/4 of my entire wardrobe and I went on my first official job interview.
I showed up at the building, hopped in the elevator, and hit the button for my floor. The elevator started rising, and this weird glow started surrounding me about halfway up. Everything in the box just took on this frantic, creepy, almost fleshy pink tinge. Then the doors opened up, and I could see why. The entire wall facing the bank of elevators was painted a throbbing neon pink. You see, my professor, who was starting a job at Wired Magazine, thought I might be a good fit for this new venture they were going into called HotWired. COOOOOOOOOOL!
I don’t remember much of the interview—my jaw was on my chest pretty much the whole time, and I’m sure I looked like a total idiot, because all I could verbalize where things like “WOAH!” and “WOW!” and “AWESOME!” The guy interviewing me showed me the site they were launching, and it was like something just clicked inside me. It was my first internet “A-ha!” moment, really. This stuff here–this was a revolution. It was just waiting for people to come along and mold it into what it could be. And I really, really, REALLY wanted to be one of them. In one moment, the course of my entire career had changed. I wanted a job that would let me help figure out what this whole new untouched medium was going to be. I wanted to do what they were doing, and I wanted to start RIGHT NOW!
Unfortunately, even though there were only about 10 html tags at the time, I didn’t know a single one of them, so I didn’t get the job. And I didn’t get to work with Derek, who was one of the driving forces behind that site. I also didn’t go to ArtCenter. I took my CD portfolio and convinced a local skateboard company that I could learn HTML fast enough to help build their website. And I followed every single article on WebMonkey, where Derek and the rest of the crew taught me about everything from animated GIFs to frames to nested tables.
So here I am, over 15 years later, still as stoked as ever to be working on the internet. To see the promise of some of the things we dreamed about back in the day come to fruition because of the people you followed is amazing. Web typography amazes me every day–and it’s all thanks to another WebMonkey. The concept of Responsive Design makes me a little gooey inside (oh, media queries, how I can not wait to learn more about you!) I still look to Zeldman’s many sites for advice and inspiration.
Bottom line, I still can’t wait to see what’s next. That first internet moment repeats itself over and over for me as this field has invented and reinvented itself. It’s unpredictable, your skillset need constant updating, and a 12 hour day is a short one, but I still can’t imagine doing or being anything other than what that day turned me into–a web designer.