The 1980s were a veritable playground for anyone who could gain access to what was quickly becoming one of the most coveted inventions of all time: the computer. No longer the size of a refrigerator, innovations from companies like Tandy, Commodore and Apple made personal computers a reality and, like so many others, I couldn’t get enough. In the early days of the PC revolution, I spent hours pouring over the technical manuals for the two computers I had scraped together the change to purchase; the Tandy TRS-80 model 100 and the powerful Commodore 64.
Today, it’s hard to believe that a computer sporting 64K of RAM could ever be seen as powerful but, at the time, it was the next big thing. After all, how much space do you really need when everything is textual? Dial-up bulletin boards gave unprecedented access to information, and friends that were worlds away were suddenly right next door. Then, acoustic couplers gave way to smart modems and, suddenly, AOL was king.
Would you like to play a game?
As more and more of the world transitioned into the information age, an ever-increasing number of virtual playgrounds appeared for those of us who saw the Internet as our own personal sandbox. With the American legal system struggling to catch up, the lines between legal and illegal, moral and immoral, quickly blurred.
Hollywood had already left its mark on the cyberculture with the 1983 thriller WarGames, and many of America’s youth found themselves drawn into the glamour we saw on that silver screen. Cyber-celebrities like Kevin Mitnick, Kevin Poulsen and Robert Morris became our mentors, our idols.
Being a part of this apparent elite required a level of knowledge not taught by the educational institutions, so we found ourselves transfixed by technical manuals and developer documentation, absorbing knowledge like a sponge.
Out of the frying pan…
By the time high school came around, I had worked my way into the upper echelon of the local cyberculture. Our school district was just beginning to stress classes like Keyboarding (is that still a thing?) and Computer Science (which has changed a LOT), so those precious few of us who were already familiar with these concepts were the proverbial kings of the campus. Our knowledge bought us out of detentions, granted us unprecedented access throughout the school, and made us both respected and feared by the faculty. In a world where everything is controlled by computers, yet so few understand them, knowledge is truly power.
But, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end.
Shortly after graduating high school, I found myself at an impasse. On one hand, I could leave things as they were and find myself behind bars, guilty of any one of a number of violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (18 US Code § 1030). On the other hand, I could abandon my old life and put myself in a position where further criminal activity was, at the very least, difficult. So, I found myself on Parris Island, South Carolina undergoing Marine Corps boot camp.
My experiences in the Corps are a story for another time, but suffice to say it was a memorable experience that changed me for the better. When I finally got my separation papers, I had no idea that the biggest trials of my life were about to begin.
Into the fire
Being a veteran, particularly of the Corps, is no picnic. I left the Corps with no real prospects, no money, and nowhere to go. For years, I drifted; living as a sort of vagabond, doing odd jobs as I could and sleeping wherever I found shelter. I applied to job after job, and consistently found myself being turned down for any of a number of reasons. No permanent address, no experience, no formal education… the list goes on. My personal favorites were the companies who turned me down solely because I had served in the Corps. Any other branch would have been fine, but apparently some people see Marines as nothing but killers, ready to snap at any moment.
Finally, I turned to the one thing I knew… technology. Not having a permanent address meant I spent a long time working from libraries and cafe’s, but it worked. I had discovered WordPress in 2007, and decided to give web development a try. Finding work was hard with my limited resources, but my persistence was rewarded when I stumbled across Easy Digital Downloads.
Through random chance, Pippin gave me my first real break since returning to the civilian sector. Now, several years later, he has become my colleague, mentor and, most importantly, my friend. His decision to take a chance on someone who was an unknown quantity opened up a world of possibilities for me, and put me on the path towards becoming a professional in the WordPress community.
Today, I am proud to be a representative of our community, and have made more friends than I ever dreamed possible. Unlike so many similar communities, ours is truly a family. My WordPress family has seen me through good times and bad, and I am ever thankful for the kindness they have shown during the low points of the last few years. As has been stated so many times before, there is no reason to NOT take the leap into the wonderful world of WordPress… we’re here to catch you, teach you, and help you grow as an individual and as a valued member of our family.