One of the things that bugs me about many weblogs is that there is absolutely no information on the writer and their background. Without this background, I often wonder “why the hell should I care about what’s being said here?”
Hopefully this page will let you decide if my opinions matter or not. Its length will at least prove that I’m an old fart.
My background in technology began in 1976. Closer to a time when tubes were used in amplifiers rather than Internets. A time when computers where just becoming a part of everyday life.
Luckily I had two mentors at this early part of my career: my math teacher, Helen Loomis, and a local computer dealer, Hank Gray. If either of you happen by this page, please accept my sincerest thanks.
Helen’s husband, Don, worked at the University of California, Irvine in the Department of Information and Computer Science. He setup a 300 baud Teletype with punched tape and connected it to a timeshare account on a PDP-11 running at the university. Our math class got to use it.
Some people used it a lot :-)
After this initial introduction to programming, a ComputerLand store opened down the street from where I grew up. Luckily, Hank, who owned the store, didn’t mind a 16 year old kid hanging around and playing with the machines (including an IMSAI, Osborne, Apple II and a Commodore PET!) The only rule was that I had to get my ass out of the showroom anytime a customer came in. Losing a couple of hours of programming because of a demo was a small price to pay for unfettered access to the latest technology.
Prior to this exposure to microprocessors, I had intended to study architecture (following in the footsteps of my father.) But making things with bits & bytes was much more fun than with traditional building materials, so I enrolled at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) to study Computer Science.
Much of what I had learned up to that point was from experimentation in machine language or BASIC.
Learning formal techniques was a revelation: Tim Standish’s class on Data Structures and Algorithms opened a whole new world that went beyond arrays and
FOR/NEXT loops. I still have (and use!) the working copy of the book he was writing at the time.
I also got my first exposure to structured languages and bitmap graphics thanks to the Terak machines running the USCD P-system. Those things were like a magnet for geeks—which, in turn, fostered a lot of communal creativity. Working in a talented group beats the hell out of going it alone.
There was also this new thing called “Networking” being taught by a young professor from USC’s Information Sciences Institute: Paul Mockapetris. He was developing the Domain Name System at the time, and I still remember the OSI model thanks to this acronym: All Professors Should Teach Networking Like Paul. Despite this excellent introduction, it took me several years to begin understanding how connected systems would transform computing.
After leaving University bored and without a degree, I joined a startup company called FileNet. I was a part of a small team of engineers that build a complete Unix based system for handling image data. We wrote everything from the OS on up (distributed filesystems, window managers on 100 dpi displays, content management systems, document scanners with on-the-fly compression, etc.) It all seems pretty tame compared to today’s technology, but it was truly leading edge stuff in 1983.
This company was also where I started to understand the network because we were connected to Usenet. Communicating with people outside of your own organization was easy and fun and educational. It was my new teacher.
To give you an idea of how primitive things were at this time, we accessed FTP servers by sending commands via e-mail. And e-mail addresses were based on the connections between major hubs on the network (mine was ucbvax!..!felix!craig). We were all happy when Paul finished getting DNS deployed :-)
FileNet needed someone to move to Italy to support its European operations. Being young and adventurous, I jumped at the chance. My experiences during this time were more focused on enjoying life than technology. Computers aren’t really that important when you can’t have a conversation during dinner.
Networks did play a part of my time in Italy—e-mail was an essential tool for keeping in touch with family and friends back in California. And posting cat stories.
After my contract expired in Italy, I moved to Australia. It was here that I first experienced the latest (and certainly, greatest) thing: The World Wide Web. A good friend of mine, Ben Golding, was a founder in Australia’s first ISP. He had a Sun pizza box at home and showed me this cool new thing called Mosaic during a visit.
There wasn’t any porn at the time (yeah, hard to believe, I know) so we ended up looking up swear words in CERN’s dictionary. Despite this puerile start, it was easy to see how this technology was going to transform things: and there’s now more porn than we ever imagined.
After eight years abroad, I returned to California wanting to do something besides programming. I ended up managing the development of multimedia-based games at an educational toy company. The most important part of this experience is that it showed me that I really do love programming and that being a manager is a pain in the ass.
Luckily, the company I was working for disbanded my group after we shipped the product. It was the summer of 1997 and the surf was most definitely up, so I took some time off to explore my future direction (i.e. spending a lot of time surfing, both at the beach and on the Internet.)
Eventually I figured out that you could sell software via a website, so I proceeded to do that with the help of the Iconfactory and Jeffrey Zeldman. LJZ and I have gone our separate ways, but I’m still loving what I get to do with these talented folks.
I honestly don’t know what’s going to happen next. But it’s likely that you’ll read about it here :-)
If you need to contact me, use my firstname.lastname@example.org to send me a message. You can also follow my day-to-day activities on Twitter by following @chockenberry.