My family tended to move quite a bit when I was young but we eventually settled in Memphis, TN. A lucky child with a computer in the household, I took to it at an early age. This was the infancy of the Internet with AOL, Compucast, and others providing the basic services to the populace. The Internet was a pretty different place than it is now.
Throughout high school I was the typical bored computer teenager, more interested in programming and design then studying and grades. It’s really cliche in retrospect, but cliches exist for a reason.
After graduating high school I wanted to jump immediately into the job market, since everyone who worked with Web sites and computers was in Silicon valley making fat stacks. I decided to avoid the college route and enter the workforce.
This meant a meager salary at a call center job supporting cable modems for our local provider. This was a great job, at first. They offered reimbursement on training certificates, and it was a place you could really grow as a person. This call center will be the first of the unnamed organizations and individuals I’ve worked with, but it honestly needs no name for people in the Memphis area.
While there, I learned quite a bit about users and troubleshooting. I have to admit that even now, more than a decade since this experience, I still approach support situations in a similar manner.
This job made me realize that support of systems outside of my control and taking that stress upon myself was probably not a life I wanted to pursue. I started experimenting with Macromedia’s Flash software which seemed to be where things were going. Luckily the computers at the call center allowed the ability to install development tools and I was able to teach myself in the great shift of 9pm to 6am when the phone rang very rarely. This was kind of a neat phase in my life being almost completely shut off from society working such awful hours. I went completely nocturnal, even on the weekends, hanging out on Highland avenue at the late night coffee shop where I met Eric.
One of the people at the call center job worked part time at a Web design business. I didn’t know it at the time but this person was going to be crucial in
my transformation into a Web designer.
After he mentioned me to his boss I was invited to their office, where I produced a rudimentary Web site in front of them in very little time. They hired me on the spot.
I was designated as the lead designer and Ian, my counterpart, was to support me in building out and launching the sites. We created hundreds of sites, working with a hotel chain requiring a blue, red, and gold theme that scars my soul to this day. There is something that “web people” be it a graphic designer, web designer, developer, or anyone who works with a “brand”; it just gets burned into your head.
After working there for about a year, some friends I had met online in Los Angeles asked me if I’d be interested in working in California on some major design and development contracts for a bighospitality name. Living in Memphis my entire life was never the plan, so I sold or gave away everything, loaded up the car, and hit the road.
Working in an Internet startup environment was a lot different than the humble Web site design job in Memphis. There was wine and beer in the fridge, those fancy chairs, everything that comes to mind when you think thriving dot com company.
I learned more about design from the woman running the business than I ever did reading books and blogs. Very obvious things that make perfect sense when explained to you as a young designer but still things that are essentially ingrained into my psyche.
We worked out there for about 6 months and thoroughly enjoyed the experience but growing up in the South and moving to the West coast didn’t fulfill me. A common theme in this book is working for others and asking why.
I grew tired of Los Angeles for all the same reasons other people get tired of living there. Being extremely young and idealistic, I decided that I didn’t need a boss and project managers. I’m the designer, I’m the developer, I’m the system administrator, I’m doing this on my own, and I’m also going to do it in New Orleans.
Growing up in Memphis, most of us made trips to New Orleans on a near-monthly basis. A quick 6 hour drive and you were there; leaving on a Friday and driving back Sunday night. The allure was obvious and a no brainer.
I did some research, got some movers, and pulled the trigger. Let’s move to a city where I have zero contacts and try to start a business.
I wanted to seize my life dream and open a Web design company in New Orleans. I moved down, got a apartment and started getting any gigs I could get. About the same time, my father opened a business called point2point in Memphis. It was a structured cabling company, requiring the exact skill set I was equipped with, and it started getting me quality leads on people who needed a Web presence.
I would collect the sites while in Memphis and head home to New Orleans where I designed and developed them. I made barely enough to pay rent or feed myself. After about 8 months, I gave in and moved back to Memphis, where the business was better. Even now I can still remember that heartbreaking return drive.
I started to tighten my game up and produce sites on a whole new level. Bigger clients, more money. Using the point2point banner and office and its resources, I had a legit Web design and hosting business going. Enough work came in to provide me with the means for a basic life. Meanwhile, I dreamt of how I could take it further.