The Digital Recovery of Post Katrina New Orleans, Chapters 1 & 2

Friends of P2P Exclusive Happy Hour at Revel Cafe & Bar on April 24, 2019
Friends of P2P Exclusive Happy Hour at Revel Cafe & Bar in NOLA on April 24!
April 23, 2019
Michael Fredrick at work
The Digital Recovery of Post Katrina New Orleans, Chapter 3
May 7, 2019
point2point Central CEO Michael Fredrick on the lakefront dock with a laptop

The P2P family is happy to release the first two chapters of CEO Michael Fredrick’s book The Digital Recovery of Post Katrina New Orleans! Get ready for an incredible saga…

Introduction

Everyone enjoys the story of a journey. The story of a quest, of an individual stepping out of his or her element, undergoing unexpected challenges, and finally overcoming adversity to arrive at victory. This kind of story speaks to some elemental, ancient, human part of us all.

You won’t find any dragons or wizards in the following pages. There’s no ragtag group of rebels resisting a vast evil empire, and no one learns to pilot spaceships via telekinesis. But I hope the story still reads as a journey, an example of humble folks meeting adversity, fighting steep odds, and, in the end, adding to the world’s sum total of goodness.

This is a chronicle of recovering and restoring massive amounts of digital information that was almost wiped out forever by Hurricane Katrina. While I hope that there’s enough drama to keep you turning the pages, I also intend this story to be instructive and informative. It serves as a portrait of what happens to the digital aspect of our society after a natural disaster. In telling this story, I hope to supply you, the reader, with a few handy tricks to avoid the fate of the heroes who appear in the following pages.

To this day, the post-Katrina website and email recovery was the largest and longest effort of my entire career. I doubt I’ll ever see a similar situation. Staring down this path to help get New Orleans businesses and organizations back online, I had no idea how to get started. Most of my soon-to-be customers were suffering from mild to severe cases of PTSD, so simply approaching them was an act that required sensitivity and tact.

I had never taken on a recovery mission like this before. I was a web designer: I built websites and hosted them. Never before was there a ticking clock, as there was in these heated days. The prime window for restoring service had already passed. We embarked on a sort of archaeology dig of for lost digital information.

I’m extremely proud of what we accomplished. Thinking back to these days always humbles me. More and more, I find that the story you’re about to read was truly a journey, a quest, a challenging experience which has become integral to who I am today.

Our Hero’s Background

My family moved around quite a bit when I was young, but we eventually settled in Memphis, Tennessee. We were lucky enough to have a computer in the household, and I took to it at an early age. These early digital dabblings took place in the infancy of the Internet, way back when AOL, Compucast, and others provide the basic online service to the public. The Internet back then was a much different place than it is now.

I developed into the typical bored and computer-savvy teenager, far more interested in my extracurricular adventures in programming and web design than in my high school classes and grades. In retrospect, it seems so cliché –  but clichés exist for a reason.

After graduating high school I wanted to jump immediately into the job market. Everyone who worked with websites and computers seemed to be making fat stacks of cash in Silicon Valley. I avoided the college route, envisioning instead a lavish lifestyle built off my coding genius.

What I got instead was a meager salary at a Memphis call center, supporting cable modems for a 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. While working here, 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.

My work at the call center led me to realize that supporting systems outside of my control and taking that stress upon myself was not exactly for me. So I started experimenting with Macromedia’s Flash software. In those days, Flash seemed to be a road sign pointing to where web technology and design were going. Luckily, I was able to install these development tools onto the call center’s computers. I taught myself Flash to while away my graveyards shifts (9 p.m. to 6 a.m.!), during which the phone rang very rarely. This was kind of a neat phase in my life. Working these awful hours almost completely shut me out of society. I became fully nocturnal, even on the weekends, hanging out on Highland Avenue at the late night coffee shop where I met Eric.

I figured out how to do some really cool things with Flash. I began building websites with it and loving it. Web design took on a clear structure in my head. File libraries, image libraries, Javascript: combine these basic elements, and you have a website. I became a web design junky. I mastered the fundamentals and constantly took in new inspiration from sites across the internet. I’m talking high-grade computer-nerd stuff, here. I was reading the source code on live sites to get even better at HTML and CSS (two programming languages that were probably used to code almost every website you’ve ever seen). Soon, I had a few sites in my portfolio. But the idea of doing this full time was still only a pipe-dream.

This started to change when I learned that a co-worker at the call center worked part time at a web design firm. I didn’t know it at the time, but this person was going to be crucial in my transformation into a web designer. He mentioned me to his boss, and I soon was invited to the firm’s office. I was asked to produce a rudimentary web site in front of them, under a very tight time limit. It was like an Olympic challenge for a web designer.  I was able to perform under pressure, and they hired me on the spot.

What’s more, I was instantly made the firm’s lead designer. In my time at the firm, I led a team that created hundreds of sites for corporate clients, working closely with companies to tailor each site’s design to match their brand image.  I remember designing a site for a hotel chain that demanded a pretty awful blue, red and gold color scheme. The logo and colors are, unhappily, still branded on my memory. This is all in a day’s work for any graphic designer, web designer, or developer: brand names and colors, hokey slogans and cheesy logos, take over a whole region of your brain.

After about a year at the design firm, some friends I had met online, who lived in Los Angeles, invited me to work in California on some major design and development contracts for a big hospitality company. While I enjoyed my work at the firm, living in Memphis forever was never my plan. With visions of beaches dancing in my head, I jumped at the new offer. I sold or gave away almost everything I owned, loaded up my car, and headed west.

My new web start-up digs were a far cry from my humble web design job in Memphis. There was wine and beer in the fridge. There were futuristic, ergonomic chairs. There was an open floor-plan. Basically, my new workplace had everything that comes to mind when you think thriving dot-com company.

But beneath this trendy exterior was a no-nonsense workplace which advanced my skills faster than any job I’ve had. In six months, I learned more about design from the woman who ran this business than I did over years of reading books and blogs. She taught me fundamental pillars of web design that will forever be ingrained into my psyche.

I worked in California for about six 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 yourself how your work matters to a wider community. [GB3] While I was advancing my own skills and making money in California, I felt I was working in a vacuum. I worked for a business that helped other businesses make money. I started to wonder whether my sharpened skills as a web designer could have a more meaningful impact on the world.

Being extremely young and idealistic, I decided that I didn’t need a boss or project managers. I said to myself, I’m the designer, I’m the developer, I’m the system administrator. I’m going to do this on my own.

And I’m going to do it in New Orleans.

Growing up in Memphis, friends and I made trips to New Orleans on a near-monthly basis. A six-hour drive got you to the magical Big Easy, where the culture was unmatched and where there was no reason too small to throw a party for. I’d taken many weekend trips in my youth. I knew and loved New Orleans, so the allure of start my next chapter there was a no brainer.

I did some research, got some movers, and pulled the trigger. Looking back, it’s a pretty typical scheme by yours truly: Let’s move to a city where I have zero contacts and start a web design company!

I got an apartment and started seeking out work, taking 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 like a yo-yo I went up and down the state of Louisiana. I shot up to Memphis to collect the sites from contacts I got through point2point, and then I bolted home to New Orleans where I designed and developed them. I had the eye-of-the-tiger, and I was doing everything I could. And yet, I made barely enough to pay rent and feed myself. After about eight months of this, I gave in and moved back to Memphis, which had much more business at the time. I can still remember that heartbreaking return drive.

I started to tighten my game up and produce sites on a whole new level. I started to attract bigger clients with more money. By using point2point’s brand name, office and resources, I added legitimacy to my web design and hosting business. Clients took note, and became more eager to work with me. Enough work came in to provide me with the means for a basic life.

But I was still stuck in Memphis. I dreamt of how I could take it farther.

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We’ll be releasing more very soon…stay tuned…!

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