Tuesday, December 23, 2008

From Rock to the Web - A Technophobe's Journey

I have had a love/hate relationship with personal computers most of my life. For a while I was a computer science major in college. Then I realized that sitting in a cubicle for hours a day hacking code, drinking coffee and grape soda by the liter and eating Fritos was probably going to put me in an early grave. So I ran away and joined a rock band. Became a technophobe. Really, I didn't want to ever have anything to do with computers again.
About two years later, I was out of the band and getting my start in the music business and my mentor, Greg Forest, showed me how the computer could be used as a tool. With his techniques he was doing the work of a whole office full of people by himself. This was 1988 and he was way ahead of the game. He was even doing some digital recording, turning out demos for songwriters. So I got interested in computers again.
At this time I was also doing a little bit of writing for a couple of music publications and through my relationship with editors got some work doing first typing and then layout. We were doing the typeset on computers and then doing a paste up of the layouts. We were doing the computer stuff on Ataris and Macintosh computers (yes the little self contained box). This is where I started learning desktop publishing and graphics.
Along about this time I went through a transitional phase of my life, so I wasn't doing much on computers as I kept moving around, working on the road some and changing jobs pretty often. Oh yeah, I might add that at this point around 1991-92 I still had never owned a personal computer of my own.
I got out of music and in to art. I was doing fine art photography and starting to show some work in galleries while supporting myself working as a restaurant manager and waiter. There were hints on the horizon concerning digital photography but I was into film and the darkroom and I stuck to that. Besides, good digital cameras were really expensive at the time and film would probably be around for at least another century, right?
One pivotal event in my path to the digital world was when I worked an agreement with a fellow in Austin to trade finishing out a cabin in Bastrop County for a year's rent. The cabin was on the edge of some wild woods, but there was a main house on the property that I had access to and it had computers and Internet. In my little escape to the woods I had managed to hook up with the whole world.
This was 1999 and I had heard a lot about the Internet, but had never really done any surfing. I hardly knew what a browser was. I was desperately behind and out of practice on computers but I got really interested in the Internet and started spending a lot of time up at the main house surfing the web, exploring and learning. It was along about this time that I published a calendar of my photos and thought that it would be a really great idea to have my own website, although I had no idea what it would take to make that happen. So I filed the idea away for the time being.
When I got done with the gig at the cabin I moved back in to Austin. My calendar was released at the end of 1999 and that coincided with my move back to town. I bounced around for a while, living with room mates, doing art. A friend of mine loaned me an apple computer he had and I started using it to surf the net, although it was often frustrating since I was on a dial up connection through an external modem. Soon I finally bought a computer of my own. I bought it at a pawn shop for four hundred dollars. It had an AMD K6-2 chip,128 MB of RAM and Windows 98. Adding more memory to this computer was the first of many computer upgrades I would do myself. About the time I made this purchase I also rented a loft/studio in Smithville and prepared to move there. An acquaintance of mine who was a web developer offered to help me out with getting a web site going. Unfortunately, before this was accomplished our relationship soured and that was the end of that although I did get my domain registered. I had no idea what it took to hire someone to do a website. I imagined it was pretty expensive. I had a free webspace with my dial up ISP so I created a little web page there. Then I found out about Dreamweaver and how you could download a free thirty day trial. So I downloaded it and started figuring out how to build a website. This would be version 1 of leswarren.com. I had Paint Shop Pro for the graphics, which I kept pretty simple. It was a frames based site with a basic black and white scheme. The Dreamweaver trial ran out, so I started learning to code by hand. Soon I was able to cobble pages together in a text editor. I still don't use Dreamweaver much.
Not long after this I was doing a photo shoot for a caterer who said they needed photos for a website and a brochure. As always with these local jobs I asked who would be doing the design and printing for the brochure. They said they didn't have anybody yet. As providence would have it, I had recently come in to some money from an insurance settlement and had used some of the money to buy good graphics programs, Pagemaker being one of them. I asked the caterer if they wanted to give me a shot at the brochure and the website. I convinced them that it would be a whole lot simpler to have one person handle everything and besides, I would take some of my payment in trade. I was able to complete both the brochure and a simple website satisfactorily and give my girlfriend an amazing catered dinner for Valentine's Day. Little did I know it, but I had started a new career path. It would take years to open up fully, but the work had begun.
I started practicing and studying in earnest. There were and still are a lot of resources on the web. I started learning about javascript and dhtml. My next job I traded a website for a van. It was a little more advanced with javascript slide shows and stylized navigation with image swaps. I also improved my own site. It would be years yet before I left my restaurant job and went full time. All that time I studied and improved. At some point I took some part time work in a commercial photography studio to learn digital workflow. Then I bought a digital camera. That camera paid for itself the first week I had it. I started studying Photoshop and how to work with digital photos and I must say, that is one of the hardest things I have ever learned. But I eventually became an expert, which not only helped me make a little money at photography but also helped a lot with websites. I put Linux on my computer and learned how to bash around in servers. I eventually had to replace my computer. And so the progression went.
Now I am a full time freelancer. I do graphic design and web development. I now work on big dynamic sites, usually working with programmers. I also do some photography. I live in a small town so I have to diversify to keep going. I still have to study continuously to expand my skills. Besides just the technical stuff I have had to learn about web strategies and how to make websites work for my clients. I don't anticipate ever being able to do this without doing a lot of homework to keep up. But thanks to the web and a lot of individuals who are willing to share their expertise and experience the knowledge is accessible. And I know I am not the only one who has learned this way. You might say the web is self-propagating.

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