Inspired by Crystal Beasley’s post, My Nerd Story. I wanted to share my ‘nerd’ story, or how I got started in creating online.
Unlike the iPad wielding toddlers of today, my family and I didn’t have a computer in the home until I was a tween. However, my first experience using a computer was during our weekly computer class in elementary school. There were two women who ran the computer labs who were very strict. We used macs preloaded with reading and math games and we were not allowed to use anything on the computers outside of these games. Because of the strictness and the strong smell of one teacher’s unfortunate choice to go with a Jheri Curl, I was not a fan of computer class. However, these classes introduced me to computers and I did enjoy using computers when I happened upon them at a friend’s house or at a library.
Later, I somehow managed to convince my parents, who proudly called themselves ‘computer illiterate’, to purchase a home computer. This took a full year of convincing as my parents were not tech savvy and didn’t fully understand what they would be purchasing (after thinking about how much computers used to cost back then, I don’t blame them). After more than a few weeks of having this giant desktop, we finally figured out how to get it set and and connected to the internet. My brother and I also taught our parents the basics of computer use such as scrolling, clicking on links, etc.
Once I was connected to the internet, my favorite pastime became researching topics that interested me. I began to notice than many websites I found for musicians had disclaimers that stated that their sites were created by fans. Around that time I had also been visiting gurlpages.com— a community geared towards girls that offered HTML & CSS tutorials as well as free web space. I quickly created a site for one of my favorite groups, Dru Hill.
The site featured the latest updates on Dru Hill’s music, ran contests, photos from the latest print magazines, various quizzes and interactive elements, oh yeah, there was even a guestbook, remember those?. Even though I had no idea at the time what I was doing, I was implementing a lot of marketing and content strategies and there was a constant stream of visitors always coming back for more. Somehow the site blew up and I received tons of hits and the site ended up being #1 on the search engine, Excite. HTML & CSS was pretty basic back then but I learned a ton about coding and design just from running that site. No one knew really knew the person behind the page and I found out quickly why those other sites had disclaimers on them (I constantly got slightly creepy fanmail).
After conquering the fanpage realm (ha), I created a few personal pages that displayed my photographs, art and writing. Those pages could’ve been described as blogs but this was in a time before ‘web log’ was even a term. Back in those days there were many girls who had created whole communities and businesses all on their own. They had their own forums, linked to each other and supported each other. It was a very social community even before ‘social media’ and the creativity and innovation that went into these sites would put established companies to shame.
Fast forward to now, the internet has changed in more ways than I could imagine. Not only has the technology changed but the vibe has changed. There were far less people who were building and utilizing technology back then. Even though this marked me as a ‘nerd’ back then, I’m proud of where I came from and I wouldn’t change my history for anything. It hurts when others deny the existence of women in technology. Growing up, I had no idea that ‘only boys build websites’, I was surrounded by so many talented girls online. And like Crystal points out, you don’t need to start at 13 years old to be involved in building websites, you can start at 42.