My ten years in the wired world

posted by Jeff | Friday, July 29, 2005, 11:06 PM | comments: 1

Wired published a ten-year retrospect about stuff that changed the world. It's a really interesting read if you lived through all of that, and it makes me quite nostalgic! I've been writing code all day, so I need to write something humans can understand tonight. Thus... 10 Years That Changed The World (of Jeff Putz).

I graduated from Ashland University with a double major in radio/TV and journalism. The Web was pretty cool, and I remember that spring screwing around in Windows 3.1 with Winsock and Mosaic so we could figure out what the hell this was on the back of the labels of the then-trendy girl beer. I spent the summer working at CompUSA and bought my first Intel-based PC, a 75 MHz Pentium with 8MB of RAM and a 200 MB hard drive. I found a local ISP and began looking at the Web from my room at my parent's house. You could spend hours looking at stuff back then.

After surviving the launch of Windows 95, I finally got into my "real" career with a full-time overnight gig at "Cleveland's Hit Music Station, the new Jammin' 92.3!" Garbage came to town, I was spending days here and there with Stephanie back at AU, and in the back of my mind I could see that the Internet held a lot of potential as a new form of media.

I got laid-off from the radio station and haven't been behind a microphone since (this is something that I sorely regret, even though commercial radio completely sucks). Back to CompUSA, modems got faster, PC's got faster, and there was this site called Yahoo you could search for hours.

That summer, I got a job with the City of Medina, Ohio and the school district, charged with creating a government, and eventually public, access cable TV facility. I would get to buy about $150,000 in pro TV gear, and be well on my way to doing everything I loved about TV... engineering, production, talent... the whole thing. But I also thought it would be cool to have a domain name, so I shelled out $100 to buy, thinking that maybe I could eventually build some kind of site as a hub for radio people. I got an apartment with Stephanie as well.

I coached freshman volleyball and it was a total disaster. I had no idea what I was doing. But the job was going well. We moved into a bigger apartment as well, after a near-meltdown nearly split us apart. I was screwing around looking for something meaningful to put on the Internet. Nothing came to mind. I'm pretty sure this was the first time I bought a book on Amazon. Putting video on the Web was really interesting though, and I started to experiment with it.

I saw HD television for the first time at a vendor demo. I was absolutely floored. I figured we were just a few years away from having this in our house. Stephanie bought our first DVD player, a Sony that cost a whopping $500! (It's still sitting in the rack.)

Digital video was starting to become a serious reality. I started to push for the stuff at work, and bought into Panasonic's DVCPRO tape format, and scored a non-linear editing system from Media 100. It changed everything about the way we did TV. I couldn't believe it. No more shuttling through tapes, generation loss, pre-roll, etc. It was amazing.

It was also the first year that I put entire video programs on the Internet, and I think it was the year we first had broadband, in the form of DSL. 512k download speeds were amazing. This was the year I started Guide to The Point, an unofficial site dedicated to Cedar Point amusement park. In December of that year, I made $11.09 by putting ads from Burst Media on the site. I wondered what might happen if I had more visitors.

By this time I was getting seriously annoyed with the idiot politicians I worked with. I wasn't getting paid what my peers in other cities were, and I was tired of being referred to by asshole school principals as a kid. That summer, I had my first true Internet job with Penton Media.

The new job was awesome. I was surrounded by like-minded people that saw the Internet's potential as a means to connect people and reach a broader audience. Unfortunately, the idiots we all worked for didn't see anything outside of the tired old magazine model, but that melt down was still two years off.

I consider this the best year of my life, the highlight of which was my marriage to Stephanie. I really felt like I was living the American dream, with a spicy new marriage, an incredible honeymoon in Hawaii, a great job that paid well and fed the soul, Stephanie was teaching high school (her first job after getting her masters in biology), Friday lunches at Moe's with work friends, a nice apartment... really good times.

It was also the year that two other important moments happened for me. The first was that I sold that domain... for $100,000. Some Brits wanted it to promote Pepsi and the Spice Girls or some such shit. They first offered me $1,000 and I laughed my ass off. I knew who they were working for. Eventually I banked the huge coin that paid-off my car, credit card debt, my wedding, my honeymoon and the down payment on the house we'd buy the next year.

The second big moment was that I founded This coaster enthusiast site was based in part on some of the ideas we had at Penton in terms of creating a gateway to all things serving a particular market. I pushed it one step further by taking user-contributed content, something inspired by the site Voodoo Extreme years before. By this time I was fairly comfortable writing ASP code and developed my first significant version of POP Forums, which I sold for $175 per license (including to Burst Media).

This year was not so good. Penton started going into the crapper because the moron executives thought that anything with ".com" in the company name was good to buy. They didn't empower people to do the right things, and group managers and publishers were stuck in their print kingdoms.

But I moved on to a small publisher called Pfingsten Publishing and we bought a house with money. Stephanie went back to school. The summer showed a lot of promise with new things. I even spent the spring coaching junior Olympic volleyball, which was much more satisfying than high school.

Then on September 11, 2001, everything changed, as it did for most people. The event caused a catastrophe in the company and I got laid-off. (If I would've stayed at Penton, I would've been employed about two months longer.) The timing was bad, because I just signed a contract for a T-1 at the house to run my servers from. The advertising at that point did support it, barely, but it was scary. To make things worse, my biggest-paying ad agency, DoubleClick at the time, dropped me. To keep from paying that grand a month myself, I started the CoasterBuzz Club, a premium ad-free subscription to the Web site. It saved my ass, and maybe my house.

Not able to find a job, my self-esteem hit an all-time low. I was depressed. Winter sucked. The only good thing that came out of it was that I sucked it up and bought an MSDN subscription to get all of the new Microsoft stuff, and I learned all about ASP.NET (well, not a ton, but a start).

My six months of unemployment finally ended in April when I started working for a payroll processor, charged with developing their Web front-end. I was drawing a paycheck again, even though the work, well, when there was any work, was not interesting. That summer I got my first digital SLR camera, and I rediscovered how much I loved photography.

CoasterBuzz Club really started to take off, and picked up the slack quite a bit from the crappy advertising market. We had a great event at Paramount's Kings Island and we've had it every year since. I would never be rich with this site, but I was making enough to make it worth my time, even though I racked up a ton of debt the previous years with servers, software and the T-1.

It was clear that my job, where I had nothing to do, was sucking the life out of me. I spent time working on the forum at work from time to time to stay busy, and it was the year that object-oriented programming finally sunk in enough that I "got it." For the first time since leaving the broadcast world, I felt like a "real" programmer. I knew my job would go away eventually, but I really felt at peace about the whole thing. I'd roll with it this time. Sure enough, in October, they dropped me.

But technology was interesting. I was coming into my own as a code monkey, I got this really cool thing called an iPod, and bandwidth got so cheap that I could finally rent a server somewhere instead of doing the T-1. The timing was good too because my cable company finally finished an upgrade to provide broadband service.

Walt, my partner to combine GTTP with his Virtual Midway (that next spring), suggested as I was helping him that my advice sure would make a good book, so I decided to write a chapter and start sending it to publishers.

Being unemployed was different this time, as recruiters were calling like crazy. It was then that I realized that I could bill more than $50 an hour as a consultant if I could live with the weirdness that might bring. So I went to work as a contractor for Progressive in late January.

Progressive was, as far as I could tell, securing developers in part to make sure they had them. The Cleveland market was being sucked dry. I had nothing to do. The commute was an hour each way. I was quickly getting unhappy despite the gigantic paychecks I was getting.

Then Addison-Wesley offered me a contract to write my book, and I decided I'd take the summer off to do just that. I got up when I felt like it and did what I felt like, even though the money from CoasterBuzz didn't entirely pay the bills. At least I was doing what I wanted to do. In fact, I think I was almost too relaxed, because at one point Stephanie asked if I was depressed. In retrospect I was certainly working things out in my mind about my place in the world, reaching no conclusions, but I don't think I was depressed. Just very contemplative.

This one is still obviously a work in progress. This year I started working a contract job that has allowed me to really work in my own world, on my terms, the way I want. I'm also coaching high school volleyball again. Overall, I like where I am professionally. The part of me that suffers is my emotional side in terms of relationships and self-care. I'm trying very hard to repair those.

The past ten years were interesting, with more ups and downs than I could have ever thought possible. Professionally, I still get excited about all that might be. The only regret I have is that I never got to be a part of something big the way some people did (like the founders of Yahoo or Google or whatever), but I've had so many little victories in life that it's OK.

I wonder what I'll have to write about ten years from now?


Stephanie, July 30, 2005, 3:09 PM #

"You could spend hours looking at stuff back then." Yeah, because it took hours to download! ;)

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