“You wrote for Slashdot?”
I get this a lot, even twelve years after I’d written my last piece. It happened again just two weeks ago, talking to a guy from InfoSec.
I was young, idealistic and had no idea what I was doing. I imagine that for most of us, this is still true. We didn’t write for a market or to capitalize on a trend. We wrote about things we liked, and tried to get other people to like them, too.
A cynical perspective could see Slashdot as a place where angry nerds gather and rant anonymously about the topics of the day, but it misses the point. It’s actually a place where hundreds of thousands of people show up to say, ‘Hey, look at this thing, isn’t it cool?’
Sometimes the answer is yes, sometimes it’s hell-no, but there’s always an answer.
Nerds are some of the weirdest people you’ll ever meet. They also tend to be intelligent, opinionated and enthusiastically kind. Twelve years later, Slashdot still makes that obvious -- Even when the readers are loudly complaining about software patents, arguing about intellectual property and demanding new Firefly.
“What was it like?”
Rob Malda had managed to learn most of Darth Maul’s moves, and was terrifying with a dual-bladed lightsaber toy. We knew every word to ‘Cowtown’ by They Might Be Giants, and we broke out into song while driving down a highway in Michigan. The ‘geek compound’ was actually a few houses at the end of a suburban cul-de-sac. Jeff Bates did a killer Dr. Evil impression, and was able to eat clementines at a terrifying pace. The one-and-only time I’d ever visited the aforementioned ‘compound,’ I had a flu and was taking a terrifying amount of medication for it, which led to me saying wildly inappropriate things to people I’d just met. No one really seemed to care. I slept on CowboyNeal’s couch, and learned that Rob and I had not only run BBSes ‘back in the day,’ but ran them on the same software as well.
I wrote a lot of pieces that I still enjoy to this day. I also wrote a lot of pieces that I’d prefer to never see again. I approved some stories that I shouldn’t have, and rejected a lot of stories that probably should have gotten more attention. Have I mentioned that I had no idea what I was doing?
I enjoyed my time at Slashdot tremendously, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. It’s unsettling to know that what you’re typing in vi tonight is going to be in front of more than a million smart people tomorrow morning. Then those smart people will be encouraged to comment on what you write, telling you exactly how much of an unparalleled genius/complete moron you are. They may even make a chart.
No matter what we had to say on the site back then, everything at the time was colored by money. The dot-com investment mania was at full strength, and there was a wildly inaccurate assumption that we were all hip-deep in filthy lucre. Writing about technology isn’t terribly lucrative, even if you’re writing for one of the most popular sites on the planet. Putting the technology to use is considerably more valuable: When I left tech writing and journalism to go back to work as an engineer, my income more-than-doubled.
“All good things...”
I left Slashdot to take over as the editor-in-chief of Linux.com, which ended up being a beautiful disaster. I went back to engineering for about a year, then took over as the CEO of the Xiph.org Foundation for a while, and then went back to engineering again. I started a production company and was able to fulfill childhood dreams by working on Star Trek and writing a lot of music for video games. My current time is divided between working in systems engineering, managing my production company and training for my private pilot certificate here in the Valley of the Sun.
I still love tech, and I still love sharing cool new things with people I barely know.
I still run Linux machines at home, at work and in outside projects.
I still think the DMCA is a terribly stupid piece of legislation.
I still throw down with pudge on political matters.
I still read Penny Arcade, run a BBS and hang with trekkies.
...and I’m on IRC right now.
@EmmettPlant is a composer, systems engineer, ‘Star Trek’ producer and amateur aviator who wonders why there aren’t any fat dudes on ‘The Big Bang Theory.’ He lives in Arizona.