In a world of Tech Disruption, I still don’t feel like I belong
In the era of Disruptive Tech, I still don’t feel like I belong
For those coming of age beside Angelfire, our pioneering contributions don’t matter that much on paper
The internet was new, weird, and full of P2P file-sharing software that took centuries to snag a song you liked…that was hopefully not mislabeled as something Green Day made, instead of Harvey Danger.
We grew up pushing boundaries, spoofing Neopets login pages, running MMORPG private servers off of our Windows 95 machines, and exploring the rogue internet while our parents called and kicked us off the dial-up modem.
If you think it’s just me who did this stuff, you’re wrong. There’s a nerdy subculture out there, it exists, but we just don’t talk about it.
We don’t talk about it, because I suspect we were too young to capitalize on a career at this time, but old enough to know the power we were wielding.
A lot of us went into Tech programs in high school, where Graphic Design was done not only in Photoshop, but Paint Shop Pro, and Image Ready was the champion for ‘web graphics’.
Then we went to college.
Afterwards, we had to pick up an explosion of new tech skills to overcome the 2008 recession’s lasting damage, and those that did spent grueling years unlearning bullshit and learning responsive via bootstrap and UI design via InVision App.
Many of us forgot about tech.
There were too many new job titles, and a lot of us still can’t understand why front-end development requires more than HTML, CSS, JS and PHP.
Despite keeping up with my skills, it still sort of feels like being forgotten.
Especially when I’ve sat here and tried to quantify the entirety of my skills for job applications or interviews.
I know I was a pioneer, but proving it with anecdotes about dead languages doesn’t fly
What I can show of my portfolio is pretty dank, but when 22 year old Directors of Marketing are asking me (a 31 year old) about why I think I’m Senior XYZ role material, it’s hard to make a case for being here since the beginning…
…when people like me were tweens when it all went down.
We probably learned coding via Myspace and some sort of back-end framework from Furcadia called Dragon Speak.
Even if people like me have been plugging away since Image Maps via Coffee Cup were a thing, there’s a disconnect.
The technology was imperfect, but my lost generation of tech weirdos enjoyed exploring it.
For those of us that kept learning our trade, part of what we know can never apply, and that leaves us unable to talk about it in a meaningful way.
Even as someone who thinks the hiring process is broken, I still examine job listings.
Because the little sting in my gut each time I see a role reflecting the breadth of my knowledge, in a company I’d enjoy working for, is enough to give me hope.
Hope to find a place to belong.
Hope to find a place where my creative contributions have space to grow.
Hope to be recognized by someone else, even if I scream about being the odd one out.
We all want to be recognized for our skills.
But us weird J-Rock fans who made fan pages for Dir En Grey, and learned all about DNS for shits and giggles, didn’t even have the language to understand what we knew at the time.
How do we even begin to talk about all this?
Us 90s kids were too young to capitalize on the web, but we’re also old enough to know what the web used to be
I look at Creative Director roles and feel under-qualified, even if I know my 5 years of experience ‘working in tech’ is technically more like 17.
Because I never stopped making websites, designing graphics, or exploring technology.
I say 10–15, because that’s some kind of weird median.
Youngsters making their own games or apps, now, means something.
Me running a 300 user MMORPG on my Windows 95 computer, then selling it to a team of people to monetize, just gives brow-raises.
Growing my followers for my now defunct art career on social, organically, from 3–4k on every available platform, just gives brow-raises.
What have you done since then? I get asked this. A lot.
Here’s a look at a bunch of failed Startups I did every single part of, right out of the 2008 recession, being underpaid for my work for several years, and subsequently going solo because I know my worth.
I have a metric ton of white-labeled work for digital agencies and small Startups I can’t show anyone.
I respect my clients’ wishes to keep me as their trump card, but…
…I’m a ghost in tech.
My skills sit quietly in the back of my mind.
I don’t know how to talk about all of them, or even some of them, for the true breadth of what they are.
The old web created generalists, and I suspect, a huge batch of people who can’t claw their way out
Everyone talks about people who are jacks of all trades, but masters of none.
I’m pretty sure a lot of 90s kids mastered a lot of shit, but nobody wants generalists…unless they want to pay 1 person to do the job of 6.
Those jobs pay shit, and listening to 22 year old Directors of Marketing tell us we need to pay our dues is preposterous.
Those of us who kept up with our skills understand ‘growth hacking’ better than someone who paid the few Influencers that don’t suck to go viral.
We grew our MMORPG userbases, email lists, and blog subscribers with mIRC and newsgroup distribution.
Imagine being a Startup founder, now, and quite simply running into every available community, and ‘growth hacking’ the labor-intensive way.
Almost nobody wants to do that, because it’s hard and takes time.
If it seems like I’m salty, that’s accurate. But it’s more likely that I still don’t know how to explain all this.
And in some way, I feel like it doesn’t really count.
It might just be because everyone, at any age, thinks they’re a genius and have nothing new to learn because of the job title they’ve claimed.
I also don’t really respect the hierarchy, because I’ve both been the ‘young upstart’ and ‘overqualified old betch’ for what seems like most of my life.
That’s also probably another mark against me.
But it feels very stifling to be both, and know I’m neither.
Thanks to the breadth of work I have, and the skills I’ve cultivated since I was a tween, I’m pretty solid
I have plenty of work for my tiny agency. Even when I don’t, I wait a bit, and someone pops into my inbox.
I’ve been asked by my other agency friends, with disbelief in their voices, how I get leads without spending a dime, as if it’s a magic trick.
No, it’s just stuff I learned as a tweenager and wee college student.
I feel kind of stupid saying that.
I have enough skills to adapt to almost anything a client needs, and I’m still learning, every single day.
The downside of this means I’m a generalist, when specialists are more respected.
The upside of this means I’ll almost never be without contract work for very long.
I’ve been here since the web was weird. And I’m not quitting my internet adventures any time soon.
I feel like our weird 90s kid generation is simultaneously too young to know anything, and too old to be relevant, at any given moment
I’ve smashed up Google’s front page to spot #3 (competitors are now trying to outrank me) employing techniques SEO experts say do not work.
A lot of these experts are younger than me, and it feels…really weird explaining to them things I think they should already know.
That LSI really hasn’t been proven effective in 2019.
That, despite what Google says, social signals work.
Google crawls Twitter like a website, it stands to reason back-links are created.
It stands to reason that if I do not work with Influencers, and I do distribute my articles like a script-kiddie on stimulants (I do it by hand and don’t do drugs, thanks), that I’m doing something they’re not.
Probably because this lost ‘internet rebel’ generation I’m a part of didn’t have SaaS products to identify high-authority, broken-link-laden websites to inject themselves into (which feels scummy, tbh).
We’re comfortable making connections with strangers and growing communities; that’s where we all started.
From the chatrooms — and the Deadjournals — to the private servers; we know how to grow userbases the hard way.
If you grow loyalty, you win. If you gain friends, even better.
Plenty of Startup Directors of Marketing forget this, and think there are easy solutions to an incredibly saturated internet.
They think that if they follow Best Practices it will get them beyond the Big Boys who were here and smart when I was small and dumb.
In the face of their exuberant and misplaced optimism, this makes me feel really goddamn old.
I’ve had grown men tell me they are Senior Level and have 15 years of experience, in order to prevent paying for my work (they were happy with it) at the agreed upon rate (weird flex, but ok).
I’ve been deeply invested in this field since Photoshop’s first blush; I also technically have that level of experience.
But apparently I know nothing, like Jon Snow. I’m inexperienced.
It’s just really odd, and makes me feel both stupid and smart at the same time.
In the era of Disruptive Tech, I still don’t feel like I belong
I’m part of a very eccentric little subculture the internet seems to have forgotten about.
I definitely have a chip on my shoulder, I’m aware of this.
I suspect it’s because I’ve simultaneously been the ‘overqualified old betch’ and ‘young upstart who knows nothing’ for the entirety of my life.
It feels isolating. And I’m not quite sure why I wrote this article, not really, except maybe to say that it feels isolating.
Or maybe it’s because I’m feeling young and inexperienced, and yet old and out of touch, when both things are not true.
Maybe I wrote this article to share a narrative that I do not get to see very often, one about a pioneering generation that’s caught in the middle.
A generation that’s pretty hard to explain to people who’ve come of age when the systems our subculture inadvertently helped build have now become perfected and ubiquitous.
Or maybe, just maybe, I wrote this article because I wanted to give some shout-outs to the weird tech I still love.
Whatever the case, I hope you understand me and people like me a little bit more than you already do.
And maybe you won’t just see some oldish millennial with a chip on her shoulder.
Maybe you’ll see a pioneer the internet has forgotten about, who wants to tell her story, and be recognized
For now, I’m going to go play Princess Maker 2 and see if I can break it apart to make my own RPG / dating sim hybrid.
Technology was, and still is, a playground for people like me.
Let’s never forget where we came from, please.
It was so very wonderful, and so,so, so very weird.
Special thanks to Renato P. dos Santos for his continued support.
In a world of Tech Disruption, I still don’t feel like I belong was originally published in Hacker Noon on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.