Trish and Harold's Weblog

News, information, and random thoughts from the busy lives of Trish Egan and Harold Phillips.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Sometimes, People Ask Me How I Got In The Computer Business...

Many of you know I supplement my acting income with what I make as a freelance computer consultant and web designer. Often, when people find this out, they're surprised; after all, actors are supposed to be artsy, head-in-the-clouds types, not nerdy, linear, computer types, right? How the heck did this happen?

Well... It was pretty much like this:

Ok, that's not exactly true... there I was, a young actor fresh out of college, looking for a day-job that would pay Trish and my bills while I worked on making a name for myself in the Portland theatrical scene (remember, I was pretty fresh in town when I graduated... I'd transferred from Western Washington University to the University of Portland just a year-and-a-half before. Somehow meeting Trish during a summer stock season messed up my "move down from Alaska and infiltrate the Seattle market" master plan... ah well. A story for another time).

After taking my brand-spankin'-new (er... drama) degree into a bunch of interviews, I ended up working in the file room at a law firm... not as soul crushing as it might sound: it was a firm that specialized in Art Law - working on contracts for artists, trademark, copyright... all kinds of good stuff.
Ok, lets not put too much of a blush on that rose - it was still a law firm and still soul crushing. Again, a story for another time.

For the rest of THIS story to make sense, you have to realize that this was back in the mid-90's; the "dot com" boom was in full swing, but personal (and business) computing was really kind of in its infancy. These new boxes that everyone had on their desks were kind of mystifying... the secretaries and lawyers knew how to use WordPerfect, but that was about it. We didn't even have an office-wide Internet connection - at that time, such a thing was very expensive.

I had more computer knowledge than anyone else at the firm - because, frankly, I played computer games. See, kids, back in the prehistoric Windows 3.1 days, you had to actually reprogram your computer in order to play high tech games like Dark Sun, Dune II, and Crusaders of the Dark Savant. Windows was just another program that ran in the DOS operating system, and it took up all the memory that games wanted... so you had to create bizarre, arcane items like boot disks (the pony express would deliver the raw materials that we'd piece together with cat gut and ground up berries... it was a simpler time, ya know).

So, because of my increased level of knowledge, I became the defacto "computer guy" in this small law office. When the firm did bring in a professional to help set up a network (trust me, a much more capable professional than the nit wit in the comic strip above), I became his deputy in the office and helped him set things up... and I was the guy on the "front line" who called him in when I couldn't fix things.

Fast-forward a couple of years... I'd gotten tired of the legal field and had moved on to a new job (but one just as soul crushing) when I got a call from the aforementioned professional. He was moving to a new city, and wanted to leave his clients in good hands... so he wanted me to go into business for myself and take over for him here in Portland.

That was 13 years ago. In the intervening time I've had lean periods and busy periods... but I've also had scheduling flexibility, access to a large group of contacts I might not otherwise have had... and I've gained experience in running a business that I use on a daily basis when running my acting business. And I haven't had to work in a bar or restaurant that whole time - the traditional actor's "day job."

So why is Uncle Harold spinning this long, drawn out story? Well, mostly it's because I saw that comic strip above, and it struck a nostalgic chord... but on a larger scale, this is a story about walking through doors that are opened for you, whether you know where they lead or not. If I'd thought my Drama degree disqualified me from work in a law firm, I wouldn't have applied in the first place. If I had kept my head down at the firm and not used my computer-game-acquired mojo, I never would have gotten out of the file room. If I'd played it safe and not gone into business for myself... well, I might be working in a restaurant right now to pay the bills.
If you take anything from this epistle of mine, make it this - opportunities are all around you, and you have skills someone else doesn't. You may not know where those doors lead... but that doesn't mean you shouldn't walk through them.
Oh, and take one other thing with you - Something*Positive is a great comic strip, and you should pop by and read it every day :)
For what it's worth...

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