Every once in a while I reflect on my past experiences and think about the people, places and opportunities in my life that had true effects on the path that led me to where I am today.
When I was in high school I had an opportunity to take a co-op placement at a fresh young company, Netaccess Systems, who were one of a few new Internet providers in Hamilton. Being a BBS kid, I knew about the mysterious Internet, but this was 1995, and at the time, dial-up rates were still a bit pricey, so it was unlikely that I’d be getting a connection any time soon. I’d like to think that I landed the “job” because of my keen understanding of how computers worked, and how to use things like modems and com ports, but in retrospect, I remember being so excited at the interview, that they probably realized just how much having that placement would mean to a dorky teenager like me.
Every day, from 1-5pm, I’d take a bus to their offices, the second floor and top floor of a converted house on Main St West. My official job was customer support, but I was routinely tasked with doing other jobs, such as build up their online support section with FAQ’s and how-to web pages.
I learnt the basics of HTML and some rudimentary PHP and Perl programming from their in-house developer, who also taught me that not all things technical needed to be without a soul. He was a CompSci major who also studied Philosophy and it showed in everything he touched. His web scripts asked philosophical questions of the user, he collected old luggage, fans and cameras, and he was obsessed with Marcel Duchamp. I learnt a lot from working with him, though I’ll ever come close to having as much style as he does.
I got my hands on their first Windows NT 3.5 (the original boxes ran BSD), and learnt what a router was for, and how a T1 and an ISDN connection worked. I’ll never forget the room full of dial-up modems, all stacked neatly next to each other on makeshift shelves. The experience of those early days on the Internet, was a definite turning point in my life.
When the semester was done, I was then hired full-time for the summer. While my friends were washing dishes or cutting grass, I was in an office working 9-5. It was great, and to this day, I still can’t think of another time when I was as excited at there being so much to learn. Everything was fresh and new and I was eating it all up.
Working at Netaccess, without a doubt, started me out on a path that culminates with where I am today. Obviously, with the the growing popularity of the web in the late 90’s, it would only be a matter of time until I was exposed to it, but the 6 months I spent at Netaccess definitely gave me a head start, and also valuable insight and knowledge that I would have otherwise never had, at age 16.
I never lost touch with the good folks at Netaccess, and even returned to work for them in 2000, during another turing point on the web: the birth of the modern interactive website. Netaccess was delving into the New Media pool and I was there on the ground floor. Once again, I feel that I was given the opportunity to grow and learn, surrounded by knowledgeable people who gave me great opportunities, that I would have otherwise never experienced. I was in college at the time, and found it fantastic that I was able to apply newfound skills immediately at my workplace. Unfortunately, the web (and business market) wasn’t ready for the boutique web design feel that we all now know.
As the days of dial-up faded away, and broadband became the domain of the phone and cable companies, it appeared that the era of the independent ISP was coming to a close. Rather than fade away into obscurity, Netaccess chose to innovate (or Pivot, as some would say) and moved into emerging technologies like Fibre Connectivity and Hosted Business Solutions.
As far as hometown success stories go, Netaccess is a great example of a business that started, grew up and stayed in Hamilton. A technology company from the early days of the Web that survived the dial-up wars, the Dot-Com Bubble and the Fiscal Crisis.
Over the years, I kept in touch with Netaccess and have always jumped at the opportunity to do business with them. Twenty years after starting up as a humble ISP in an attic office, Netaccess now occupies the 15th floor at Commerce Place in downtown Hamilton. Similarly, I’ve gone from being a zit-faced BBS’ing teenager, to a freelance developer and business consultant.
I guess both of us have come a long way.
Netaccess is hosting a reception to mark its 20th Anniversary. For more information & registration, see the Eventbrite page.