Sunday, January 16, 2011

IT and me

The year was 2001, and I found myself starting a new business in East London's beachfront suburb, the Quigney. Having a few years practical experience, I knew very little about the hardware aspect of computers or networking. But because the Internet was becoming more and more used by business people and tourist, I saw an Internet Café as the ideal opportunity to make money while being connected. In those days you paid per minute for your Internet connection on a 56 kbps connection.

Working 18 to 20 hour days was nothing unusual for the next two years, for it was a constant learning curve at age 22. Instead of sitting in a classroom everyday learning theory, I choose the practical path for my learning experience. So there I was, learning about the Internet by designing my first html website, and with the help of my partner and friend at the time, Kobie Nel, understanding networking with COAX cables and Internet sharing through a VERY slow dialup, but fast enough to support up to 10 pc's at a time. Windows XP was not even in the market yet, and having 128 MB RAM in was considered a lot! I also found myself staring over the shoulders of Kobie while he was fixing computers or changing settings.
Computers and networking was but one of the subjects, for when the doors closed at night and the world around me got quite, I was faced with managing the Internet Café on paper and screens, learning about marketing and advertising, basic bookkeeping, brand awareness and so much more. The fruits of my studies and experiments paid off when only 7 months after opening Cyber Screenz in the Quigney, I opened my first franchise outlet in Mdantsane, the then second biggest township in South Africa.

Highlights during the next 2 years was the opening of 2 more Cyber Screenz branches and then winning an online award for the design of one of my html websites. When in 2004 my wife and an employee was endangered by a robbery in one of the Café's, that was the red light sign for me to close up shop in the Quigney and cash out. But I walked away with the knowledge gained while building each Café, later on networking and fixing computers myself, having mastered the basics of PC hardware, networking and more. In 2004 ADSL was launched in South Africa, and out of the ashes of Cyber Screenz, ActionOnline was born. Working out of the granny flat at home in East London, I was focused on providing my website hosting on servers from home. This was the year I sat down behind a Linux machine for the first time, and 30 days later I had 11 websites running from that machine in the room next to my office.

In my travels and talks during 2004 learning about hosting servers, protocols and more, I bumped into a geek in Stellenbosch area, who a few month later came down to East London to help me setup a wireless access point on the roof of my house, linked to yet another Linux server. I stayed on a hill in East London, overlooking the Grand Prix circuit, and I wanted to get cameras and computers at the Grand Prix circuit connected to the server at home. Why? Because I wanted to stream the video feeds online to a website from where people could login and see the action. A new way of networking was emerging, and I was there to push the limits on 2.4 Ghz networking over a 1200 meter distance.

During 2005 I found myself at the head of a team facilitating the naming rights sponsorship to the EMPS Grand Prix Circuit, and you can see the billboards on the Settlers highway today still. Images and designs that came from my desk and computer during that year. It was 2 years in the fast lane!

Since then 5 years has come and gone, during which I have created numerous networks around South Africa in offices, at schools and in communities. Each network is unique both in the hardware used and functionality it offers, but they all have one thing in common. They make use of wired and wireless networking controlled by a Linux machine we call The ActionBox.
In that time also the speed of networking has gone from 10/100 mbps on cable networks up to 1 gigabit networking on LAN, and wireless networking improved significantly in terms of speed and distance. Thing is, the limits will ALWAYS be pushed in terms of improving speeds, and 10 Gbit/s LAN networking is available at a cost.

At the start of this year I have a wireless antenna on the mountain in Cathcart, able to provide Internet connection to farmers and communities in a 60 km radius from here at speeds up to 2 Mbps. Farmers all over the country who depend on Telkom's wired network or line at 12-48 kbps are being left behind and cut out, because its too expensive to upgrade cables to support ADSL to farm communities. There are other solutions available such as 2.8 and 5.4 Ghz networking over long distances. I found myself sitting next to this tower recently in isolation arguing the possible solutions this network could offer communities such as our own. After a short video call to Kobie from the top of the tower, I climbed down and started thinking back over the past 10 years and the evolution of …. IT and me.

How we met in our tumultuous youths and found ourselves entwined like eternal lovers with an unquenchable thirst for one another. Both passionately and shamelessly exploring each other's weaknesses and strengths in endless hours spend staring and touching each other's deepest parts … ah, you get the picture!
It has been nothing less than a romantic love affair the past decade, and I am excited about the next 10 years. Seeing how we kept up with each other along the road and never losing interest or feeling reassures me that we will be entwined together for many more years to come.

I have also started 2 years ago sharing my passion and knowledge with people by offering Boot Camps in Joomla web development and Basic PC knowledge. A Boot Camp is not a seminar or workshop where you sit and listen only, but instead its outcomes based. If I haven't managed to teach you what you need to know to be comfortable doing what it is you have to do, I have failed you and myself and you will receive a full refund. But then again, I seldom fail or back down, and I never give up!

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Johan and well done on all your endeavours.