October 13, 1998
The Amazing, Fantastic Story of Cameron Barrett
My name is Cameron Barrett, and I am a web junkie. I've been mucking around on the web since late 1993 when I stumbled across NCSA Mosaic 1.03 for the Mac. At the time I was in my third year of community college, after receiving an Associates Degree in Visual Communications. I saw the potential immediately, and taught myself HTML 1.0.
I designed my first web site in March, 1994 for the college I was attending. At the time, I had aspirations of becoming a writer and was writing many many short stories, some of which I published online two years later and caused an incident in late 1997. More on this later.
The summer of 1994, when I should have been heading west to join the hoards of entrepreneurs starting up companies in Silicon Valley, I instead went to work at a summer camp, taking care of kids. I was computerless for 5 months, until the fall of 1994, when I entered a 4-year university with plans to major in Graphic Design.
On the second day of classes, after an argument with one of my design professors, I walked over to the English dept and changed my major to English with an emphasis on Creative Writing. In November of 1994, I bought my first computer, a PowerMac7100/66. I still owe money on this ancient beast, and it continues to truck along just fine. It is a good machine. It's been around for so long I feel like it's my child. Now behave, darn you.
For the next year, I studied nothing but writing. I applied for a job at the campus paper and became the graphics editor, often staying into the late hours designing cool informational graphics and layout spreads. This is where I learned to love Quark XPress. After a few months, I became the Managing Editor by default. Luckily, I had some writing skills, so I was able to proofread and edit our editors' submissions. But primarily, I stuck to the job of keeping the paper in shape visually.
In the Summer of 1995, I decided to start a company called Millennium Enterprises. Being such a young punk with cool new computer skills, I really had no idea what I was doing. I had a long URL, with a page hosted on Metro Turnpike (bonus points for those who remember this free service), a university email address, and some business cards. I had one client. Boy, have times changed.
That company basically went nowhere. I had no sales skills whatsoever, and had no idea how to sell my services or skills in new media design. Back then it was called "World Wide Web Publishing."
In November of 1995, I was busy back at school, still studying English. However, I made the decision to also double major in Telecommunications Management. So, I had a pretty full plate. I was looking for a laser printer to buy so I could mail out my short stories for publication. I posted a message on a BBS in Northern Michigan and soon received a response from a guy named Matt who wanted to *give* me a laser printer. All I had to do was pick it up.
I couldn't pass that deal up, so I met with Matt, which eventually led to us deciding to start a business together. Matt's idea was to start an ISP; at the time, a pretty wide-open market in Northern Michigan. So, while I was downstate with my nose in the books, Matt was pulling together investors to fund the installation of a T1 into his house.
On March 11, 1996, Michweb, Inc. became a legitimate business, and to this date is doing quite well. In the Spring of 1997, Matt and I decided to part ways. We no longer are business partners but we are still good friends.
So, in April of 1997 I went to work for a small design firm in Northern Michigan. For six months, I tried to teach these guys about the web and how the Internet worked. For the most part I was left alone, and eventually they decided that they were not going to do any Internet services in-house, and I was let go.
Ironically, that very day (a Friday) I was having lunch with a marketing firm in the same city. I started work the next Monday.
Now, this is where the story becomes interesting. I had been working for this firm for about 6 weeks, when out of the blue, my boss calls me into his office and tells me that he has to let me go. I am shocked, as I was under the impression that things were going well. I was in the middle of training his staff about the new media industry and they were just getting the hang of HTML. An ISDN router and line had been ordered and I had quotes in for about 10 new Macs. Being fired was the last thing I expected.
After three days if pulling my hair out trying to figure out what was going on, I finally was told that the reason I was fired was because of the fiction I had published online about a year earlier. Apparently, two of my female co-workers had gone to my personal website and read some of my stories, and were "uncomfortable" working with me. They went to my boss and basically told him that if I wasn't let go, then they were going to quit. Well, we certainly know the outcome of that situation.
After about a month of moping around the house, I forced myself to go to work at a grocery store, doing night stock. This was something I had done for three years during high school and college, so it was old-hat for me. In December, 1997 I asked a good friend of mine in the journalism industry to post my story around on some of the mailing lists he was subscribed to. It took less than two days before a reporter from the New York Times was calling me asking me if I'd like to be interviewed.
On January 12, 1998, the New York Times ran my story on page three of the Business section. Immediately, I started receiving dozens of emails and phone calls from other reporters asking me if I'd like to be interviewed for their media outlets. I made the decision rather quickly that I was going to turn down all television interviews and only grant newspaper and radio interviews. I turned down CNN and FOXnews, but gave interviews to several newspapers including the local Associated Press reporter.
When the AP story ran, my email box exploded. Prior to this story, I had only received kind, thoughtful and non-accusatory email from numerous NY Times readers. After the AP story ran in hundreds of papers around the world, I started to receive all kinds email from all different kinds of people with different points of view, including those who sided with my boss, the ultra-Christian. Read for yourself.
A few weeks passed, and the flow of email was subsiding. There was a point where I was receiving upwards of 20-30 emails a day solely on this subject. All the while, I was posting my resume like crazy all over the Internet. On February 2, all of my hard work paid off.
I received an email from the Human Resources department at Borders Books & Music, the second largest book reseller in the world. They wanted to know if I was interested in interviewing for a position they had open.
Two trips to Ann Arbor, three interviews and ten days later, I was hired. I began work as an Interactive Designer for Borders.com, the online division of Borders Group, Inc., on February 23, 1998.
And here I am. Eight months later, I'm fully involved in the production process for Borders.com, and have learned more about how ecommerce works that any book could ever tell me. I'm working with a great team of people with typical corporate management (you fill in the blanks). Last week, we finally launched our "public" version of the site and things are looking good.
In June of this year, I made a commitment to myself to update my personal site (camworld.org) on a daily basis. A promise I've kept, missing only the days when I'm away on a trip or too sick to sit in front of my trusty Mac. All in all, I'm happy with how things turned out and am glad that I was given the opportunity to do as much as I have on the Web.
Here's to five more years.Posted by Cameron Barrett at October 13, 1998 11:59 PM