Friday, July 25, 2014

It was 20 years ago today...

... on Monday, 25th July, 1994*, that I started work for Future Publishing in Bath. A fresh-faced (and soon to be bitter-and-twisted, but that's another story) graduate had fluked his first job after interviewing well one day after graduating from Lancaster University with a 2:1 in History.

I remember the interview better than I do my first day. I wore a suit - a hand-me-down from dad - and it was a hot day. I remember arriving at Bath Spa station, and I also remember killing time by wandering through Bath where I discovered a great second-hand record and CD shop (one of many in Bath at the time) in The Corridor. A quick Google search reminds me of its name: Rival Records (see here). I also remember catching a peek at the great Clive Parker - the person I was to replace - on the streets of Bath. He didn't know me from Adam, so I didn't bother him.

Anyway, I digress. I kept my expectations low, and then went into Future's main offices in Monmouth Street for the interview - ironically, the company has revealed in the past month it's selling up those very offices. ST Format, the magazine in question, were on the first or second floor in those days, and I interviewed well against the other two candidates, largely because I was the most "normal". And also because the editor - Trent - and I got on very quickly to talking about football. I'd end up living in Twerton, 100 yards from Bath City's ground where they were sharing with Bristol Rovers (his team). Blues were newly relegated to the same division, and I'd spend many Saturday afternoons cheering on the Gas.

Anyway, so I got the job (when I called to chase it up a few days later, Trent sounded very nervous and I could barely understand a word he said. I assumed I'd not got the job, signed on the next day and came home to find a letter offering me the position of Disk Editor for the princely sum of £9,000 per year (£10,000 after a three-month trial period). Despite living in an expensive city, I found dismal digs in Twerton for £164 a month, which left me around £320 a month to live like a king. And yes, dear reader, I did.

The day after I started, the owner put the company up for sale. I tried not to take it personally, and in many ways our days under the ownership of Pearson were the best. Certainly after the management buyout the company expanded too fast and paid a heavy price when the internet bubble burst in 2000. Up until that point it had been young, dynamic, and constantly exceeding sales targets and expectations. Salaries weren't great, hours could be long, but it was to all intents and purposes like living at university, only getting paid for it.  I made many great friends too, and felt like part of a great big family, albeit quite a dysfunctional one at times.

Future was a creative, buzzing place in those days. I'd have enjoyed my first 18 months more if my personal life hadn't got in the way, but despite my bitter and twisted moods, I survived and although ST Format went down the pan I was de facto editor for its final five issues and went on to bigger and better things. Internet Special Projects was one, then - after a very brief stint on PC Review - I moved away from computing to become Production Editor on Cult TV (this deserves a post all of its own, which I'll do one day).

After Cult TV, which was the making of me as a sub, I scuttled back to computing and the magazine that would become my spiritual home: PC Answers. For the first time in my career - which was now around four years old - I was on a title that was successful and growing. We had a great 18 months, during which I became Deputy Editor, but after being overlooked for the role of Editor when it came up, I gained my promotion on sister title Windows Answers, which was relaunched as Quick and Easy Windows, and - without putting too fine a point on it - flopped.

I escaped after a year, back to PCA whose sales had dipped as the company as a whole got caught up in the bursting of the bubble. Thankfully, fixing PCA was a simple job - I just reapplied what had worked previously, and the whole team worked tirelessly to turn things round. At a time when Future needed us most, PCA delivered in spades: 40,000 plus monthly sales (including over 12K subscribers) and one of the company's ten most profitable magazines.

After two years, I felt a bit stale, plus the shock of the company's troubles had shaken me from my complacency. Rather than seek a job elsewhere in Future - and I was offered one or two - I took the plunge, and on 1st January 2003 went freelance. Financially speaking, I've never looked back. Yet.

Despite all the recent uncertainty, I think I've earned the right to bask in a little bit of nostalgia after two decades of making a living - and a good one, I dare to say - at this. For a career I only fell into through a series of happy accidents, it's been kind to me on the whole. I might be pushing my luck, but here's to hopefully pushing it far enough to celebrate 25 years in the business in 2019...

*It's entirely possible I might have started a week earlier than this - Monday 18th July - but I can't honestly remember.

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