How did you get into your line of work?
Peter Rojas is the cofounder and editor-in-chief of Engadget, which is a daily weblog covering gadgets, consumer electronics and personal technology. He is also the cofounder of Joystiq, a weblog which covers video games. Rojas has worked as a contributing editor at Cargo, an editor-at-large at Sync, a technology editor of VMan, and a columnist for The Guardian, writing on emerging technology. He is a frequent contributor to a variety of publications both on- and off-line and appears on radio and television regularly as a technology commenter. Rojas was educated at Harvard University and the University of Sussex. He lives in New York City.
Topic: Dot-com boom bust
Peter Rojas: I was someone that, like, when Wired magazine came out in 1993, really loved the magazine and loved sort of . . . I mean someone who was always interested in science fiction and new technologies. And I’ve been using the Internet since about 1988 with like Prodigy and other sort of dial . . . Compuserve and other dialup networking things. And even before that doing some really basic BBS stuff with like, you know, a PC . . . it was a PC2 from IBM. So I . . . I was familiar with some of that stuff, but it wasn’t necessarily like a script kid or a hacker or anything like that. I was just someone that liked kind of getting involved, and just sort of liked the promise of all that stuff. And . . . and you know it’s like, when Wired came out, we kinda felt like we were on the cusp of like living in like a William Gibson novel. It was like this like crazy world of cyberspace. And everything seemed like it kind of . . . seemed like it was just about to explode. And so to be a part of that world by covering it, and documenting it . . . And . . . and you know I knew about all the stuff that was going on in the dot com world in 19 . . . in the late ‘90s in San Francisco. And it was a chance to kind of . . . actually participate in it rather than sit on the sidelines and . . . you know and watch me . . . watch myself being slowly priced out of apartments in the city. And not that my salary at Red Herring helped at all but . . . but you know what I mean. And so I . . . I ended up actually being offered a job either . . . It was my choice. I could work at the magazine, or I could work at RedHerring.com, which for some reason they had it split into two separate editorial teams. And rather than having to be unified, it was . . . RedHerring.com did completely different work than the magazine. And sometimes they overlapped and conflicted and things like that. And it’s funny given, you know, where I ended up that I would say, “Well I’d rather be with the print magazine than on the online.” But at the time . . . I mean this was about 10 years ago that there was still . . . There was still a difference in terms of prestige to being involved with a magazine, even a magazine that was covering the technology industry. So I chose to be with the magazine and ended up being a staff writer for them and writing some really great stories. I mean not necessarily that the stories were that great, but like it was an opportunity to write . . . to cover great things; to go to South Africa and write about racism in the . . . the . . . in the technology industry there. Or to go to Nepal and meet with the Minister of Communications and talk about their sort of, you know, steps towards, you know, bringing broadband communications to the country. And just writing about, you know, just cool new . . . like interesting new technologies. And that was something that I was really excited about. And when I lost that job in 2001 – I was laid off along with about 40 other people in May of 2001 – it was definitely a big blow because that really . . . it had been the first time where I had felt like I . . . I kind of had an idea of what I was gonna do with my life. I kind of realized, “Well this is something that I’m good at, and this is something that I can do.” I can . . . I can write about technology, and I can, you know . . . I wanna be a writer, and I wanna write for the New Yorker, and I wanna do all these different things. I wanna be a magazine writer. And kind of losing that sense of purpose was . . . was you know . . . It’s a pretty . . . I mean I think it’s devastating for anyone to lose their job; but especially when you lose a job that is so like . . . where it becomes so much a part of your, like, how you define yourself and your identity. And then realizing that with the crashing economy that it wasn’t . . . there wasn’t . . . there weren’t these other jobs you could . . . you could get. And in fact I spent several months trying to find a . . . desperately trying to find a new job; trying to get a job at Wired, which was downsi . . . I mean they were firing people rather than hiring people. And I went through actually a phase where I would actually apply to magazines and then they would go out of business the next day. I applied to One . . . I don’t know if people remember One magazine. It was a very short-lived sort of design magazine based out of San Francisco in, like I guess August 2000, 2001. I went to all this trouble to put together a package of clips, color photo copies. I had spent all this money. I went with the little money I had to put together this thing; and I borrowed someone’s car and drove it over to the office and dropped it off; and the next day discovered that they had gone out of business. And this happened several times where places I would write freelance for, or places where I would apply would all go out of business. And George magazine; Stephen Johnson’s Speed Mag. It happened about four times, and you start to really despair because you say, “Well I have to do something else with my life.” You know this is not gonna work out. And of course whenever you’re at the bottom of a recession, it seems like it’s always gonna be like that. And when you’re 20 . . . I think was maybe 24 or so. No I was 26. So it seemed like, you know . . . Two years seemed like an eternity to try and wait for something to turn around. And so I decided well, if I’m gonna be a broke technology writer or broke wannabe magazine writer, I might as well do that in New York where at least there are magazines left; rather than in San Francisco where it seems like the only game in town is Wired, and they already decided not to offer me a job. And I was still freelancing for them. It was just I couldn’t . . . They had no full-time positions. So I bought a plane ticket and decided to move on September 11, 2001, and of course did not make it there that day.
Recorded on: 10/2/07
Rojas talks about the evolution of his career, and using his interests in technology as the basis for his work with Engadget.
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