I'm Pat Toner, the owner of Toner Design, which was officially registered as a business in 1998 but was actually in place about a year before that. Yes, Toner Design is a woman-owned business!
It all started when I was asked to do some freelance work for another business on the side...and it grew from there. Like many businesses, it was begun in a home office at night after working another job all day, returning home at night to work as long as I could stay awake. I still work from a home office, but things have changed a lot from those early beginnings.
As with many who began 10 or more years ago in the computer industry, most of my knowledge has been self-taught from books, online tutorials and databases, or gleaned from associates who were kind enough to share their knowledge with me.
I first began my love affair with computers back in 1989, when my first home computer came into the house. It was a 286 with a 40 MB hard drive--that was more than enough space back then to house a lot of information--which ran on DOS. When it first came in the door I didn't even know how to turn it on, let alone do anything with it. It just goes to prove that it doesn't matter where you start learning, just as long as you get started and keep on learning every day.
I first got online about a year later, starting on Prodigy, moving on to GEnie, and finally opening an account on AOL. (Do the math--I've been online over 20 years now!) Those early days were the days of the hourly rates to get online rather than the unlimited access people are used to today and "per email" charges. It could cost a bundle if you weren't careful. But these early online services opened up a world, and at the time AOL was miles ahead of its competition with the graphical interface it presented that we now take for granted on the Web today. That early online experience and being present when the Web first began its exponential growth gives me a unique perspective that few of the companies doing web design today have.
A few years later, with the patient tutelage of some friends, I built my first computer and within 3 months built and ran a small BBS (Bulletin Board Service). You can find it listed on BBSMates.com as Parapet BBS
, For those of you who don't remember BBSs, they were micro-versions of the big online services, although without all the wonderful graphics and technology that so many of us now take for granted. They usually ran in DOS, we created our images using ASCII characters (letters and numbers and the other symbols on the keyboard, for those who wonder what ASCII is), and competed with each other to have the best-looking BBS. These BBSs were hooked together through the phone lines, bulletin board messages downloaded each night from other BBSs, and mostly we played games on them or downloaded shareware. They were a great place to meet other computerphiles, and provided a marvelous computer education in many ways. It took programming skills and lots of devotion to run one, but those of us who got involved with running BBSs loved it.
The time came when Windows 3.1 came out, followed by the very first version of Microsoft Office--we played with it in the beta copy, and began to see what wonderful things the future had in store in computers.
The Internet really started coming into its own around 1995—all of us who ran BBSs noticed a big drop in traffic, and within a year the BBSs were pretty much dead. But we'd learned a lot about being online and what users liked and did while online, and that knowledge carries through into the sites I develop today.
Obviously I've come a long way since those days, as has the computer industry. The Internet has achieved in just a few short years what it took TV triple the number of years to achieve, and took radio over 30 years to achieve—get into the majority of Americans' homes. And it will only continue to grow, as long as we work to keep it open to all.