IRC turned 30 a few days ago (although nobody knows which day in August, not even WiZ), and it got me thinking about how long I’ve been using it and how it’s shaped my life. I can’t remember the exact date I first logged on, but I do remember that I first started using it continuously in September 1996 and I’ve been doing so ever since with very few breaks.

I started a degree at university then and we had access to JANET via the School of Computing and Mathematical Science computer lab. JANET had connection to the Internet of course, and I remember finding reference to the IRC system on the Web somewhere. ircII was installed on the Solaris machines in the lab, machines I still have an incredible fondness for, and I connected to EFnet first, and then QuakeNet in 1997 or 1998, staying on that network until somewhere in the mid 2000s.

I ran one of the largest channels on Quakenet in its heyday, #overclockers, a channel for PC enthusiasts interested in overclocking and high-performance PCs in general. At its peak we had over 150 users, quite a lot for an IRC channel that wasn’t really general purpose, and it taught me a lot about how online communities organised, worked and moderated, back in the days when those things were finding their feet. A lot of how I approach the moderation at Beyond3D is built on what I learned looking after that channel.

I spent almost all my waking time logged on back in those days, and running #overclockers and being heavily into high-performance machines helped me develop my career at Hexus. A decent amount of the hardcore readership would come and join us there to discuss what we were publishing on, give us guidance and encourage us to do the kinds of work we were doing and generally validated the approach we wanted to take.

Working on Hexus and getting more into graphics led me to hang out on the Beyond3D forums. Knowing that IRC could be a great place for real-time discussion on a focused topic, I started and ran the IRC channel for Beyond3D (#beyond3d on Freenode, still going!), where I hung out with Dave Baumann, Beyond3D’s then Editor-in Chief, and the other graphics enthusiasts in the channel, talking about GPU microarchitecture and performance in every spare waking moment.

That daily discussion on IRC eventually led Dave to hand over the keys to Beyond3D to me when he left for ATI (now AMD) and needed someone to take over the reigns. That job at Beyond3D got me my job at PowerVR. Georg Kolling, working at PowerVR at the time and responsible for the fledgling competitive analysis effort at the company, hung out on the Beyond3D channel. I happened to mention I was thinking of looking to move on from what I was doing at the time, and he said I should look at PowerVR. I (eventually!) did and ended up working with him!

With surprisingly few exceptions, most folks that I talked with on IRC back in the early 2000s is still in tech in some form or another, and probably has that formative experience working on understanding, modifying and extracting performance from PCs to thank for it. I know I have. From that early scene in #overclockers there are now folks in walks of technology life, and some at some very recognisable companies. Intel, AMD, RedHat and Microsoft all have ex-#overclockers folks in their ranks.

So thanks for my continued career in hardware graphics, IRC! I’m sure many of those others thank you too.

I thank you even more for the friends I’ve made. I’m a good example of a Gen Xer that has a bigger friendship group online than off, and by a significant margin in my case. My best friends today are those I’ve been talking to for almost 20 years now on IRC. Twenty years! Some of us come from #overclockers and some come from the peripheral channels that sprung up around that scene. I wish I could remember the names of those channels, and the names all of the people that used to chat on them!

Those that I still do talk to frequently on IRC are more my family than the people I share DNA with. We’ve grown up together, stopped obsessively mucking about with computers in our bedrooms and got proper jobs in tech together, and look to the future together. Some are married. Some have kids. Both were terrifying thoughts as the new millennium rolled through and we overclocked our Thunderbird Athlons! Life has taken more spare time as the years have rolled by, but we still find the time to log on and talk most days. One of us died. Rest in peace, Squid0x.

That friendship and communication, no matter how strained and difficult it’s been at times, is a deep bond I don’t know how to break. I’ve tried a few times with ragequits and spells away to take care of myself, but I always come back. I’ve frequently sat there and thought that typing /quit and hitting Enter would be a great idea, but can’t bring myself to execute the 6 keystrokes. I leave The key online as a reminder, but it’s not how I feel today.

Get a group of like-minded individuals in the same place and give them nothing to do but exchange text with no frills in real-time and great friendships will happen.

So thank you most of all, IRC, for my greatest friends.

Happy birthday!