In the beginning
Life can be very “who’d-have-thought”. I had 2 job offers lined up upon leaving my final school year. One from the post office and the other from a big insurance company. One year into my employment as a debit order clerk, I was bored beyond words and my future looked bleak. Then a humble internal memo passed my desk. This bit of paper (ironic actually) changed the course of my career forever - who’d have thought!
The in-house printing department had an opening with the only requirements being English, Afrikaans and Typing. Without hesitation, or knowing the first thing about printing, I applied, imagining that anything else would be a lot better than cross-referencing rows and rows of debit order transactions for the rest of my life! I got the job and that was the beginning of the end - so to speak.
I came face to face with the inner workings of the print industry and wait for it … a computer - a Linotronic CRT with a big old body and a tiny screen! As fascinating as the golf-ball typewriters (used by the company before modernizing) were, this computer was awesome! I was sent on a basic course, aced it and was sent on the advanced one as well. Eve (I forget her surname), all the way from the UK trained me. I will never forget how during breaks the tall, impeccably dressed Eve would bemoan her broad size 9 foot and the difficulty in finding a smart, yet comfortable shoe! Funny the things one remember …
After a year of honing my new “craft” I felt stuck – I believed I mastered all the different types of forms an insurance company can possibly conjure up! My next job offer came from a reproduction house (these were the guys who in a nutshell, made positive or negative films from the typesetter’s galleys, which the printers made plates from - more about this later). Now I was typesetting letterheads, compliment slips, business cards, leaflets, booklets, etc. and my creative/ mathematical juices were flowing! These computers were not WYSIWYG, everything was in code, so you had to visualize the end product and work out the best way to code it.
My love affair with the print industry was now truly cemented and there was no turning back. (Talking about love affairs, it was at this very same reproduction house that I met my future husband – and 25 years later we are both still in the industry!)
About 1.5 years later, a print company offered me an apprenticeship as a phototypesetter. Without thinking twice, I jumped at the opportunity! A few months later my man started his apprenticeship as a photolithographer. For those of you who don’t have a clue what I’m on about, let me explain:
Before the PC and Apple, us typesetters would get the wording and layout done (all in code mind you – no wysiwyg – eg. fonts, type size, spacing, run-around etc). The photolithographers would then take the typesetter’s bromides (or galleys) and paste it up on a light-table using a grid following the graphic designer’s mock-ups (yip in those days the graphic designers still used pens and paper!). From here they would disappear into the dark-room to shoot the film (positive or negative) that would go to the printers. A few years ago it was still the norm to make a plate from the positives or negatives, but now computer-to-plate technology (CTP) has taken over. Only the embossing & foiling block makers still require film to make their blocks - technology is sure to catch up soon?
Coming back to my trade … at that time, I was one of 3 women students in the country! My official trade is actually called Compositing. There were only 3 students in the entire college studying Compositing. That meant, no lecturer! All the learning material was still based on old principles (like the lead-casting method) with about 3 pages in my final year’s learning material referring to computers! Fortunately the printer I worked for at the time still had one of these dinosaurs in operation, an old Ludlow, so it was not altogether foreign.
With my apprenticeship completed (early 80’s), I started working for my father-in-law’s print brokerage firm. At the time PageMaker and CorelDraw was already making inroads in the typesetting & graphic design field, so he bought these 2 packages for the office PC. This was the first time I encountered a PC and had to apply my logic and experience to master this new “toy”. The learning curve was exhilarating to say the least. I aced PageMaker 3 all on my own steam, but found a tutor to teach me the basics of CorelDraw 2.
While all this was taking place, hubby’s boss bought an Apple Mac LC II and he was learning QuarkXpress and Freehand. You can only imagine the “anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better-and-vice-versa” arguments we had – classic Mac vs PC feud and “prove-it-scenarios”! Many years later, I became a work-from-home-mum when my father-in-law helped me buy my first Mac! Within days I was a true Mac junkie - no turning back now!
By the 90’s cellphones and internet just started making waves in South Africa. Who still remembers Beltel from Telkom? That was the start of internet banking in SA, i’m sure. Being true techno junkies by now, we had the Beltel modem and from there the natural progression to an internet modem followed. Feels like just the other day? My first cellphone was a brick-like Nokia, only being able to send text messages 160 characters long - imagine!
Browsing was just too slow, and email was so “lonely” then, I mean just how many users were out there then let alone ones you knew in South Africa? Then I discovered IRC chat, the fastest platform on the internet those days, and suddenly “the whole world” opened up. I guess you can consider this the forefather of Facebook and Twitter?
Ready for the next challenge, I registered www.women.co.za with noble intentions, in 1997. Many of the ideas I had for the site actually evolved into exactly what we have today. I taught myself (again) web development using WYSIWYG programs as I went along - PageMill 2 on the Mac no less. I hear the coders laugh at me now, but hey, it was all good.
Eventually for various reasons, not the least of all money, I had to re-enter the formal job market. They say you often can’t see what others see in you, so listening to my immediate peanut gallery, I quickly got a sales job in the printing industry – a job I hate to this day! Don’t get me wrong, I love the interaction with people, sharing my knowledge, interpreting the client’s needs and making it happen for them. I get the greatest satisfaction to be of service and a mere “Thank you soooo much for making deadline!” puts me on Cloud 9 for a day or two. However there’s many aspects of a sales job that goes against my grain!
I love print, full stop. Tried another profession, but after 1 year realized life without print is not for me.
The smells, the sounds, the stress, the pride, the papers, the inks, the clients, the process, the problem-solving …
I can go on an on ...