Release the Interns!
The story of Telalink can’t be told without dedicating some time to its innovative “internship” program.
Suffice it to say that Bob Collie was the first, true, original intern, especially since he was known as “Bob, the intern.” As a freshman at Vanderbilt, he quickly found his community, not so much in a student organization, but in the Telalink server room/”data center” and in the friendship of Bill Butler and Tim Moses. After a successful “hack and tell” operation with the Telalink team in the fall of 1994, Bob quickly became a fixture at 110 30th Ave North. Remember, there was no such thing as an educational program anywhere in the area related to anything with respect to server configuration, networking or HTML programming. If you were a youngster who was discovering the ‘Net, you were out of luck unless you found the Telalink guys. Bob, was self-taught and a natural at managing servers, so his “internship” was really an unpaid job, not that there was money to pay him anyway. Luckily, for Telalink, Bob was more motivated by his love for that world than a world of classes and studying at Vanderbilt.
Following Bob from Vanderbilt were Andy Warner, Chip Cox, Lewis Pennock and Jay Hawthorn. How early did they get involved? Early enough to register domain names like andy.net, bob.net, jay.net, lewis.net and cox.net. The “.net” suffix was considered to be much more prestigious than the “.com” ANYONE could get a .com registered but only the internet-savviest of the world were ordained with a .net status and, thus, our “interns” were proving to be on the forefront of that which the rest of the world had yet to experience- having your own domain name, and then, having your own website and personalized email address. The “novelty” of being able to have an email sent to “firstname.lastname@example.org” wasn’t driven by some profit mechanism. It was just cool. By January, 1997, Bob, Andy, Lewis and Jay had established themselves so well as the Geeks of Nashville, that Joel Moses of the Nashville Scene wrote a feature article about them: http://www.nashvillescene.com/nashville/geek-is-all/Content?oid=1181073
By July, 1995, I had made up my mind to quit my banking job and move to Nashville to become Telalink’s CFO. Tim, Bill and I agreed that I should take a week off from the bank to visit the office, work out some kind of agreement and start finding a place to live. After days of searching for an apartment, I was all but ready to give up when Tim had a plumb of an idea. His parents had just moved and no one was occupying their house in Franklin. “I’ll call my mom right now to see if you can temporarily live in the house that they are trying to sell,” said he. The bad news was that an offer to buy had been submitted that day. The good news was that their new home came complete with a guest house, an unexpected enticement which made the whole deal possible thanks to the generosity of Tim’s parents. Everything fell into place. Bill and Tim made me an offer- “We’ll give you ownership in the company. We don’t really know how to pay you. You have to work 60-70 hours a week.
During my week stay, I slept in what was Bill’s room (he had already moved out) and what is now the Sitemason conference room. I remember waking up the first day and walking across the hall to take a shower. Feisty, the office cat, managed to push the bathroom door open, so, even though Telalink was open for business and Bob, Chip and Mary (Bill’s mother) worked in the other room down the hall, my bathroom door was wide open for all to hear me shower. This proved to be one of many Feisty antics. What a way to be “exposed” to my soone-to-be new place of employment! With a better understanding on my part that Telalink/Telasar/Telaland really didn’t have a firm grip on finances, a place for me to move and a work “contract,” I was in. We decided to seal the deal with a celebratory trip to the Ocoee River for a day of whitewater rafting the next morning. I was particularly interested in getting to know Tim better. I had plenty of opportunities in the past to hang out with Bill, but Tim was still the mystery. Our whitewater trip was a perfect way to see how we would work together as we raced through the rapids. Mid-way down the Ocoee, the boat capsized. Everyone went over except for Tim. He started pulling people in. Just as he was instructed, Tim grabbed my life preserver and pulled really hard. He pulled so hard that he literally threw me right over the boat and back into the water on the other side! An omen?
With Telalink staff, friends and significant others in tact, we headed back to Nashville. Later that week, Andy Warner built my first webpage at www.telaink.net/~thos. However, the earliest available version is at http://web.archive.org/web/19980114073339/http://www.telalink.net/~thos/. I think Cregan Laborde, also a Vanderbilt student/Telalink intern, actually made the one that you see in the archive. That is from 1998.
I know it sounds weird but between that week in July, 1995 and my arrival date in Nashville on October 10, 1995, I didn’t have Internet access. I bought books about the Internet, including one that published the most popular websites on the ‘Net, sites that had gotten “thousands” of hits! I came across one called the Speedtrap Registry and I quickly recognized the site’s author- Andy Warner- Vandy student, Telalink “intern,” Internet geek, Good Morning America guest.
In September, 1995, a month prior to my arrival, Bill met with two students from Martin Luther King, Jr. Magnet High School- Paula Pfleiger and Carl Tashian. “Do you have any internships available?” they inquired. “What’s that involve?” Bill replied. “Well, we get out of school early and come over here to do....whatever you need for us to do. You get free labor and we get class credit.”
“Can you start tomorrow?”
“No, we have to get this approved by our teacher and the school.”
“Show me what to sign and tell me what I need to say.”
Days later, the official MLK internship began. Carl wrote what some have considered to be one of the best HTML tutorials ever - http://tashian.com/htmlguide/. Within weeks, Ryan Kaldari, then known as Ryan Smith, offered to do whatever was needed and didn’t even care about getting course credit, compensation or internship status. He hardly needed it but Telalink was the place to be. Soon after that, other students from other schools were starting to show up every Tuesday night. Telalink provided pizza and if you came around enough, “interns” got a free internet account, meaning you got dial-up access, email and space to build your website. An internship program made in heaven for the budding geek.
October 10, 1995, a year and a day after the death of my father, my cat, Misty, and I arrived at 110 30th Ave North. I walked in the back door of suite 5 to discover about a half dozen interns, gazing and marveling at a new server and a new rack just about to be affixed in the server room. My arrival was upstaged by the new toys and intern night was bustling. Truly, the formative years of Telalink were enlivened by pre-teens, teens, 20-somethings, recent grads and the occasional old people who descended upon the Telalink offices every Tuesday night. Telalink graduates are all over the world now. I’m sure this list is incomplete but I trust others will add to it and correct as needed:
Bob Collie- ena.com, CTO
Lewis Pennock- ingramcontent.com, Director, Consumer Direct Fulfillment; previously involved with Rex Hammock’s smallbusiness.com startup
Jay Hawthorn- Barclays Bank
Carl Tashian- ourgoods.org and yerdle.com; previously a senior engineer with zipcar.com
Paula Pfleiger- dmiinc.com, senior director
Ryan Kaldari- Wikipedia Foundation, editor
Andy Warner- Google.com, isn’t really allowed to tell us
Doug Brown- nashville.gov, operations analyst
Andrew Webber- Corsairartisan.com, head of operations and distilling; previously worked at Sitemason.com
Cregan Laborde- Birmingham, AL VA hospital, MD
Daniel Templeton- cloudera.com
Cari Bloodworth Templeton (Married to Daniel)- ?
Adam Solesby- ?
James Campbell- Central Intelligence Agency
Nick Holland- populr.me, CEO; founded centresource.com
AUTHOR: Thomas Conner
Thomas Conner is the co-founder, president and chief financial officer of Sitemason, a hosted, supported alternative to Wordpress and Drupal, built for agencies, freelance designers and developers.