My first excursion into the internet or as it was then known by newscasters, the information super highway, was courtesy of the University of Georgia. My mom had gone back to school and as part of her program, there were a number of new-fangled “online classes.” We bought a 28.8 baud modem to go with our Macintosh LC III, in this year it was already 3-4 years old, and used the instructions distributed by the university to set up the Chooser to AppleTalk or some bullshit like that. Mac OS System 7.6 was not very internet friendly.
Unlike many of my peers, I did not start hacking early on. Therefore I also did not have a “handle” for a number of years after “joining” the internet. After my mom finished her schooling, we were sufficiently hooked on the internet that we loaded AOL onto our recently acquired Macintosh PowerPC 6100, another 3-4 year old second-hand computer. With AOL I finally got my first email address, and had to choose a handle: “tiger” followed by 5 random numbers. That handle carried me along for a number of years, closing out the 90’s and into the early 2000’s.
In 2002 I traveled to Germany as an exchange student bringing my handle of “tiger” over to old world. At this point I had purchased my very own computer, a fancy iBook G3. I had learned ASP and PHP a couple years earlier and hacking together awful web applications for unsuspecting relatives and their businesses I was able to earn enough money for the new Macintosh. I was a mind-numbingly elite hacker.
In my group of exchange students were 60 students overall and of the 60 only 4 of us were placed with families in the eastern part of Germany, the former DDR (GDR in English). After a few months of immersion and isolation from the other exchange students I managed to meet two other students in Dresden. They had already become friends despite coming from separate exchange programs and the three of us started to hang out and find stuff to do in Dresden on the weekends.
During this period in my life I had made the decision that personal comfort was of the utmost importance over style. Accordingly I wore old jeans, leather sandals and t-shirts nearly every day of the year, including the occasional above-freezing winter’s day. The three of us would meet in Dresden, them dressed appropriately for the weather, me dressed in my shoddy looking jeans, hoodie and sandals.
Prior to us meeting the two of them they had concocted a game of sorts. They would come up with “missions” for each other in order to push through their comfort zone and try new things. A more introverted exchange student may have some challenges digging into all that their host-country has to offer. Placing a young, shy, person somewhere with a language barrier, cultural differences with little social structure/friend groups around them can make it quite difficult to overcome social anxiety. This secret agent game of theirs was invented to help solve that problem.
In order for me to join their game however, they had to come up with a good agent name for me. An agent name is similar to the call-signs that fighter pilots use. It is not meant to be a cool name you give yourself. Instead your name is given to you by your colleagues as a form of hazing, endearing hazing. The australian girl, whose name I’ve since forgotten, looked me up and down and said “Agent Dero.”
“Dero?” I ask. “Dero” (pronounced like “deerr-o”) “in Australia a deerr-o is a hobo or a bum.” For the rest of the night I answered to “Ay-gent Deerr-o” and performed important missions such as socializing with germans at the neighboring table in a pub, talking to the street-car driver and attempting to steal a kiss from a German girl.
For the month or two I knew the two of them, we would meet up periodically and hang out in Dresden, doing the silly things that foreign exchange students do. As students in different programs, they were on wholly different schedules than I. Both departed in February while I remained until the summer with my host family. Along with them departed my use of the name “Agent Dero” as well; the game only involved the three of us and I wasn’t about to start sending myself on missions.
In the summer, I returned to the US and found myself in Texas, a dramatic departure from eastern Germany, and threw myself into “hacking.” As shocking as it may sound, I found computers far more compelling than the locals. During my time in Germany I had managed to discover FreeBSD and Red Hat Linux courtesy of CDs shipped from a friend in the US. This keen interest in unix-based operating systems and my newfound worldliness meant I had to find a new handle ot use, the old “tiger” alias would no longer fit the bill.
Agent Dero came to mind and fit the two most important requirements of a 17-year old nerd: unique and cool sounding.
Since then I’ve self-identified (mostly) as either: rtyler or agentdero. The handle has been accepted without question by many of my friends and colleagues over the years. Only once has anybody even really questioned it. The australian wife of a friend, after discovering my online handle, asked me over drinks: “Ay-gent Deerr-o?” she said with a concerned look “you know what that means right?”
Yep. And now you do too.