After ignoring computers for many years I first encountered the internet in 1996 and was introduced to the basics of HTML the next year, whereupon I was instantly hooked. My first sites were made using Notepad on a Windows 3.1 PC that I had been given - it was already old but it had a 14kbps modem and a copy of Netscape 2.0 and there was not a lot of competition in those days.
Many existing websites were text only and used default font and colour schemes - swathes of Times New Roman on a grey background in my case. Some used small GIF images and a few used those new-fangled JPG thingies.
Almost all the sites I looked at were badly designed, most had poor spelling and grammar, tag soup was everywhere, and factual accuracy did not seem to be a priority. Some things never change.
As I had a background in graphic design and wrote good English I found it relatively easy to trump the little competition that existed in my niches, and soon found one of my sites promoted in the national press. I still shudder when I look at the markup I wrote, but at least my sites always worked in both Netscape and Explorer, and I never once used a BLINK tag.
I remember AltaVista dominating search, but there were many other engines to submit a URL to back then. Most were dreadful portal affairs, though there was one called Northern Lights that was not so bad. When Google was launched it was a breath of fresh air, and though I never consciously did any SEO in those days my main site very quickly took the number one spot for its primary keywords, and held it for many years (until it was eventually usurped by Wikipedia).
While all this may make some readers think I am a veteran, I still feel like a student - there is always something new to learn, and that is what keeps me interested.
Fortunately, a lot of the answers can be found on WebmasterWorld...
[edited by: Samizdata at 11:08 pm (utc) on Jan. 22, 2008]