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WRK4US GUEST SPEAKER DISCUSSION 4

Careers in the Info-Tech/Dot-Com Industries

with (in alphabetical order)

Mark Johnson, Gene Lewis, Kay Peterson, & Wendy Waters

Hosted by Paula Foster

 


Intro
ductory Remarks
Paula Foster
Mark Johnson
Gene Lewis
Kay Peterson
Wendy Waters

The Corporate Crossover Ė Where/How to Start

Wireless Internet


Academic Writing vs. Internet Writing

Computers - Skills vs. Work Experience


Matching Academic Skills to IT Jobs

Tangible/Intangible Benefits Compared


Concluding Remarks from Host Paula Foster

The following conversation originally took place on an email discussion list called WRK4US, which was founded by Paula Foster in 1999 as a place for people with graduate education in the Humanities to discuss nonacademic careers.

Because WRK4US has a confidentiality policy, all subscriber email addresses have been removed, and all names (except for Paula Foster's and the Guest Speakers') have been removed or reduced to two initials which are different from the person's real initials.

If you like this discussion and would like to subscribe to WRK4US, send an email message to

listproc@lists.acs.ohio-state.edu/ saying subscribe
WRK4US Your Name, or email Paula at
foster.242@osu.edu




Edited by
Deborah Alexander
Conversion to HTML by Deborah Alexander & Wendy Waters


Introductory Remarks

Introduction by WRK4US Host Paula Foster:

Today marks the beginning of a Guest Speaker discussion on the topic of "Careers in the Info-Tech/Dot-Com Industry." We have four speakers this time: Wendy Waters, Kay Peterson, Mark Johnson, and Gene Lewis. They are all highly qualified to speak on this topic: all are either PhDs or ABDs in Humanities disciplines, yet all have left the academy and built successful careers in the info-tech and dot-com industries, and each will share some perspectives on Humanities folk working in these fields. Many thanks in advance to all four - it is a privilege to have them with us.

-Paula Foster

Discussion Host / WRK4US list manager

 

 

Mark Johnson

Introductory Remarks

My thanks to Paula for running this list and inviting us to join the week's discussion of Careers in the Info-Tech/Dot-Com Industry. I've broken my introduction into three sections: What I Do, How I Got Here, and Words of Advice.

What I Do

I am Director of Product Management for Bidland Systems. Bidland is an application service provider for online auctions and business exchanges. Our products are the engines inside online auctions and online exchanges. We don't actually auction things; we just provide the transaction and market-making tools that allow businesses to sell their products and services. As Director of Product Management, I'm responsible for setting the direction for all of our products, for researching the competitive landscape, and for hiring and clearing the way for a staff of product managers. I'm paid to use my imagination to confront problems and construct solutions. As such, it's a creative job that keeps my brain engaged around the clock.

Before my gig at Bidland, I spent five splendid years at Intuit. At Intuit, I played various roles from technical writer to corporate instructor to researcher to user interface designer to Webmaster. When people tell you that responding to classified ads is a waste of time, don't believe them; my entrťe to Intuit was by way of a classified in the Sunday paper.

I left Intuit because Bidland offered me the opportunity to work with a small company and to play an integral part in its maturation. This is not something I could do within the well-established Intuit. At Bidland I could experience (or suffer!) change and acquire knowledge at a ferocious pace. Nearly a year into my new adventure, I'm still happy with my change.

For the past 12 years, I have also done considerable work as a freelance writer, photographer, and Web consultant. A few of the organizations I've worked for include Microsoft, Gateway, The San Diego Union-Tribune, Editor and Publisher, VeloNews, the University of California, and Trade Service Corporation.

How I got here

While I was an undergraduate at the University of California, San Diego, it was distinctly clear to me that English professors lead a fine life. I made it my goal to become one of those erudite characters.

By my second year of graduate school at Boston University, it also became distinctly clear to me that, while professors lead a fine life indeed, for many, it is a life fraught with the anxiety of an itinerant Mexican migrant laborer. What the naive undergraduate does not see is that until they get tenure, professors suffer from the gnawing awareness that their movements from one temporary contract to the next are not steps toward a higher, more satisfying career. I had the sense that, no matter how hard they apply themselves, professors are often not in command of their career destinies. The agent of a professor's vocational progression seems to be an ill-defined whimsical other. Life is fleeting, and I did not want to spend a decade of it in such a rudderless state. So, I looked inside and asked myself what, besides reading and teaching, kept me busily engaged with life.

Like Thoreau, I believe that "success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it." Along with reading, seeking and riding waves are the acts that have always kept me busy to the point that time evaporates. When I'm floating on my board on the edge of some continent, I'm 100-percent engaged with life.

If I did what kept me busy and happy, I figured that, as Thoreau wisely counsels, success would follow. After all, I'm as driven as any other over-achieving PhD, and I knew that I would not go to mulch simply because I was outside the university. So, after completing my PhD, I heeded my moral compass and moved back to San Diego. There, I could surf. I also figured I could marshal my talents into some sort of paycheck. Fueled by Thoreau, conviction, gall, discipline, and resourcefulness, I quickly found work doing marketing and corporate communications writing for several San Diego companies. (I got my first jobs by cold-calling businesses from the Yellow Pages; this is not a time for timidity.) These initial freelance jobs were the alpine tributaries of a vocational river that, for me, grows wider, faster, and more exciting with every year.

Geoffrey Moore, a Renaissance literature PhD turned venture capitalist/writer/business strategist, recently told me that in his experience, "having a humanities degree makes it harder to get your first job and easier to get every subsequent one." Moore explained to me that "Language skills is a part of this, but I think the bigger part is the ability to use metaphor as a problem-solving tool. The irony of the whole thing is, I thought I was selling out (joining the Philistines) but in fact learned that my new world had as much intellectual energy, a whole lot more social energy, and real honest-to-god budgets, so it was a great call in retrospect."

Moore's statement jibes precisely with my experiences as an academic expatriate. Excellence outside the university is contingent upon the ability to wed metaphorical and critical thinking. And who is better equipped to see and interrogate what others cannot see and do not understand than the literature, art history, or sociology PhD?

Don't worry about your lack of a business degree; you already have the ingredients for business excellence--imagination, handiness with metaphor, and a highly-tuned set of critical thinking skills. Your mind has honed in on and stretched around everything from the finery of Henry James to the sprawl of the novelistic tradition. You can imagine solutions and interrogate propositions that your industry-standard MBAs can't begin to fathom. Business distinction is about imagining the unknown and tearing into the multiplicity of voices and texts informing a proposition. (Yes, I think about Bakhtin just about every day.) Take command of this fact, and you have taken the first step toward transferring your considerable skills into a career beyond the university.

Words of advice

-When looking for a job outside the university, be as persistent and bold as a 16th-Century explorer. Look at your new vocational endeavor a project that will add to your store of experience and knowledge. Seeing your next vocational path as a research project may spark your enthusiasm in helpful ways. It's not selling out. It's a new way to know more.

-Internships are a great way to build contacts and test your tolerance for the outside air while in graduate school. They don't pay much, if anything at all, but they open career doors. Though I did not know it then, doing an internship while in graduate school was one of the shrewdest career moves I've made. My summer in the offices of a Boston magazine paid nothing then, but the remuneration in the years that followed has been significant. (If you don't know what an internship is, then march down to your undergraduate career services office and ask.)

-Don't be too picky. If you're considering employment in the dot com world, "Content Development" is a great way to get your foot in the proverbial door. Basically, content developers grind out prose for Web sites. Content development is often hack work with pay to match, but don't be proud. Be enthusiastic about the job gift you've received, no matter how lowly. Even if the actual work may not be that challenging to start with, it will give you contacts and business experience of exponential value.

-When you begin to question your fitness for employment outside the university, clobber your skepticism with the undeniable reality that you live in one of the most employee-hungry times in the last century. Because graduate school necessarily focuses students on a single topic within an insular world, completing at PhD tends to make us forget that our futures are wildly fenestrated. The vocational doors and windows available to an intelligent, self-reliant, optimistic individual are countless. Skepticism is often a way of deflecting our fear of launching out into the unknown. Blow it out with action!

-Finally, take a peak at the Web site I put together as a resource for humanities PhDs who are considering careers beyond the academy: www.ironstring.com/sellout It expands upon some of the themes and people I discuss here.

-Mark Johnson

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Gene Lewis

Introductory Remarks

I have recently moved into the position of Vice President of Software Development at an Internet startup company in southern California. I have worked in software development companies for the last 18 years, having started as a technical writer. Prior to entering the software development business, I was in graduate school working on my Ph.D. in history. In what follows, I will briefly describe my academic background, my reasons for leaving academia, how I made the transition to the non-academic world, and my career path since that time.

Academic Background:

I received a B.S. in mathematics with a minor in philosophy in 1973. While working on my degree in math, I also completed the equivalent coursework for a degree in history. My undergraduate years were an exciting time for me academically as I discovered new fields of study to which I had not been exposed before. I decided to pursue an academic career and chose history, rather than math, as the area for my graduate studies. As much as I love math, history was, and is, my intellectual passion.

I entered graduate school in 1973 in the field of modern European history, with emphasis on modern France. For my masters' thesis, I chose to research the French response to the massive influx of Spanish refugees fleeing the civil war between 1936 and 1939. I completed my degree in 1975 and moved from the University of Tennessee to UCLA to work on my Ph.D. I was advanced to candidacy at the end of 1978 and started my preliminary research. However, by 1978, it was clear that the career opportunities in history were limited and growing smaller by the year, and I had to look seriously at career options outside academia.

Moving out of Academia:

I wasn't quite sure where to look for opportunities outside academia, and, to be honest, I wasn't sure if I had any marketable skills. I began by looking for opportunities that require history expertise. I sought opportunities at government research organizations, secondary private schools, and community colleges. I also tried to locate west coast publishing companies that publish historical works. None of these searches bore fruit.

My next path was to consider starting over in school, either law school or business school. At the time, however, I could not muster enthusiasm for starting a new program, and, while I didn't rule out the option, I didn't pursue it with any energy. I did, however, decide to pick up a couple of computer science classes while I was still associated with UCLA.

At about the same time, the UCLA placement center recognized that, given the demographic trends of the times, many of its Ph.D. students would not find careers in academia. As a result, they began a "Career Options Program for

Ph.D. Students," into which I readily enrolled. The program focused on identifying the transferability of the skills developed in graduate school and on finding strategies for selling these skills to businesses. We used skills-based resumes rather than the traditional format, and the program worked hard to find internships where we could actually get business work experience. I did participate in an internship at a Los Angeles magazine publisher where I analyzed the efficiency of their mail system. The internship and the work we did in the program gave me some confidence that I could apply skills developed in graduate school in business situations.

In assessing my skills, I identified verbal and written communication skills, as well as solid research skills, as my strongest skills to present to the business world. Selling these skills in combination with computer programming familiarity, I was able, in 1982, to obtain a position as a technical writer in a software development company. At the time, I didn't have a clear understanding of technical writing or what a software development company does, but I was ready to find out.

My Career History:

My first day at work was extraordinarily discouraging. Someone asked me to photocopy documents, and, all I could think was that I had landed a brainless, boring job. Very quickly, however, I discovered that the technical writing group I had joined gave me many opportunities. The company was a new company and growing quickly. A year and a half after I joined the group, the manager resigned, and I applied for the position. I managed the documentation group for the next four years, during which time I was promoted to the next level of management and picked up several other groups to manage as well.

Two years after becoming a manager, I decided to return to school. I wanted to grow my career, but to do so, I thought, required a work-related degree. So, while continuing to work full time, I returned to UCLA in the MBA program for the fully employed. I finished the degree in three years, in 1989.

Over the 10 years I spent in this company, I managed many different software development activities, eventually learning all parts of the process from requirements to product release. In 1992, I decided to leave this company to spend several years at home following the birth of my second child.

After two years at home, I was ready to go back to work, but the thought sent me into an immediate panic. I had not been job-hunting in a decade, and I had no idea if my knowledge about one software company was transferable to another. My fears were soon put to rest. A work associate had moved to a new company as its Vice President. He called me and asked me to come to work for him as one of his directors. I jumped at the chance and quickly found that most everything I had learned at my previous job was applicable to my new job. After 2 1/2 great years, I found a director position in another software company much closer to where I live. I was a director at this company for four years, a position I recently left to join an Internet startup company as its Vice President of Software Development.

How I Feel About the Career Path I Chose:

When I took my first job as a technical writer, I had no idea that I was choosing a path that would turn into a life-long career. I was simply trying out a job and getting experience. I do not think I would have remained a technical writer for my entire career, as it turned out to be an activity I do not particularly enjoy. What I found that I do enjoy is management, and I consider myself fortunate that the opportunity to move into management arose. In moving into management, I found talents within myself that I did not know I had, and I found a career that gives me great satisfaction. I will try to explain what it is that I find satisfying in my career.

First of all, the main characteristic of management is working with people, and, as it turns out, I really like working with people all day long. In the early years, when I was a first line manager, directly managing technical staff, I found the greatest satisfaction in creating an environment in which people could do their best work and in helping people break through roadblocks to accomplish their tasks. As a manager, I sincerely believe that every person brings a unique set of skills and abilities to the workplace and that my primary role is to find ways to play to each person's strengths. Part of working with people is teaching and mentoring, and since teaching was my favorite aspect of academia, I found a way to still get the satisfaction of teaching. Today, where my direct reports are first line managers, I find one of my favorite activities is the weekly informal management training sessions I hold (modeled much like graduate seminars). Helping first line managers grow and develop and become better at their jobs gives me great satisfaction.

The second aspect of management that appeals to me is setting direction and defining the "vision." I contend that anything we are doing can always be improved (our processes, our quality, our products), and this view allows me to envision where to lead the group. I find it fun to identify the "mountain" for my groups and then to help them find ways to climb it. Reaching the goals and then moving on gives me great personal satisfaction. Along the way, I take great pleasure in rewarding the team for its accomplishments.

I also find that, by and large, my career gives me the opportunity to work with some immensely talented people, who are bright, creative and innovative. I enjoy the intellectual challenge that comes in such an environment and the fact that I am constantly learning. I have also found a wide diversity of people in the business with many and varied interests and backgrounds. My appreciation for the diversity of human beings and the variety of unique talents has certainly grown from my experience in the business world.

Moving from Academia to the Business World -- What to Expect:

It is a cultural shift when you move from the academic world to the business world, and the following are a few of my observations on some aspects of the business culture. You should keep in that my perspective is from the high-tech industry, and other industries (healthcare, insurance, banking, retail, manufacturing, etc.) may differ significantly. You should also bear in mind that I left academia twenty years ago, and I do not necessarily know what academia is like today.

First of all, let's start with the nuts and bolts. In the high-tech industry in southern California, salaries are higher than in academia. Entry-level technical staff probably start around $40,000 per year. Good technical staff with about five years experience may earn between $60,000 and $90,000. First line managers in software companies in southern California can earn between $60,000 and $100,000. Directors have an average salary of between $90,000 and $140,000. In pre-IPO and dot-com companies, salaries may run lower because of the expectation of stock pay outs.

The amount of time one can take off from the job is also different. For almost anyone starting at a new company, vacation is only two weeks a year, plus holidays. In academia, even though you may work through quarter/semester breaks, the breaks still provide a change of pace. Quarter/semester breaks do not exist in the business world, and when I made the transition to business, I found that about every ten weeks I wanted the change of pace to which I had been accustomed in a quarter setting. The concept of a sabbatical has migrated from universities to a few, very rare, software companies. I have never worked for one, and, consequently, cannot say much about how they are implemented.

Flexible work-hours are fairly common in the software industry. In general, this means that you have flexibility and choice regarding when you start and stop work. At the same time, though, workdays and workweeks are longer than you probably think. Some industry estimates suggest that employees in software companies average fifty-hour workweeks, and I can tell you that sixty-hour workweeks are not uncommon at certain times. The concept of telecommuting, while discussed often, is only catching on very slowly. The same is even more true of job-sharing and part-time work.

In business, people tend to be more action-oriented than idea-oriented. The time spent on analysis may seem short to a former academic, and the analysis may seem superficial. In some cases, there may be no analysis at all, and you may experience culture shock the first time you encounter the person who "shoots from the hip" without thinking.

While there are a great number of educated and intelligent people in the business world, there is greater diversity than you probably encountered in academia, although, there may be less ethnic, racial and gender diversity than you see in academia. Unlike in academia, education is not always a pre-requisite to a given job. I have worked with some highly intelligent and very successful people in this industry who do not hold university degrees. Education is not necessarily a highly valued credential; what is valued is the ability to accomplish the goal in a cost effective and timely way. People in business may by wary of your degrees, whether from an anti-intellectual bias or from a belief that academics live in ivory towers and are out of touch with the "real world." My advice on this one is to focus on accomplishing business goals and don't worry if your academic credentials are not acknowledged or recognized.

The hierarchy in business organizations may be greater than you expect unless you end up in a very small firm. Military terms like "chain of command' are actually used, and the concepts are actually followed. This is less true in very small companies where organizations tend to be "flat."

Careers in High-Tech/Dot-Com Industries:

"High-tech" industries can include many types of industries besides computer software (where I have always worked); computer hardware, electronics, bio-tech, telecommunications, optics, and other scientific industries are all part of the high-tech sector. I think "dot-com" businesses are any businesses that conduct business over the Internet and include everything from services to entertainment to retail. Most of my experience is limited to the computer software industry and its role in dot-com businesses; I have little or no knowledge of the other business sectors and cannot say much about careers in those segments. Please keep this limitation in mind as you read my comments on careers in high-tech.

There are several careers in high-tech firms where academic skills are applicable; the biggest challenge is to present those skills in a way that demonstrates their value to the business world. Some of the careers where academic skills can be applied are:

-Technical Writing: Almost all technical products require written instructions on how to use them. The more complex the product, the greater the amount of documentation needed. Today, many technical documents are delivered to customers in electronic format. Customers may or may not actually print the documents. In addition, many products, especially software products, also have on-line documentation or help systems for users to access while running the products. Technical writers need the ability to understand technical products from a user perspective and the ability to communicate clearly.

-Training: Many high-tech products, especially software products, include training for the customers. Sometimes the training is in the form of electronic tutorials, which are written by the training staff. Other training is provided by instructors, who spend time with customers explaining how to utilize the products. Trainers need to be able to understand the products and how they are used, to develop course curricula and to present instructional material in a clear and understandable way.

-Marketing Communications: Marketing material and communications are required in most high-tech companies. The staff producing such material must understand how to position/market the products and how to communicate clearly.

-Marketing/Product Analysis: Most high-tech companies perform some level of market and product analysis. Anyone from the social sciences who has used statistical methods in their work can apply these skills to market surveys, customer focus groups, and other forms of market analysis.

Conclusion:

In conclusion, there are many opportunities in the high-tech business world where academic skills can be applied. You can present your skills in a skills-based resume that stresses how your academic skills add value to the business world. The high-tech industry is an exciting and dynamic business with countless opportunities. I look forward to your questions and providing any information to you during my week participation in this program.

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Kay Peterson

Introductory Remarks

Hi, all. I'm Kay Peterson, and I've agreed to be a guest speaker while we discuss the field of Info-Tech. I'm a PhD in English from Northwestern University. My experience isn't as extensive as Mark's, but I think the path I've traveled is not unlike his. I finished my degree in June '98 (conferred in December '98) and landed my current job in November '98. I'm employed as the Manager of Editorial Services at FastWeb.com, a free online scholarship search service for students. As the company's main staff writer and editor, I control everything text-related: developing and writing the on-site content, creating email-based newsletters to our users, producing print collateral (brochures, mission statements, etc.), writing the company newsletter, and assisting all departments in their wordy needs.

Here's a little about how I got here from there. During my first four years of my graduate program, it became pretty clear to me that the job market was not opening up -- and probably wasn't going to do so for me. I watched class after class of PhDs leave grad school, head to the MLA (some with very impressive credentials), and come back with no job offers. Year after year, these same grads hung around, interviewing here and there, and teaching innumerable low-paying adjunct instructorships. I knew that was not what I wanted, and so I figured I'd better start looking elsewhere for opportunities.

After finishing my qualifying exams, I took a full-time position as an academic coordinator for a gifted program for pre-college students at Northwestern (the Center for Talent Development, or CTD). It started as a stop-gap job--a temporary summer gig to help me pay the bills. At the end of the summer, I asked about a full-time position that was similar to the one I had that had been open for some time. My boss was happy to hire me, and I was happy to take it. I worked there for a little less than 2 years (1995 to 1997), but ultimately, I decided that it wasn't really the field for me. I began to realize that since my first career (college teaching at the professor level) had fallen through, I didn't want to simply 'fall into' another career by default. I wanted to take some time to see what I really wanted to do, and prepare for that career. That, and the fact that the clock was ticking on my dissertation, convinced me to quit my job at CTD. With my savings from my time as a full-time administrator, I had a bankroll to support about a year and a half of full-time diss work.

Once I finished my dissertation (actually, in June of '98), I focused on landing a job and gathering the skills and experience that would help. I realized that although I had a lot of marketable skills from my past job experience and my work in my graduate program, the thing that would keep my resume out of the circular file would be hard skills--such as fluency in various computer programs. Since the Internet was booming, I figured I'd better develop some comfort level there, so I picked up a "For Dummies" book and started learning HTML. My roommate and I built "The Escape Pod for Humanities PhDs" (http://www.geocities.com/escapepod.geo) as a way to share our experience with other job-seeking PhDs and to exercise our new HTML skills. At that point, there were really no online communities -- or really, communities anywhere -- where grad students were talking productively about getting a job. Based on conversations with some of my colleagues, I discovered that as slight as my non-academic job docket was, it added up to a great deal more experience and employment savvy than most grad students had. Escape Pod was a chance to share what I knew, develop my thoughts on the topic further and, in a way, declare my independence from forces that were shaping my destiny. I'd watched my entire profession--students, professors, all -- pretend the job crisis wasn't happening. It was enlivening to declare that it was, indeed, happening, but that I was going to survive -- and that others could, too.

As part of this career development, I started exploring other interests. A friend noted that I was an "obsessive writer," so I started thinking about how I could build my competency and find new outlets for my talents. Eventually, I co-authored a Web-published serial novel with a friend of mine (http://www.geocities.com/waylaid.geo/) and started trolling the publishing world for freelance writing opportunities. I did a few short-term gigs for a 'creative' temp agency that gave me the chance to do some proofreading and even a little copywriting.

After six months of sending about maybe 5 resumes a week (and only two job interviews in all that time), I finally landed my current job. I really stumbled into it after applying for an education marketing position at the same company, for which I was not really qualified. I was interviewed, but turned down -- with the vague suggestion that 'someday' they may need a writer, and they'd keep me in mind. 'Someday' turned into the very next day, when I got a phone call asking if I'd like to interview to be their new (and first ever) newsletter writer. Another interview, a writing test, and a 10-page follow-up letter later, and I had the job. My job offer was a bit of a fluke, but I think these kinds of flukes are common on the Internet, and I'd advise any other PhD to take advantage of them.

I left academe initially because of the dire state of the job market, but in the process discovered the job crisis helped me choose a better path for myself. Reflecting on my move, I think now that the academy was never an ideal place for me. I need a more social environment, with a great deal of variety and good blend of practical and intellectual work. My current job is really more of a dream job than I ever could have designed. It requires that I exercise my creative muscle on a regular basis, but it also has a strong administrative component that allows me to be anal-retentive to my heart's content. I do a lot of writing, more revising, tons of editing, and have had the chance to develop a great mentor relationship with both my supervisor and the less experienced writers I supervise. I love my job, which is challenging, ever-changing and full of potential.

That's all for now. I look forward to this conversation.

Kay Peterson

Manager of Editorial Services

FastWeb.com, Inc.

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Wendy Waters

Opening Remarks

Hello wrk4us members,

Iíve been working at Indexonly.com as the supervisor/manager of the Content Editing Department since April. Indexonly.com is an Internet "Start Up," which means itís a newer company, and is not yet trading publicly (although this could happen quickly). In theory, startups have particular characteristics that are sometimes different from larger, more established information technology companies. We might all wish to discuss this at some point this week in order to sort out what these differences exactly are (or if indeed there are differences). Anyway -- on with my intro. Paula suggested that we answer the following questions as part of our opening remarks:

Howíd I get from Ph.D. in World & Latin American History to managing Content at Indexonly.com?

Similar to Mark, I became disenchanted with academic life around the time of my qualifying exams. With the help of a scholarship I was able to research & write my dissertation largely away from the university, which gave me some independent time to think. During that time I became increasingly convinced that (a) I was indeed both disenchanted with the academic atmosphere and generally bored with it as well, and (b) that living in Vancouver & British Columbia, and doing the activities I enjoy here was more important to me than an academic job (and the two were not likely to come as a package).

After finishing my dissertation in early 1999, I spent just over a year teaching part time and trying to build enough of a network to do consulting work related to Latin America (research and writing for companies, non-governmental organizations, etc.). This never really panned out. Although I enjoyed the work I found, I really didnít like the constant need to try to find work and then ensure that they paid me. I also felt like I always needed to be working on something day and night -- just like grad school, nothing changed.

One day, while looking for consulting work on several Internet sites, I spotted a Vancouver-based company looking for someone who understood computers and the Internet, and could translate more technical speak into easy English. Iíve always loved computers and have been programming as a hobby since I was eleven, teaching myself many programming languages over the years (although few that are in demand now), including most recently HTML (website language). With this background, I thought there might be a job for me there.

Iíd applied to several other (non-computer) jobs over the previous year, without success. I didnít think this was likely to be any different. Needing a break from writing lectures, I decided to give myself 20 minutes to craft a creative, off-the-wall cover letter to that company to accompany my resume. I tried to present myself as an intelligent, overachiever with useful skills and experiences transferable to any Internet company. The spontaneous e-mail cover was rife with sentence fragments and other minor grammar mistakes, which I didnít notice until later when I re-read it. Yet it was also short & snappy and (as my current boss described a version of it) I "didnít sound like a typical academic at all." When I hit "Send" on the e-mail, I never expected to hear from these people. Instead, they phoned the next day and asked for an interview.

Excited by this, I sent the same resume, and almost the same cover letter -- minus a few of the grammar errors -- to other Internet companies in the Vancouver area. Similar responses not interviews, but positive reactions (as in: "Lets get together in a couple weeks"). And, then I saw Indexonlyís ad in the Vancouver Sun, the main daily newspaper here. They wanted someone with "supervisor experience." I decided that helping up to 40 students all write research papers, and keeping track with what they were up to amounted to supervisory experience and said so (albeit more professionally) in an addition to my existing cover letter. I think this statement helped considerably in getting me the interview and the offer (and yes, Iíve found that the skills honed supervising students are quite similar to those Iíve needed as a supervisor/manager).

So, within 2 weeks, I went from not even considering an Internet job, to accepting an offer. And, for the first month here, I was still teaching part time.

So, What do I do all day? Well, there hasnít been a typical day in a few weeks now, so Iíll list some of the tasks that I could be working on at any one time. First, let me explain briefly what Indexonly is: basically weíre an electronic yellow pages. We have 17 million business listings -- and more arriving every day -- for North America, divided into thousands of categories. My departmentís job is to make searches of our content relevant and accurate (adjusting categories, keywords, and what is listed in each category). When I started, I was unsure as to whether or not this would be interesting. (How can working at a business directory be interesting?) I have found the job a pleasure and enough of a challenge to keep me highly interested. Making the content work, managing a department within a larger company, and seeing the inner workings of a fast-growing business are just some of what intrigues me. There are tasks I find tedious but increasingly these are becoming almost unnoticeable, and instead sometimes welcome slow-downs in what can be a fast-paced day.

So, What exactly do I do? And what do I like and dislike doing? On any given day I will do a number of the following things:

1. Respond to our advertising sales persons comments and needs regarding the categories and what is listed in each. This is often a diplomatic effort in balancing the desires of one person against the global needs of our site. Some questions are an interesting challenge; some are loathsome to deal with. When an advertising sale is pending, it can be a special pleasure albeit under pressure to make the right changes.

2. Respond to end usersí concerns about their companyís listing, or the siteís content generally. This is great because it means people are using our site, and in sending responses. I enjoy crafting these responses.

3. Check up on large, content clean-up jobs that ran over night or are scheduled to run on the database at night. This includes checking some of the work done by the editor and assistants in my department.

4. Work with the Database Administrator (a specific and specialized type of programmer), the Webmaster, and other programmers to solve a particular problem we might be noticing with the content, website and/or the advertisements. This can be really neat. Lots of bright people all working together to solve a problem.

5. Spy on the competition and see how theyíre doing, perhaps discussing them with others in the company. I like this task. It uses a lot of "historians" skills (and maybe those of English & Language majors too) to look for clues and reach conclusions about what is going on in the industry.

6. Read resumes for open positions in my department -- frightening and amusing, not to mention educational.

7. Work on the ongoing budgets and plans for the department (itís a fast growing company) and discuss these with my supervisor, the Chief Technical Officer. Request and help design new internal applications.

8. Check up on what people in my department are doing. Weíve been doing the same set of tasks for 6 weeks now, so there hasnít been that much need for supervising as everyone knows what they are doing. That is changing starting today and Iíll be spending more time with the team.

9. Identify improvements that can be made to our data, and set up "to do" sheets for people in my department.

10. Actually do some of the jobs that my department is working on (and I HAVE to do this an hour or two per day at least -- in order to understand the content and what the department needs), which can be tedious, but only doing them a couple hours at most, at a time, actually can make them enjoyable as I can crank up the music in my headphones and just plod away editing records.

11. Write up some instructions or background information on the content for salespeople or other internal users.

12. Joke with my co-workers -- itís a fun, easy going, and young place.

13. Friday after 4, I might have a beer at my desk.

14. Attend meetings about company direction or the departments.

15. Give a short presentation to the company or a sub group or invest