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.
Discussion Host / WRK4US
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
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
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
-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.
back to top
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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."
"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 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.
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.
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.
back to top
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.
Manager of Editorial
back to top
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
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
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