A Calendar of Tales

One of the initiatives for the BlackBerry 10 launch (I started working there in May, as you’ll recall) was bringing on board three celebrity ambassadors to do various things with their crafts, involving a Z10 phone. While I am interested to see what Alicia Keys and Robert Rodriguez do, they are not my primary interest. However, my love of Neil Gaiman and his works is well known.

That love increased exponentially when he announced his project, A Calendar of Tales. He asked 12 questions on Twitter, one relating to each month of the year, and then wrote stories based on 12 selected tweeted responses. Alas, none of my responses were selected, but he did retweet my January response, which pretty much gave me an all-day nerdgasm.

That was part one, and the stories were published yesterday. Download the PDF for your reading pleasure.

The next part is art. Those who’ve been participating via Twitter, or anyone who reads the Tales, really, is invited to make art relating to one or some or all of the stories. Medium is up to you. Then 12 pieces — one per month — will be selected, and A Thing will be made. A calendar, a book… something.

Can’t wait. 🙂 Gotta say, this has been cool enough and community-creating enough to suspend my cynicism about (anyone’s) corporate marketing… for a bit.

Tumble outta bed and stumble to the kitchen…

So, I got myself a job. Kinda had to eventually, though doing the freelance thing has been really interesting. (The constant hustle, administrivia, etc. really isn’t my bag long-term, though.)

Anyway, I start on Monday, May 14th, as Community Manager, Developer Relations, at RIM.

Derp?I’ll just give a few of you a moment to enjoy that needle getting yanked off a record sound in your heads.

Yep, I am well aware that I’ve said I wouldn’t work there. (Side note: never bother to use “never” statements in life; it just makes the gods laugh.) There are certainly plenty of areas of the company where I still wouldn’t work. I know too much of the history and not enough has changed.

Except then the sneaky bastards went and posted a community management role, and stuck “Developer Relations” onto it. Professional geek wrangling. Which is about as up my alley as jobs get.

Additionally, it’s an area of the company that is being built/re-built, and there’s a very different feel there. And not a single person I’ve talked to was wearing rose-coloured glasses of any kind. People know shit’s broken. And they’re of the “How’re we gonna fix it?” and “What’re we going to build next?” ilk. Those are my kinda folks. It also didn’t hurt that I’d be working in close proximity to some people who’re already friends.

Do I have concerns about going back to work for a big company, and one that clearly has some big issues? Sure. I’d be an idiot if I didn’t. And I don’t tend to drink anybody’s Koolaid. But of the offers I received, this one ended up making the most sense. We’ll see if my brain and gut were right. 🙂

In the community management game, you learn very quickly that there are two kinds of people who complain: the ones who’re genuinely trying to do something, and are just frustrated, and the trolls. If I can help out the folks who are genuinely trying to do something, I’ll be happy.

PostRank gave me the opportunity to be a part of building a new industry. It was fascinating and educational stuff (on good days). 🙂 I suspect what there is to learn about rebuilding part of an industry will be even more so. And so it begins…

Just never forget to be dexterous and deft

If you take this gig, I think you should pour your heart into it, but I want you to remember that you’re going to have another five to ten other jobs in your lifetime just like this one. This means that for each moment you spend being pumped about the new gig, you’ll have an equal and opposite moment at the end of the gig where you can’t wait to get the hell out. — Rands

Sometimes you hear or read something and it gets stuck in your head. Perhaps because it totally resonates. Perhaps because it expresses an opinion so diametrically opposed to your own. Perhaps because there’s just… something to it, but you can’t yet put your finger on it.

When I first read that quote, I’d been working at a job I didn’t like for about eight months. I’d never really liked it, and, in fact, my manager quit a few weeks after I’d started. Things didn’t go uphill from there. However, about six weeks after I read that quote, I met the PostRank folks and started on a new adventure, one I liked much better.

But for the past while, since I’ve known that I’d be leaving Google, that quote has come to mind a fair bit. Especially when you come from a startup where there’s always more to be done than bodies to do it, being in a position of not being particularly useful isn’t easy. Or when you’re among people who claim to need/want X, but then make decisions and plans that will never accomplish X. Being informed that their attempts to make me permanent had fallen through wasn’t terribly surprising, nor was it emotionally crushing by that point.

I don’t want to give the impression that I found my time at Google horrible. Anything but. It’s totally not the real world there, and that’s a lot of fun. Googlers are insanely well taken care of, and that level of geek-centric culture can be a great time. The people I worked with, both on the Analytics Marketing team and the operations folks I got to know just by being there, are all great, highly capable people. I just didn’t happen to fit the prevailing structure. When you get far enough away from high school, eventually you realize it’s okay not to fit in everywhere. 🙂

Hindsight gives you a considerably broader point of view, and so one can indulge from time to time in the What Ifs. I’ve never for a minute regretted saying no to moving to Mountain View, but what if I had gone there? It would have been pretty much the only chance I had to find somewhere to “fit” at Google, simply because what I do is done there, but not here. At the same time, though, the way they handle community management, for example, is very different from how I am used to working, and how my personality prefers to work… so would I have been happy there? Would I have loved living in the Valley or San Francisco, or would I have always felt painfully un-hip? (Kidding.)

Ultimately, Google is a big company. A very big company, no matter how much they try to believe and market themselves (especially internally) as something scrappier, more nimble, or “startup-y”. I’ve told numbers of people that working at Google felt more like working at the insurance companies I’ve worked for than any of the tech companies I’ve worked for. Nothing wrong with that — the company has around 32,000 employees. But as you grow you have to accept and adapt to how your growth affects your employees, culture, communications, etc. as well as your products, customers, and the market.

So, what if I hadn’t tagged along on the Google adventure? They never really needed or wanted all of us, so what if they’d said thanks, deposited a few bucks into our accounts, and we went our separate ways back in June? I recall seeing a couple of really cool jobs back then, and waffling over whether to apply and push my brain into the direction of moving on, or to settle myself in the saddle for whatever ride Google would bring. Needless to say, I chose Google. I think a lot of people would. I am at least grateful that KW is a tech-strong area and desperately thirsty for talent. I’d be a lot more freaked out if we’d had a crash between June and now. (Especially given how many cool gigs I keep seeing for Toronto, Calgary, and the Valley…)

Unsurprisingly, I have been constantly asked the last while what’s next. Perhaps if I’d had a quarter for every ask I wouldn’t have to look for a new job at all… Short answer is: I can’t say. I have some great opportunities that right now mostly just require patience, I know my skills are valued, and I am superstitious enough not to talk about it all in much detail in the open without Is dotted and Ts crossed and where the capricious gods of fate may hear me… Most importantly, I feel fine about where things are and are going.

I am also very grateful to everyone who’s been supportive and helpful. I’ve received leads, introductions, and whatnot from many people who didn’t surprise me, and a number who did. Sounds a bit self-serving, but you hope that by being active in your community and making yourself useful that they’ll be there for you when you need it, too, and that has very much proven true. Fellowship: it ain’t just for Mennonites! So thank you all.

I’ve also enjoyed getting a closer look back into the startup scene recently. It’s certainly grown and changed since PostRank was one of those scrappy, nimble companies with six employees and computers on folding tables. For every story like this I see that makes me weep for the future, I have also seen, heard, and talked to brilliant folks who are passionate, fearless, and who just happen to have recently graduated… or not. It’s also heartening to know their mentors and know that those are folks who’ll kick their asses if they get uppity. 🙂

At the same time, I see the mistakes they make and am becoming ever more aware of the value of experience (especially my own), and for access to business mentoring that reflects that. It seems to be easy enough to get insight and information from great people about the tech, the financing, and all the “hard” skills, but the worst errors I see being made are about people. And it’s not that these folks are sociopaths or lack social skills, it’s just that being the CEO of a company is very different from doing hacking projects with your buddies, or being low enough down the totem pole not to be responsible for a lot of things. I look forward to seeing how these folks grow and change over the years the same way I look forward to seeing how the tech scene here does.

The end of the PostRank era has been hard at times, but it would have been harder had it ended back in June. Having had months to get used to the team being flung to the four winds has provided separation time, and having suspected a permanent position wasn’t going to work out has provided the motivation to send my brain forward, rather than miring it in the present or pining for the past.

I’ve been in much worse places — still working at a company that was crumbling around me, laid off a week after my birthday — so I’m in a very okay place. As I told a couple friends, my main challenge currently is working on my patience, which has never been my strongest of virtues. (Given that it’s my sister-in-law’s name, perhaps she could impart some wisdom?)

Hopefully, I’ll have awesome news to share in one of my all-too-infrequent posts soon. Watch this space. 🙂 In the mean time, a few snippets from Dr. Seuss’ Oh, The Places You’ll Go, which has been on my mind a lot lately, too (and the title of this post comes from it). I thought it important enough to make a parting gift for the Googles.

Congratulations!
Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.

~

You’re on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.

~

Out there things can happen
and frequently do
to people as brainy
and footsy as you.

And when things start to happen
don’t worry. Don’t stew.
Just go right along.
You’ll start happening too.

She doesn’t get eaten by the eels at this time

I have mentioned the Very Personal Ad before, and, indeed, wrote one up when I wanted to find a new apartment. Worked like a charm; I love it here, though these things can take time. And so it is time to try this experiment again.

What is this ad for? A job.

The Googles and I will be parting ways in a little while, so it is time to figure out what my next adventure is. The circumstances of my departure aren’t relevant; I’ll probably write some about it one day. TL;DR is basically: “what I do, they don’t do here”. No crying, no recriminations, no hurtin’ songs… Just c’est la vie. I do not, however, enjoy certain uncertainties very much. And right now I have a bunch. I know I will be okay — I always have been. I will not get eaten by the eels at this time. I am working to vanquish the uncertainties, however, and asking for some help.

I’ve talked to a few folks, applied for a few things, but I would love to see/hear about something (a specific role, a company, some people I’d be totally jazzed to spend my days with) and just know that’s it. It would also help if they thought I was it, too. 🙂 Seems odd to be working on this stuff at this time of year, but the world doesn’t seem to slow down at Christmas much anymore.

I imagine most folks who would read this are reasonably familiar with me and what I do. However, to get all official: here I am on LinkedIn. Here is my resume. Ask me anything. Even better, let’s have coffee while you ask me stuff. I’ll probably ask you stuff, too.

I don’t want to commute every day or move to Toronto, though I know there are a bunch of amazing gigs available there these days. Some remote work combined with commuting I might be okay with. Travel sometimes (like with planes) is fine. I don’t want to move to the Valley, though, either. I’ve been offered that before. I feel fortunate to live here in the Region where there’s a whack o’ stuff going on, and new companies being born pretty much daily.

I have worked at really big companies, medium-sized companies, and a couple of teeny startups. Generally, I tend to be happier in a smaller environment. It has some to do with scale, but really it’s more about… Dunbar’s number, kinda. You know, how supposedly we can only maintain 150 close ties/friendships with people? In a smaller company, you can ask anyone anything at any time. Just walk on over and sort things out. Or the whole company can have lunch in one room. Get to know all of your team. Make sockmonkeys for all of your co-workers and not have to spend all year on it.

It’s personal, it’s efficient, and most importantly for me, it lets me get my hands dirty and enjoy variety. I have been on the internets about 20 years. My attention span was shot a long time ago, but I am damned good at absorbing and synthesizing information, creating and curating content, learning from and connecting people. Direct contact with data and folks. Delicious. I’m really good at organizing things and taking care of people. I’d still be good at it even if I wasn’t a Mennonite (and community is what we do), but hey, as a bonus I make delicious treats for my co-workers. 🙂

Again, the organization doesn’t have to be teeny, but it sometimes helps. With size typically comes hierarchies and silos and process. If you know of a company where that hasn’t happened, let me know. (I still compare Google more to the insurance companies I’ve worked at than the tech companies.)

I like working in tech. I like how things change, how curious and innovative people are, and how they don’t just have ideas, they do stuff about them. Action Folks can be found anywhere, but most of my experience happens to be in tech. That said, it would be nice if what the company does is helpful. It makes someone’s day better or connects them to folks they need to know or helps their business grow or what have you. Not everyone can save lives, but it’s hard to feel noble about your job only being to help big companies convince consumers to spend more money.

I like to help tech, too. Or, rather, the people in this community with me. I’ve been around long enough and been fortunate enough to have some experiences that other people can find useful. They can reproduce my successes and hopefully avoid my mistakes. I like sharing, and am almost always happy to do so. The extra special thing is, too, that invariably you learn interesting things from everyone you talk to. I love that.

So yeah. I like to build things: communities, knowledge bases, customer bases, relationships, networks, really cool products or services that people want. I like to record and share information: how-to content, blog posts, white papers, articles, case studies, videos, social dissemination, connecting the people building stuff with the people using it. I like to help people: educate them in what the company does and how that can be valuable to them, help them get ramped up and productive, answer their questions, help get their issues sorted out, enable them to go.

I firmly believe the internets know everything, and that we are better connected than we’ve ever been before. And hopefully I can borrow just a tiny bit of its connectivity and knowledge and find a place and some people where I can look forward to going to work every day, and make myself useful.

Thanks!

Unphotographable

This is a picture I did not take of several white males, aged 18-45, standing behind each other in the lunch line at work, all wearing identical t-shirts touting diversity, which were handed out at a recent workplace event.

Go Outside

Cross-posted from the Communitech blog.

Waterloo Region is a small town in a lot of ways. Even smaller when you work in tech. I’ve argued over whether the average number of degrees of separation among people is two or three, which ain’t nowhere near six.

In some areas, the sphere shrinks even more when you’re in a sub-space of tech, like startups, as I was. However, the Region is still small enough that even our sub-groups are generally still all part of “tech”. Enterprise, startups, developers, marketers, mainframe or mobile — we all hang out.

Continue reading “Go Outside”

Limelight

On Friday I had the experience of being part of a bit of a whirlwind in our beloved tech sphere — Google acquired PostRank, the company I work for, and the announcement went out Friday afternoon. The startup fairy tale realized and all that jazz. If you’re looking for lots of insider details in this post, I can’t really help you there. There’s a lot I don’t know, and wouldn’t be able to tell you if I did. This is mostly just going to be musing about what’s been going on in my head since March.

Continue reading “Limelight”

Game on

I recently read Jane McGonigal’s Reality is Broken, which I highly recommend. I think she definitely presents some points and examples through a lens that suits her ends, but in her defence, many games and gaming environments do lend themselves well to the examples she brings up.

That said, she provides fantastic insights into how not only gamers tick, but all of us, and how games can be used for ends far greater (and often more noble), than just sheer entertainment. I think a lot of us fail to recognize game elements when they pop up in foreign environments because we have strong pre-conceived Monopoly and Pong notions of what a game is or game mechanics are. (Replace those italicized examples with whatever fits your generation.) 🙂

A common theme throughout the book was collaboration. Gamers collaborating to achieve goals in-game. Gamers collaborating online to document and discuss their games. Gamers working together to solve big problems or achieve big rewards both online and in the “real world”. It’s one of the biggest positives that gaming culture has and will impart to young people now, who will be inheriting a lot of those aforementioned big problems.

Given what I do for a living, these concepts of community building and collaboration are fascinating to me. Even outside of my professional ponderings, how people tick has always gotten my cerebral juices flowing, and how to engage people is a never-ending creative quest both in the gaming world and the corporate one.

But… funny thing… It was really hard to see myself in this world she was describing.

I’m not much of a gamer. Perhaps a game or two of Bejeweled to kill time if I’m waiting somewhere. I can get mildly obsessed with something new for a few days at most. While so many people I know are still feverishly launching birds into pigs, I think I managed to stay interested in Angry Birds for almost a week, and that was some time last summer or fall. Haven’t touched it since.

As illustrated by the two games I just mentioned, I also tend to play single-person games. I have played Rock Band on a few rare occasions, but admittedly, there was only one other person there, so the ideal recipe for fun was not achieved. I think I have battled someone in Mario Kart once. I have never played anything like World of Warcraft, and freely admit to a degree of prejudice against games like that as a result of some past experiences. Even offline games like Euchre I’ve played so few times that I have to have it re-explained to me every time I do play.

Simply a result of the type of social sphere I have? Sure, to a point, but if I really wanted to play games, I’d be doing so. And if I wanted to play games with others, I’d find folks who’re up for it.

So perhaps the disconnect for me is that I’m not much of a gamer, but my “real world” position, particularly career-wise, places me as more of the designer or dungeonmaster, the person who would conceive of, develop, and orchestrate games. Because I do not immerse in the former, it hamstrings me to wrap my brain around the latter. To that end, I did look upon this book as something of a potential textbook, rather than just leisure reading.

I think the issue goes further, though, too. Remember doing group work projects in school? Did you like it? I hated it. I didn’t like the responsibility for people who might slack off without the authority to make them pull their weight. I like control over what work I produce, so I did not react well to the idea that, for example, 75% of the work I was going to get graded on was work whose production I wasn’t even going to be present for. Sure, on a few occasions I was paired with control freak over-achievers like myself, and their efforts were awesome, but that’s the exception, rather than the rule. Even sometimes when I was in enrichment classes.

So while I understand the concept of a raid, and the considerable logistical effort required to successfully complete one, it kinda strikes me as really big, online group work. Sure, in a game environment these are gamers, so they’re bringing their best efforts you’d hope, but still.

Even in the types of problem-solving groups McGonigal covers, I get thinking about all the different ideas generated, and the fact that you can’t, as a group, explore or develop all of them. So which one gets chosen? Do the people whose ideas aren’t chosen really throw themselves heart and soul into developing someone else’s idea? Even if they want to, can they do their best work if they don’t necessarily fundamentally understand it the same, or “right” way because they didn’t conceive of it, and in their heads it lives as a single idea, not within the mental ecosystem that bore it?

And what about the ideas that fall by the wayside? What if one of them would truly save the world, and group consensus picked the wrong one? Stuff like that bugs me, so, unsurprisingly, it feels “safer”, more efficient, to work on your own thing. Then you know where it comes from, how it gets developed, what it’s going to effect.

And, if you get stuck and want a fresh perspective, that can come from anyone else. Whereas in a group, even if you have different roles, you’re all working on the same project, so you’re all going to be “tainted” by the common understanding, direction, and activities of the project.

Of course, I am also a grownup and have worked in the corporate world for some time, so I know very well that most projects don’t – and can’t – work that way. Of course, how many work projects have you been as passionate about and as invested in as you have been in your gaming endeavors…? That, too, is one of McGonigal’s points. There is something incredible there, if only it can be sparked and harnessed.

There is, too, the distinction between those who prefer to work alone and maintain control, but who do have leadership abilities and interests, and can move into that role in a group settings, and those who don’t and just truly prefer to work alone. I think the desire for control and the importance of maintaining the overall project could compel such people into leadership roles, but how good is a leader going to be who doesn’t necessarily want to be there?

Now, all that said, I don’t think having a non-collaborative bent is a bad thing when you’re in a community-based role. In fact, I think it’s actually an important trait. Wait – what? How can you have a job where it’s your responsibility to build, moderate, encourage and educate the community if you don’t like being part of it?

Well, that’s not quite how it shakes out. But that’s a discussion for another time.

BlogHer ’10

Well, we’ve been back for almost a week, and I’m still not sure what to write about the conference. Fundamentally, I would say my experience was better than last year (my thoughts here). And the tone much more positive. Additionally, this was only my second trip to New York, and while I initially suffer sensory overload there, once I acclimatize (to the place, not the heat and humidity… oy vey…) I love it and want to do everything.

This time we also had a lot more company, as there were six of us heading there from KW. Aside from Carol and I, this was the first BlogHer for all the others. It was downright funny initially listening to all their questions about parties and swag and how to find them. Really, unless you hide under your bed in your room for the entire conference, there’s no problem finding either.

Continue reading “BlogHer ’10”