I was in my 20’s when I started marketing myself online. In the beginning, this stuff was so hard. Technology wasn’t what it is now, and a lot of the work I did was manual. A lot of the apps I used were terrible. Twenty years ago, online marketing was – to put it lightly – an adventure.
Today, “marketing” seems easy. The truth is, it’s still one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
I’ve always been pretty adept at technology. I had limited skills in math, so that limited my ability with programming. But, everything else, I was good at. In my 20’s, I decided to specialize in “quality assurance”. That’s just a fancy term for “making sure stuff doesn’t break”. It was my job to test software in creative ways. Click the mouse button 50 times – what happens? Enter a person’s name with accents in it. Does it break? What if I resize the window? What if I do something I’m not supposed to do? For 20 years, my life consisted of asking “what if?”.
In 2020, I got laid off. I’d been a manager for a while, but never upgraded my skills to learn programming. Why would I? Our entire role was to act as a buffer between programmers and the public. We were the creative gatekeepers of the software world. Until we weren’t anymore. The gatekeeping role has been automated. If you ask me, it’s a bad idea. I know how programmers think, and well, few of them are able to think beyond what’s supposed to work. It’s like asking a house builder to also play the role of inspector.
It’s funny how things go, because a part of me was getting tired of the software industry. We weren’t asking “what if?” anymore. The entire industry is all about how to get things out faster. How can we get this in the hands of people, faster? Quality suffers when that happens. And I care deeply about that stuff. It really was time for a change.
I’ve been doing marketing for longer than I’ve been doing quality assurance. I started a blog back when Google didn’t even exist. I used to write book reviews, at first. It became wildly successful, especially when I started writing about social issues and politics. In fact, I was starting to get asked to appear on discussion panels at universities. That’s when I realized that bloggers were becoming more important than journalists. And that’s also when I called it quits. Why would I take the place of someone who actually knows more than I do?
In this case, it was a good call. I find that when we write about social causes, it only reflects who we are in that moment in time. A lot of what I believe has changed since then. But, I learned a LOT about marketing. It’s a dirty word these days, “marketing”. People are skeptical about anyone who calls themselves a ‘marketer’. It’s almost like saying you’re a cold caller. In fact, companies undervalue marketers so much that if you were to do a job search for marketing, you’d find a whole slew of jobs that pay just minimum wage. Meanwhile, marketing is hard and people who are good at it have to bear the brunt of minimum wage jobs for years and years until someone recognizes their value.
Throughout the years as a software manager, I created little side businesses. I created websites for people, I was a fine art photographer, I sold paintings, I started a science communication project. Late last year, I launched a podcast. I did all of this because I love keeping busy. I love following my interests, not for money, but for sheer fun. Do stuff for fun, and you’ll end up learning new things along the way. Most of my education in modern marketing has been done in the past five years. That’s when things really took off for me.
Now, I’m a ‘digital strategist’. It’s just a fancy word for “someone who knows more about marketing than you do”. Let’s face it, that’s what I do – I help people figure it all out. At one point in time, I taught high school to adults. That was my favourite job in the world. You know why? Because grown-ups have just as much of a thirst for learning as kids do. But, grown-ups are skeptical. It takes a certain kind of person to teach adults. I like to think I was good at it.
Have you ever heard of the book, The Peter Principle? In it, the author posits that one of the reasons why there’s so much incompetence in the working world is because everyone rises to their highest level of incompetence. When was the last time a manager was fired for being bad at managing? I’ve never seen it happen. The reason why I decided to become a digital strategist was because I know this stuff. I feel extremely competent in this role because I’ve been doing it for 25 years. More importantly, I’ve made all of the crucial mistakes. People fresh out of school know a lot of stuff too. But, they haven’t made real-world mistakes yet. And if you ask me, I think that real-world failure is a better teacher.
It’s nighttime, I’m staring out a window during a freezing rain storm. I’m writing this at the end of December, just before New Year’s. I guess it’s a good way to reminisce. I wrote this to share a little bit about myself. But, it turns out that I’m writing this as a way to wish you the best. Things happen in life that end up changing us. We take on roles that we think will be with us for life. I had no idea that my side projects would end up teaching me more about life, and about a new career, than everything else I’d done. So, I hope you take on new chances. It takes guts to figure things out. It takes time, too. But it really takes guts because it’s easier to be someone else. So, if you’re reading this in 2021, I wish you a great year. And if you’re not happy doing what you’re doing, go be something else. It’s worth it.