Category Archives: Careers

Some hero magic on Ada Lovelace Day

It’s all about the “now” and the “next” in media and technology; but in the headlong, often mind-numbing rush for mindshare, followers, whuffie or whatever is this week’s shiny nu nu thing, what has gone before is equally important.

That’s why, to mark Ada Lovelace Day I wanted to write about someone who inspired and mentored me directly.

I’d already edited a web site for the Edinburgh Festival and covered technology and multimedia culture for the likes of The Scotsman newspaper and .net magazine before I touched down in Londoninium in July 1998.

I was starting as Web Editor for the international website of Ernst & Young but – I was informed on Day One – there was a month of handover between me and the freelancer who’d previously been editing the site part-time.

On the morning the freelancer was due to come in my nerves were ratcheted up another notch from their already high levels. There was me *way* out of my comfort zone working in corporatesville when in walks this stunning woman: pixieish hair, jeans and a biker jacket. And when she removed said jacket, ooh, the tattoo on her arm was just gorgeous. She smiled and extended a hand: “Hey! I’m Lizzie”. And that was Liz Bailey. I’ll never forget it.

It was less of a handover, more of a crash course in ramping-up my html skills, and getting the ultimate outsiders insider’s guide to my employer, interspersed with some scrumptious Chinatown and Soho lunches and lots of hilarity. The full-spectrum introduction 🙂 But more than that it was finding – in this most alien of environments – a kindred spirit, because Lizzie was my entry point into London’s embryonic web scene.

A freelancer who also wrote and did web editing, design and production for Wired UK, The Guardian, BBC Online, the FT, Demos, Wallpaper*, McKinsey, The Telegraph and more, Lizzie knew everyone who was doing anything interesting web-wise in London.

Missing my own familiarity with Scotland’s web scene, I was happy to take a cue from my new mentor. If it wasn’t for Lizzie, well I would’ve been fine, but she allowed me to bridge both worlds: the corporate but innovative focus of my everyday work, and the creativity, excitement and bone fide madness of the first dotcom boom.

I’d seen a black and white A4 newsletter once in Glasgow (when someone in London posted it to me) called New Media Age – it carried four pages of news on the nascent sector and no ads! But it was Lizzie who tipped me off re a packed mid-week party in Great Titchfield St dubbed ‘Boob Night’ where I met the editor of the then fully-fledged magazine, a young fella by the name of Mike Butcher who I managed to out-argue . He says he doesn’t remember it, but back then nights of mayhem where the champers flowed gratis were ten a penny for the current TechCrunchUK editor  😉

At Lizzie’s 30th Birthday party I also met Phil Gyford (then at BBC Online I think), and a guy she was working with on ‘New Media Creative’ magazine called Paul Murphy. Later she introduced me to hotshot new media reporter Polly Sprenger who was fresh over from Wired News in San Francisco (Mike Butcher once described Polly to me as “the Red Rum of technology reporters” after they worked together on the shortlived Industry Standard Europe magazine).

It reaffirmed I wasn’t just working in a “job”, for a “company”, but part of of something game-changing and amazing.

But this melange of web culture, innovation and merriment paled next to Lizzie’s own formidable focus and grit. A web grrrl to the core, Lizzie would magic up websites to die for whilst relentlessly promoting the causes of usability, innovation and the visibility of women in the web design and technology sector.

That movement for change – and celebration of talent – has latter day embodiments in UK-founded networks (some of which have gone global) like She Says, Girl Geek Dinners, Women In Mobile Data, and the briefly existent Digital Womens’ Club – all great initiatives I’ve actively supported.

Three years flew by, and when I was two jobs on from Ernst & Yong working as editor in chief of a VC-funded music website, the entire sector imploded. After a barren several months I decamped to the TV industry back in Belfast in 2002. But Lizzie hung in there. Multi-talented and entrepreneurial to a tee, she was surely the woman who knew most about new media in London. She was praxis.

And just when I came back to London in 2004, as the first timid signs of hope were visible in the sector (I’d been waiting, watching and biding my time you see), Lizzie switched careers and started studying to be a barrister.

Now she’s qualified and doing well, but her influence in web culture and technology still resonates for me. I’ve often been at conferences like SXSW Interactive, FOWA, Changing Media – and the NMK and Chinwag Live events I’ve organised myself – and thought “damn, Lizzie should be speaking at this!”. But looked at in a broader way, she has been…

I don’t know if I’d have dared come back to digital if I hadn’t known Lizzie. There were too many talented people flushed out of the sector back then. As it turns out while digital certainly has been affected by the current recession, compared to the rest of media – and jobs more generally – it’s still *relatively* resilient. In short, it’s nowhere near a dotcom bust Groundhog Day scenario.

Tons and tons of people inspire me of course, but in reality it’s hard to say what it all will mean and which parts will be valuable 10 years hence.

So raise a toast to the inaugural Ada Lovelace Day and sample some vintage Liz Bailey (NB. it’s an internet hazard that most of Lizzie’s work from then – like most of mine – has not been archived):

Boo gets booed – The Guardian 11th November 1999

Britgrrls No Bark and No Byte? – 1999, trAce

Demos publications by Liz Bailey

Who was Ada Lovelace?
Born on 10th December 1815, the only child of Lord Byron and his wife Annabella, Augusta Ada Byron (now known simply as Ada Lovelace) wrote the world’s first computer programmes for the Analytical Engine, a general-purpose machine that Charles Babbage had invented  »read more

Thanks to Suw Charman for co-ordinating Ada Lovelace Day on Tuesday 24th March 2009. The first of it’s kind, it’s “an international day of blogging to draw attention to women excelling in technology. Women’s contributions often go unacknowledged, their innovations seldom mentioned, their faces rarely recognised. We want you to tell the world about these unsung heroines. Entrepreneurs, innovators, sysadmins, programmers, designers, games developers, hardware experts, tech journalists, tech consultants. The list of tech-related careers is endless.” »Ada Lovelace website

Join In!
You (male or female) can still register your pledge to write a blog post celebrating your technology heroine on this day – Tuesday 24th March – at the official »2009 PledgeBank page


SXSW notes: Running Your New Media Business

This session at SXSW Interactive on Sunday 12th March 2006 attracted a broad audience of start-ups, SMEs and freelancers with a variety of experiences, plus some bigger media players. 

The line-up of web entrepreneurs was equally varied, and while the discussion ranged over business models, recruitment and retention, working relationships and funding, the “people” thread dominated the discussion.

Bryan Mason – Adaptive Path (user experience design, they sold MeasureMap to Google the week before he gave this talk)

Erika Hall – Mule Design (6 people)
Jennifer Robbins – Little Chair, also writes for O’Reilly on web design, blogs at Jenville and Cooking With Rock Stars (1 person company)
Jeff Robbins – Lullabot; also at O’Reilly 93/94, then started a web design company, then his band got signed and he played full-time for 6 years. Lullabot do mainly Drupal consulting.
Evan Williams – CEO & Founder, Odeo; formerly founder of Pyra Labs who sold Blogspot to Google, he also worked at O’Reilly in 1997. Ev added that he always started his own companies – the first couple (pre-Pyra Labs) “were terrible but good learning experiences”.

Growth, success and failure squared

Bryan posed a number of questions to kick off the discussion: How do you know it’s time to grow? What does success look like? Can you fail and what is the cost of failing?

Erika Hall said it’s a continuous process of making mistakes and getting over them fast.

Where does the money come from? Bootstrap or take someone else’s? How much should you take?

Evan Williams explained that VC money had enabled Odeo to grow a lot faster. However, it’s difficult to get a lot people at the table early on and it’s harder because it limits your manoeuvrability and makes getting everyone on the same page more cumbersome.

Odeo now (March 2006) has 12 people (but in October 2006 he bought Odeo back from the investors). However, growth means there’s an added communication tax on everything you do. In terms of funding, at the start they were just looking for an angel round.

Adaptive Path’s algorithm for hiring staff
(1) Billable (core team)
(2) Support admin
(3) Contractor vs staff

Start-ups – lifestyle careerists beware!

In terms of hiring, Odeo have used blog posting (that approach keyed into the Rails community); referrals (50%); and used 2 executive recruiters (2 of whom charge $75k per hire!).

Who do you hire? Contractors vs staff. Where do you find them? How do you pay them? How do you structure your company? A legal entity that’s structured for retention? Should you be traditional or inventive?

Erika replied that her company is more fun to work for than any other, and fosters the culture whereby staff have a real say in what goes on. Mule Design is also open to learning from people.

Evan observed that O’Reilly was / is basically a lifestyle company. It’s harder to do that with a start-up, he reckoned. If you’re a start-up there’s an assumed model that you go with and that drives you.

Transparent expectations

Jen Robbins said that she works with people that she knows and that she gets a along with. Adaptive Path’s Bryan Mason wondered is that structure and management where we want to put our energies?

Odeo aren’t a billable company as there’s no revenue and no revenue is predicted for a while, Evan explained. Erika stressed that because they are often working with contractors who are also friends – you have to be absolutely clear about expectations regarding what you want to get out of it, how they see it working and what they want to get out of it.

Jeff Robbins concurred – if you keep expectations really clear then the contractor will know when they’re screwing it up and you won’t even have to say anything about it.

Business essentials

With MeasureMap, Jeff recounted, they had unbelievable discipline and they paid around a 25% communications tax, but that worked because the people were in disparate places. They had a daily 10.30 conference call.

Evan noted that there’s a great blog on this called Founders Frustrations and he recommended trying Adminstaff for covering all your employee benefits.

How important is the written business plan for getting VC funding, someone asked. With time running out Evan said Pyra didn’t have anything like a plan and they were okay. Odeo had a PowerPoint presentation and just creating that was a good exercise for him to think the business plan through.

Jobs at NMK

My former employer NMK – based at the University of Westminster – has three roles available all at once.

They are currently seeking:

A Web Editor

A Community Manager

A Product & PR Manager

The closing date for submitting applications is 10th November 2006.

Moving on from NMK

Second and last post of the day, hopefully!

After snoozing for 3 days, the NMK email has reawakened.

But after this week I will be moving on from NMK.

I’m going to be editor of Chinwag. In turn, soon the old Chinwag site will be gone too, to be replaced with a new site that builds on the achievements of Chinwag Jobs, which recently celebrated it’s first birthday.

More on that soon.

In the meantime, what happens here?

More Beers & Innovation!

Yep, Beers & Innovation 6: Social By Design on Tuesday 14th November is all sorted and looking like another one to watch.

The line-up features Meg Pickard, Consumer Experience Lead in Social Media at AOL Europe, Tim Morgan, Commercial Director of Mint Digital (blog) and Philip Wilkinson, the Co-Founder & CEO of Crowdstorm (blog). Chairing is the wonderful Neil McIntosh, Assistant Editor at Guardian Unlimited.

We’ve already taken quite a few bookings, so if peering deeper into the social media sphere floats your boat, don’t hang about!

I’m also in the final stages of putting together another B&I for January, which should start to face up to some of the very cogent points  – about the UK’s strengths, not just it’s weaknesses – outlined by Tom Coates in the original post that inspired this whole series.

I’ll still be introducing the November and January nights, and blogging around the subject.

What then?

Beyond that, a lot depends on:

(1) NMK hiring 3 people to work here in light of the recent staff exodus (apparently they are advertising these jobs soon).

(2) One or more of those people taking on the development and organisation of Beers & Innovation (in tandem with community input of course).

(3) One of them starting a blog.

I’ll be keeping this blog, but as the title differs from the URL (I’m now really glad I did that when I started this blog in March!), I can keep the blog and handover the Beers & Innovation title if and when needed.

What happened?

Overall the NMK experience has been much broader and more absorbing than I ever could have foreseen or expected. I’ve developed, organised and “marketed” a lot of events, which isn’t in my job description but which was required by circumstances. I’ve done it before though, and it seems I’m not too bad at it. Content 2.0 wasn’t even the half of it.

I’ve not been able to do much writing or analysis, which has been less satisfying. But the role has given me an incredible overview of the evolving digital media sector in the UK and beyond. And don’t get me started on SXSW Interactive or I might go on for hours  😉

Best of all, I’ve got to meet, discover and collaborate with loads of amazing people and hopefully (mostly through organising events) helped shed some light on interesting stuff that’s happening, facilitated some meaningful debates and brought other people together in ways that couldn’t be construed as unpleasant.

It’s all a work in progress 🙂

Social media seek interns

I see AOL Europe are looking for a social media intern right now.

And so are Stormhoek – check Hugh’s post.

Both have a hefty list of requirements. And both will be very lucky if they can get someone with *all* these qualities.

The jobs look intriguing and offer exciting opportunities to the chosen candidates, but the person who is able to work for nothing is also open to a lot more opportunities, hence my problem with internships.

The talented person who hasn’t got savings or moneyed parents – they can’t go down the intern avenue. So it’s discriminatory from the outset.

Or maybe I’m wrong and they’re paying them a salary, like proper apprentices…

Was that the week that was?

It’s been another period of blogging lite in this corner, but things have been picking up elsewhere…

You probably know about the launch of TechCrunchUK already. Sam has been busy busy busy riffing on the why’s and wherefores of interesting UK start-ups.

In turn, Mike Butcher has outed Pete Cashmore of Mashable as a Scotland, UK resident (and clearly a man with global ambitions) even if a few folks knew that already. And Robert Loch has been listing UK start-ups on his new Internet People blog. So the week has been quite revealing across the board.

Calendar overload?

Meanwhile, tech and digital events are piling up thick and fast. September 14th’s Beers & Innovation on RSS Frontiers is sold out and the waiting list is quite sizeable. For details of what else is on check the Jigsaw UK events page or the Techrunch UK one.

Indifferent to the little people 😉 the swish London digital advertising and marketing scene continues to pump out pricey conferences for its execs, grand fromages and high-flyers. What about Next Gen TV – only £1,345.50 for their two day conference. Go to their pre-conference workshop as well and the whole package is a snip at £1,795.50. Yes, and some people complained to me that at £376 (£258 concession) Content 2.0 was too expensive. Deary me.

Nurturing talent beyond the hype

But there’s more to building a business than swanning around posh hotels and getting funding. What about some training to get your people au fait with all that’s new and essential in digital design, business development, project management, accessibility, usability (yep, these skills are still needed in 2006 and beyond), open source marketing and online communities..?

Well you could do worse than check out the courses listed on NMK’s Events & Courses page. And given the current recruitment crisis, good to see Chinwag Jobs are running a new Online Recruitment course. Takes a lotta skills to pay the bills. Word.

Knowing me, knowing you

Scavenging the shelves of the Austin Airport newsagent looking for an alternative to the dreaded airport novel, I happened upon a magazine I hadn't seen in aeons – Fast Company!

Fast Company?!! Oh dear, is this Web 2.0 fever I've caught on the way back from SXSW Interactive? Nurse, the screens!

Back in the almost-heady days of 98/99 when I was Web Editor at Ernst & Young International, our Web Manager – the awesome Mr Paul O'Shea (a Cork man you see) – was an avid FC reader and I'd regularly browse his copy.

Anyway, it just so happened it was a great issue of FC I purchased – more than adequate brainfood for the return trip.

Right at the back was a great big 'ol feature on careers in the the networked age, entitled 'Creating a Gem of a Career' with the standfirst (as we old-school journos call it): ' History. Networks? Everywhere. Five trends that will shape your career in the coming decade'

You can read it here 

Big Brother right back at ya

The passage that really stood out for me was this:

"Your network may make companies transparent to you, but you're transparent to employers as well. Anything online, whether easily available or tucked away in a private network, is fair game. 'It's a big problem when someone's Facebook profile says that her favorite thing is to get s–tfaced on a Saturday night," says Masie.'Google is the first stop for finding info [on potential hires], then Facebook,' he says. So there may be a number of versions of "you" being projected into the world. Not all of them will necessarily be what you want an employer to see. Can you control that? If not, can you live with it?"

The networked generation goes mainstream

…but here's the bit that really twisted my melon – and offers hope for folk like myself who angst about "life-caching":

"Over time, hiring managers will be less interested in the salacious stuff that a Google search might reveal. 'So you were president of your frat," says Morris. 'As more information gets out there about everyone, it diffuses the importance of each individual piece of information. It will be okay.' "

A VE-RY interesting perspective, and think of the implications. As the MySpace / Facebook / Bebo generation enters the working world, it – the voluminous Buzznet/Flickr-stream, the years of carefree blogging and distributed blog posts, the tracked searches on Google – will (within reason) be immaterial… eventually. In the UK? Maybe in about 5 or 6 years I reckon (stick that in your predictionometer!)

Nonetheless, some issues remain. In terms of dealing with this new, two-way transparency of the distributed self, they cited the (free) service offered by ZoomInfo.

Return of the everywoman/man

Another thing I really rated about the writer's reasoning was the invocation to: "Embrace the Liberal Arts (Again)" ie. a broad-ranging understanding – and experience – of the world, of work and the different components of your business area is what gives individuals the edge in the modern economy.

As FC puts it:

"Many of today's exciting jobs (Java developer, brand-experience designer) didn't really exist 10 years ago. And the exciting professions of tomorrow have yet to be imagined. As a result, what we need from our education has changed. 'What you want to learn is how to learn,' says Taleo's Snell. And that's where the liberal-arts education becomes valuable again.' "

Agreed! Moreover, as I see it, anyone, even the most brilliant of experts, can enhance their standing – and their contribution to human knowledge and enterprise – by not soley operating in or being totally absorbed by the silo mentality.

In turn, this sort of synchs with New Yorker columnist James Surowiecki's analysis in his book The Wisdom Of Crowds (Surowiecki SXSW session coverage coming soon – I promise!).

And "lesser" specialists can learn whatever they want about their discipline or cross-company practices – and build-up new skills – from the internet and the blogs throwing open the doors on the "secrets" of professions in multitudes…

For all those already or aspiring to be working in innovative companies – and for Britain's economy in general – yet another wake-up call…

[PS. Turns out, while getting you the article link, I found out Fast Company also have a blog]