August is Time for New Beginnings

When I was younger, September was the month I loved the most. The leaves were turning different colours and it was time to head back to school. One thing that you could count on as a student was that each fall would being new challenges and new faces. There’s obviously some part of me that still craves that sort of change each year.

It began in August of 2007, when I posted about a career change. After four happy years doing web stuff at a small wine importing agency, I left for what I thought would be greener pastures at a huge professional services company. I craved a bigger fishbowl, I guess, and a bit more coin. As well, I thought that having a job title with “writer” in it meant that I’d be able to write more. But it turned out to be more re-writing than writing, and the office environment left me feeling isolated and bored.

Last August, I moved on to take a “social media” position at Tucows. The field was burgeoning and I felt excited to be stretching myself even further into a marketing role. But when my boss resigned earlier this year, things began to change, for me and for the company. She had created a brand new position for me, and when she left, I wasn’t quite sure where I stood. Worse, I began to realize that not only did I not have a passion for what the company did, I was beginning to lose my passion for the whole “social media” field. I felt a bit dirty, actually. The web culture I’d loved felt like it had been taken over by smooth-talking salespeople, selling their own expertise to a corporate world eager not to be left behind. Even worse, I’d become one of them. My work began to suffer.

I’d never intended to become a marketer, actually. It was different at the wine agency because I actually enjoyed most of the products we sold. But for the past two years, I’ve had a hard time even understanding what my employers did. To me, that meant that even if I was successfully doing my job, that I’d become soulless. Passion is essential to real job success, both for me and for my employers. It was obvious that I was a square peg in a round hole.

Earlier this summer, my new manager called me into a meeting where someone from HR was present. My performance wasn’t up to standard, I was told. I had to agree. Unfortunately, motivation was never discussed. That sort of honesty isn’t really encouraged in most workplaces. Instead, I was advised to pull up my socks or face dismissal. Unfortunately, passion can’t be manufactured out of thin air, and so on Wednesday morning this week, I was called into another meeting. Eerily, I’d been expecting it. On Tuesday night, I began bringing home photos from my desk. It must have seemed strange to my manager and HR how sanguine I was about the whole thing. But in fact, I’d been planning my exit for months.

I’d contemplated trying to “negotiate” my resignation but was afraid that showing my hand would only convince them to fire me. And I didn’t really want to leave with nothing else to go to. So I’ve been having meetings with people over the past few weeks, talking about possible jobs. Some of the work may be contract, but there are a few full-time possibilities on the horizon. Best of all, I’m not afraid.

I also feel confident that my old colleagues at Tucows will carry on just fine without me. I had my doubts that what I was doing warranted a full-time position at all, and they will have no problem picking up the slack. I wish them and the company nothing but success.

Several months ago now, I took some time for myself and went on “career retreat” to Kingston, about three hours east of Toronto. The last time I did that, in 2003, I discovered that my skills and my passions could be combined, even if it meant having to create a job out of thin air and then sell the need for that job to an employer. It led to my most satisfying period of employment yet, and even though I’m not heading back into the world of wine, my retreat reinforced my belief in my core skills and interests.

What all that means is that, somehow, I’m going to be working in the film business. I’m not exactly sure what that will look like, but it’s pretty obvious that film has been one of my dearest passions over the past 20 years, and if anything helps me achieve “flow,” it’s writing about a film I’ve just seen. I’ve got lots to learn, but I’ve gotten to know a lot of smart and generous people over the past few years, and I’m trusting that some of them will come through. A little help and a lot of hustle should get me back on my feet soon.

Onward and upward!

On the Move Again

It was almost exactly a year ago that I wrote about changing jobs, and now I’m at it again. Luckily, this year doesn’t involve a change of address as well. The past year at PricewaterhouseCoopers has been an education for me. I’d never really worked in such a large corporate office environment before, and despite being surrounded by great people, I felt isolated. As well, my job function was quite specialized and I never really felt I was flexing all my muscles, especially when it came to social media. In addition, the combination of some legacy technology limitations as well as a generally risk-averse culture left me feeling frustrated a lot of the time. Despite my manager’s and team’s enthusiasm for social media, it was just too difficult to put much into action in such a large corporate environment. My job devolved into writing (or rewriting) corporate marketing copy and then waiting for various levels of approval. For someone coming from an entrepreneurial environment where I was basically a one-man-web-band, the adjustment was difficult.

A few months back, I was introduced to Leona Hobbs, the marketing honcho (honcha?) at Tucows who was looking for someone for her team. It turned out that it wasn’t the right position (my euphemistic way of saying I wasn’t qualified) and I didn’t think I’d hear from Leona or Tucows again. And then about six weeks ago, she contacted me about a brand new position with her team and after several weeks of interviews and paperwork, I’m happy to announce that on Monday August 25th, I’ll join Tucows as a Community Specialist. The job description ticks off all my favourite boxes and basically allows me to be an internet rockstar for money. Of course, there’s more to it than that, but I’m looking forward to stretching out in the social media space again.

I know this opportunity wouldn’t have come along without all the meeting and greeting and learning I’ve been doing in the past year, starting with the Talk is Cheap unconference, continuing throughout the year at the excellent Third Tuesday PR events, CaseCamp and Mesh, in addition to my eighth South by Southwest Interactive conference. To everyone I’ve met and chatted with over the past few months (and especially to my colleagues at PwC), thank you for giving me the benefit of your knowledge, your experience, your connections and your encouragement. I hope that I’ll be able to repay it in some way.

CaseCamp 7 Report

Tonight, I attended CaseCamp for the first time. Inspired by the original BarCamp “unconference,” CaseCamp is a marketing event where people present case studies and lessons learned, and the crowd can comment and ask questions. Pioneered right here in Toronto in 2006 by Eli Singer, the event is now in its seventh iteration, and has been wildly successful. Perhaps it’s become a victim of its own success.

Before I continue, I want to recognize all the hard work done by Eli and his group of volunteers and sponsors. But now that I’ve made that disclaimer, I’d have to say that I came away slightly disappointed this evening. Part of it is my own fault. Today was a very long day for me. I was up at 6:00am to travel to a financial services conference being held in the far northeast of the city. My journey by transit was an hour each way. I was only able to attend half the day because I had to get back to my office for a 90-minute conference call with a “social media platform” (ie. blog software) vendor, whose sales representative seemed incredibly unprepared, not to mention tacitly unconvinced by the product he was selling. So as I headed over to Circa night club, I was already feeling pretty exhausted. Nevertheless, navigating a crowd of close to 500 people in a night club setting where the music was turned way up was not conducive to any kind of networking for me. Call me old and crotchety, I don’t care.

The actual case studies were enjoyable, and I took some notes that I think will be useful. But the large setting (with haphazardly arranged plastic patio chairs) made it difficult to find a seat. And the size of the crowd made it difficult to hear all the questions. Overall, I’d divide my complaint into two:

  1. The venue was unsuitable: A night club might seem like a “cool” place to hold a business function, but not if the music drowns out attempts at conversation. As well, their inexperience putting on “conference” type events showed, with poorly-arranged seating.
  2. There were simply too many people: Close to 500 people is unmanageable for this type of event. Even had I been a bit less tired, I still don’t think I could have managed to introduce myself to many people in a crowd of that size. I recognized about a dozen names on the wiki signup page, and thought I’d have no trouble finding some people I knew. I was wrong.

I was hoping that CaseCamp would be similar to another “unconference” event that I attend as often as I can, Third Tuesday. Though more narrowly focused on public relations practitioners, the events (at least in Toronto) are held at a pub with a function room. The volume of music is much lower, the vibe is more laid back, and you actually sit around tables to listen to speakers. In this way, you can introduce yourself to the people around you first, and continue the conversations there afterward. Most importantly, the number of people hasn’t (so far) exceeded 100. I believe that this is a key issue. While online social networks can scale significantly, in the real world this isn’t possible. Groups larger than 100-150 become difficult to navigate. I certainly felt that way tonight.

What I’d like to see for the next CaseCamp is a “soft” cap of 150 attendees. After that, another group should be created and another venue found for the next 150. In this way, there is value for everyone. If that means featuring different cases at each, then so be it. Presenters could be rotated for the next event if necessary. As well, this makes finding venues a bit easier and certainly less expensive.

Part of tonight’s CaseCamp schedule was the afterparty, in which 5 DJs would spin tunes for the campers to dance to after all the case studies had been presented. People were invited to join from a few other events taking place tonight, such as StartupCamp and CopyCamp. I’m glad that the organizers extended the invitation to these others, and I’m sure they’re leveraging the very expensive rental of Circa night club, but honestly, the last thing I want to do at 9:00pm on a Tuesday night is dance, especially after a 15-hour day.

In conclusion, I think the exploding popularity of the event has even caught the organizers by surprise, and I’m sure that some of these thoughts might be crossing their minds as well. I very much enjoy the concept of CaseCamp and will look forward to seeing what the next one looks like. For any of you who were there tonight, first of all, sorry we didn’t get to talk! Secondly, what are some of your impressions of the evening?

Kevin Kelly: 1,000 True Fans

Kevin Kelly is at it again. And all I can do is link.

Borrowing some ideas from Chris Anderson‘s Long Tail concept, Kevin postulates that to make a decent living, an independent creator (musician, artist, writer, whatever) need only amass a thousand “true fans,” defined as people who will buy whatever the maker creates. The challenge, says Kelly, is that the artist has to maintain direct contact with all of these people or they will stop feeling “connected” to you. The good news is that the web has many tools (blogs, RSS feeds, podcasts) that allow creators to maintain direct connections with their fans.

It’s a compelling argument, and the discussion unfolding in the comments is enlightening, with people jumping in with examples of successes and failures. Go over and have a look. Then come back, if you’re a True Fan of mine!

CaseCamp Toronto 7

I’ve always been a big supporter of the BarCamp concept (a free self-organizing “unconference” where everyone is expected to contribute or participate), although the original BarCamps are way too technical for me to understand, never mind contribute. So I was happy to find out that CaseCamp Toronto is happening again on April 29th. CaseCamp is a marketing version of BarCamp, with people presenting case studies, and because there’s a big crossover with my favoured tribe of web nerds, there’s usually a heavy dose of social media wonkery. For some reason, these only appear to happen in Canada. My only disappointment is that it’s happening at the exact same time as two other potentially interesting events: StartupCamp 2 and Raindance’s free “99 Minute Screenwriting School.” If anyone makes it to either of those two, would you mind reporting back? And if you’re interested in CaseCamp, sign up soon. There are almost 100 people coming already!