2008 June

I Ain’t Much for Book Learnin’

Ooh! Ooh! Our very first reader question!

Whitney in Minneapolis wrote:
“I’m a young female who just recently got into the world of social/interactive marketing. I must say I think I’ve found that one thing I could do for the rest of my life. I was wondering though, without there being a specific degree in this would it be better to go the journalism route, or the IT route? I have an AAS degree in music business already, but I’d like to get your point of view on this. I was also browsing your “Sites We Dig” section and noticed the Clockwork link goes to the Future Tense site, not sure if that was intentional or a misdirected link.”

Um, first of all, I totally fixed that link. Then I fired myself for being so stupid that I screwed up the link to the company I work for. Don’t tell my boss!

Second, I wouldn’t worry about the degree. I have a degree in Journalism, but that’s because when I was young and foolish I thought I wanted to be a copywriter and work at an ad agency. (Not to mention the fact that in those days they had a special tutorial on how to use this new thing called “email” so getting a degree related to computers that wasn’t computer science was impossible.) Even now, with technology as pervasive as it is, higher education hasn’t really caught up. So, as you’ve noticed, there’s not really a good degree program for people that want to work in Interactive. I mean, there is if you want to be a programmer or a designer (kind of) but there’s not a clear path if you’re like me and end up going into strategy/project management type stuff. And it sounds like you are on a similar path doing strategy and planning-type stuff along with content development.

In the past I considered doing a degree in human-computer interaction (when I was thinking about focusing my career more specifically on IA) but in retrospect I think I might have found that approach a bit dry. So, my advice to you would be to continue doing what you’re doing now which is gaining real experience working with clients, websites and social media. When it comes right down to it, a degree is nice but most people making hiring decisions in this industry are going to look at experience (either as a portfolio of sites you’ve worked on, or a successful employment history where you can demonstrate how your role on the project had a positive effect on its outcome).

I believe that to truly be successful in Interactive, you have to love it. You have to live it, breathe it, consume it, and create it. You have to enjoy doing it even before you start getting paid for it and most of what makes you good at it isn’t something you can learn from a book. I don’t think that’s necessarily true for other careers. (Accounting, for example.) But, the best Interactive people I have met — even programmers in many cases — are those who are largely self-taught. The ones who stay up late at night staring into a glowing monitor just for the love of the game. Because those same people are the ones who continue to learn and stay on top of what’s new long after dust has started collecting on the frame of their diploma. And in an industry that moves as fast as this, those are the people you want working next to you.

Geek Chic of the Week: Online Calendars

One of the best things about technology is when you can use it to actually make life easier. As a woman who works full-time and has a two-year-old (and another on the way!), I appreciate finding things that streamline all the thankless crap I have to get done. (And some days, some of it really feels like thankless crap, doesn’t it?)

So, as a sort of counterpoint to my Technology Purge post, I’m going to focus on one tool a week that makes my life easier and how I implemented it. And if I run out of things I actually use, I guess I’ll just focus on something cool once a week. So, welcome to a little thing I’m calling “Geek Chic of the Week.”

This week’s focus: Online Calendars

The Problem

As a “married, with children” I have to keep track of lots of stuff to do: meetings and travel for work, doctor’s appointments for Kid #1, pre-natal appointments for Kid #2, family obligations with three sets of grandparents, social events, commitments for a business I help my grandmother with, and wondering when my husband will be working or out of town (he’s self-employed and his schedule varies).

You get the idea.

So, in the old world of stone tablets and Brontosaurus burgers, if someone invited me to something I’d have to look
at a paper calendar on the wall or at a DayTimer, wonder if there was anything
going on that hadn’t been written on the calendar for some reason, then
wonder if that was the same night of that business trip I had to take
for work, then bust open my laptop (or wait until I got to the office
if I was working on a desktop machine) to check my Outlook calendar,
figure out if we could go or not…meanwhile, by this time I’ve
probably lost the original invitation. Or, I’d make plans and
then my husband would remind me that that’s the same night as his
documentary club meeting. Or he’d get an email about an event and forget to do anything about it, resulting in us missing someone’s birthday party. Arg! Too much time and too much thought
wasted on something that should be quick and easy.

The Solution

I manage four calendars with Google: Work, Personal, Family, and Kid. My husband has two: Personal and Work. We both set up our calendars as private, but gave the other person access to view them (in the case of the Family calendar, we can both add/edit events as well). What this means is that I can add things to the Family calendar and know that it will show up on my husband’s calendar (so that he’s not surprised when he’s expected to be at his mother-in-law’s house for dinner). He knows that he can put social events or work commitments on his calendar and I’ll see that he’s busy. And, since we both sometimes travel for work, we each have a clear idea of when the other one will be in or out of town.

Perhaps this sounds a bit anal-retentive, but the power of a solid system like this is that — after the few minutes it took to get it all set up — it takes almost no thought to maintain. Someone invites us to something, I pull up my calendar, see the entire universe of commitments that we have (work and personal), make a decision about how to respond to the new invitation, RSVP, add it to our calendar…and move on with life. Even better? For $25, I bought a plugin called BusySync (It’s a Mac app. Sorry, PC users!) which syncs up my iCal and Google calendars. If my laptop is offline, I can add something to iCal and next time I’m online everything magically syncs with Google (therefore updating my husband on the new event). Keeping everything synced in iCal also means that everytime I sync up my iPhone I have a portable view of our calendar (and mobile pop-up reminders on events if I’ve set a reminder on the event).

I’m a geek married to a geek, so this system works like a charm and was easy
to implement. But, even if you’re single or your significant other
prefers to work on stone tablets, there’s got to be a way to streamline the calendars you manage and make life just a tiny bit easier.

Your Homework

So, how can you start experimenting with a similar system of your own? I’ve outlined for you the specific tools I use — but I have no reason to “sell” you on any of them. They may or may not work for you and your life. But the overall approach of finding some piece of technology to make your calendaring life easier should. With that in mind, here’s the list of generic next steps for you to take. Go ahead and see what tools you can find to do the job! (And please email me, or comment on this post if you find something fabulous to share with the rest of us!)


I chose Google (And I’d recommend it. Heck, it’s free so you can always try it and delete the account if you hate it!), but you can choose whatever tool you want. The important thing is to choose ONE thing where you can put everything you need to do. But, don’t commit to it right off the bat: give it a test run with just one calendar or a handful of events. If it doesn’t work for you, find something else. Make sure you like how it works, what it does, and how it looks. Yes, how it looks. If you don’t like how something looks, it doesn’t matter how well it functions. You won’t enjoy using it. The key to finding something that will work long term is finding something you enjoy using.

In an ideal world, you’ll be able to use just one calendar. But, if you’re like me and use a calendar for work that is dictated by the company you work for, the next best thing is to see if there’s a way to publish a feed that you can subscribe your central calendar to. I currently utilize the third-best option: I export events from my work calendar into my central calendar on a regular basis (once or twice a week, depending on how much meeting flux is going on). Anyway, the goal is to use the fewest possible calendars. If that means having two, so be it.  But do as much finagling as you can to see how to get everything in one place. Where there’s a will, there’s a way and it’s worth the effort to get it set up right at the beginning.


While you want everything in one place, you don’t want everything to look the same. When I look at a bunch of entries on a calendar, I want to know at a glance which things are mine, which things are my kid’s, which are fun, which are work, etc. So, find a way to categorize all the stuff you’re keeping track of in whatever central calendar you’re using. Maybe it’s by person (Mom, Dad, Kid) or by location (Work, Home, Cabin) or some other criteria. Doesn’t matter. Use what makes sense for you.

Make sure you can filter certain calendars out of view if you’re trying to focus on just one or two categories to make a decision about attending something. My husband subscribes to my Work calendar, but he almost never has it turned on in his calendar view. There’s just too many meetings and crap he doesn’t care about. But, if he’s wondering if I’ll be able to pick up the baby from daycare, he knows he can toggle it on to see what my day is like and if I’m stuck in a meeting until 5pm or free to go.

Lastly, don’t be shy about creating extra calendars for stuff you don’t know what to do with. I do have one extra calendar I haven’t mentioned yet called Events of Interest. If I hear about some random event that triggers me to think, “Hm, that might be kind of fun,” but I’m not ready to commit it to my official calendar, I put it on Events of Interest. If I’m looking for something to do, that’s my reminder: “Oh yeah, it’s Family Day at MIA today. Let’s go check it out!” Again, maybe for you that sounds like a nightmare. For me, I like knowing that if I hear about something interesting I don’t have to remember it in my brain; I can throw it on my Events of Interest calendar and I’ll see it later if I’m looking for something to do. Think about what you can keep track of on a calendar that will decrease your stress level. And then try it.


Share your setup with the people who need to see it; where possible, give them access to make edits so you don’t get stuck doing all of it. My husband can add stuff to our Family calendar, so if his mom invites us to something he doesn’t send it to me, he just puts it on the calendar. If you have kids that are older and managing their own schedules, see if you can get them to use the same tool and give you access to view a calendar. If they want to keep some things private, they can always have a personal calendar that you don’t have access to (which contains the events that they don’t want you seeing for some reason) and another calendar that they give you access to for sports practice, music lessons, babysitting gigs, etc. If you’ve got a kid with a driver’s license, or are a one-car household, you could even set up a calendar for the car so that people can schedule who’s using it on which days.


The last step, once your calendar empire is humming along smoothly, is to figure out how and where you can automate your system to take it to the next level of ease and technological sophistication. For me, it was using BusySync to add and view events when I’m offline, and syncing everything with my iPhone so I’ve got it in my hands no matter where I am. For you? Who knows. Finding out where these technology explorations will take you is half the fun.

Now, Go. Start Clicking.

Identify your needs when it comes to calendar management; you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to find a tool that will make it easier. And maybe even a little fun. The key is: experiment. See what you like, and what you don’t. The worst thing that can happen is you’ll go back to the way you’re doing it now. No harm done! The best thing that can happen? You might find that technology has lightened your load. And that, sisters, is what it’s all about.

The Web Is Not Cheap

I should say right away that this post is in danger of turning into a rant.  That is not my intention.  I am not here to whine.  I am here, though, to put out into the universe a concept that needs to be discussed.  So, here goes. 

The web is not cheap. 

There.  I said it.

Before diving too deep into that argument, let’s review what the web IS. 

–The web is fluid. Every document that exists on the web, in order to be really useful, must be a living document.  Because the web is, by its very nature, a living, ever-evolving, content repository. 

–The web is accessible.  Anyone with a small amount of knowledge can publish to the web.  I always say the web is the great equalizer, suddenly we all have a voice and the vehicle through which we can be heard.

–The web is immediate.  Case in point – I was reminded about how much this issue bugs me about five minutes ago, and here I am saying something and publishing it to a (potentially) global audience five minutes later.

Let’s face it, everyone knows someone who does ‘web stuff’.  That’s what makes having high standards in this business really hard, and really necessary – the fact that everyone has a cousin or son or nephew or babysitter or neighbor girl who can make a website on a Saturday afternoon while goofing around in their garage/office.  Because the spectrum of talent engaging in this kind of work is so broad, and the perception of value associated with the work is equally as broad, it is really hard to truly understand the value of the necessary skillset and expertise that play into a well-defined web strategy and execution.  Heck my mother recently said she’d mastered ‘copying and pasting’ and maybe she could ‘help me out’ since we’re so busy.  She was joking, of course, but the irony is in the fact that she’s a trained professional — a physician.  I suggested that we just swap jobs for a day.  I’ll deliver babies, and she can build web stuff.  No problem.

The fact of the matter is, the web is an investment.  A real strategic approach is necessary to doing business on the web.  You can’t just expect to slap up a site and have it work miracles.  And once you do launch a site, you are not done, you’ve only just begun.  I think most people’s perception of their website is informed by an old school traditional marketing approach to print work.  You jump into drawing pictures and coming up with catchy, brand appropriate copy, you execute in line with the creative, you launch, you’re done.  That is entirely the wrong way to think about your website.  Yes, good creative is essential.  But creative is not strategy.  You have to define the why before you consider the how.  Creative is a ‘how’ not a ‘why’. 

The web is transactional.  You are engaging in some kind of business interaction on the web.  Hopefully in the process you’ve managed to learn more about your audience that allows you to interact with them on a more on-to-one level.  A microsite has its place. But microsites aren’t appropriate as often as they happen, trust me.  So you’re not getting off cheap by building half a site.  You might end up paying more in the long run by not considering how micro-content fits into your overarching strategy. And any interaction with your target should have some kind of integrated component with your primary brand presence on the web.  Even if its just data.  Data is really the key.  But that’s another post entirely.

Most people walk into a web shop and expect the vendor to define their budget.  They send RFPs out to a number of vendors that fall in a variety of spots along the pricing spectrum, and generally they award business based on price.  The lowest price, then, becomes their budget.  By selecting a vendor that way they miss the opportunities to think comprehensively about how to address their business objectives on the web, and how to appropriately evolve on the web.  Meghan always tell clients they should come to us with a problem, not a solution.  This is great advice when thinking about how to extend your brand, and do business, on the web.  Don’t walk in saying I want these 44 things and I want them all for under 10 bucks.  Instead, prioritize your objectives and look for a real strategic development partner to help you think about how best to implement your priorities.  This might require iterative development, or incremental roll-outs of features.  But that’s ok.  By moving some or all of your business to the web, you’re making promises to your audience.  If you are smart about how you move, and you choose quality and ease of use over cheap and fast, you’ll keep those promises and your audience will stick with you.  They will wait for a good experience to get better.  And they will be key influencers in how you improve on your feature-set. 

Money is an issue.  Don’t get me wrong.  You have every reason to want to control costs.  And you should.  But control them in a way that makes sense and doesn’t compromise the deliverable.  Control costs by working closely with your vendor/partner to identify your priorities and the time it will take to address them.  Then have checkpoints or deliverables on the path to getting there.  Budgets are generally eaten up by the intangibles — vapor.  Don’t let that happen.  Insist on helpful documentation, in language that makes good business sense, to help guide the project.  Then follow those roadmaps closely.  Be collaborative and don’t be afraid to ask questions.  No one knows your business better than you.  Ask for what you want and be clear about what you’re asking for before anyone starts coding.

The web is not cheap.  But it does make good financial sense if you approach it prudently.  It is an investment.  You can start small and work up to your ideal solution.  But don’t compromise good sense looking for a deal.  You end up paying for the work twice in the long run.  Once trying to be cheap.  And you pay the second time when you decide to do it right.  Get it right the first time.

Beauty and the Brain

Part of what I hope comes out of this Geek Girls project is getting more women and girls interested in technology, whatever that might look like. For some, maybe it’s as simple as learning what RSS is. For others, maybe it means being encouraged to go get a degree in Computer Science. The point is, I hope that it lessens the intimidation factor for a group of people that can sometimes fall victim to a “Math is hard, let’s go shopping” mentality. Keep in mind, this is coming from a girl who, in 4th grade, told her mother she hated math and wished it would die. So, despite the fact that I have ended up being a person who embraces technology at work and at home, I sure wish I would have gotten into it earlier and a lot more deeply.

So, when my husband sent me the link to the Geek Girls: Revenge of the Nerdettes story on Newsweek.com, I began reading it with great interest. Yes! More geek girls! But, I found myself conflicted over the fact that the real reason these women are getting attention seems to be that they are smart and hot. If they were simply smart, that really wouldn’t be enough. They are smart and hot. They tell you that right away, in the subhead of the story, “Meet the Nerd Girls: they’re smart, they’re techie and they’re hot.”

On the one hand, I have no problem with this. Heck, I enjoy high heels and lip gloss as much as the next girl —assuming the next girl is not my co-Geek Nancy, who enjoys neither. AND THAT IS MY POINT. Whether or not you wear high heels or lip gloss should have no bearing on the attention you garner for your brainpower. So, shout out to Danica McKellar for writing “Math Doesn’t Suck,” (because I sure wish I would have read that in the 4th grade), but did you really have to pose for Stuff magazine right after that?

I guess I find it simultaneously encouraging (yay, women going into math, science and engineering!) and depressing (boo, we still have to look good in a swimsuit to get attention!). So, the attention garnered is both serious and salacious. Which doesn’t seem to happen to our male geek counterparts (aside from all the freaks I know who worship Steve Jobs).

You tell me: am I taking this all too seriously?

Update 1/14/10: Yet another “hot girls who use technology” article is causing some waves. Vanity Fair’s article on America’s Tweethearts. Too bad they couldn’t afford to give those poor women pants for the photo shoot!