Sunday, June 9, 2013

This one's going to be a doozy

So...a LOT has happened over a very short period of time, and I think it's about time I get it all down somewhere. Gird your loins, my friends - this is going to be a pretty long update post.

In my last post, I dropped my "I'm going to move to San Francisco come hell or high water!" bomb. This, as so many "sure" things in life do, has changed. San Francisco is still on the menu for me down the road, but a really fantastic, enlightening experience I had at the end of February made me think a little harder about that decision.

Bursting with enthusiasm at my new decision to pack up my entire life and head 800 miles south to the Bay Area, I applied for a couple jobs and promptly got extremely busy with school and other side projects. A couple weeks went by without applying for anything else, then out of the blue, I got a request for a phone interview for the first position - a Social Media and Marketing position with WibiData, a super cool big data start-up located in the Mission.

After bouncing off the walls with excitement for a few days, I snuck into a conference room at work for what felt like the worst phone interview I have ever given in my entire life. I tend to hate talking on the phone no matter who it's with, and adding the pressure of a job interview in an entirely different state for a position I had little to no relevant experience with definitely didn't help that any. After feeling kind of terrible about how I'd done for a couple hours, I threw it to the back of my mind and resolved I'd do better next time, and it was a great learning experience in the meantime. A few days later, to my eternal shock, I got an email from Wibi asking me to come down to SF for a day of in-person interviews with the team.

Even though I obviously was woefully underqualified for the position, and am pretty thankful they saw the same and decided to spare me that particular trial by fire, I can't say enough good things about this whole experience from beginning to end. Everyone at WibiData was so kind to me the entire day - I interviewed with six or seven different people, including their CEO, and I've never felt more challenged and intrigued by a company in my life. As silly as this may sound, the sense I got from everyone there was that they were all at least 3-4 years smarter than I currently am, and rather than coming home super discouraged by that fact, all that experience did was motivate me to give myself the kind of experience I will need to work with people that intelligent in the future. And getting to spend a long weekend in SF (ironically enough, I interviewed on my one-year anniversary with Google) with one of my best friends was a hell of a lot of fun as well.

After I got the phone call saying I might not quite be ready for that kind of position yet, I breathed a huge sigh of relief, and started brainstorming how I could give myself the kind of experience employers like WibiData and other tech start-ups would be looking for in team candidates. I remembered completely randomly one day that I'd seen a friend from high school posting about her boyfriend's new brewery on Facebook, so I did a little digging and found the name of the brewery. Googling brought up their website, and when I saw its initial state, I decided to email my friend and ask if the brewery could use any help getting their site and social media into better shape. And thus, my involvement with Seapine Brewing Company was born!

I've had an absolute blast helping out with the brewery so far. I got my Class 12 so I could pour at summer brewfest events, as well as in their taproom when it finally opens on June 15th. With a ton of help from a friend, I migrated the entire site away from GoDaddy to a better hosting provider after the site started experiencing significant server-side lag issues. I've cleaned up the site a bunch from its original state, and although it still looks pretty amateur, I'm looking forward to having some time this summer to teach myself how to do a lot more with it than what I'm currently capable of. In addition to the site, I've taken over all social media channels for the brewery - they had a Facebook page already, but I set them up on Twitter, Instagram, and Flickr as well. Finding ways to grow their following on those pages while not being super established throughout the city just yet has been a really interesting challenge, and one that I'll be carrying on for another company soon, because...

I was just offered a new position last week as the Sales and Marketing Coordinator at Spectrum Networks! Their situation is so strangely parallel to where Seapine was at when I came on board that I'm still a little shocked at how perfect the timing for all of this has been. I have a friend who works at CondoInternet (Spectrum is the more business-centric parent company of CondoInternet, which focuses on gigabit internet in residential buildings), and her and I worked really well together while we were both at Google, so I'm very optimistic as to how things will go with our teamwork at Spectrum. My job will be two-fold - I'll be helping organize their back-end operations, and will be helping them develop their industry presence and reputation through various social media and other marketing outlets.

Basically, this job promises to be the first job I've held as an adult where I'll actually be trusted with things of greater importance. My first "grown-up job", if you will. Working at the firm taught me a lot in the way of navigating office politics and not only holding down a professional position, but doing it very well, and moving upwards in terms of trust and responsibility. My position at Google started well - for the first 8 or 9 months, I was writing policy and procedure, sandboxing new workflows, offering recommendations for future provider/Google interactions, training and mentoring people on my team, and basically buzzing around in a happy, frenetic flurry of activity. For the last 5 or 6 months, however, the team hasn't needed someone who can wear a lot of different hats. My ability to have any kind of dramatic impact on what the team is doing has shrunk down to arguing policy minutiae, and my days have filled up with drone work even more mindless than most of the basic filing and data entry I did at the firm. If I'm not continually engaged with what I'm doing for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, I tend to sink into a pretty unhappy apathy, and spending the last several months in such a state made my experiences with WibiData and Seapine have been incredible for my sanity.

And so, as I sit here in Zoka in Greenlake typing away, facing my last week of work at Google, my new start at Spectrum, and only one quarter (this fall) to go before I'm finally holding my master's degree, I think things are finally starting to really look bright in my future. Next time I post it probably won't be as full of feelings as this one, but for now, all these feelings are more than okay with me.

Monday, February 4, 2013

New Directions

As I write this, I'm occupying a spare desk in the offices of in Tucson, drinking french press and contemplating how to begin to describe the past year or so of my life. Most of this blog so far has been about the trials and tribulations of a library school student whose perceptions of the library world have undergone significant change since the beginning of my time at the iSchool. This change kicked into high gear over the last year as I began working for Google, escaping a stagnant position and moving to one that couldn't possibly be more opposite dynamically, and as a result, this last year turned into the major crisis of identity and purpose that I've been expecting since my first day of classes. I'm happy to report I'm on much more solid ground nowadays in terms of what I actually want to be doing with my life, and while I've still got a lot to figure out, here's what I've discovered so far!

Firstly, and most importantly, while I still very much subscribe to the idealistic view of the future of libraries I discussed in the post I wrote almost 2 years ago now (What Being a Librarianarchist Means to Me), I've come to realize that this future won't be in place for a very long time, and it's going to be an uphill battle all the way. There has been some incredible innovation in libraries over the last few years, and I'm still optimistic that they will eventually evolve into these "local nerve centers for information" discussed by Godin in his article, but I've realized that for me personally, my interests now lie somewhere outside of fighting this good fight.

One of the most alienating things about my degree experience has been that the vast majority of my classmates are looking forward to inhabiting existing roles in the library sphere. While this is a perfectly understandable and normal direction to take, I find I'm less and less interested in walking into a job where I'd have to operate within the rigid confines of a long-established job description. My job at Google has completely opened my eyes to how much more satisfied I feel with my work when I'm working on multiple projects/products at once in every possible capacity -- I've had days where I'm pulled aside for 2-3 completely separate projects in the span of 8 hours. I've grown to love and embrace variety, and people demanding things of me that I've never done before in a professional capacity. I like walking into the office and not knowing what I'll wind up doing by the end of the day. This is not something I'd be able to do in the library sphere, at least not until I've "done my time" working low-level, static jobs in places I don't want to live for a couple decades and crossing my fingers that the Great Librarian Retirement that was promised to us all when we started our degrees back in 2010 will someday come to pass.

This has been the main impetus for my professional interests swinging firmly into the tech start-up camp, and I don't see them changing anytime soon. I made the decision to move to San Francisco months ago, and my move date (come employment or a leap of faith) is rapidly approaching. Seattle has been a wonderful place to live, and it will always be home base for me, but it's time for something different. Something bigger, and something more risky. The more job announcements I see for tech start-ups in the Bay Area, the more excited I get that I've finally found the work environment I've so desperately been searching for. These jobs demand that you wear many different hats every single day -- you are expected to learn on the job to fill existing gaps, and to learn quickly and well. Much of the time I've spent at Google has been doing exactly this, and it's hard not to go into gush mode whenever I try and describe how liberating and enlightening that experience has been for me. I can't wait to continue it in the more intimate atmosphere of a start-up, as working for a company whose name has become one of the most commonly used verbs in modern times understandably has its limitations.

Since this is already getting pretty long, I'll just call this Part One of my giant update and save the rest for another post down the road! Feels great to be writing again. :)

Monday, January 7, 2013

A Quick Hello!

Hey everybody! It's definitely been quite a while since I've posted anything in this blog, but I'm hoping now that the mid-degree crisis is over and I'm a bit more refocused, I'll find the time to write a bit more on the new direction things will be taking for me. Both career-wise, and personally. :) Tonight's going to be dedicated to homework and recovering from the brutality I visited on my hands and forearms at Stone Gardens earlier, but I'll be writing again soon! Promise!

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Anatomy of my Viral Video

A few days ago, I was sitting at my desk when my roommate, Scott, got my attention. I turned around to see that one of my cats, Sophie, had climbed up under her own steam and perched rather adorably on top of his head and was watching what he was doing on his computer. I, of course, thought this was hilarious, and managed to whip out my phone in time to capture a 1:15 long video clip of her sitting there and readjusting herself into a more comfy position.

I posted it on Facebook initially, then when people seemed to like it on there, thought I'd give posting it on reddit a shot. Reddit is one of my favorite websites and a pretty great online community, and until recently I'd just been a lurker (i.e. someone who views and upvotes/downvotes posts without contributing any content or comments of their own), but had recently been looking to change that. I posted it in a popular sub-reddit - /r/videos - and gave it an upvote boost by logging into a couple novelty/secondary accounts I've created, then sat back and estimated it'd probably get around 20-25 total upvotes. Boy was I wrong.

I posted it to /r/videos on Friday afternoon around 4:30pm, and by the end of that evening, I'd made the reddit front page. For those of you who aren't redditors, making front page is kind of a big deal on the site because of what it takes to get there. Your net upvotes (i.e. your total number of upvotes minus the number of downvotes people give you as well), on average, to make front page must be in the hundreds at least, and usually there's a pretty robust comment section accompanying these posts. What I think must have happened next - no actual data on this all-important bit - is that a redditor who thought the video was cute/funny/whatever tweeted the Youtube link to Xeni Jardin of Boing Boing fame. Xeni then posted the link to Boing Boing for their weekly Caturday post, people started viewing, retweeting, posting to their Tumblrs, and more, and everything kind of exploded from there.

I woke up the next morning to find that overnight, the video had become significantly more popular. If Youtube Analytics is to be believed (and I have some reservations about that, but more on that in a later post, probably), by midnight that night, it had gone from maybe a couple thousand views to almost 60,000, and was still climbing fast. I woke up to two rather remarkable emails – one from ABC News requesting permission to post the video on the Good Morning America website and asking for any editorial details I could provide, and one from a viral marketing group called Viral Spiral who were interested in helping me license and manage the video. To the former, I enthusiastically gave permission, and to the latter, I asked for more information out of sheer curiosity. I’ve always been uncomfortable with the thought of making money in this kind of way, so while their array of clients was actually pretty impressive (they currently help manage viral videos like Charlie Bit My Finger and that sneezing panda one), I never really had any intention of enlisting their services.

Over the next couple of days, I’ve watched my view count steadily rocket upwards as more and more sites linked to the video and as more and more people shared it on their FB pages, Twitter feeds, Tumblrs, blogs, or emails to friends. The video made the Yahoo homepage for a while earlier today, as this screenshot that redditor PDXracer messaged to me earlier shows. It has been posted everywhere from Digg to Laughing Squid to Kotaku, and I’ve seen it pop up on quite a few news and radio station websites. As I’m typing this, the latest numbers I have from Youtube are 894,576 views, with over 6,200 “likes” and only a little over 100 “dislikes” from the soulless troll section of Youtube users. My video is the most popular with males aged 25-34, and is most popular in the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. It has been watched in countries all over the world, from France to South Africa to Poland to Iceland to Russia, and of the 1,200+ comments on the video on Youtube, a good chunk of them are from people outside of the US. I suspect it’ll reach 1,000,000 views quite soon, if it hasn’t already.

I am so completely fascinated by this whole process it’s hard to even articulate exactly how and why. Everyone has, at some point, seen a viral video – a video that you tell your friends about only to hear “Oh yeah, I saw that the other day. It was hilarious/awesome/scary/(insert adjective here)!” I’ve seen quite a few myself, some when they’ve gone fully viral, and others in the initial stages, but never in a million years would I have believed that a 1:15 video of my cat sitting on my roommate’s head that I posted to one website would have joined the viral video ranks.

I’m not pretending that the video is going to have any kind of lasting impact whatsoever. That’s the nature of most viral videos – they explode in popularity and make people laugh for a short period of time, then something else comes up to supplant them. Sophie perching up on top of Scott’s head might not have any kind of major social impact, or make any kind of statement about society as a whole, but honestly, I’m just really glad that she could make so many thousands of people smile. :)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Creating an Online Presence

One of the things I've been beat over the head with over the last couple of years is the idea that in order to get anywhere you want career-wise in life, anywhere at all, you must create and maintain an online presence for yourself. There's a lot of wisdom in this assertion, and it's something I'm in the process of trying to do for sure. However, coming from a girl who has been halfheartedly trying to fill up the same paper journal since her 18th birthday - to be fair, I'm about 80% of the way there now - the idea of creating and maintaining a niche for yourself online that is creative, innovative, flattering, and professional yet full of your own personality is an almost insurmountable challenge. Even keeping this blog regularly has proved, at least over the last brutal quarter or two, to be more than I can handle.

When I check out the personal websites of people in professional positions I covet, at first glance, it doesn't look like it'd be too difficult at all to set up something similarly streamlined and professional-looking for myself! Minimalist webpage with my name as the URL, buttons to all my other social networking sites readily available (Facebook, Twitter, blog, my as-yet-non-existent Tumblr, the LinkedIn profile I haven't updated in at least a year, etc.), my resume and contact info, a mission statement, quirky About Me section, and what will hopefully eventually be a long list of projects I've worked on and/or contributed to in some significant way. But then, after thinking about it a little more, I realize that creating this online presence is kind of like getting in shape: the initial uphill struggle of setting everything up is a total bitch, while maintaining it comes more easily with a lot of time and practice, neither of which I've given much thought to over the past couple years.

I think part of it stems from the topic I addressed in my last post. I don't really know yet where I'd specifically like to end up. I know without a doubt that my primary goal is to work with people - my greatest joy in a workplace environment comes with bringing diverse people and personalities together and helping their creative gears turn smoothly by anticipating and filling needs. I'm not creative in the way that encourages individual creation of art or music or a product, but I'm a creative interpersonal problem-solver, and I also really enjoy finding people the information they need at any given time. I'd like to work with people who create, and who are passionate about what they do, since I am passionate about working with people like that. Only problem with this? I've never been in a position to do any kind of project management, and thus don't have a sexy Projects or Professional Involvement list to include on my resume.

So why not network, you say! Use the influence you gain via Twitter or other online media to create those kinds of opportunities for yourself! Easier said than done, I reply. At the moment, I am following 266 people on Twitter and have 171 followers myself (@katie_westlake). I've got this blog, which I try and update at least once every month or so, and there's always the myriad of other more subtle social networking methods you can use, like interacting with people over Facebook or Google+. And many of the networking opportunities I've participated in in the past (the lovely #libchat discussion that goes on every Wednesday on Twitter, for example) aren't as open to me as they once were because my focus is shifting further and further away from library work and more into...unknown territory. Much of the networking available to me right now is library-centric, and I feel a bit unsure as to how to proceed when I see questions geared around "In your library...", or when networking or professional development events pop up in my school email that are designed for job searching in the library world.

All that being said, I'm going to try and work a lot harder on developing and maintaining a solid online presence for myself. I'll recruit all the help I need to build an awesome website to showcase my accomplishments, whatever they'll eventually be, and I'll be posting a lot more on this blog, Twitter, and Google+. Might even start up a Tumblr, if it wouldn't be too hipster-y of me. The danger of doing this, of course, is figuring out how much of myself I can include in these things without being seen as unprofessional, but that's for another post. Right now, it's off to check the discussion boards for 580 and do some reading for INFX 543.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Decisions, decisions...

I wonder sometimes why it's so difficult for me to take an hour or so, sit down in front of my computer, and try to get some of the thought typhoon that's pretty much constantly spinning around in my brain out for the world to see. First sentences are hard, for one thing. Trying to find something me-related that's interesting enough to talk about is almost impossible, since life at the moment is a fairly unexciting mix of working at a job I keep solely to pay the bills and spending my evenings either doing homework, attempting to learn how to program, or browsing reddit. And the amount of things that interest me are too numerous to even know where to begin discussing them.

I've been having a hard time coming to grips with that last fact lately. I've never been the type of person to choose one thing to focus on since there are so many things I find completely fascinating, but while that curiosity has been a really good thing for the most part, it has definitely hurt me when it comes to choosing what I want to do with my life. I was sitting in class today at the UW with a room full of full-time residential students who were all talking about their Directed Fieldwork opportunities, their ideas for Capstone projects, and their choice of electives, and everyone sounded like they knew exactly what direction they were taking their degree. I went into my program knowing I wanted to go into either academic reference librarianship or library administration, but a year and a quarter in, I find I have no freaking clue what I want to do with my MLIS.

Working in a library still appeals to me, but not at all with the same intensity that it did after I graduated from Linfield and was dying to find a job I didn't hate. There have been a lot of things that have turned me off from pursuing a career in library work, which is sad to me, but it's okay. Working in a library would most likely be quite fun, but I think I'd be much happier working with libraries as opposed to within one of them. But where does that leave me in this degree? The vast majority of my classmates either already work in a library or want desperately to find a library job, and most of the classes are designed to help us along towards that end. I just registered last week for winter quarter classes, and honestly, I chose them completely arbitrarily.

The idea behind a successful career, or so I've been told my entire life, is to choose the one thing among many that you're most interested in, and chase after it with everything you have. My problem? I don't have a favorite interest. I like almost everything. Astronomy, chemistry, video game production, bartending, sound editing, writing, genetics, programming, book editing, architecture, owning a small business...the interest list goes on. Because I haven't devoted years of study to any one of these things, none of them are a feasible career option, since I'd be up against people who have done that and are therefore much more capable and qualified than me. And honestly, I don't know if I'll ever be capable of choosing one thing, which is a frightening thought when I think about the likelihood of ever getting a job that pays more than entry-level. I'd sure like to know what the hell I'm doing, but I don't know when (or if) that'll ever be an attainable state of mind for me.

Sorry guys, I didn't exactly plan for my first post in months to be so full of worrying. To make up for it, here's a picture of Sophie and Mal being adorable! :)

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Sleeping with my windows open tonight \o/

Today was the kind of day I've been wanting to have for a very long time. Woke up relatively early after some crazy dream involving old people, car crashes, gun fights, and trains, dawdled around on the computer for a few minutes, then shut it off and headed out the door for some adventuring!

My wanderings took me first to grab some food along 45th, after which I walked through some really cute, quiet Wallingford neighborhoods down to Gasworks Park. It's almost impossible for me to do anything productive at Gasworks thanks to the amazing assortment of people parading around, and today was no exception. Highlights included watching a toddler meet her first golden retriever, seeing some kid totally eat it while running down the hill with a kite (he was fine...just a little grass-stained), watching about a million duck boats full of embarrassed tourists sail by, and nearly falling asleep in the warm grass only to get jolted awake by the sound of a full-size steamboat chugging about 30 yards offshore.

After a couple hours trying and failing to read, I decided to head to the UW and see if the libraries had anything interesting to take home, so off I went down the Burke-Gilman. Made a quick stop at the Wall of Death (yes, this is a real thing with some pretty funny Yelp reviews), then headed to Odegaard to find that almost everything I'm currently interested in reading had already been checked out. I've been wanting to get back on a China Mieville kick ever since I went to the reading/Mieville-lovefest that went down last weekend at Chop Suey, but I think I'll have to wait until my SPL holds come through. Boo.

After a quick dinner, I snagged some milk tea and headed back to Volunteer Park to wind down my day atop the water tower. The observation deck has some of the prettiest views of Seattle I've seen yet, and either no one knows about it or I've just managed to hit it at low-traffic times because it's almost always empty while I'm up there. There are three or four pretty comfy benches up there, so I commandeered one and settled in to watch the sun set over the city.

It doesn't happen very often, but sometimes I really wish I could press pause and just linger where I'm at for a while. Sitting in one of my favorite spots with a good book, feeling the slightest hint of a warm breeze swirl through the gated windows at the top of the tower, nice cold bubble tea within easy reach, no sound but the wind, birds, and panting of the crazy dude that ran up and down the stairs of the tower what must have been 7 or 8 times. It felt incredibly serene - I do love spending time with my friends on weekends, but there are some days where it's nice to not have to hold a conversation with someone, or worry about whether they're really truly okay with Thai food instead of Mexican, or inwardly lament the amount of money you're spending on alcohol because after you turn 21 that becomes the primary weekend social activity. I came down from the tower because I knew it'd be getting colder out as the sun fell below the horizon, but the whole way home, I wished I could just push that pause button and walk in the glow of the sunset through the streets of the city I love forever.

Oh yeah, and today I successfully finished my first year of graduate school. Almost forgot about that.