Will the Real Tech Community Please Stand Up

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Our world today is diluted. The lines have blurred. Everyone has bought into this concept of community – that everyone has something for everyone and we’re one big happy family. Specifically, the concept of the “technology community” which is a term that has come to mean anyone who has a blog, uses social media or Twitter and engages online in some way or another.

Though this has been a trend that is akin to the frog happily boiling in an ever increasing pot of hot water, the reality struck me today as I saw this Wall Street Journal article about how Facebook and Zappos approach hiring. Facebook, of course, is the social networking platform that has become the largest social network on the planet and Zappos, the sexy company that was just acquired by Amazon and has made its name, not on selling shoes – its core business – but in its company culture and parties.

In the WSJ article, the writer begins with the statement, “For fast-growing technology start-ups, there are many approaches to employee hiring and retention.”

While Zappos is a great company, and their acquisition by Amazon (which is a technology company) certainly places them in the ranks of great Internet success stories, they are a glorified shoe store, using eCommerce, web marketing and buzz to execute on their core business. They are not a technology company.

This is not a pissing match over labels. If calling a company a technology company when they are not was harmless, I wouldn’t care. The reality is that it is a harmful trend that is hurting the real tech community. This is not about Zappos. This is about the hundreds of people who hang out on the social networks, using the technologies built by real technology companies and technologists, and who call themselves technologists because they use the tools.

Photo by rutty on Flickr

These are the people who go for job interviews that they are not qualified for hanging their hats on social media experience.

Being in social media does not make you part of the technology community.

The real technology community is made up of developers, I.T. architects, and even highly trained engineers with C.S. degrees. For the record, I have neither a C.S. degree or any degree at all. However, I have been slinging code for 10 years now and it continues to be my primary business, despite public speaking, book writing and social media engagements. I am a technologist. A marketer or a salesperson may be highly trained marketers or sales people, but they are not technologists in most cases.

Here are some thoughts. These are common. I’m not simply being a little over the top.

  • The most you know about memory leaks is when Firefox crashes. Do you know why? Can you debug it? Do you understand the concept of a memory leak and why it happens?
  • You don’t know how or why an API is important. If you have to ask what an API is, you’re not a technologist. You don’t have to know how to use it, but know what it is. If you don’t know why an API might be important, you’re also not a technologist.
  • Your evaluation of a good website is based on the UI and layout. Great design is important and great designers are hard to find. That doesn’t make them technologists. Though there are some who straddle both worlds extremely well. A website is not just a website because of the appearance. It’s about how data is used. Remember this video?

  • It doesn’t matter if a site is built in a compiled language (Compiled PHP, .NET, etc) or not. Yes it does. Why?
  • Your approach to business does not include principles of Object Orientation as understood by developers. OOP is huge with developers. Ask any Java, Ruby or Python developer. Can you apply these principles to business too? They do apply…
  • The most exposure you’ve had to XML is RSS. And at that, the most you’ve had is adding a feed to Google Reader.
  • Your idea of working for a web startup is as ‘community manager’. Yeah, there are some great community managers. They are people people, not technology people. Additionally, community managers are meant to be liaisons between users and developers. Stop calling yourself a tech person if you’re a glorified PR person.

Again, if this was simply a matter of labels, it would be no big deal. Social media expert? Go for it… Everyone is a social media expert. Entrepreneur? Unless you’re building the product yourself, you’re probably not a technologist. Businessperson? Sure. CEO material? Quite possibly. Don’t call yourself a technologist.

You’re HURTING us. This market is filled with people looking for work right now. And recruiters are out in force looking for the one person who can fill the role of two people and save their client money. So by you walking in the door and taking jobs you’re not qualified for simply because you can do some marketing, strategy and you know how to hack on a website, you’re hurting this industry of highly qualified, professional people.

Stop carpet-bagging on our industry and call yourself what you are. You are highly qualified marketers. You are highly qualified journalists. You are highly qualified business development people. You are not technologists.

First Mariner Bank: A New Shining Star in Social Media PR

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For all the fuss that has been made about Dell, Zappos, Comcast, JetBlue and a whole host of other big names utilizing Twitter and other forms of social media for their messaging and client support, there is one that stands out to me as the most impressive. I say this because of my own personal experience in the past few days. These encounters with my bank, 1st Mariner Bank, are fresh in my mind and, to me, demonstrate a truly productive means of “doing the job” with social media tools.

As an independent, self employed consultant, times can sometimes be tough. In fact, in many way, it’s a feast or famine game. You go through spells where clients don’t pay, they pay late, or you just can’t get the business going enough to generate the income needed to run the business, and sadly, sometimes to pay the bills. So bank runs are important. They are pivotal moments where you might go from pennies in the account to plenty of money to fill the reserves. Those bank runs are always personally fulfilling because it’s a statement that, hey, I don’t have to go find a “real” job now… I can continue to press forward pursuing the dreams I’ve tried to find on my own for these past years. That deposit of some check is a rewarding thing that, honestly, sometimes makes the difference between having the will to go on or just quitting outright.

On Wednesday, I finally received one of these very important checks that was long overdue from a client. With a diminishing bank account, I jumped in the car late in the day and trucked the 45 minutes through rush hour traffic just to get to the bank and find they were closed. When I called their customer service toll free number, I was informed (inaccurately, as I later discovered) that the drive through was still open. Since there was a problem with my Visa debit card, I couldn’t simply make the deposit at the ATM machine so I thanked the representative and tried the drive thru. As I said, I discovered it was closed as well.

Irritated, I jumped on Twitter and went ballistic, venting about how I was going to close my account and find a bank that was closer. I was livid and was letting the world know. These bank runs are not small things for me. They take gas and money and time away from my book. I have kept this account because I always valued the 1st Mariner Bank Customer Service, though, but even that wasn’t going to be enough to keep me banking 45 mins away from home.

@FirstMarinerBank contacted me on Twitter late on Wednesday and commiserated a bit, but did little to actually help my problem. I didn’t expect that he (or she) could, but it was nice to talk to someone nonetheless.

Thursday morning, I got back in my car and drove from Bethesda back to Columbia, Md. where I made the deposit into my account and had one of those personal victory celebrations in my head. I could breathe easier. About an hour afterwards, without prompting by me, I recieved a DM from @FMBCustServ (who might also be @FirstMarinerBank – I don’t know) notifying me that he (his name is Matt Sparks) had saw the deposit go into my account and would work hard to get it cleared for me by the weekend.

Fascinating.

I received another check yesterday as well (but sadly, not before I made my bank run) and thanked Matt, telling him I’d be making another deposit today (Friday) and thanking him for his efforts. And I did. Today, I went back to the bank (that’s the third bank run in three days, if you’re keeping track at home) to make a deposit and, convinced that I’d be stupid to leave the bank after their exceptional show of support, not only made the deposit and didn’t close my personal checking account, but also opened up a new business account for my company.

About an hour after this process, I received another DM from Matt letting me know that he also saw that deposit and noting I’d be able to have money for the weekend. I already did, but it was a nice personal touch.

This is the way customer service should be. As a customer, I may not know what I want or need. Going the extra mile (not wearing the minimum amount of flair, if you will) is what keeps customers around. If we, as customers, feel valued then we are going to value you even more.

It’s the economy of trust.

Well done, Matt Sparks and 1st Mariner Bank. If you’re local to Baltimore, this is the bank you should be doing business with because they get it. If you’re in Suburban DC, as I have been since October, it might even be worth the extra drive to do business with these guys.

This post and DMs shared with permission.

The Rule of Brand, SEO, Trust and Marketing

Almost five years ago, I started this blog without much idea what was going on. In fact, in many ways, it was an opportunity to pass time at work, in a job that I cared little about and that I was doing little more than doing time with. I setup a WordPress blog, went to town writing about whatever the heck I felt like writing about. It’s a common path followed by a great many bloggers.

At some point, however, I came to find my voice on this blog. I wrote in an authoritative way on topics that I was knowledgeable about. I challenged assumptions made in industry, and brought a common sense, no bullshit approach to conversation. I’ve been rewarded with many fans, followers and friends. Literally, my brand, personal or otherwise, is golden. As it should be.

This blog is not a make money quick kind of venture. In fact, I think I made $35 last time I got a check. Not much more than beer money, but that’s fine – I make my money because of my blog, not via my blog. I don’t play the game of SEO, link building and trying to get the most page views. That is a game played by a few power players who have worked the system and built up alliances. I have built my authority and stature, not on making money with my blog or by selling someone elses product in return for a kickback. I have not worried about how many pageviews and selling CPM advertising. I am worried about the quality of the content, the truth in my writing, the community that pays attention and, basically, changing the world one word at a time.

This is my value. This is why when I talk about Government and the web, even though I’m not one of the Goverati, people pay attention. This is why when I write about marketing, I get listed as a top marketer despite not being one. This is why when I examine technology policy, executives from technology companies email me.

This is the real shit. This is not fraud. This is not get rich quick scams.

I’ve said it many times, the most recently being at the excellent Bootstrap Maryland event… You do not control your brand. Your customers do.

I do not control my brand. My readers do. My community does.

My brand is not destroyed by Google bombing my name or brand into search engine rankings. When I get negative press, I let my community protect my brand. It makes no sense for me to engage in a protectionist way since I can’t protect my brand anyway.

This morning, I woke up to this story, where Jeremy Schoemaker attacks my brand and my name. Besides the fact that the post is completely schizophrenic and not very well thought out, much less executed, let’s look at the marketing techniques and think about brand. The title of the post is loaded up with my name and brand. He makes sure to this because that will weigh higher in the Google index. Indeed, his post is the 7th SERP in Google when you search for my name after only a few hours. Whatever.

It doesn’t change my business. It doesn’t change my brand. In fact, it doesn’t change my authority because my trust is with you, my community. On Twitter, I am being defended. Fine, whatever. I appreciate it.

In today’s online world, I am constantly hearing about companies who are afraid to converse because they don’t want disagreement. They lose the conversation. In some cases, they try to erase bad publicity.

Conversation is going to happen. Negative conversation is going to happen. The reality is that bad PR doesn’t kill a company. How the customers or community respond make the brand.

Class is adjourned.