Tuesday, January 27, 2009

10 Years Working in the e-Biz

In honour of this month marking my tenth anniversary of my Internet career, I’m blogging about my experience working in the Internet in Canada for the past ten years. The preceding blog post covered my Internet-related education, which began my Internet career ten years ago when I began the Internet Management at Humber College.

Technically, my Internet career began the preceding December as I was hired by a temp agency for a week to help Macromedia with their Dreamweaver 2 Toronto launch. Back then the name Dream Weaver only conjured up a scene from "Wayne’s World" – now I can't imagine life without it.

While most of the Internet education programs I took have completely ceased to exist, about half of the companies I worked still exist. One company promised me “deferred pay” and years later I still haven’t got it. But considering the ups and downs of the industry, I’m not holding a grudge.

The first company I worked for is still doing well. In March 1999,I started writing online travelogues on Ontario for Bootsnall.com. It was my first attempt at regular web writing. The Internet has opened up possibilities for writing to move beyond stifling rules or stuffy conventions of old media. With a clean slate, I was able to have a lot of fun and find an effective web style. The website has grown to be a main destination for off-the-beaten path and independent travelers.

I also wrote travelogues for Canadian Geographic Online. I started with Canadian Geographic for my internship at the end of 1999 to maintain and write for their site. The site hasn’t grown much since I worked there, which is a shame as there is so much potential. Canada is such a small market that I guess it's not viable to expand online properties like they do in the U.S. (e.g National Geographic is an amazing website with a wealth of information).

Internet years are like dog years, so I feel like an old-timer when I recall the good ol’ days of the dot.com boom. My first full-time Internet job was as a website developer with a dot.com start-up, Infopreneur. All the stereotypes were true – obligatory fussball table, staff meetings at Playdium, free food, parties, very casual hours and dress. This is where I began my habit at starting my day at 11am – a habit that I was only ever able to reduce to 10-10:30am). My supervisor was a wiz kid programmer who dropped out of highschool. I am proud of my work with BonnieStern.com, one of Canada’s first cooking websites. I introduced a classification and retrieval method for a recipe database that at the time was very innovative. It was through this project that I learned that enabling users to find information was as important as the information itself. This realization has resulted in my continued interest in the field of usability. Infopreneur did not survive but the animated web series they produced became as a successful enterprise; the show, Chilly Beach even made the move from web to TV as it is on CBC.

I spent the remainder of the dot comb irrational exuberance period and the resulting dot bomb crash at Rogers. I was only there two years but the names changes of the division (New Media, iMedia, Media) and website (Quicken.ca, MoneySense.ca) are indicative of the turbulence of this period. I was in charge of developing the personal finance channels and particularly enjoyed taking stuffy content and making it interactive (think I managed with my tools RRIF vs. Annuity, University Costs Planner, etc.). After my departure from Rogers, MoneySense.ca was folded into Canadian Business’ website – and essentially all vestiges were pretty much completely eradicated. It's sad to see that all the cost and effort to develop a lot of good evergreen tools and content was abandoned. But the most lasting memory of working there was the weekly occasions to celebrate, at one of the downstairs bars naturally.

When the regular layoffs at Rogers were too much, I moved to the security of the pension world to manage a website. This was the first job where I was acted pretty much solo in running a website. I’ve blogged about the pros and cons of running a website for small companies. It's great to be the master of a site's fate, but I missed the camaraderie of the incredible team I worked with at Rogers. The website launched some cool stuff while I was there, including being one of the first (if not the first) company to publish its annual report online only. I also managed to oversee a relaunch that completely changed almost everything (design, code, content, architecture) about the website to make it as user-centered and accessible as possible. I left the week we delivered a fully-transactional website for clients – the last great applicable online offering for the company.

Other Internet jobs include volunteer work for maintaining Heritage Toronto’s website, blogging for Backbone and my current project of trying to start an Ontario chapter of the Internet Society.

I really enjoyed being a part of the Web in its rather early days. It’s cool to actually have had a tiny role in helping create the conventions and properties of the medium – these opportunities so rarely happen (I think the only recent comparisons would be the birth of film and tv). One of the reasons why I decided to pursue grad studies was so that I could move away from doing the grunt work of developing and maintaining a website, email newsletters, etc. But while it’s rewarding to research developments in the industry that I would not feasibly be able to implement in my professional career, I will miss those glory days.

1 comment:

Jenn said...

Congratulations on 10 great years! Here's to many more.