“The actual context and the state of content is going to be so different to anything we can envisage at the moment–where the interplay between user and the provider will be so in simpatico…it’s going to crash our ideas of what mediums are all about.”
–David Bowie, 2000
The world is mourning the loss of an incredible musician and artist who made a huge impact on the world. David Bowie was always thinking outside the box, always changing and adapting his style and music, but was always true to himself–and admired for his boldness in doing so.
One of the things that I always thought was very cool about David Bowie beyond the music, fashion, and Ziggy Stardust makeup was that he was an Internet pioneer. No, really, he was! I remember many years ago reading about how much he was playing and investing in websites and creating content for websites. Some of the websites and content stuck, and some of it didn’t, but Bowie wasn’t afraid to give things a try. The best example I can think of off the top of my head was a children’s music site. Bowie’s daughter is about a year older than my own son, so I thought it was pretty cool that he was curating musical content that was age appropriate for our children, but not so dorky/corny stuff that parents wouldn’t want to listen to it as well. It was an amazing site that closed down later, but it was a significant step towards digital music content as we know it now. He may have done some other experimental sites with music, but I was only tuned into the children’s music at the time.
If you do a search on “David Bowie Internet Pioneer”, you’ll see many articles out there right now telling you more details about his heavy involvement. He knew that the internet was all about CONTENT, and he tried to be one of the earliest content providers.
One of the things that popped up in the many memorials to him was this interview about the role of the Internet and content and the wide possibilities. The interview below was done in the year 2000, just as internet access was starting to become more mainstream (AOL was the big provider at the time, to give you some perspective), and he was SO ahead of his time.
Hopefully, as technical communicators, we can not only learn how to be creative individuals like Bowie was with his music, art, and fashion, but also think beyond our current scope of thinking to what content–not just the arts that he represented, but much more and beyond–can truly be, and have a better understanding of what our relationship to content should be.
2014 has been a whirlwind of a year, so much so that I’ll be reviewing that in another post soon. But much of what’s been on my mind lately is how I want 2015 to be a significant year of change. I keep hearing David Bowie singing his song, “Changes” in my sub-conscious much of the time these days, as I try to make some sense of what kind of changes I want to make.
But recently, some of these decisions have been made for me. I was told within the last two weeks that my contract has not been extended by a year, but only by four months. When I had discussions with my managers about the upcoming year’s workload months ago, I was assured that there was plenty to do, and no worries. They suddenly were changing their tune, because of instructions from higher up from them that the direction of content needs were going to be changing, so there might not be as much work and maintenance down the line. When they first said they couldn’t commit to a year, I thought, “Well, if it’s six months, that would be okay. I would get off in time for summer break when my son has off from school, and then I can find something in the fall.” When they said that they could only commit to about three months, I was shocked. It really sent a ripple through me that I’m still recovering from. They assured me that it was not a reflection of my work, but quite the contrary. I had proven my value and commitment to my job throughly this past year. With my contribution to their new external website, they told me that had I been an employee, I would have been recommended for company recognition, but since I’m a contractor…well…
It’s hard to hear the “It’s not you, it’s me” line from employers after so many times of hearing it. I’ve always worked hard and proven my worth as an asset to the company, and yet something like this always happens. I see other people go from contractor or temporary worker to employee–why not me? I’ve been told time after time to not take it personally and that it’s not a reflection of my work, but after a while, you can’t help but not completely believe that, and wonder what’s wrong with yourself that you can’t fix to make yourself someone they will fight not to let go. I know that employees don’t have much security anymore either, some say, but having been through the process more times than I’d like, I can tell you that employees have a little bit more security, because a)they let the contractors go first and b) there is usually some sort of severance pay involved, including unused vacation time. Even if it’s not much severance pay, you get something. Not with contractors. It’s usually short notice that your contract is ending when you thought you might be renewed due to the workload, and barely a word of thanks. Trust me, like I said, I’ve been through this several times before.
I’m pretty sure that this is hurting more than other times when this has happened because I really liked this job. I like the company. I like the people I work with. I like the set-up of working from home most of the time. I liked the work, and finally had a chance to have more freedom in how I did things–I could call my own shots more often than I had in any other job, and my voice was heard, making this very valuable to me. I also had the opportunity to learn how to use new tools to add to my personal toolbox of skills. Why would I want to leave that?
So, for now, I know I just have a few more months left on my contract, and I need to try to figure out what my next step will be. What kind of job should I get next? I have a little more experience now, but it doesn’t feel like much when looking at job listings. Do I settle for another contracting job, or look only for permanent employment? The other idea that’s been floating in my mind is becoming an independent contractor, as in setting up my own little tech comm consultancy. The job I have now might not completely end, but might slow down to a crawl. I’m still one of their uber-users for thier custom CMS, so I can keep them on part-time if they’ll have me. Part-time work is better than no work, and usually pays better than unemployment, after all. But perhaps I could find some other clients and start doing work, and get my own business running. The trick is figuring out where to find those clients! I wouldn’t know where to begin doing that. The rest of the business set-up doesn’t concern me, like setting up an LLC or stuff like that. It’s finding the work. I’m thinking of getting the LLC set up, even if I don’t use it right away. But where do I go from here? Continue in content strategy? Revisit looking at instructional design work? (I’m thinking “no” on that for now.) Look at social media strategy work? Find a job being a professional blogger? Or should I take a technical writing job? I feel like I’m swimming in confusion.
Originally, when I was setting out to write this blog post, it was going to be about how I felt I needed to make some changes in how I expanded my knowledge, more specifically in what conferences I was going to attend this year. I wasn’t accepted as a presenter for this year’s STC Summit, so that presents a financial issue for me, as the registration–even with the early bird special–is a lot. I would attend some others that I’ve attended before as well, like ICC or Lavacon, but again, expenses are high when they come out of your own pocket. So, I was thinking of exploring some new conferences. But with this empending unemployment situation in a few months, I’m thinking that might not be a great idea financially. It’s not that I’m against investing in myself to learn more, but I think I have to find more affordable alternatives that are more suitable to my needs right now.
Related to all of this, then, is that I have some time before my contract ends to start teaching myself some new skills that will help make me more marketable. I keep going back to my own advice that I’ve given in presentations about finding tech comm jobs which is you need to always be learning something new or brushing up on a skill to make yourself into a more attractive candidate. But for myself, I’m not sure what that would be. I know it wouldn’t hurt to learn more about SEO, even though there are those who say it’s going away. I keep hearing about Content Marketing. Well, I’ve spend many years doing customer service-related work, so I understand the principles with this, but have never done any formal marketing work other than marketing this blog. Does that count? Or would taking a Marketing 101 class be necessary to be taken seriously for a content marketing job? Or, should I start learning more about coding so that I can learn how to do API documentation? There are so many possibilities that my brain feels like it’s going to explode, and I don’t know what do to.
Add the conundrum of having difficulty finding work in my area without commuting to a major city (usually more than an hour away) or finding another remote position like my current position, and you’ve added another twist to the problem.
So, 2015 will be a year of change. Maybe it’s shaping up to be going in a direction I hadn’t expected, but there will be changes, for sure. At this writing, it absolutely terrifies me, like David Bowie’s look during his Ziggy Stardust years (not my favorite look, Dave). I know I’ll be fine in the end. I’ve got great support at home, and I know the tech comm community is there to support and help me, too. It’s the Aspie in me that doesn’t like changes that aren’t on my terms. I like routine to a certain point, and if there’s change, it’s easier when I make the changes. When something or someone else imposes them, I freak out, perhaps looking more like Ziggy here myself as a result. I’m guessing this will be another year of reinvention. Constant reinvention has worked for Bowie, right?
(If you have any recommendations for me based on the above, or recommendations for anyone else who’s looking for work in the next year, feel free to comment below.)
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