The Day I Started Blogging

Although I’ve been blogging off and on since 1999, it wasn’t until I wrote this post about walking away from my job at Microsoft that I felt my blog had a purpose beyond the fact that I enjoyed writing.

Up until that time, I’d written over 1000 posts that covered various topics ranging from gadget reviews to thoughts on becoming a father. But something changed with that post. I was more open than I’d been before. I exposed a number of my faults. But, for whatever reason, I hit on a topic that many people could relate to.

I’ve received dozens of emails about that post. One person called me a knucklehead for leaving a stable job with the largest software company in the world. A few thought I should have handled the situation better than I did, and I agree with them. But most were very supportive. One memorable email came from a lady who told me her job was making her sick, but she didn’t realize it until one of her friends forwarded her a link to my blog. She left her job a few weeks later and wrote to tell me about it.

As I was thinking about this today, I had a short chat with a friend I’ve not seen for many years. I asked how he and his family are doing along with a few more questions to get caught up. And then he said something interesting. He said, “I suppose I should return the favor and ask how you’re doing, but I already know because I’ve read your blog for years”.

I encouraged him to start a blog and he said he didn’t have time. That’s the most popular excuse I hear. Occasionally I’ll hear “I don’t have anything interesting to say” or “Nobody would read my blog”.

But I wish more of my friends and coworkers would blog. I’ve become increasingly suspicious of people who don’t blog. I wonder what they have to hide. I don’t buy the “I don’t have the time” excuse. What they should say is, “It’s not important enough to me to make the time”. I want to know what makes them tick.

To those who are considering starting a blog, my one bit of advice is to write from the heart. Be honest. It’s fine to detail the good and the bad. A wart here or there reminds us that you’re human. That’s what real life is about. Blogs that are devoid of any disappointment or sadness come across as having been written by someone nobody can relate to.

It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly 10 years since I walked off the job and another 9 years before I blogged about that experience. At the time I felt I was opening up too much. Showing my imperfections. What if a potential employer came across the post? What will my friends think?

I had nothing to worry about. Just the opposite. It was the beginning of my blog as I know it today.

The Most Valuable Skill I Gained In College

Assuming I work into my mid 60’s, I’m nearing the half-way mark of my career. Although I attended a couple of quarters of college before spending two years working as a missionary for my church, I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about what to study until well into my junior year at the University of Utah. And even then, I had no idea where a degree in German coupled with a few business courses would take me.

I didn’t realize that few would ask about my major course of study or what I learned. Sure, they appreciated the fact that I had I degree, but that was merely the first hurdle to jump. Having a degree got me a 30 minute interview slot with companies like Sears, Enterprise Rent-A-Car and Deseret Book. If they valued what I learned in four years of college courses, it didn’t come through during the interview process. What did come through was the fact that I’d run the gauntlet of late nights, early morning courses and teacher assistants. I’d stuck it out, and hopefully some of those endurance skills would translate to a successful employee.

Now that I’m more than 15 years removed from the college scene, I’ve thought about what I learned and what I’d change if I knew then what I know now. I’ve thought about what I’ll tell my children when they consider going away to college.

The best I came up with is this:

COLLEGE OPENED MY MIND TO DIFFERING IDEAS

It’s taken a while to recognize how valuable this been. I grew up in a mid-sized town in Utah where many neighbors shared basically the same values. Diversity was defined by the the color of your skin and by the church you attended each Sunday.

But college changed all this. Suddenly I was faced with ideas I’d never considered let alone heard. I was forced to take a position on topics outside of my comfort zone. I had to research and think through various ideas. I had to fight through many prejudices. I had to finally stand on my own two feet. More than once this resulted in admitting, “I don’t know why I believe this” or “I’ve never considered that before”

Sure, I’ll probably tell my kids that earning a college degree will put them in a better position to earn a good living and how it will teach them valuable skills such as writing and introduce them to topics like music and art which they otherwise may not have considered.

Side note on writing skills – I’m usually able to predict whether or not an applicant has earned a degree before I get to the education section of the resume. Occasionally I’m fooled, but not often. Writing is so important in our business that I Google every applicant’s name looking for details I can’t find on your resume. If I find your blog, I’ve hit the gold mine. If you’re a great writer this can be a very good thing.

If you’re currently looking for a job, do you have a blog? If so, does it represent you well to potential employers?

But my hope is that college will challenge their minds and force my kids to consider new ideas. I hope some will contradict their current beliefs. That’s when the real growth occurs.

I see too many young men and women turn away from college to pursue careers in technology or other disciplines that don’t necessarily require a college degree. For them, college is a means to an end where the end is an adequate paying job. If they can skip college to collect a paycheck then why stick around another 4 years?

I understand there are exceptions, but I believe these young people are sacrificing long term benefits for short term financial gain. That $20/hr. job may sound sufficient today, but will they be happy when they’re passed over for promotion down the road when they go up against the coworker with a degree? I’ve seen this happen dozens of times at the companies I’ve worked for. What’s sad is that the employee who was skipped over often has no idea why.

I’m thankful my father worked his way through college with two young children and a part-time job washing cars. He set a good example that helped me stay in school during several times I considered leaving. Having gone through it himself, his encouragement carried more weight than had he dropped out or not gone at all.

A Look Back

My brother-in-law shook his head when I asked him if he had an email address. “Why would I need that?” he replied.

This was back in 1993.

Those were fun times. I enjoyed telling my friends and family about the internet and what they could do online. Like downloading drivers and searching for stuff on Yahoo. The high point of this period for me was the discovery I could stream Beavis and Butthead videos from MTV.com.

At work, of course.

By the time blogging came around most of my friends were using the internet although few had any idea what a blog was, and they certainly didn’t read the one I started. I didn’t give much thought to what I wrote back then because I was the only person reading it.

A few months later I checked my log files and noticed a few dozen people were visiting my blog each week. Yet few of them were friends or coworkers so I didn’t change anything. I figured I could write about whatever I wanted because I still felt anonymous.

It wasn’t until I applied for a job in 2005 that I knew my employer was aware of my blog. During the interview process my future manager asked me for a writing sample and I gave him my blog address. I figured he’d gauge how I write and maybe learn something about me.

One afternoon at church my Sunday School teacher mentioned he’d come across my blog. Several coworkers began reading it as well along with a number of friends and family. Each week I read emails from people across the globe who found my blog. Most of them enjoy what I write and some disagree with my views. I encourage them to start a blog and publish their thoughts.

I still enjoy writing, but I’m aware that what I write can impact my relationships and even my job. Nobody wants to offend a friend. And although it’s worked out well for Heather Armstrong, nobody wants to get dooced.

I’m going to continue encouraging my friends to blog. This past year I finally got my mother-in-law to blog. Although many of my friends have started blogging few have continued more than a couple of months. If they can’t dedicate the time to maintain a blog I’ll tell them about Twitter.

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They Took My Bribe

OK, so there were no bribes exchanged but I’m certain my half dozen regular readers will be shocked to hear that Sampa listed Nordquist Blog as one of the 10 Daddy Blogs You Should Read.

Yep, you read that correctly. image

No, really.

I came in at #3 on ahead of the juggernaut of all Daddy Blogs, MetroDad

This could be the tipping point I’ve been waiting for. An interview with Oprah can’t be far behind.

But seriously, check out the list and you’ll find hours of good reading. I’m honored to be mentioned among this group of bloggers who are a lot more polished than I am.

Each blog on the list is worth a read but Creative-Type Dad and A Family Runs Through It are the two I can relate to the best.

And thank you Sampa for making my day.

Windows Live Writer 2008 CTP

Steve Hodson over at WinExtra put together an excellent review of the latest version of Windows Live Writer which was recently made available for download. I’m writing this post using the updated version and it doesn’t look or feel much different other than the new tabbed look.

screen_2008-06-03 16.57.21

It’s my favorite Microsoft product and one of the few things that is keeping me tied to Windows. Last week I rebuilt my PC by installing a fresh copy of Windows Vista, and then I sat down to determine exactly what software I wanted to install on my machine. The fewer programs installed the better chance I have of fighting Windows Rot.

As I look over the list today, Windows Live Writer stands out as the only one that I’d miss if I were to switch to Mac as my desktop OS of choice. I believe that many people would say Microsoft Office is the deal breaker when it comes to moving off Windows. For me, the transition to Google Docs from Office took about two hours. I collaborate a lot at work and the notion of sending around document versions via email was cumbersome. Google Docs makes easy work of this scenario and everything else I’ve thrown at it. Leaving Outlook for Gmail was even easier. If you’re still using Outlook to manage your email, you’re living in the past.

So what applications keep you tied to Windows?

I found that many of the products I install are used to KEEP WINDOWS RUNNING SMOOTHLY and wouldn’t be needed if I moved to Apple. But cost is still an issue and the fact than I can upgrade my PC on the cheap keeps me from breaking the bank to move to Apple.

At least not yet.

My Top 11 Blogging Tips

I’ve been blogging now for over eight years. Back when I started I followed a few blogs including Scripting News which is still one of my favorite blogs. None of my friends or family had any clue what a blog was so I had to use words other than “blog” to describe what I was doing. Telling my guy friends that I kept an online journal was the equivalent of admitting I kept a secret diary in my lockable Hello Kitty notebook. It just wasn’t very cool. But around 2004 more people started to take notice and I could use the word, blog, in most settings without risk of embarrassment and confused stares.

I figured I’d throw together a few things I’ve learned over the years about blogging. Here are my top 11 blogging tips:

  1. Your writing is more important than your blogging platform, theme, plugins and style sheet. If your writing is top notch, nobody will care how ugly your blog is.
  2. Starting a blog is easy. The first few weeks or even months is exciting. But after a while, it takes time and dedication. Most will bail, but the best will push through.
  3. The A-List Bloggers talk about the same topics, so don’t worry about subscribing to more than a couple of them. More than three or four and you end up with content overlap. They attend the same conferences and hang out in the same circles.
  4. The best way to grow your readership is to read and comment on other blogs.
  5. Keep your posts as short as possible while still getting your point across. Posts are like resumes: after a page I get bored and move on.
  6. Linking is good. Linking to new or lessor known bloggers is better. Like this one.
  7. Take a stance. I come to your blog looking for your take on things. Tell me what you think, even if it’s controversial. Don’t tell me the plot of the movie. I want to hear whether you enjoyed it or not and why.
  8. Take your own pictures. A picture you took is 10x better than one you found on GIS.
  9. Admit when you made a mistake or changed your mind. I’ve been ripping Vista for over a year. But recently changed my mind after a good experience with it on a new laptop. It’s OK to say, “A while back I felt this way, but now I feel different“.
  10. Encourage and help others start a blog. I’ve helped my wife, mother-in-law, father and numerous friends start blogs. Some have quit while others have created blogs I consider better than my own. This is awesome!
  11. Write today. Write now. Just write!
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Get a blog or I’ll take my business elsewhere

OK, I wouldn’t go quite that far. Yet.

But I find myself searching out the blogs of those businesses and individuals with which I choose to do business. And not just the online businesses, software or technology companies. I assume they have blogs and am disappointed when I find out they don’t. Netflix has one. SmugMug has one. So does 37 Signals as does the Windows Live Digital Memories Team.

It won’t be long before I expect my realtor, my doctor, my dentist and my accountant to have a blog. Why shouldn’t they? I want to know more about them than I can glean from a marketing brochure or ad in the yellow pages.  Basically I want to know what makes them tick. Those that jump in now will be that much further ahead.

Smart money is on my dentist to be the first to embrace blogging.