Where do I go for News and Opinion?

While trying to decide whether I’d sign up for a Fairfax Digital Subscription or not (I ultimately decided not to) I thought it would be fun to document my news media consumption habits. (Being a nerd is so much fun!)

Here’s what I came up with.

Breaking News 

Where do I go to get breaking news? 

When a news tory breaks the first site I check is Twitter.

I then move on to Reddit to see what news content has been aggregated and bubbled-up by the online community. There I get both first-hand news and news that’s been collected by various outlets.

Next I check the BBC because they'll always have the most reliable and least biased story.

Finally, I go to Google News because that service quickly aggregates lots of news stories from multiple online sources, covering multiple angles.

If the breaking news is Australia- or Melbourne-specific I also check the Age and the ABC (though, in most cases, their news stories get captured pretty quickly by Google News anyway). I sometimes also check the online streaming versions of ABC News 24 and a few radio stations like ABC NewsRadio, 774 Melbourne, and 3AW.

More in-depth news and editorial opinion

What if I want more depth? 

When I want a little more depth to a news story my first stop is usually the BBC. Those folk not only excel at presenting an overview of what’s going but they also give a bit of background and then flesh out those bits of the story that are important at the time. (I usually follow this up by a few quick searches on Google and Wikipedia if I want more information.)

However, if want a much deeper analysis or some high-quality editorial opinion on a particular topic or story then the sites I go first to are academic news outlets like the Conversation, a bunch topic-specific blogs (I subscribe to a lot of blogs via RSS), and sites with strong editorial voices and traditions like the Guardian and the Economist.

I then visit a bunch of independent news outlets or, categorizing them more broadly, sites from which I get smart, well written, and mature news reports, opinion, and discussion. These include ProPublica, The Global Mail, New Matilda, Salon, Slate, the Atlantic, and a handful of others. 

Aside from those major sources I also read some blogs and feature pieces on the ABC and Fairfax websites (e.g. stuff written by Lauren Rosewarne or Sam de Brito). However, ABC and Fairfax don’t have the depth of coverage that the sites mentioned previously do; nor do they have as many contributors whose editorial opinions I value that much.

Local News & Opinion

What if the story is local? 

When a news story is local my preferred sources are the Age and the ABC (including, as mentioned above, the online streaming versions of ABC News 24, ABC NewsRadio, and 774 Melbourne). Though, increasingly, the Guardian with its new Australian edition is becoming a bigger part of my regular local media consumption.

Meanwhile, 3AW and the Conversation, while good sources, don’t cover as much as the Age and ABC do.

Daily Media Consumption

Speaking of my regular media consumption, these are the news sites I check on the tram both to and from work every day and also on weekend afternoons:

Daily Media Consumption.png

The top four are the important ones: I check the Age for updates on what’s happening in the city and around the country. I check the BBC and the Guardian to find out what’s going on in the world. And, I check the ABC to read more about what’s going on in both Australia and the world.

If I have time left in my commute then I then close that folder and check Reddit (the app in the background in the top left hand corner).

And if after that I still have more time I sometimes check my RSS feeds via NewsBlur and occasionally read the stories I’d saved earlier in Pocket.

As you can see, restricting my Fairfax consumption to thirty articles per month isn't going to be difficult because Fairfax is already a pretty small part of my news media consumption mix. This despite the fact that I check the Age website every morning because, when I do, I only occasionally click-through to read a whole article - I usually just skim the headlines.

So there you have it, my media consumption preferences. What sites do you visit to get news and opinion? 

Geek Productivity Chart

This 'Geek Productivity Chart' from Bruno Oliviera is surprisingly accurate at describing how I tend to work (ignoring, of course, the humorous generalization about what non-geeks apparently think): 

I'm most productive at the office from:

  • 11am-1pm, which is when I'm trying to finish stuff off before taking my lunch break
  • 3-5pm, but only if I'm not interrupted and I've timed my caffeine intake right (I usually have a mug of coffee at about 2pm)
  • 6-8pm, which is when most people have left and so the office is relatively distraction free (though at least 2-3 people from my team are regularly there till 7pm so I'm usually wearing my headphones during this period)

At home I'm incredibly productive from about 9pm to midnight, which is when I do most of my big-picture, strategic thinking and planning. (And blogging.)

Working at Jetstar is Like Working at a Startup

I'm not sure if this applies to all Low-Cost Carriers (LCCs) but working at Jetstar feels like you’re working at a startup. This, of course, is one of the reasons why I love working here.

In a guest post on Venture Beat Elli Sharef wrote about the ‘5 Things You Need to Know Before Working at a Startup’. Three of these apply directly to life at Jetstar:


Working at Jetstar you really have to own what you do and, of course, believe strongly in what you're doing. So, for example, if you're the one who comes up with a great idea then you're the one who has to implement it. Sometimes you get to do this literally all on your own from start to finish.

And when you're given ownership on one part of the business – in my case, Jetstar's social media presence – it's all yours to do with whatever you want (given, of course, that what you do makes business sense and fits well with what others are doing; and, if it’s something drastically different, is approved by senior executives).

This level of ownership, control, and direct responsibility is both exciting and terrifying.

Mentoring and Guidance

Because in a startup you're often doing stuff that is new and innovative you don't really have people who can guide and mentor you in your role based on their years of experience in this field. Case in point: before Jetstar no other full-service carrier (in our case, Qantas) had launched a low-cost subsidiary that was as successful as Jetstar is now.

On the social media side of things, for example, I certainly don't know of any other large, customer-focused, seven-year-old Australian company that, while partnering with a large sixty-year-old Japanese company, is providing customer service to people in Japan in Japanese via Facebook and Twitter.

A lot of what we’re doing here is new and innovative. This is stuff that no one or very few people have done before and it’s incredibly exciting to be at this leading edge.


This third point is important because it determines whether you'll be at Jetstar for six months or five years. Sharef puts it really well:

The pressure to achieve results, hit metrics, achieve growth, and get more traction can be overwhelming for many. We’ve seen lots of people quit startups because they realized the emotional pressures were simply too much for them. It’s awesome to know your work can help make or break the business, but with great opportunity comes great responsibility!

The good thing is that, while the pressure may be high, the rush I get from making a real difference to what Jetstar does on social media is incredibly rewarding. Certainly at this point in my career I can't think of anything else I'd rather be doing and anywhere else I’d rather be working.

What’s My Hoodie?

In ‘Managing Humans: Biting and Humorous Tales of a Software Engineering Manager’ Michael Lopp talks quite a bit about managing nerds. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been thinking a lot about this particular bit of wisdom that he also shared in his ‘Managing Nerds’ blog post:

What is your nerd’s hoodie? I write better when I’m wearing a hoodie. There’s something warm and cave-like about having my head surrounded — it gives me permission to ignore the world. Over time, those around me know that interrupting hoodie-writing is a capital offense. They know when I reach to pull the hoodie over my head that I’ve successfully discarded all distractions on the Planet Earth and am currently communing with the pure essence of whatever I’m working on.

It’s irrational and it’s delicious.

Your nerd has a hoodie. It’s a visual cue to stay away as they chase their Highs and your job is both identification and enforcement. I don’t know your nerds, so I don’t know what you’ll discover, but I am confident that these hoodie-like obsessions will often make no sense to you - even if you ask. Yes, there will always Mountain Dew nearby. Of course, we will never be without square pink Post-its.

Don’t sweat it. Support it.

It turns out my ‘hoodie’ is my pair of rather large (and thus easily seen) Shure SRH840 Reference Studio Headphones:

Ameel wearing his 'hoodie' at work

Those things cost quite a lot but they’re really worth it. Not only do they sound fantastic they provide a strong visual cue to all my open-plan-office colleagues that I’m concentrating and shouldn’t be interrupted unless it’s urgent or important.

And, apparently, when I wear them I look like the Nova FM logo character (not sure if that’s the old one, on the left, or the new one, on the right):

Nova FM logos old and new

Over the last couple of weeks, as I’ve been experimenting with my working style, I’ve also discovered that, if I pop these on first thing in the morning (well, after I’ve booted up my PC and have settled down with my mug of tea), my morning productivity increases greatly. Not only that, with these on in the late afternoons (right after I’ve AeroPressed my afternoon mug of coffee), I get a lot of work done towards the end of the day, too.

These productivity spikes happen for different reasons, though. In the mornings the headphones let me kick-off and focus on my priority projects for the day. (I track, schedule, and prioritise all my work via the fabulous Trello web app, by the way.) In the afternoons they help counter the productivity dip I was otherwise having because it turns out that 2:30-5:30 PM is the time that most colleagues from other parts of the office come to my part of the office to talk to the people sitting around me. With my headphone on, though, it becomes really easy to block out all the conversations going on nearby so I can focus on the work that needs to get done.

So, yaay for useful self-analysis and yaay for my awesome headphones. And, I suppose, boo for open plan offices…which I’ve never actually liked and which is why, aside from my headphones, I have the three computer screens arranged around me on my desk.

Further Reading

New Job: Social Media Manager at Jetstar

Yesterday was my first day as Social Media Manager at Jetstar. Yes, that means I have a new job :)

For those of you who might not know, the Jetstar Group (usually just referred to as Jetstar) consists of four low-cost airlines:

Jetstar was launched in 2004 and, with its 79 aircraft and over 7,000 employees, currently flies to 56 destinations in 17 countries across the Asia-Pacific region.

My job is a Group role (i.e. it’s a corporate function that works across all four airlines) and is based at the Jetstar corporate headquarters in Melbourne, Australia.

Why did I change jobs?

For a number of reasons:

  • I love the airlines/aviation industry and working for an airline is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time.
  • Jetstar is a great brand that is run by good people who provide a valuable service. It’s a brand I respect and is a brand whose values I share (i.e. providing good value for money, making smart use of technology, and making travel to popular destinations accessible to lots of people).
  • I’m making a career path adjustment that sees me changing my focus from building and managing websites to helping companies and customers communicate better with each other using social media. And while this is a slight narrowing of focus (e.g. in my current role I won’t be looking after the Jetstar website) it is also an increase in overall responsibility (i.e. I get to work on more strategic corporate communications objectives).
  • My new role is more challenging because the scale and scope of customer engagement is greater (e.g. it’s across the entire Asia-Pacific region as opposed to just within the state of Victoria) and the aviation industry is more exciting, more innovative, and moves much faster than the water industry.
  • I have a greater opportunity for personal growth because I now get to employ my social media skills to their fullest. I had been wanting to increase my social media focus at Melbourne Water but, with all the other work I was doing there, this wasn’t something I was able to do.

I also get to work with one of my former managers who I really like and work really well with. And finally, as someone whose family is spread across multiple countries, the travel benefits of working for an airline are important to me personally.

What does the new job involve?

Broadly speaking, my overall objective is to improve the communication, engagement, and understanding between Jetstar and its customers. Specifically, I get to do this via social media. Though, practically speaking, this engagement will be integrated across multiple communication channels.

How exactly I go about doing all this is something I will share on this blog (and probably also on Twitter) over the coming weeks, months, and years so stay tuned.

Diversity in MBA Programs

Matt Symonds recently wrote a good article on the importance of diversity in MBA programs:
...business schools seek to encourage not only more women and ethnic minorities to do an MBA, but also those with more diverse backgrounds including media, military, not-for-profits and entrepreneurship


But is it important for business schools to also strive for professional diversity? Many academics, administrators and students would say so. In fact, it’s been argued that restricting the MBA course participants to a limited range of experience means that traditionally accepted patterns of thought go unchallenged. They argue that a wide-ranging group of students helps to put business decision-making into a wider perspective, and thereby reduce the risk of a herd mentality that leads to ill-informed decisions. Perhaps Wall Street should take note?

Diversity in the student body - particularly a good mix of international students - is one of the main reasons I applied to Melbourne Business School for my MBA; and I was certainly not disappointed. In my intake (the full-time MBA intake of  September 2006) we had about 65  students, only seven of which were from Australia (the rest were from about 35 countries) and a quarter of which were women (for MBA programs, this is better than most).

MBS also goes out of its way to acquire diversity through its various scholarship programs. In my case, I was awarded (what is now called) the Dean's International Management Scholarship. Every year, that adds about three financially-limited international students to a mix of people who are fortunate enough to have other means to paying for their studies. I, for one, will be forever grateful to MBS for giving me that opportunity.

Web Fun at Melbourne Water: iPhone App, Maps & Social Media

I joined Melbourne Water as their Websites Manager just under a year ago and, since then, I’ve done a lot of fun and exciting web-related work there.

We recently hit a few important milestones so I thought I’d take this opportunity to do a quick roundup of what I’ve been up to.

Web & New Media Strategy

Melbourne's Water Supply NetworkAll the exciting work I’m doing has its foundations in the Web & New Media Strategy that was kicked off in early 2009 and involved a few months of research, analysis, and decision-making. The actual “strategy” ended up being a three-phase plan for building and enhancing the organization’s online presence over the next 2-3 years.

The first phase (basically, quick wins) took less than six months to do and involved plugging the holes in our existing online presence. This included numerous web tweaks, getting a better understanding of what worked or didn’t work on our site (via Google Analytics), and, generally, making better use of the website (e.g. more cross promotion on high traffic areas). We also bought a Google Mini search engine to remove one of site’s biggest pain points which was a crappy search engine.

The second phase (6-12 months) is finishing up now. This addressed a whole bunch of other web tweaks (like content rewrites and information architecture adjustments) and launched projects in five major areas:

  • A complete site overhaul (redoing the site’s content, design, and information architecture and getting a new web content management system)

  • More multimedia (specifically illustrations, photos, and videos)

  • More and better online maps (the more useful and usable the better)

  • More information provision via mobile phones (through SMS, mobile applications, and mobile web sites)

  • Getting into social media (for information provision and stakeholder engagement)

The third phase (1-3 years) involves more complex projects that can’t be started till we have everything else in place (like a new organizational GIS and a web content management system). Phase three work includes the automation of customer-facing business activities, which means things like building online forms and applications, providing custom information via SMS, and so on.

What’s Exciting Now?

Melbourne Water's iPhone applicationRight now, though, we’re nearing the end of the second phase and we’ve made great progress in all five of the areas mentioned above:

  • We’ve kicked off a project to get a new web content management system and have started the website redesign and reorganization process.

  • We’ve started to place photos on Flickr (including ‘Photos from the Field’ which are from Melbourne Water employees) and videos on YouTube (almost all of which were produced in-house).

  • We’ve got some really basic maps on our site but have kicked off a project that will move all our old and clunky maps to a better platform over the next year or so. Meanwhile, we’ve developed an interactive map that explains in simple terms how Melbourne’s complicated water supply network works.

  • We’ve launched an iPhone app (link to iTunes store) and will be launching a new mobile version of our website in the next few weeks.

  • We’re quite active on Twitter and will get further into social media when appropriate.

All in all, we’re tracking quite well and the work we’re doing is lots of fun and really quite exciting.

Culture of Innovation & Effective Communication

What I love most of all, though, is how much on-board everyone at Melbourne Water is with these enhancements. This support and appreciation of innovation and effective communication starts right at the top, too. For example, it was our Board who originally suggested that we develop a simplified water supply network map for the website. They wanted a simple way of explaining a complex system and realized that the web would be a great place to do just that.

In my opinion, the foundation for this is laid in Melbourne Water’s Strategic Framework document which explicitly lists the support of “innovation, achievement, and good ideas” and the need to “understand, manage, and meet or exceed customer expectations” as success indicators for the organization. At Melbourne Water these aren’t just phrases on a company brochure but actual, practical goals that all of us aspire to every day. In fact, to give you an example of how this is implemented practically: Every project that’s proposed at Melbourne Water has to explain and justify which of these strategic goals it’s addressing before it’s allowed to start.

So the work that I’m doing there both matches the direction the world is moving in (i.e. information provision and customer engagement is moving online) and is brilliantly supported by the organization itself. That’s yet another reason why I love working there.

Specht on Social Media in Recruitment

Michael Specht just completed a blog post series on ‘Social Media as Part of Background Checking’ during the recruitment process:

I personally think that social media checks – or, at the very least, Google searches – are an essential part of recruitment. And I think that goes both ways:

  • recruiters and companies learn all they can about candidates
  • candidates learn all they can about recruiters and the companies they’re applying to

This is important because:

While the last point is certainly vital for people working in Internet-related industries, it is also becoming increasingly relevant for people working in other industries (as more of their lives move online).

Working at Melbourne Water

I’ve been at Melbourne Water for over six months but haven’t yet blogged about what I actually do there. So, thanks to the end-of-year holiday season that has given me the time to get back into blogging, here goes.

What Do I Do There?

My job title is ‘Websites Manager’ and that role sits in the External Affairs team which itself is part of the broader Communications & Community Relations group.

My tasks include:

  • Managing all of Melbourne Water’s websites (i.e. the main site and various sub-sites)
  • Developing and implementing a Web & New Media Strategy for organization (this includes getting the organization involved with social media)
  • Helping knowledge specialists from across the business create and maintain their web content
  • Proactively seeking content to place on the web (this includes content that site visitors want to see and content that we want site visitors to see)
  • Liaising between our web solution provider and the rest of the business (including, sometimes our own internal IT department)
  • Managing the Website Advisor (who focuses primarily on the online needs of the Waterways group)

More generally, my job involves three things:

  • Tactical management: Managing web content and being the go-to guy for everything related to the web (and, increasingly, multimedia and social media).
  • Strategic management: Finding out what our current online presence is, determining what we want that online presence to be over the coming years, and figuring out how we’re going to get there. This includes doing things like a complete site overhaul and pursuing new online models of stakeholder engagement (specifically, social media).
  • People management: Overseeing work done by the Website Advisor and managing the web team’s relationship with the rest of the organization.

That’s a lot to do but I’m having an awesome time doing it. If it didn’t keep me so busy, I almost wouldn’t call it “work”.

What’s it Like to Work There?

It’s awesome. I love the people, I love the culture, and I love the commitment everyone has to their work, to Melbourne, and to the planet in general. It’s really great to work alongside people who are experts in their fields (many of them are geeks like me) and who love the work that they do.

I really appreciate the fact that the organization truly cares about, and cares for, its employees. And I love that we don’t have to leave our lives (and the rest of the world) at the doorstep when we step into the office.

I love the range of work that the organization does – everything from:

  • sourcing and storing water,
  • treating and providing water (to Melbourne’s private water retailers), and
  • taking care of our rivers, creeks, wetlands, and (soon) coastline,
  • to collecting, treating, and safely disposing of our sewerage.

Finally, I am impressed by the importance and emphasis the organization places on good communication and stakeholder engagement. Indeed, excellent stakeholder engagement is a core strategic objective for Melbourne Water. I am particularly empowered by this focus because so much of that communication and engagement is moving into the online space (including social media) and that’s specifically what I am responsible for (and really enjoy doing).

So, You Like it, Then?

Yes, very much so!

Editors are Useful

Melbourne Business School professor Joshua Gans has a funny post on his Core Economics blog about an attempted…er, criticism of his research.

What happened was that Gerard Henderson from The Sydney Institute decided to trawl through Gans’ blog in an attempt to cherry pick items that would question the credibility of Gans’ work.

Unfortunately for him, Henderson picked a humorous item in which Gans linked to a Randall Munroe blog post on ‘Urinal Protocol Vulnerability’. Munroe, for those of you who don’t know, is the author of the brilliant xkcd webcomic. For some inexplicable reason, Henderson believed this study to be (a) trivial and (b) carried out by Gans himself.

Henderson wrote in his Media Watch Dog article:
Here’s hoping that Mr Holmes and his Media Watch team will publish much more of Joshua Gans’ ground-breaking research in future editions of the program.  MWD is particularly impressed by his work on, er, male urinals.  Gans’ paper “Urinal protocol vulnerability” attempts to answer one of the key questions of our time. Namely:  “When a guy goes to the bathroom, which urinal does he pick?”  Good question, don’t you think?

Gans, in reply, suggests that maybe Henderson needs to brush up on his Internet researching skills:
Mr Henderson mis-attributes various amusing quotes written by Randal Monroe to me. He then invites Media Watch to take a closer look at “my research.” I’d invite them to take a closer look at Mr Henderson’s posts. How can someone purporting to watch the media not understand the point of hyperlinks? That said, his post doesn’t seem to contain any itself so this web-stuff might not be his thing.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Update: Check out Andrew Leigh's exchange with Gerard Henderson on this topic.

IT Restrictions at Work

A couple of weeks ago Scott Arbeitman wrote about the technology gap between the street and the enterprise. Carl Joseph replied to that with one of the most painful technology-related quotes I’ve heard (painful because of how true it is):
“Every day you get to use new technology and are exposed to new, exciting things…then you go to work.”

I’m not sure who actually said that, but if you work for a large corporation, then you’ll know what this feels like.

How do I Deal with Such Restrictions?

At my workplace, in order to keep up with the rest of the Internet world, I not only bring my own personal laptop to work I also bring with me my own personal wireless broadband Internet connection. And, despite the fact that my laptop is ancient and the broadband connection is painfully slow (relative to my workplace’s connection), I still get a better Internet experience on it than I do on my work computer.

Why? Because even though my laptop has half a gigabyte of RAM, a slow 30GB hard drive, no built-in wireless adapter (yes, it’s that old), and Windows XP, I get to run on it the latest versions of Flash, AIR, Silverlight, IE, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, and Seesmic Desktop (along with numerous other applications) and I get to access whatever I want to on the Internet.

On my work computer, meanwhile, I am stuck with no AIR or Silverlight, IE6 as my only browser (I do have a version of Firefox on it but that doesn’t run Flash so it might as well not exist), and restrictions on which websites I can access. What makes this harder to live with is that my computer’s hardware is pretty good (it’s a docked laptop with a dual monitor setup) and my Internet connection speed is excellent.

It’s Not All Bad

I have to admit, though, that I am being somewhat unfair to my workplace. Aside from making us run IE6 and blocking parts of the web (including sites like Slideshare because it’s “personal storage”), they do let us access webmail, all the social networking sites (indeed, according to our IT department, Facebook is one of the five most popular sites at work), and most online media sites (like Flickr and YouTube). Compared to other large organizations – particularly government departments – in Australia, that’s pretty awesome.

In fact, they’ve gone a step further and have provided us (the Web Team) with a special media desktop (for converting and editing video) and a special Internet laptop (with all the latest software and applications installed on it). Bits of the Internet are still blocked on these PCs because you’re still going through their proxies, but that’s not such big a deal.

So What’s an Employee to Do?

One way for tech-savvy employees to get around these restrictions is to do what I’m doing: circumvent the IT department entirely by creating a parallel setup for yourself. With recent technology improvements like cheap netbooks, powerful smart phones, and readily available mobile broadband, this is easy and relatively inexpensive to do. I suspect a lot of Gen-Y will take this route.

The other option – the much harder one – is to get your IT department to get rid of these restrictions and, dare I say, modernize itself. Unfortunately, that’s not easy to do. Slate’s Farhad Manjoo makes a good case for it, though, in his recent article, ‘Unchain the Office Computers!’:
…workplace IT wardens are rarely amenable to rational argument. That's because, in theory, their mission seems reasonable. Computers…can be dangerous things—they can breed viruses and other malware, they can consume enormous resources meant for other tasks, and they're portals to great expanses of procrastination. So why not lock down workplace computers?

Here's why: The restrictions infantilize workers—they foster resentment, reduce morale, lock people into inefficient routines, and, worst of all, they kill our incentives to work productively. In the information age, most companies' success depends entirely on the creativity and drive of their workers. IT restrictions are corrosive to that creativity—they keep everyone under the thumb of people who have no idea which tools we need to do our jobs but who are charged with deciding anyway.

The Role of the IT Department

One of the most important parts of Manjoo’s argument, however, is this:
What's worse, because they aren't tasked with understanding how people in different parts of a company do their jobs, IT managers often can't appreciate how profoundly certain tools can improve how we work.

This is often the root cause of the problem because most IT departments are divided into roughly three parts:

  • IT Operations: the people who keep the systems running

  • The Project Management Office (PMO): the people who oversee updates, upgrades, and all the organization’s IT projects

  • IT Planning: the people who plan for the future

What is often missing is the fourth part:

  • In-house IT Consulting: the people who liaise directly with different parts of the business and use the latest technologies to improve the way those people work

Without that fourth part, IT departments have a hard time keeping up with what people in the organization believe are the most effective and efficient ways of doing their work. They also don’t keep up with the latest technological solutions for various business problems.

Modernizing the IT Department

So, if employees want to take the route of modernizing the way the IT department looks at new tools and technologies, they need to start by modernizing the IT department itself. And, to do that, they have to look at IT as two different groups:

  • IT as a service delivery department: the people who provide us with our computers and networks

  • IT as a partner in business: the people who proactively help us do our job better

And if they’re lucky enough to get a CIO who thinks that way as well, things should start to change.

Catching Up

I haven’t been blogging much these last few months. That’s because three months ago my wife and I moved into an apartment that has no land line and only a satellite cable TV connection. (We didn’t think to ask about the former before moving in here because, really, when was the last time you heard of a house that didn’t have a land line connection?) What this means is that, till just recently, we didn’t have Internet access at home; certainly not cable and ADSL, but not even dialup!

What Happened Then?

It took Telstra (the only phone company that services this area) about six weeks (yes, six weeks) to give us a connection from the telephone exchange to our apartment building. However, we don’t have an outlet in the wall for a phone jack so we can’t actually use that line. Even worse, the electrician who came in to install that outlet couldn’t find where in the wall our telephone wire was so he wasn’t able to connect us. That was about a month ago and, since then, we’ve been waiting for our real estate agent to do something about this – specifically, getting the building plans from the owners and giving them to the electrician – but nothing’s happened yet.

I finally got sick of the situation so, a couple of weeks ago, I went and got us a mobile broadband connection from 3 (specifically, a USB wireless modem) and that’s what’s letting me access the Internet now. We then went a step further and bought a wireless router for the modem so now both my wife and I can access the Internet at the same time. It’s slow, but at least it works.

What about blogging from work, you ask? Unfortunately, work has been really busy (though incredibly enjoyable) so I haven’t had the mental energy to do any writing in the evenings (whether at work or offline from home). The only blog posts I have managed to finish are the ones I wrote on a weekend and published from the office the following work week.

So, Catching Up…

What all this is leading up to is the fact that I have lots of catching up to do. The way I’m going to do that is by giving you a bulleted list of all the stories I’ve wanted to talk about these last few months but haven’t been able to discuss. The stories range from basic, on-the-ground advice (and lists) to more high level discussions on a particular topic. They’re all good to read, though.

Jobs, Careers, & MBA

Social Media

Online Design, UI

Online Marketing

General Life Advice

Web Strategy Jobs in Australia

In order to get what can loosely be called a 'web strategy job' in Australia I did quite a bit of research and analysis on how different companies hire for that position and I thought it might be useful to share what I've learnt. This serves two purposes:

  • Others who are looking for jobs in the same area might find my analysis useful.

  • Those who know more about this area than I do can improve my understanding of it.

Here's hoping this blog post accomplishes a bit of both.

What Do You Mean by 'Web Strategy Job'?

So what exactly does a 'web strategist' do? Well, it depends on the industry and company that job is in. In general, though, a web strategist is someone who takes care of everything a company does online. This includes:

  • managing the company's online presence (website, intranet, social media presence, etc.)

  • figuring out what the company should be doing in the online space over the next few years; i.e. creating a web strategy and making sure it is aligned with the company's business, marketing, and communications strategies

  • implementing that strategy

This job can be in different departments and at different levels of seniority within a particular company. To explain this further I have come up with the How Companies Build Their Online Presence table (below). The columns on this table represent company size and the rows divide companies into those that consider their online presence to be strategic and those that don't (yes, this is an artificial, binary division while, in reality, there is a range here). [1]

The text in the cells describes the solutions that these companies implement in order to build and maintain their online presence (yes, I am generalizing here). The jobs that I spent the last few months looking for are the manager-level web strategist/online manager positions described or implied in the green coloured cells.

How Companies Build Their Online Presence

Interestingly, over the last year, I have worked in companies in all three of those green-coloured areas:

  • Shell is a very large company that uses its online presence strategically (both internally and externally)

  • Melbourne Business School is a medium-sized company that uses of its online presence strategically (and increasingly so)

  • Linfox is a large company that doesn't use its website strategically but makes very good use of its intranet

Melbourne Water sits in the strategic row and is a large company.

Where the Web Strategist Fits in All This

As mentioned earlier, the web strategist jobs in those green-shaded boxes exist at different levels within different companies. That is why, over the last few months, I applied for jobs that spanned a range of tasks, skills, and seniority levels. In some small companies, for example, the primary driver of the web strategy is the specialist consultant hired on a 3-6 month contract. In some larger ones, the strategy is driven by a small group of people who are, in turn, led by the web/online manager.

There are pros and cons to being in each of those positions. For example, a short-term specialist-level consultant may not have the time, influence, or opportunity to have a major impact on a company's overall web strategy. That said, this consultant sits outside the internal politics of that company and can be more blunt and direct about what that company needs to do without having to worry too much about what people think of him. A full-time online manager in a large company, meanwhile, many find corporate inertia working against her for the first six months but, once things get moving, will benefit from it. And because this manager knows the inner working of the company, she may get things done more quickly and more effectively.

The sweet spot for me was to get a middle management position in a good-sized company that made good, strategic use of its online space. There is huge potential (and lots of fun to be had) in this role because companies in this position are often quick to move and are willing to make a real impact online. Fortunately for me, this is exactly where Melbourne Water sits.

What About the State of the Job Market?

Of course, all this analysis is useless if it doesn't help you get a job - particularly if no one is hiring for the position you really want to get. Because of that, I was also looking for less-than-perfect jobs or jobs on the periphery of where I wanted to be. The idea was that I would work towards the role I really wanted.

Speaking more generally: One good thing about this type of job is that every organization needs a website regardless of how the economy is doing (and Australia's isn't doing that badly). As a result, web strategists, website managers, and specialist online consultants are still getting hired. And though there are very few perfect jobs out there (and many companies are hiring less senior people to do the same job that more senior people were doing last year) I did come across a whole bunch that were great places to start. Read my previous blog post for more on that.

Further Research

So that is a summary of what I have learnt about web strategist jobs in Australia over the last couple of years. I encourage you to do your own research on this topic. To do that, I recommend the following three things:

  • Subscribe to online job feeds from Seek, MyCareer, CareerOne, and SixFigures. This will teach you a great deal about the state of the job market and will help you adopt the lingo that hiring managers and recruitment firms use to match candidates to open positions.

  • Talk to people who are in the industry and find out more from them. This is particularly useful if you are targeting a narrower segment in the market (e.g. web strategy jobs in the education sector). Also read their blogs, interact with them online, and get in touch with them through LinkedIn or your own networks (then meet up with them for a coffee or something).

  • Talk to recruitment agents who recruit in this area. I mentioned three firms and three recruitment agents in my previous post but there are many others - you just need to find the ones that work best with you.

And when you learn stuff, blog about it so all of us can learn from your experiences.

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[1] The words 'strategy' and 'strategic' are used very loosely in everyday speech while, in actual fact, they mean something very specific. Let me clarify that here: when you say something is 'strategic' you necessarily mean that it is relative to your competitors. Take your website's 'Contact Us' page. If, along with your office address, you were to give your office's Melways Map reference, this would not be considered 'strategic' because this is common practice. If, instead, you embedded a Google map that showed your office's location exactly (assuming, of course, that your customers found this useful and that it helped your business) this would be a 'strategic' move since few companies tend to do that and this gives you an advantage over your competitors. Note, however, that if you had decided to include that Google map without considering your competition, it would simply have been a 'plan'. A 'strategy', on the other hand, is action taken specifically with your competition in mind (i.e. in order to gain an advantage over them).

My Job Search: Stats & Lessons

My perseverance has paid off: after applying for 33 jobs over an 8 month period, I am now the new Websites Manager at Melbourne Water. I'll write more about this job in a later blog post but right now I want to present the stats I accumulated and the lessons I learnt during this process.

Active Job-Search Period

The 8-month period during which I was looking for a job featured the following non-hiring periods:

  • the global economic downturn - 2 months, from mid-October to mid-December

  • the Christmas holidays - 1.5 months, from early December to mid-January

  • my trip to Pakistan - 1 month, from early February to early March

So, for all practical purposes, I was unemployed and actively looking for jobs for about 4-5 out of those 8 months before I got hired.

Types & Levels of Jobs

The 33 jobs I applied for during this period were of these types:

  • By management-level jobs (13) I mean those that involved project management, stakeholder liaison, team management, and strategic planning.

  • By specialist, consultant, and business analyst jobs (15) I mean those that involved working as a knowledge or domain specialist within a larger team. The specialized skills required for these jobs included SEO techniques; web writing and online production skills; social media awareness; requirements-gathering experience; a consulting background; and general website/intranet redevelopment experience. Naturally, all of these skills were also required for the management-level jobs that I applied for.

  • By junior-level jobs (5) I mean those that I turned out to be overqualified for. In most cases this happened because the company in question didn't think the online channel was of strategic value to them and was therefore looking for a relatively junior person to create their web strategy and maintain their website and intranet. In most of these cases I withdrew my application once I found out more about the job.

I very nearly got one of those specialist-level jobs but the company I was interviewing with instated a hiring freeze (due to a newly-announced restructuring plan) the day after my final interview. The interview had gone really well, though, and I was confident that I would had been selected.

Also, those 13 management-level job applications include my successful application to Melbourne Water.

Reasons for Rejection

The reasons I was given for not getting 32 of those jobs included:

  • By too little experience (3) I mean the job was too senior for me. In one case, for example, I was told I didn't have experience in working with ad agencies on large multi-channel marketing campaigns.

  • By experience mismatch (3) I mean I had enough overall experience but the company was looking for someone with a slightly different set of skills. For example, they were looking for more sales/marketing oriented people than technical or communications oriented ones.

  • By cultural mismatch (4) I mean I had the right experience and skills but I wasn't the right person for that particular job, team, or company.

  • By too much experience (5) I mean I was overqualified for the job. I usually discovered this during the preliminary phone discussion with the recruiter at which point I would withdraw my application.

  • By job already filled (3) I mean that, by the time I applied for the job, the company had already hired a candidate (either on its own or via another recruitment firm).

  • By no answer (8) I mean I simply didn't get a response for the company (2 cases) or the recruitment agent (6 cases) to whom I had applied. In some cases I got no answer even after telephoning them a number of times and leaving messages asking for a call-back.

  • By no good reason given (3) I mean I got a generic and completely useless reason for my application being rejected. For example: "Thank you for your recent application for the above position; we have now had an opportunity to consider all applications. Very careful consideration has been given to your application and whilst you have many relevant attributes, unfortunately, on this occasion your application has not been successful." In some of these cases I asked for further detail but I almost never got any.

  • By too many candidates (1) I mean the recruitment firm had already filled its quota of interviews for that particular job.

  • By hiring freeze (1) I mean the company stopped its hiring process before making an offer of employment because senior management instated a hiring freeze.

Finally, I interviewed for seven of these jobs:

  • Twice I got rejected after a single interview

  • Five times I got rejected after multiple (usually two) interviews

One of the experience mismatch jobs and three of the cultural mismatch jobs were the ones that I went through multiple interviews for. The fifth was the hiring freeze one.

How this Fits with my Job Application Philosophy

In my opinion, these are fairly decent statistics. I say this because they reflect my job application philosophy which includes the following heuristics:

  • Only apply to those jobs you think you have a good chance of getting. This is, of course, based on the job ad, an optional detailed position description, or simply a verbal description of the role.

  • If, while writing the cover letter, you find that you're not convincing even yourself that you can or really want to do this job, abandon the application.

  • Don't apply to too many 'reach' jobs that might be just out of your skills and experience range. You'd only apply to these types of jobs if you though you could grow into the role quite rapidly.

  • Don't apply to too many 'backup' jobs for which you are qualified but from which you won't gain anything other than a little more experience and line on your CV. You'd only apply to these types of jobs if the hiring company had a great brand, was one you really wanted to get into, or was one in which you could see yourself getting promoted through relatively quickly. For example, if Google offered me a junior-ish job I'd jump at it!

  • Take the time to tailor both your resume and cover letter to match the requirements of the job at hand. Assuming, of course, you fit the basic requirements in first place.

  • Do your research on the company and make sure that (a) you can do the job, (b) you want to do the job, and (c) you would work well in that company.

What Have I Learnt From All This?

Aside from the obvious "it's no fun to be looking for a job during an economic downturn" I have learnt that perseverance, smart application techniques, and patience all pay off in the end. I have also learnt that it's crucial to look for cultural fit between you and your potential employer and that it's important to identify both good and bad recruitment consultants and recruitment firms.

The perseverance bit is important because I've learnt that lesson the hard way. This is now the third difficult hiring period I've been through in my life. The first was back in 1998 when Pakistan and India tested nuclear weapons because of which the number of overseas work and study visas awarded to Pakistanis was slashed considerably. The economic sanctions that were subsequently imposed on Pakistan didn't help the local job market either. The second was when the dot-com bubble burst in the US in 2001. I was working for the Pakistan branch of a Silicon Valley consulting firm at the time and had just received my US work permit visa. My plan had been to go join that company in Silicon Valley but, instead, I quit my job and started working for a Pakistani firm instead. This actually turned out to be a fortuitous occurrence because that Pakistani company was the one that got me into creating web strategies and developing and using Content Management Systems.

Having patience is also important because in the past I have made one or two hasty career decisions that, in hindsight, I wish I hadn't made. I don't actually regret having made those decisions because I love where I am in my life and in my career. It's just that I could have been further along my career path had I not gone with the first option that came my way.

I have also learnt that cultural fit between employer and candidate plays a key role in the hiring process. I already knew this in theory, of course, but it's good to see it being played out in practice as well. I am really happy, for example, to have received a few specific rejections because I realized that, even though I could have done the jobs themselves, I wouldn't have had fun doing them. This is also why I rarely get disappointed or upset when I don't get a job that I've applied for. This is particularly true if I've had a couple of interviews with that company and, as a result, know quite a bit about my manager, my team, and the company in general. Also, I generally interview well and am honest about who I am during the the recruitment process. So, if after multiple interviews the company decides they don't like what they see then they're probably right in not hiring me because I wouldn't fit in there.

On a more practical note, I have learnt that it is important to quickly identify ineffective or bad recruitment consultants and recruitment firms and then stay away from them. This is easier said than done, of course - especially if those recruitment firms keep advertising good jobs! The flip side of this is that it's important to identify good recruitment consultants and recruitment firms and then stick with them. For example, I had excellent experiences with Michael Page (specifically with Angela Van Hazel), Hudson (specifically with Sarah Blaney), and RDBMS Resource Solutions (specifically with Jessica Burns) and I would highly recommend these firms and those recruitment consultants to anyone who is looking for a job.

What Now?

So the current job search phase in my life has ended. My contract with Melbourne Water is for 13 months, however, so I'll be back to looking for a job within the year...but that's okay. The more time I spend in the industry - getting to know companies and building networks of contacts - the easier it will be for me to get my next job.

Meanwhile, though, I'm going to work hard, do a good job, and have a lot of fun. I've been at Melbourne Water for just over a week but I already love the place and the people who work there (cultural fit rocks!). The future looks bright.

TED Style Presentations

I enjoy making presentations and think that’s something I’m good at doing. I haven’t, however, made a TED-style presentation before and I don’t expect to make one in the foreseeable future either. However, I am interested in all kinds of presentation styles, types, and formats.

If you’ve watched any of the TED talks you’ll know what I mean by ‘TED-style presentation’. And if you’ve watched both old and new talks then you’ll know how that style (and the overall presentation format) has changed over the years.

So what is the TED presentation style and format? Presentation Zen’s Garr Reynolds can tell you, complete with a copy of ‘The TED Commandments’ that have been sent to speakers almost like a style/philosophy guide for making presentations at TED. If you’re a fan of TED, make sure you check it out.

Ask a Manager: Why You Didn't Get Hired

Alison Green from the Ask a Manager blog recently wrote a good article in the US News & World Report called ‘Why You Didn’t Get Hired’:
The job looked perfect for you. The description matched your experience and skills so perfectly, you could almost visualize yourself at your new desk. But now you're staring at a rejection e-mail and can't figure out what happened.

The article makes a good read, particularly in the current hiring climate. Though, if you’re at all familiar with hiring, getting hired, or the recruitment industry then none of what’s in there will come as a surprise to you.

Why This is Useful Anyway

Still, the article gives a good checklist to go through before applying for any job. I know that I self-select myself out of a number of potential job applications for some of the reasons listed in the article.

For example, I can tell when I’m under-qualified for a job and, unless I can clearly and succinctly justify why the company should take a chance on me despite my (apparent) shortcomings, I don’t bother applying for that role. Note that I’m not underselling myself by doing this, I’m simply being a realist.

Taking Self-Selection a Step Further

Indeed, before I apply for any job with a company I’m not very familiar with I learn all I can about the company and its employees. Naturally, a lot of my research is online since that’s the area I work in but my research has, in the past, included locating people who work for that firm and, through them, finding out first-hand what the culture there is really like. And I have, on occasion, not applied for an open position that I was qualified for after completing this research and realizing that I wouldn’t be a good fit there.

My research continues well into the interview stage, by the way. For example, just by looking at the office and the employees who walk by when you’re waiting in the reception area can tell you a lot. Specifically, it tells you what the company values and what it prides itself on. To give you an example, one organization I interviewed at had a huge world map on the wall with a dot representing where all its major offices were (over thirty of them across four continents) and a set of clocks that were set to the local times of major regional offices. Obviously, being global was important to this company. This kind of information is not only useful for the interview but twice I’ve realized early on that these weren’t places I could see myself enjoying working at. (The proudly-global company wasn’t one of them, by the way.)

Later, during the actual interview, I try to figure out which of the items in the job’s position description are important, necessary, optional, and added bonuses as far as the interviewer is concerned. If you’re lucky, your interviewer will tell you their preferences explicitly. If not, you have to figure it out from the company introduction and the overview of the role than they often give you at the start. Figuring out what they really want from you becomes particularly challenging when, for example, you have multiple interviewers who have differing priorities. And these priorities could differ both from each other and sometimes from what’s written on the position description itself.

For example, I once went through a three-round interview process and made it down to the last two applicants but got rejected because the head of the department – i.e. my potential boss’s boss – preferred a web strategist with a marketing agency background over one with an IT background (despite my MBA). My potential boss, on the other hand, really liked me because he had a marketing agency background and so he was looking for someone to complement his skills, not reinforce them. Indeed, he said exactly that during my interview with him. So when I highlighted my technical background during my final interview – this one with the head of the department – I ended up giving her a specific reason to reject me. Still, what I loved about this company was that they were clear about why I didn’t get the job and they were willing to state this reason openly and unapologetically – something that a lot of companies don’t do, even if you ask them.

So What Have We Learnt?

The point of this post, then, is two fold. First, if you didn’t get the job you thought was perfect for you, there are two reasons for this: (1) there was someone for whom this job was even more perfect or (2) you figured wrong and the job wasn’t perfect for you in the first place (i.e. maybe you were under-qualified or over-qualified, maybe you didn’t fit the team culture, maybe you underperformed at the interview, etc.).

Second, it’s crucial to debrief yourself on why you didn’t get that job. And be honest because sometimes the reason you didn’t get the job is you (i.e. you messed up the interview, you didn’t have an accurate understanding of what the job was about, you weren’t qualified anyway, etc.) and not the company (i.e. they didn’t understand you completely, they were too quick to reject you and probably didn’t read your entire resume, they’re just plain wrong, etc.).

Final Thought

Actually, if I could add one more thing it would be this: Don’t get disheartened.

I’ve had my fair share of job rejections over the last few months but I’ve also rejected tens of applicants who applied to jobs that my company advertised and for which I was the hiring manager. I’ve actually been in situations in which I’ve had three applicants who I know can do the job equally well – with some minor, mostly inconsequential differences among them, of course – and I’ve had to reject two of them. And, on occasion, I haven’t had a clear-cut, easily explainable reason for why I chose one over the others. In other words, the applicant I hired basically lucked out.

So when I’ve been rejected for a job I really wanted and knew I could do incredibly well – this has happened to me twice in the last year, by the way – I’m pretty sure it happened simply because I was unlucky that time. And I know that it’s only a matter of time before things go the other way and I’m the one who gets lucky. Of course, I just hope this happens sooner rather than later!

Internet Usage at Work Follow-Up

The Workplace Internet Leisure Browsing (WILB) study that I talked about a couple of weeks ago has since been featured on Episode #49 of the University of Melbourne’s Visions Video Podcasts.

Also, you can read excerpts from the the study on the Deloosh Market Research blog:


This study finds evidence showing that employees who use the Internet for non-work related tasks during work hours are more productive than employees who do not. We speculated that Internet leisure browsing is an unobtrusive interruption which suspends metal fatigue, resulting in higher net concentration during a workday than when Internet leisure browsing is unavailable.

Internet Usage at Work is a Good Thing

Finally, there’s a study that shows empirically what most of us have known all along: personal Internet usage at work actually boosts employee productivity.

The study was conducted by Dr. Brent Coker from the Department of Management and Marketing at the University of Melbourne and you can read about it here:

According to Coker’s research:

“People who do surf the Internet for fun at work - within a reasonable limit of less than 20% of their total time in the office - are more productive by about 9% than those who don’t.”

It’s About More Than Just Productivity

But it’s not just about productivity, as Specht points out, it’s also about trusting and respecting your employees.

I personally dislike companies that prohibit what Coker calls Workplace Internet Leisure Browsing (WILB) with the justification that when you’re at work, you should be doing nothing but work. That’s just silly because it’s a completely unrealistic notion of what work is. Work is a subset of life, not the other way round. So you can’t exactly ignore the rest of your life – or, indeed, the rest of the world – while you’re at work.

[There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. It’s okay to apply principles of Taylorism to, say, when you’re working in the kitchen at McDonalds. It’s just that you shouldn’t extend those principles to when your employees are not doing those specific kinds of tasks.]

The problem with a lot of companies is that, while they understand this basic principle (i.e. that there is life outside of work, even between the hours of 9am and 5pm), they aren’t tech-savvy enough to see that this also applies to using the Internet. Companies will, for example, do things like allow flexible working hours so you can do your banking during your lunch hour or go as far as to provide coffee machines and televisions in their kitchens and lounges so you can take a really good break during the work day. And yet, these same companies will block the use of webmail services, social networking sites, and online video sites which, to people like me, are pretty much the virtual equivalent of the kitchen and lounge (and sometimes the preferred equivalent).

So What’s the Problem?

Part of the problem, as has been pointed out in the past, is the generational disconnect between the Baby Boomers, Gen-X, and Gen-Y. That is, there exist numerous members of older generations who don’t understand that, for some members of the younger generation, a good work break could be eight minutes of e-mailing and checking on your social networks, four minutes of going through photos of your newborn niece, and three minutes of watching the latest viral video that’s making the rounds. And this disconnect is understandable. However it is then the job of middle managers to convince senior managers that this kind of personal Internet usage is actually okay.

Another part of the problem are the reports written by generally Internet-clueless analysts on how much companies are “losing” by letting employees access social media or online video sites during work hours. What tends to happen is this calculation:

  • Think of an average employee who earns 50k a year; that’s $25 an hour.
  • If this person spends, on average, 30 minutes a day on Facebook and Gmail. That translates to $12.50 per day “lost”.
  • So, for the 250 days a year that this person works, the company is “losing” $3,125.
  • If this company had 400 employees, the company would be losing 1.25 million dollars per year on employees accessing webmail and social networking sites.

Company executives look at this calculation and exclaim: “What?! We’re paying our employees $1.25m to access Facebook and Gmail! Block both those sites!”

The problem, of course, is that while the calculation is essentially correct, the reasoning behind it is flawed. The reasoning being that you are paying your average employee exactly 41.6c per minute to work for you and that every minute this employee does something other than work your money is being wasted. Now if this person was working on an assembly line, your loss-per-minute-not-worked calculation would be valid. But for every other employee, it’s not.

Why is it not valid? Because your employee is human – who has human wants and needs – and it is unreasonable to treat this person like a work-producing automaton upon whom you can do this kind of dehumanising calculation.

To Conclude

My point, then, is that studies like Coker’s are really useful because they empirically demonstrate that you can’t blindly apply principles of scientific management (i.e. Taylorism) across an entire organization.

And because these studies come from a business department of a large and well-respected university – and they use terms that businesses understand (specifically, ‘productivity’) – they will probably do some good.

If nothing else, reports like this tend to make their way into business magazines and give executives something to think about. This particular study may not get companies to unblock access to webmail services and social media sites, but it’s a start.

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P.S. What’s almost funny are the companies that are so completely disconnected for what’s going on online that they don’t even know what Facebook is and therefore don’t have a policy on whether they should block it or not!