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I Don’t Claim to Be a Journalist

How I’m different (in a good way, I hope).

My background is most assuredly not journalism. I bring something else entirely to the table: experience.
A cluttered desk in a home office setting. The desk is covered with a variety of technology gadgets such as a smartphone, a tablet, external hard drives, and a soldering iron. In the center of the desk, there's a computer with its screen displaying open code, possibly an IDE or text editor filled with programming code. Nearby, a coffee mug, The scene is illuminated by the soft glow of the computer screen and a desk lamp, creating a cozy yet dynamic workspace that reflects a deep passion for technology and coding. This setup symbolizes the fusion of personal interests and professional expertise, typical for a tech enthusiast or software developer's desk.
Not my real desk, but accurate in spirit. (Image: DALL-E 3)

In recent months, I’ve been thinking a lot about the news media and journalism in general.

It dawned on me that while Ask Leo! looks kind of like a news site, it’s not. It also occurred to me that several sites and other tech-support options that operate similarly to Ask Leo! are written and run by actual journalists while hobbyists run others.

None of that is a bad thing. A variety of experiences and opinions is a valuable thing.

But if I’m none of those, what am I?

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What I am

I’m not a journalist. I’m a geek and software engineer with a deep passion for technology. I spent 18 years at Microsoft, writing and managing software development, so I understand how software is made and how it can confuse, fall short, or fail. At Ask Leo!, I combine this expertise with my unexpected love for writing to offer a perspective that differs from most journalists and hobbyists and adds unique value to my readers.

I’m a geek

I’m a geek, nerd, or whatever stereotypical term might apply to someone who enjoys and is fascinated by technology and all it can and promises to do.

Now, on the surface, that would put me in the hobbyist category: someone who does something in their spare time because they love it. And that certainly applies.

However, as I’ve said for many years, once I caught the bug, I was blessed to have software and technology become both my job and my hobby.

And that’s where I think I’m a little different from most of the resources you’ll find on the internet.

I’m a software engineer

My formal title was Software Engineer: a person who designs and writes software.

And that’s exactly what I did at Microsoft. For my 18+ years there, I either wrote software or managed people who wrote software.1 Heck, depending on your version of Windows, you may have software that I wrote on your machine right now. (Highly unlikely in recent versions, though, since I think most of my work has been replaced or aged out.)

I think that’s something unique I bring to the table. When I hear about bugs, not only do I understand what they are, I understand why they happen. Hell, I’ve created bugs with coding errors similar to those that lead to many of the vulnerabilities you hear of these days. (Fortunately without any of the massively far-reaching impact some have.) I’ve found and fixed even more bugs since debugging other people’s code is also something I’m fairly good at.

But it wasn’t just at Microsoft. Like I said, it’s a job and a hobby. It’s what I do for fun. Smile

I’m a Writer

Something interesting happened when I left Microsoft in 2001.

I’ve written about writing before. I hated it in school. But after being in the real world for a while, I realized that it wasn’t the writing I hated as much as writing about things I didn’t care about. That was a lightbulb moment for me. As soon as it became about what I loved, I started to enjoy writing.

Even before I worked at Microsoft,  when I was working at a small company as a software engineer, I ended up writing a monthly customer newsletter about what we were doing. At Microsoft (where I was first introduced to email), I became more and more comfortable with the written word, and even produced a couple of published how-to articles2. In a sense, they were forerunners of what was to come.

What came, of course, was Ask Leo!

It started naturally: as the local or resident tech guru, people were asking me questions all the time. I decided to see if the web would be a good place to take those frequently asked questions, publish their answers, and build a business around it.

What followed was writing — lots and lots of writing.

And also lots and lots of software and “playing” with the computers and systems I was using, either directly for the websites I was building myself or for friends and acquaintances.

I’m a jack of all trades, master of… ?

So what does all that mean to people who read my articles, take my courses, or buy my books?

What I bring to the table is the perspective of someone who’s written software, been on and managed large teams of programmers, and knows what can go wrong. I’ve seen the sausage being made. I’ve made some myself.

That’s not something you get from a journalist, and that’s not something you get from a hobbyist.

I’m not saying that their perspectives and opinions are bad, wrong, or irrelevant — not in any way. I’m also not saying that I’m better.

I’m just… different.

And having been and done so many different things over the years, I think that difference adds value.

Hopefully, you agree. :-)

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Footnotes & References

1: While the traditional old-school approach in business is to do something and then get promoted into some form of leadership role or management, never to return, at Microsoft it was OK to go back and forth. And I did. I was good at both, enjoyed doing both, and so alternated between the two.

2: Customizing the Features of the M Editor Using Macros and C Extensions in a 1988 edition of the Microsoft Systems Journal, and Custom Add-Ins Help You Maximize the Productivity of Visual Studio .NET in the 2002 MSDN Magazine.

10 comments on “I Don’t Claim to Be a Journalist”

  1. I believe that your age is showing. You start this article off “I Don’t Claim to Be a Journalist”, why would you want to? Times have changed, and I believe that a Journalist is now a gossip writer who wants to win awards so they can make a name for themselves and make more money. We are now going backward in time because experience does more for all of us. I’ll be 76 a week from today. I was first exposed to a CAD computer at work in December 1980. It let me do things at my job that helped me to excel in my career. I gained much more experience in the products I designed than those who were afraid of technology, this helped me gain the respect of the upper management I worked with. They taught me many tricks to help me better use a PC and I shared some of my 3D CAD knowledge that helped them while they were working on getting a Master’s Degree in Engineering.
    Then along came Leo with his Facebook Fridays, I still miss those. I learned many things because the answers were based on real-life experience, not the canned answers of a Journalist who wants attention.
    So what I’ve learned in life is you’ll receive more information when working with someone who has experience in what you’d like to know or learn more about, you can’t ask a book questions because they don’t have all the answers and they lack experience.

    • I’m not ready to give up on journalists. Yes, there are some {expletive deleted} awful ones out there. Many more than I would like to see, and they’re getting much more visibility than I would want them to have. But there are good ones as well. In many ways the system is broken, but there are those trying to do the right thing, still.

      As for my tech peers, I have nothing but respect for those that come from a journalistic background.

    • I start by learning the basics about any technology with reading books (or online tutorials), then I continue my education with real world experience, and from those who already know what I’ve not yet learned. If you ask me, there’s nothing wrong with learning about anything by reading books (or online tutorials), as long as you follow up with learning from real world experiences. By the way, I’ll be 75 in a few months,

      Ernie (Oldster)

      • You’re my age. I haven’t stopped learning either. One thing I learned from Leo was how to answer questions so that a no-tech person can understand. I already know most of the answers, otherwise I wouldn’t be answereing most of the questions that come in. This is something that can benefit any geek, knowing how to translate to English from geekspeak.

  2. I have never thought of putting you in a box, to my family you are Leo, the Go To Guy.

    All the experiences you have shared in this article do help explain why you are able to dumb things down so I understand, whilst still holding the attention of more savvy folks.

    I like that you read responses to your articles and respond where necessary, you don’t just publish articles and never return to them.

    I like that you have Mark in your team. He comes over very differently than you, so we get another perspective.

    Whatever box you decide you will reside in, if any, I just hope you never retire from this job/hobby.

  3. Hi Leo!
    Reading your self revelation brings up a feeling of kinship in me. Way back when I was in college my closest to a favored profession was electrical engineering. There was not to be had anything dealing with computers. But, during my classes I was introduced to the use of computers and began to love it. I managed to get a couple of degrees in related fields, but I landed a job with Motorola as a software engineer. There I began working full time learning computer languages, dealing with dozens of microprocessor assembly languages, designing, developing, and delivering embedded systems. As with you, my love of writing developed with my involvement in computer systems. I do a lot of writing not related to computers. I have been helping friends and family with computer hardware and software issues. I have been retired for years now, but I keep up with your kind of stuff, and reading your newsletter usually teaches me more. Hang in there, and continue to educate and delight us.

  4. Leo,

    I’m grateful for your “Ask Leo!” website, and your newsletter by the same name. I have looked forward to, and read, each and every email missive that has come into my inbox, since I signed up. While I may not always learn something new with each item you post, I do always get a new/different point of view. I most appreciate your talent for being able to translate techno speak into human-comprehensible verbiage, because it has helped me better understand a few very complex concepts.

    I thank you for what you do, and I hope that you (as Spock would say) Live long, and Prosper,

    Ernie (Oldster)

  5. I graduated college as a high school math and science teacher but never thought I had the brains to work on computers. A few years later, I discovered how to experiment with commands on a time-shared computer my boss had me entering company data on at night. The owner of the remote computer noticed and sent me the programming manual to learn it better. I caught the computer bug and it became my passion. I went on to take over programming our business software where I worked and managed all computer technology there, and designed and developed the first true real-time inventory and sales software and hardware for our industry, among other future accomplishments. I retired in 2000 and still love to help people with their home computer issues (about 30 seniors in the local retirement community plus others). I’m 79 and still going strong! I was never too proud to ask questions and learn from anyone in technology. And being a natural teacher, I love to teach others and write helpful articles or instructions on technology. So Leo, I understand whaere you’re coming from and truly appreciate your skills in communicating based on real experience. Keep it up!

  6. I’ve recently heard the second part of the jack of all trades saying.

    Jack of all trades but Master of none,
    Is oftentimes better than a Master of one.


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