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I Don’t Claim to be a Journalist

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

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

Now 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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I’m a geek

Or I’m a nerd, or I’m 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

That’s my title – Software Engineer. A person that designs and writes software for a living.

And indeed 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 very well have software that I’ve written on your machine right now.

And I think that’s something unique that I bring to the table. When I hear about bugs like Heartbleed, for example, 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 Heartbleed  (though without the massively far-reaching impact, thankfully). I’ve also found and fixed even more, since debugging other people’s code is also something that 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. 🙂

I’m a Writer

Something interesting happened when I left Microsoft in 2001.

TypewriterI’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 that 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 actually enjoy writing.

Even before Microsoft, at a small company I was working for (as a software engineer, of course) I ended up taking on a monthly customer newsletter – writing 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 perhaps forerunners of what was to come.

What came, of course, was Ask Leo!.

It started out simply: 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 an Author

Earlier this year I announced that I’d be trying to emphasize my book publishing efforts a little more, and in order to do so I formally acknowledged myself as an author.

It’s another form of writing, but it’s also a different way of structuring what I do and a different way of approaching the topics that I now write about.

And I’m still poking around with software as I test and try, build (and break) the various items that come up and that I want to write about.

And books result.

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

So what’s that all mean to people who read my articles or buy my books?

What I bring to the table is a different perspective. The perspective of someone who’s written software, been on and even managed large teams of programmers, and who knows what can go wrong. That’s not something you’ll get as a journalist, and that’s not something you’ll get as a hobbyist.

I’m not saying that their perspectives and opinions are bad, or 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. 🙂

Footnotes & references

1: One of the neat things about Microsoft, at least back in the day, was that there was no negative stigma associated with going back and forth. 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 I did. I was good at both, enjoyed doing both, and so alternated between the two.

2Customizing 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 2002 MSDN Magazine.

8 comments on “I Don’t Claim to be a Journalist”

  1. Dear Leo,

    Whatever you may be, you’re also informative, helpful, interesting, and ofttimes entertaining. You’ve heard me say it before, I believe…

    Keep up the great work!

    Regards,

    ~Eric

  2. Leo,
    I think you are a quite good journalist.

    I wait eagerly for you next set of entries.

    Keep up the excellent work

    John

  3. I have been reading your articles for quite a few years now, always clear, informative, and very useful. Thank you Leo.

    Paul Hogan.

  4. Our paths are very similar, although I’m a bit older. When I got my first microcomputer, I started writing about what I was doing with it, and the positive reinforcement was incredible! I made a conscious decision that if I ever got a chance to write full time, I would take it. And then I saw an ad for the editor position at an IT newspaper I enjoyed!

    I got the job. About half my staff had serious journalism creds, and the other half came from the industry. We taught each other, and it was a great run. Sadly, it ended when my wife, who had MS, needed more support than I could give as an employee.

    The most important skill? If you can understand IT problems, and also write actual sentences, there’s no limit to what you can do.

  5. Leo, I believe that first — and foremost, you are a member of that class of people, who by nature, nurture or instinct will leave the world a better place when they leave it than when they found it. Thank you for the generous giving of yourself to those of us so desperately in need of useful, thoughtful and HELPFUL advice.
    Karl

  6. You are all that you are, I would say, because you did experience things from the early days and weren’t narrowly focused. As a direct result you learned to apply solutions in a broad manner without being stuck in one idea or another.

    And you are indeed a good jounalist. A jounalist finds the facts of a situation and the opinions of themself and others and finds the best way to communicate these notions to others in a way that teaches as well as informs. Information is a dime a dance, learning is priceless, regardless of what is ‘charged’ for it.

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