So why did I really become a Community Manager?

Now that I’ve changed careers, I figured it was an appropriate time to share the story of how I eventually decided to become a community manager. I’ve been reluctant to share this publicly because being a Community Manager brought me regret-less joy and I would never want sympathy because of it. I also never wanted the tale to impact how my community responded to me.

I’ve mentioned in other posts that I was bullied in my youth. This had a profound impact on my self esteem, self worth, and ability to make friends. The bullying ranged from teasing, to being physically hurt, to a few very cruel things. I don’t think it was the worst bullying one could receive, but it was to a degree that it made me pretty miserable and occasionally scared.

Over the years, I learned coping and defence mechanisms to deal with it all. Most importantly, I was also fortunate enough to have the Internet during the hardest times. I was about 9 when I first went online. My older brother introduced me to a type of online game called a MUD (multi-user dungeon).

It was quite the discovery for a lonely and socially awkward child to find a plethora of social groups at one’s fingertips. It gave me the ability to test out different peer groups with very little negative consequences. I had the ability to simply avoid and forget places where I wasn’t happy.

This is a bit embarrassing to admit, but my first crushes and solid friends I met online. Even to this day, I am in contact with people met over 15 years ago online. Some of my closest and most trusted friends today were once people I never thought I’d have a face-to-face conversation with.

By the time I was in high school and hormones were the dominant force in social situations, I still never had a very easy time fitting in. School work was boring and I found most of it tediously unsatisfying. I didn’t have any peers in my life that I felt close to and certainly didn’t have a best friend to confide in.

There were a few peers that I would talk to and on rare occasions do things with outside of extra curricular and school activities. I just never let anyone in anymore, because the transition to high school taught me that my friends were temporary. Middle school friends had turned into either strangers or joined others who bullied me.

I was lucky that my mother was my confidant. It made the earlier years easier to deal with. I would spend an hour after school every day unloading all of the hurt feelings and schoolyard gossip to her. I never told her about the times when things got physical, but I told her everything else. She also would play games with me and listen to things I was far to embarrassed to share with my peers. By the time I was 14, my mom was practically everything I needed in a best friend and my Internet friends filled in where my mom couldn’t.

I still remember when I let it slip to a classmate about my Internet friends and a boy online I had a crush on. Let’s just say, they didn’t get it and gossiped about it to other friends and for a while it gave the folks who picked on me something new to tease me about.

I kept my online life pretty secret from that point forward. I let very few people know about the communities I was involved in online and certainly never talked about my friendships. I eventually started becoming penpals with some of my net friends and would buy calling cards with my allowance to talk to them on the phone.

While the other teenage girls in my school were spending nights gabbing on the phone with their classmate friends, I was gossiping on the phone with people I met online about school and community drama. Never once did it feel different to have a friend I never met in the flesh versus a friend I saw in meatspace every day.

It was the summer after I turned 16 that solidified my feelings of true friendship with my online friends. My mom died at home that summer very suddenly and without prior illness. It took my entire family by surprise and it was quite difficult to deal with. To make matters worse, I lived in a one stoplight kind of county where everyone knew everyone else’s business.

While I did have peers offline who I know honestly tried to be there for me, many people didn’t really know how to help. I certainly didn’t make it easy for anyone by becoming even more reclusive. Most of my support came from a guy about my age who lived in Ohio.

I met him in the Area51 geocities chatroom around my freshmen year and eventually developed a long distance relationship with him. He was, for all intents and purposes, my first high school boyfriend. He would spend so much time with me on the phone, we’d talk about our school, family, and mutual Internet friends. He was there to listen to me sob over the phone, telling him every detail of my mother’s death and every way it affected me. We didn’t even formally ‘meet’ until 2010 by chance at Blizzcon and had gone our separate ways/lost touch for several years before that.

Even after I left high school and joined the military, the friends I made through online communities remained my primary support group. They wrote me letters in basic training, sent me care packages when I was deployed, and did so many other things to support me in life just like any good friend you’d make in person.

At some point, my dear friend Marco (who I have yet to meet in the flesh) had given me the chance to help be a part of running the online community he had created and was also the community I had been involved in since 1999 (and still am today).

It was just around the dotcom bust and there wasn’t really as much of a concept of a community manager. The notion of being given money to run a community and make friends on the Internet was a unobtainable pipe dream of mine.

It makes me laugh when I think of all the times I’d muse about how awesome it would be to have a job running online communities. It really was my dream job. There was no hobby or social activity that brought the same pleasure to me like being a part of an online community.

Needless to say, when I discovered in 2005 that companies were paying people a salary to do things I was already doing for fun, I did everything I could to make the career change. I was working as a Pathologist Assistant making some pretty good money and took a pay cut that was so large I’d have never afforded it if it weren’t for the dual income my household had at the time.

I quit a good paying career with retirement benefits and turned my 15 minute commute into a 2 hour one. I even had a child just starting kindergarten that I had to deal with. This was all to get my foot in the door to become a community manager.

My first job was a site where you could create tributes/memorials for loved ones who died. I won’t knock it, it gave me paid experience which led me to other very awesome opportunities. One of which was being the Community Director at a site called back when it was only a team of seven.

Being the JTV community director was really everything I wanted out of a community management job and more. It gave me a lot of unique work and life experience I honestly don’t think I would have gotten anywhere else. I got to experience the extreme goods and bads of the work and came out a wiser and happier person.

So there you have it. The full story of why I decided to become a community manager. It was truly my dream job. I dreamed of being the person who was responsible for growing, shaping, fostering, and keeping an online community together.

I did it because I knew there were others out there who wouldn’t have had as much friendship and emotional support without the online communities they were a part of, and because I wanted to be a part of making any online community as happy as the ones I was apart of made me. But mostly, to get paid to play on the internet.

Greatest Work Email Ever

I've received a great deal of crazy emails in my startup career, some scams and some serious.  When I was in my Community Director job, I thought those were the craziest mails I'd ever get.  I received death threats, barely intelligible emails, flat out stupid things, crazy conspiracies, and everything else in between.  One time, I was emailed an online petition started by a Turkish gentleman who was trying to gather multiple signatures from across the entire country of Turkey to have me extradited and executed for my crimes against humanity (and by crimes I mean IP bans for individuals who grossly violated the Terms of Service of the site I worked for).  Today, I am proud to announce, I have received the greatest email of my career thus far.  Below, is an email that I received at work, left without commentary.  It requires none. Enjoy!

Elevator Pitches: It’s Everyone’s Job

Pitch I'm not really one to write Startup advice, but there are a few topics that I feel rather strongly about and have found in my startup endeavors are actually helpful. 

Most of you reading this already knows what an "Elevator Pitch" is already, but for those outside of the marketing world your Elevator pitch is a short one or two sentence summary of what your product/service/organization does and what it's business strategy is.

Most people think that only your CEO, bizdev folks and marketing crew needs to have their elevator pitch down but that simply isn't the case, especially in the startup world.

In San Francisco there are tons of tech events people end up going to, some of them are hack-a-thons for developers and others are networking events.  If you work at a startup company, you'll eventually find yourself at one of these events and you will be asked "So where do you work? What does your company do?"

I've noticed most of the time, people end up asking me those questions just because they want to give me their elevator pitch and need a polite way to transition to conversation to their own company.  Either way, you're going to have to be able to sum up what your company does in as few words as possible and get the point across.  

Yeah, I'm looking at you developers and Q&A/Support staff.  I'm know all of this marketing speak hurts your brains and makes you want to gouge the eyes out of the startup douchebags who talk non-stop at you (usually about their product that is like Y for Z), but you're going to have to suck it up and toss out your elevator pitch.  It benefits your company and makes you look like you're more involved in your company than just the code or your realm of the code.

Elevator pitches can be really hard to come up with the more complicated your product or service is.  I couldn't imagine having to come up with an elevator pitch for Cassandra at marketing party to a bunch of folks who don't know what a distributed database is and why some one would use it. That being said, you have to make sure your elevator pitch is in simple plain English. A marketing guy's eyes are going to glaze over if you start talking about the Dynamo model or clustering and a programmer is going to decide they're done talking to you (marketing folk, I've got my eyes on you) about how their "value justification is a long-tail solution to cloud optimization for the content optimization for the BuyerSphere." Ew, I feel kind of dirty writing that sentence, but I digress.

I'm not saying that marketing folk aren't technically competent or developers have a short attention span…. but at a party you're one of a dozen people they've talked to and if you can't tell them something quickly and simply then you've lost your chance for a good elevator pitch. So do try to avoid too much technobabble or marketing buzzwords.  If you're super lucky, the person you talked to will remember your pitch and be able to repeat it to some one else. 



I’m sick of the “Women in Tech” debate

First let me clarify the position that I believe I am in. I am a woman who works around tech. I am not a woman in tech . I am a woman who works at a technology company, I am not a woman who is in a tech career. I am not a developer, I'm not an engineer and I am not employed to do a job that is based off of science or math.

I have a strong interest in science and math, but I am not paid to be interested in science or math. I can't really grasp, what the actual argument in this "Women in Tech" debate is. If one were to take the perspective that a female marketing/PR employee at a technology company is a "woman in tech," then I simply cannot see that there are a lack of women in tech. Nearly every startup I can think of has a female in that role. I have never seen females in marketing/PR treated poorly or disrespected because of their gender. Nearly every developer I've talked to has appreciated the fact that there is an individual out there willing to do a job they are not equipped to do and in such, tend to treat their marketing/PR folk well.

However, if you take the perspective that "women in tech" are female employees who do science and math related jobs, there is a lower ratio of females to males in these positions at technology companies. I don't see a lot of these women in tech having the debates. I see more women of the first type having these debates.

If you look at actual numbers, there is a rising ratio of women to men for earning college degrees. These numbers are even true for master's degrees, first-professional degrees and doctorates. More women are graduating college.  Take a look at the table below, look at it over time of the numbers we have and the projected numbers.  

Women dominate men at every level of higher education, in terms of degrees conferred. Here's the breakdown for graduates of the class of 2009:
* Associate's Degrees: 167 for women for every 100 for men.
* Bachelor's Degrees: 142 for women for every 100 for men.
* Master's Degrees: 159 for women for every 100 for men.
* Professional Degrees: 104 for women for every 100 for men.
* Doctoral Degrees: 107 for women for every 100 for men.


So that sums it up well for women of all careers, but what about women in tech? Specifically programmers and engineers?  The number of female applicants to engineering and information technology peaked in the 1980s.  Since then, that percentage has declined from 35.2% in 1990 to 28.4% in 2000. 

There is a proven shortage of female engineers and information technology majors.  Microsoft funded a "Report on the Status of Women in Information Technology." Which provides a glimpse into education and the workplace in regards to women in these fields.  I have also found some very awesome studies from Stanford and MIT in regards to this subject as well (the MIT papers were in 1983 just prior to the upward trend and the eventual re-decline).



Do I believe there is a shortage of women in tech? Yes, I do.  I don't think that my feelings or opinion does justice towards the women currently in tech.  I've known female programmers and I have never walked a mile in their shoes.  I've never sat in a Data Structures or Heuristic Methods for Optimization class at a university in a room filled with men.   I've never had to raise my hand in the before mentioned classes and wonder what my male peers were thinking when I delivered answers or papers to male instructors. 

I want less women in my position debating the "Women in Tech" issue and more women who have sat in those classes to debate the issue.  Instead of pointing fingers at men for sexism, I want to see solutions suggested on how to interest young girls in technology fields. I want to see Math and Science taught in ways that make both genders passionate and most importantly,  I want to see Computer Science and Information Technology taught at universities in ways that are compelling to both genders.  

I'm sick of watching the wrong debate being made by the wrong women.  

I want to see the right issues being spoken about by the women who lived them. 

Sadder days as a Community Manager

灯籠流し Lantern floatingImage by kamoda via Flickr

I've done Community Management for a long time. In the beginning (not to sound like a hipster) I was managing a community before companies were paying people to manage their online communities. My management style hasn't changed since day one.  My fundamental philosophy of Community Management is "Love your Community."  

 For 99.9999999% of all situations, this is the most rewarding part of Community Management is having community members that you're friends with, that you care about and can connect with.  Twice during my Community Management, I've experienced something that I'll hopefully not experience again. 

This week I've been remembering two young men that died much earlier than they should have.  They were both members of communities that I was managing and both times, I cried. Coworkers and friends couldn't understand why I cried over people who I only knew digitally.  I had problems putting it into words, I still do.

 I often wonder how other Community Managers deal with this issue?  Not just Community Managers, but anyone with a digital life.  How do you deal with the death of an online friend, some one who you shared a friendship with online but not in real life? Have you ever done anything for them in their memories?  

I'd really like to hear what you have to say!  Leave a comment or give me a shout out on twitter: @tia_marie

Opening new chapters

Nearly two years ago, I started on a roller coaster ride in startup land at  I became employee #7 (or so) of a small startup team comprised of four founders, a developer and a designer.  Even though I had worked in the startup world prior to JTV, nothing at those previous startups prepared me for the overwhelming passion, frustration, excitement and sadness of a startup company. 

At, the developers worked hard and were damned smart too.  That was exactly what I was looking for.  This may sound silly, but the thing that attracted me the most to wasn't the product and it wasn't the community, what attracted me was the raw talent in the dev team.  

It was a complete rush to work with developers that my friends admired and respected. To see challenges being met and new problems being solved by bright and eager minds.  My coworkers around me worked round the clock and part of it was the "make or break" environment of a startup, but most of it was their excitement for the challenge.  Hard problems were being tackled like scaling and cache invalidation.  I could honestly see the developers enjoying themselves taking on exciting projects and solving these hard problems.

I was completely enraptured with my job and quickly the community became quite endearing to me.  The most pleasing thing about my work at JTV was working and fostering a small community from nearly scratch.  The community left quite the impression upon me and I can only hope that I'm leaving something behind for them as well.

In the early days, one-to-one communication was easy.  There was a small community of frequent users and they were all quite friendly and open, I took on a team of wonderful volunteer admins (site moderators) who held a special passion for and a zeal to help make things better.  These admins taught me a lot and I'm certainly going to miss working with them.

I was very fortunate to have an early community of such dedicated users who were eager to help out where they could.  I never said thank you enough to them, but I always was exceptionally thankful for everything they did. I also found a group of very awesome gamers.  The gaming community is quite possibly my favourite online community ever.  

So I guess that means it's time to point out the elephant in the room.  I've started a new chapter in my life and closing my chapter.  I'm moving on and looking to find another community to love. 

I'm neither regretful nor saddened over this move, I honestly enjoyed my time at for all the good and bad.  I'm going to miss the community and my former colleagues at (some more than others).  I'm proud to have worked with some of the brightest developers I've ever met and I'm also proud that I'm leaving this company is far more knowledge than before I started.

Three years ago, I wouldn't have been able to tell you what a keyframe was or knew anything about audio/video equipment and especially nothing about cache invalidation, load balancing and flash video.  I learned pretty quickly how to get myself the tools I needed with minimal dev time.  My main goals were always trying to find solutions to my problems without having to take up a developer's time making some tool or feature for me.

So where do I want to go now?  

That's a pretty damned good question.  The romantic side of me wants to say "where ever the wind may carry me."  I came into community management from the corporate healthcare industry to follow a dream and I got that and it was nice for a while.  My dreams got bigger, more ambitious and less vague.  After working with the JTV gaming community, I got the gift of going to GDC and even E3 with a Press pass and hung out with G4tv.  I got to demo a game on opening day live for Electronic Arts and I did live coverage of Blizzcon on twitter, got interviewed on and I even got a crazy gamer tattoo on my arm. To put it lightly, I had a damned good time.   

I've made some friends who do work in the realm of video games and they couldn't be happier.  I know that's where I want to go.  My next dream is to work in the world of video games.  Nothing would make me happier than either fostering a gaming community or even being the community manager of a kick ass video game company

Armed with my Zelda tattoo, Xbox live achievement points and my geekery I swear this will happen. Somehow.  

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