I Ain’t Much for Book Learnin’

Ooh! Ooh! Our very first reader question!

Whitney in Minneapolis wrote:
“I’m a young female who just recently got into the world of social/interactive marketing. I must say I think I’ve found that one thing I could do for the rest of my life. I was wondering though, without there being a specific degree in this would it be better to go the journalism route, or the IT route? I have an AAS degree in music business already, but I’d like to get your point of view on this. I was also browsing your “Sites We Dig” section and noticed the Clockwork link goes to the Future Tense site, not sure if that was intentional or a misdirected link.”

Um, first of all, I totally fixed that link. Then I fired myself for being so stupid that I screwed up the link to the company I work for. Don’t tell my boss!

Second, I wouldn’t worry about the degree. I have a degree in Journalism, but that’s because when I was young and foolish I thought I wanted to be a copywriter and work at an ad agency. (Not to mention the fact that in those days they had a special tutorial on how to use this new thing called “email” so getting a degree related to computers that wasn’t computer science was impossible.) Even now, with technology as pervasive as it is, higher education hasn’t really caught up. So, as you’ve noticed, there’s not really a good degree program for people that want to work in Interactive. I mean, there is if you want to be a programmer or a designer (kind of) but there’s not a clear path if you’re like me and end up going into strategy/project management type stuff. And it sounds like you are on a similar path doing strategy and planning-type stuff along with content development.

In the past I considered doing a degree in human-computer interaction (when I was thinking about focusing my career more specifically on IA) but in retrospect I think I might have found that approach a bit dry. So, my advice to you would be to continue doing what you’re doing now which is gaining real experience working with clients, websites and social media. When it comes right down to it, a degree is nice but most people making hiring decisions in this industry are going to look at experience (either as a portfolio of sites you’ve worked on, or a successful employment history where you can demonstrate how your role on the project had a positive effect on its outcome).

I believe that to truly be successful in Interactive, you have to love it. You have to live it, breathe it, consume it, and create it. You have to enjoy doing it even before you start getting paid for it and most of what makes you good at it isn’t something you can learn from a book. I don’t think that’s necessarily true for other careers. (Accounting, for example.) But, the best Interactive people I have met — even programmers in many cases — are those who are largely self-taught. The ones who stay up late at night staring into a glowing monitor just for the love of the game. Because those same people are the ones who continue to learn and stay on top of what’s new long after dust has started collecting on the frame of their diploma. And in an industry that moves as fast as this, those are the people you want working next to you.