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What we told current Journalism majors about working at startups.

by Scott Kubie in , 5 October 2011

If you enjoy this article, say hello on Twitter. Find Scott at @scottrocketship and Amanda at @amandamorrow.

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Amanda and I spoke to a web design class of mostly junior and senior Journalism students at Drake University this past Monday. To the best of my recollection, this is what we told them:

  1. If you want a cool job working with cool people, you have to make things. You will not network or interview your way into this job. You have to put yourself out there and do cool things. Blog. Make videos. Organize people. Start a business. Ship product.
  2. Projects undertaken with agency are worth 100x as much as projects where you were just a cog in someone else’s machine. Nobody cares how big or cool the company you interned at is if you didn’t actually do anything interesting there.
  3. Curiosity pays off in spades. Join new social networks. Try out apps. The Internet is easy to explore — take advantage of it.
  4. Blogging is changing fast. Lone-wolf, article-style blogging is being replaced by more interesting platforms like Instagram and Google+. Embrace it.
  5. There’s a startup out there for every interest. Pursue your passions. Add technology where you can.
  6. Read up on content strategy and user experience (for starters). There are whole jobs, whole fields, whole industries that they’re probably not telling you about in school.
  7. You have to understand how the Internet works in a deep and complete way. You don’t have to know how to develop an API, but you have to know what one is and why they’re important. Go from there and keep learning.
  8. Nobody (who matters) cares about your GPA.
  9. Nobody (who matters) cares about your degree or certifications.
  10. It’s okay to be a beginner. Don’t pretend more skill or knowledge than you have. You won’t learn anything that way.
  11. If you like print design, learn digital. It won’t bite. (Psst…if you’re in Des Moines, start here.)
  12. Job security at big corporations is bullshit. You will probably get laid off. If you get a job at a big media conglomerate you’re probably replacing someone that just got laid off.
  13. Take classes like statistics, accounting, and economics. Understanding, processing, visualizing and communicating about data is increasingly important.
  14. Expect to change jobs a lot. Expect contract work. Expect to spend time freelancing.
  15. Always have health insurance. Always. (But don’t use it as an excuse to stay in a shitty job…lay off the DVD’s and dining out and buy it yourself.)
  16. Trying to be someone you’re not is a dangerous waste of time. Don’t fear self-improvement, but don’t try and be someone you’re not. AKA: Keep the mohawk.
  17. Hire professionals. If you’re freelancing or starting a business, lawyer up and get an accountant. If you’re not, get an accountant anyway.
  18. The greater startup ecosystem is incredibly permeable. Go to events. Start events. Speak at events. Listen to podcasts. Comment on blogs. Start a blog. Be connected. It’s not hard, but it does take work.
  19. Internet people are, on the whole, really nice, really normal, and really down to Earth. They are also easy to flatter. Say hello and tell them you like their work. Write them. Subscribe to their blog. Follow them on Twitter. Ask if you can crash at a desk at their office for a day. If you’re genuinely interested in what they do and let them know, they’ll likely surprise you with their kindness and generosity.
  20. Don’t worry too much about networking events. Do build a network.
  21. Write every day.
  22. It never hurts to learn something new. Ever.
  23. Hit publish (or update, or upload, or share) even if you think it sucks. It won’t get better if you don’t show it to other people.

Background Info and a Dozen or so Caveats

We didn’t record the presentation or use notes, but I was able to recall quite a bit. Amanda and I both went through communications programs focused primarily on traditional media. I majored in radio and tv production. She majored in PR, communications, and design.

To create the above list, I stole the smart things Amanda said, mixed them with my own thoughts, and wrapped them up into a self-reflective manifesto I wish someone had delivered to me when I was sitting in that same class five or six years ago. Take it with a grain of salt — all advice is autobiographical, after all. Much of this advice is definitely me talking to myself in the past. I don’t know if I would have listened, but there it is anyway.

Our presentation was premised on encouraging the students to pursue what they’re already interested in and the talents they likely already identify with such as writing, editing, and multimedia production.

The Reaction

People seemed to like what we had to say, and many of them were kind enough to tell us as much.


Tinkering Goes a Long Way

Yay Future!

I'll get my health insurance now.

Scott Kubie

About the author: Scott is BitMethod’s “Chief Nerd Translator”, filling project management and copywriting roles on most projects. He is passionate about media and has worked in radio, film and event planning. When he grows up he wants to be a Ghostbuster.

Reach out to Scott Kubie at scott@bitmethod.com

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