How to Quit Your Day Job & Become a Professional Tech Blogger

62 Comments 07.10.10

I’m looking over about 100 applications for an evening news writing gig over at ReadWriteWeb and thought I’d share some thoughts about the process.

If I wanted to be a pro tech blogger, here’s what I’d do. Heck, here’s what I did.

The short version of this story is: blog awesomely like a pro news blogger would, and the opportunities are out there for you to become a pro news blogger.

Not so long ago, I was working at a convenience store, selling candy, soda, beer and lottery tickets. I had just graduated with an undergrad degree in political science and I discovered the world of blogging, RSS, etc. in the last few months I was in school. My plan was to do consulting for nonprofit organizations about how to use these new tools for research and promotion, but I had to pay the bills – thus the convenience store gig. Maybe you have a better job than that now – but I still think this is good advice.

I started a blog and wrote about the things I was learning. Here’s the first post I ever wrote. I broke the post-page template one day and decided to move off Blogger, but here’s my first month’s archives if you’re curious.

I read other tech blogs, posted the smartest comments I could and linked to their posts in my posts. Then I went to an industry event and met some people. Barb Dybwad and Marnie Webb, now at Mashable and Netsquared, were the two people I connected with best at that very first event. We all knew each other from blogs and comments already. (Remind me to tell you the story sometime about that trip to SF. It involves an alarm clock, hitchhiking several rides through a rainstorm, a missed flight and a race to see danah boyd for the first time.)

In blogging I tried to add unique value to conversations and I tried to do a good job at important little projects I started. Both Barb and Marnie ended up hiring me to write for them at Netsquared and at AOL’s Social Software Weblog, within just a few months of our having met face to face. Once I had both those gigs, I quit the day job at the convenience store.

The months between were filled with early morning and late night learning, hard work and hustle. My mother-in-law now says she thought I was crazy, waking up so early in the morning to blog, but she agrees that it worked out pretty well.

Once I got those two jobs, the Social Software Weblog one was where I had the best opportunity for visibility in the larger tech blogging world. The pay there was miserable, it was something like $4 or $5 per post, I don’t remember. I worked that job as hard as I could, though, writing 3 to 5 posts a day. I also had another job writing as a subcontractor for an international currency speculation blog, writing 6 posts about currency speculation every weekday before 9am PST. That was nuts. So I was writing about 10 posts a day, of various lengths and about different topics, at three different places.

I tried to always improve my work while I was doing that. One of the things I learned would give me an important advantage was subscribing to the RSS feeds of key company blogs (Google, YouTube, Technorati back then) by instant messaging and SMS. I used a service called Zaptxt. That way whenever a big company blog would update, I’d get a link sent to me within about 15 minutes. That meant I could write it up before anyone else, as I don’t think many if any competitors were using such a system. (Most everyone among top tech news bloggers does today, I think.)

One day Michael Arrington from TechCrunch called me up and said “you keep beating me to news stories – I want you to come write for me.” It was a very, very small operation at that time. I think I was the first paid writer there. It was awesome and I learned a whole lot. It was a very competitive place.

Now I’m co-editor of the smaller but more tech/less business focused, more thoughtful, sweeter-smelling and more modest blog ReadWriteWeb and I’m looking to hire a killer evening news writer.

Figure out some tricks. Write some blog posts that get attention (in a good way). Leave comments on ReadWriteWeb that make us say “wow, that’s one smart cookie right there.” @ me on Twitter. Be a part of our community.

Break some news. Do some great writing. Show us what you’ve got and make sure we see it out there on the web.

Some people are doing that, to some degree. But the web is making publishing easier by far than it’s ever been in history. Trackbacks, replies and other social media mechanisms make developing connections with people easier than ever.

Tech news blogging is one of the most awesome jobs in the world. It doesn’t pay fabulously when you first start, but seize opportunity by the horns on a very regular basis and there’s plenty of opportunity for advancement. I bought a beautiful house in Portland, Oregon last year. I know that I have been able to do this in large part because I was raised white, male, middle class and heterosexual – I was raised to believe I could make something of myself, that I am at core (original sin notwithstanding, thanks) good and right. Not every one has that privilege.

If you are fortunate enough to be a fast thinker, a good writer, have low cost of living expenses and some free hours each day to strike out into a new adventure – then opportunity is right there waiting for you. Just reach out and grab it. I know you’re out there – lots of you.


I want to make sure you know about NTEN - the Nonprofit Technology Network.

NTEN helps nonprofits learn to use the web effectively.

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  • http://plexusengine.com/ Marshall Kirkpatrick

    I think you’ve misunderstood my point.

  • http://www.caseycamilleri.com/ Casey Camilleri

    That’s great advice. I’ve read a lot of blogs but I never thought to start one myself until I learned SEO. I recommend anyone who is interested in starting a blog to learn the basics of SEO as well.

  • http://www.facebook.com/patrick.pitoniak Patrick Pitoniak

    Your story was inspiring for me. Like yourself, I graduated from college and now have a less-than-ideal job (receptionist). I started my own blog about a month ago on Blogger. I talk A LOT about Apple, but also Microsoft, Google, etc. I almost hooked a job working for the Apple Store in Boston over the summer, but after two interviews, they “went in a different direction.” I will taje your advice and see what the future holds for me! technbaseball.blogspot.com

  • Jroc869, Cool story bro

    I thnk you missed his point by a country mile. It sounded to me like he recognizes how lucky he was to be born into the situation that he was. Maybe “White America” has an easier path from point A to B, but the great thing about this country is no matter what, we all have the chance to get to point B.

  • http://christianokwena.wordpress.com/ christiano kwena

    I thought the rss update trick was new; so, you had it seven years ago. I will keep learning, and BTW thanks a few for the inspiration.

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  • Stevengaius

    Hey Marshall,

    I’m currently doing a tech blog for fun as I look for work, it’s stegadget.blogspot.com if you’re interested. I have been focusing on doing quick, first impression style reviews of apps on iOS. Do you think that I should focus on doing longer, more complete reviews?

    Any reply would be much appreciated!

    Steven

  • Vasile Mironeasa

    Thanks Kirkpatrick ! You have a good idea but no everybody understand what do you mean or understand and have some other idea about yours . For instence I like to advertising but not for me , for others ! That I recomand to visit : http://www.celebri.org .

    My respect to you !

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  • Dev Sheth

    I understand your sentiment about being lucky in your upbringing, but I agree with Edward that it adds no substance here.

    As far as aspiring to write is concerned, tech blogging is intense. There are so many blogs out there, and RSS is not quite new anymore. I actually hang around on twitter, monitoring the twitter streams of the major tech news blogs (Mashable, TheNextWeb, AllThingsDigital, CNET, Verge) and as soon as any of them posts something big, I check it out, and after reading it as quick as I can, I blog about it, linking to the original story. I first verify it on google news if possible.

    I try to limit myself to stories of great consequence when blogging about news, bcz I don’t want to spam my feeds with links to the same story on all my social profiles

  • http://www.proweb365.com/ Minneapolis Web Design

    Just got an old post..but it is really informative.