It has been nearly four weeks since I last posted here. That is easily the longest drought for me on HawkBlogger.com in years. I love the offseason. It is when I can take my time to do deep and unique analysis that the regular season pace makes more challenging. The site actually had a record-setting traffic month after the Seahawks lost the Super Bowl. Walking away from that was tough, but I have another love that also happens to pay the bills, and it needed all my attention. Many of you have asked what I do for a living and how in the world I write this blog and hold a full-time job. Here is where I reveal all, and introduce you to a new app that can make any blogger look like a star.
The phone rang. It was my senior year of college, and I was helping the students on my floor check out of their dorm rooms for the Summer. I was a resident assistant, and this would be my last few days at American University. The person on the other end was a recruiter at Adobe Systems who wanted to do a phone interview with me for a Tech Support job in Seattle. I panicked. The timing was all off, and I really wanted this job. She agreed to call me back in a half-hour.
I was super cool in college
I ran down to the computer lab and started exploring every menu of every Adobe product that was installed. This was considered quality prep by me back in the day. I returned to my room just as the phone rang again. She began to ask me questions about Photoshop:
“How would you change the color mode of an image from RGB to CMYK?”
My answer was somewhere between, “Uhhhhhhh” and “Is that English?” I failed the Photoshop quiz miserably. That was the product I thought I knew best. She asked if I knew anything about PageMaker. I did, but only because I majored in Print Journalism and had used a product called Quark in my High School newspaper class. I had barely opened PageMaker, but somehow, someway, she asked me questions that I correctly answered. It was enough to get me in for an in-person interview, and nobody was going to turn me away once they saw how bad I wanted this job. That was 1997.
June 1st will mark my 18th year at Adobe. I started in tech support and moved onto quality engineering, then development, then program management, then mergers and acquisitions, and then product management. I have been lucky enough to see our business and our customers from a variety of different perspectives and both worked for, and managed, some amazing people. Opportunity was always available, but my love of sports did not mix well with geeky tech culture. Nobody wanted to talk about the Seahawks. That was macho jock stuff. Tech folks, especially at a company that builds products that enable graphic designers, video editors, and illustrators, prefer to talk about what they read in the New York Times or SCRUM training.
A new beginning
Ten years after I started working at Adobe, I started this blog. It was my outlet to obsess over the team I loved above all others. Nobody read it. Well, two people read it. There was a local mom and a guy up in Alaska. And quite honestly, that was plenty for me. Just the chance to have a little community of Seahawks fans who would read my rantings and talk with me about the games was a huge release.
It rolled along like that for a couple of years, and then Twitter happened. I did not really embrace it at first, but by 2010, I realized the community I had been looking for was readily available to talk with at any time up there. Real-time chatting about the Seahawks with passionate fans? Count me in.
I do not remember the exact formula to how it sparked growth in my blog, but I know it was the absolute key to everything. What had been two readers turned into thousands, then tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands. It was humbling, exciting, and a bit overwhelming.
Back in those days, nobody knew my name. I was Hawk Blogger. I tweeted between meetings at work, and I felt like I was cheating. I also did not want to mix my crazy sports persona with my professional one. People at work would be shocked at how I behave at a Seahawks game, and people who know my Seahawks obsession would be shocked to see how little it comes up in my daily life. The popularity of the site and my Twitter account made anonymity increasingly unrealistic.
The things I say about this guy are not work friendly
A few people at work started to figure it out. “Are you Hawk Blogger?” Oh gosh. “Yeah.” Then people started to recognize me during pregame when I was tweeting from Fuel or Hawk’s Nest or wherever there were nachos and Red Bull cocktails available. I came out of the blogger closet, and the inevitable whispers started.
“How is he doing all that blogging and getting any real work done?”
“Is that Brian on sports radio during work hours?”
As much as I hated the insinuation, it was understandable. And the truth of how I do it will never fully satisfy those folks.
Stretch the day
My day starts anywhere between 4 and 6AM. I read the sports page, and then sit at my computer and write a blog post. Sometimes I have already done the research for what I will write. Sometimes I just sit down and write about what is on my mind. At no time do I plan out an editorial schedule. Many of you have also noticed that I never proofread my work. Time is tight. Some days I write another post when I get home, and I often write multiple posts on weekend days. My goal is to extract the thoughts in my head into some sensible written form that people can read and discuss.
A great writer once told me you know your job was done well when you feel like a part of you was left on the page.
That is often true for me. I rarely have the time anymore to engage in the discussions that follow my posts. The satisfaction comes from expelling the topic from my brain and in knowing that people have deemed it worthy of their time to read. Whether people agree with it, like it, or like me is far less motivating or interesting.
I also have a family. Two boys and a foster daughter who just joined our household last year. My youngest son has special needs and is a handful. There are soccer games and basketball games and homework like every other home. The family jokes that I am always in my office, and they are right, but we spend a lot of time together as well. If there a place in my life that truly gets the short shrift, it is yard work and house work. You will not find me trimming hedges or patching holes in our drywall.
I still tweet during the days, and even during some meetings. I also email during some meetings, Slack with my team during meetings, and do work during meetings. I will be the most engaged and active participant in a meeting that is worth the time, but people who work in corporate environments know the ratio of productive time in meetings to wasteful time is a bit insane. Meetings are often the refuge of those who measure their value in visibility instead of accomplishment.
It is a big reason why I have resisted moving farther up in the company. At some point, you lose touch with tangible work and are just in a never-ending stream of meetings. I love building things with teams of passionate people. You know you are on a great project when important conversations happen without reserving time on a calendar. Walk up to someone’s desk and talk. Pick up the phone and talk. Jump in a Google Hangout and talk. I had reached a point two years ago where I thought I needed to leave Adobe to find another project like that. That is when my two worlds collided in a way I could have never dreamed possible.
A few days before I was planning to accept an offer to work at another software company, I pitched an idea to friend at Adobe who happens to be a VP. I told him about my experiences as a blogger. The things I have seen, the people I have met, the places I have been, just because I started writing a blog about the Seahawks still astounds me. If you had told me back in 2007 that I would get a chance to ride on a team plane, stand on the field, get to know players and coaches and front office members, and stand a few yards aways as the team won its first Super Bowl, I would never have believed it.
I knew that the content I was creating was as good as any Seahawks content on the web. Readers vote with their time. You can build the most beautiful web site in the world, but if the content stinks, nobody will read it. My problem was that my site never grew along with me. I don’t know how to pick the right fonts or font sizes. I definitely don’t know how to design, and now the vast majority of my readers are on phones and my site looks terrible there. I see the great innovations happening around the web in how people are telling stories, but they have teams of designers and developers crafting each article.
What I came to realize is that great content is being obscured by poor design. It is definitely not the only thing separating a small independent blog from an established magazine, but it was a problem I thought was going unnoticed. My VP friend showed me a project a small team had been noodling on for a year that could be useful to bloggers.
The technology was cool. It was beautiful. It was adaptive to different devices and screens. It turned words and images into glossy magazine articles. It was an easy decision to join the team. That was two years ago. We toiled away, finding the imperfections and shaping a product that anybody could use. This was going to be different than the professional tools most people associate with Adobe. We wanted students, grandparents, and everyone in-between to be able to create stories like this. Anybody who has something important to say should be able to say it a way that looks beautiful and gets the attention of the audience they care about, whether that is one person like a spouse or a teacher, or many people, like your followers on Twitter or Facebook.
Adobe Slate is born
Last Thursday, we released the app for the iPad. It was a thrilling moment, and one made more gratifying when Apple named it Editor’s Choice.
Slate is available on the iPad
What has been most rewarding is seeing the amazing things people are creating. We imagined young students creating class reports, small businesses creating brochures and newsletters, people with photos turning them into cool stories. All that is happening and more. Here are few of my early favorites:
School report created by a 14-year-old (click to open)
Artist road trip with great photos and paintings
Mother and daughter trip to the Oregon Coast
If you want to give it a whirl, you can find it in the iPad app store, or you can go here to see the product in action. It has been all-consuming getting to this point, and it simply was not possible to keep up the blog along the way.
This post is my way of saying thanks for your patience, and thanks for all you have done to help me realize my Seahawks, writing and professional dreams. Life is amazing.