March 10, 2008
Ariel Meadow Stallings, blogger at Microsoft
ARIEL MEADOW STALLINGS
The job: "I never thought my silly Internet addictions would actually be useful," says freelance writer and author Ariel Meadow Stallings, who's kept a personal blog since 2000. But in the Microsoft job she's had for the past year, being Facebook-savvy isn't just useful -- it's essential. As a marketing manager on the software giant's staffing team, the Seattleite spends much of her time publishing "Microspotting", a blog profiling some of Microsoft's most notable employees, from a Peruvian rockstar to a technical editor known as That Goth Girl to the company's infamous mystery blogger Mini-Microsoft.
Q. Where did you work before Microsoft?
A. Most recently, I'd been laid off from a Web 2.0 dot-com startup, but before that I'd done editorial work for Movies.com and years and years of freelancing for Amazon.
I've been known to be fickle. I've spent most of the last 10 years as a career contractor, hopping from temporary copywriting gig to temporary copywriting gig, and spending almost as much time looking for work as I spent working. I guess it makes sense then that I'd end up in Staffing. It's just funny to be on the employer side of things after a decade on the candidate side.
Q. How did you get this job?
A. About a month after I'd been laid off from my startup job, I got an e-mail from a colleague who I'd met at a blog conference in 2006. She started the e-mail congratulating me for getting back to my freelance career, and then said, "Just in case you're interested, I heard about this job at Microsoft..."
I was going to stop reading right then. I wasn't looking for a full-time job, let alone a job at The 'Soft. In the late '90s, I'd worked a contract gig at Microsoft, [doing] content editing, and it was such a bad fit that I was fired after two weeks and literally escorted out of the building.
But then I noticed the job was part-time -- and permanent. That hit a special and rare sweet spot for me, as I'd have the benefits of a permanent gig (Helloooo, health insurance!) but still have time to work on all my freelance projects. I wouldn't have considered the job if it had been a 40-hour-a-week position.
Q. So what's your Microsoft work schedule?
A. I work Tuesday through Thursday, 9 to 5:30. I tend to be pretty good about completely unplugging from my work e-mail on my days off, although I do sometimes check my blog comments and Web traffic statistics.
Diary of a blogger:
"You really have to be an evangelist. Bloggers are often cutting-edge in their thinking about marketing and social media tools, and while big corporations definitely understand the value of blogging, they don't always quite get the nuances of how it works, why it works, what's involved, etcetera. It's up to you to be constantly educating and explaining and evangelizing what you do, how you do it and why it matters."
Q. What does a week in the life of Ariel at Microsoft look like?
A. I try to get a new [employee] profile up every week or two on Microspotting, so there's a fair amount of behind-the-scenes researching and networking that goes on. I'm obsessed with conveying the diversity of Microsoft in my profiles, so I do a lot of mulling over whether I've already profiled too many white-dude testers vs. female Indian developers vs. older gay Inuit program managers. I want the stories to stand on their own as interesting and noteworthy, even without the marketing angle.
Once I've got a person I know I want to profile, I meet with them to record an interview and take a few photos. That's actually been a surprisingly fun part of this job -- somehow I've become a corporate photographer. But I try to take unexpected shots of people having fun and being themselves. I'm not into the stuffy head shots.
Like any journalist, there's transcribing and writing up the interview, and then pushing it live on the Web site. I also manage promoting the site -- mostly using social media sites like YouTube and the photo site Flickr and the bookmarking site Digg. And I'm managing the development of a Facebook application for my team and helping with the Workin' it @ MSFT fan page.
Q. Did the company dream up "Microspotting" or did you?
A. I was hired to crank out content -- getting it into blog format was my idea. Having blogged for so long, I'm big on getting content out into the world as quickly as possible. It was frustrating for me not to be able to see something, write about it, and instantly share it. A blog seemed like the quickest way to get my information out there, with the least amount of friction from anyone else. Plus, I know best how to market blogs, so it was a natural fit.
Q. What's the rationale behind Microspotting featuring non-Microsoft tools?
A. I'm a Web 2.0 geek, and I just don't buy into the idea that working at Microsoft means being a flunky. I'm bi-platform in almost every way -- I have a PC and I have a Mac. I use Office and I use Gmail. I'm on the instant messaging tools MSN messenger and AIM. "Microspotting" is the same way for me: I write my posts in Word 2007, then copy and paste them into the blog platform WordPress. I edit videos with Windows Movie Maker and post them on YouTube.
There was definitely some concern about this internally. But I checked in with a crew of trusted Microsoft blog folks, and the general consensus seemed to be that the era of "You work at Microsoft -- you must only use Microsoft tools!" is over. Personally, I think the best way to keep track of developments in the industry is to use all the newest tools -- and that includes competitors' stuff.
Q. What are some of your favorite blogs, inside or outside Microsoft?
A. In terms of Microsoft blogs, I like JobsBlog, Mini-Microsoft and Megan Wallent. Don't even get me started on blogs outside of Microsoft!
Q. What advice can you give hopeful corporate bloggers?
A. Just blog! And then blog more! And read blogs! And blog more! Blogging for yourself is the best training you can do -- especially if you get into the metrics, like your Web stats. Granted, it's not easy work (there's nothing sadder than an abandoned blog that hasn't been updated for 18 months), but the payoffs are remarkable. You'll show up higher in search engines, get questions/comments from people you didn't know were looking at your Web site and have the opportunity to impress your prospective employers with your latest thoughts.
You also can't just be a writer. Even though modern blog tools make it easy to get by without much design knowledge, having a basic understanding of HTML and how the Web works will go a long way in making things better.
Freelance writer Michelle Goodman is the author of The Anti 9-to-5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube. She lives in Seattle, where she works from a spare bedroom with her dog Buddy at her feet.
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