The Digital View of Making It

“Making it” can take on many meanings. To some it can be as simple as having a job in a field of their choice. To others, rising to the top of the field of their choice would be making it.  Another variation would be attaining a certain position in that field.

Acclaim may play a role, yet others are happy to operate behind the scenes. Digital operations and activity offers both of these roles and a multitude of other jobs spanning the distance between the highest profile and the least known.

An extremely accomplished friend, known in certain circles for his historic work in the development of the Internet in its early days and many projects since, recently sent an email to a group of his friends and colleagues.  It announced his retirement from his day-to-day position in a five-years-in-development startup company, and his plans to pursue projects that interest him, engage his curiosity, the sort of things that, “no investor or employer would sensibly fund.” He would remain available (“deeply engaged”) to his current firm that he’d helped found. He noted that, “we’ve invented a heck of a great technology base, but the primary task of the enterprise has shifted away from invention to building and evolving.”  Then came what struck me as a key phrase, perhaps giving insight into the sort of person he is:

Those of you who have known me in other companies know that my work usually precedes public disclosure.

This was his way of acknowledging that while he was leaving day-to-day operations, his phase, his critical contribution, was early invention and development. Productizing and roll outs of releases will occur, much of which will bear the fruits of his labors.  But the key point here is that his major efforts are completed.

This is a man who has made it.  Made it in many ways, has some degree of renown, and yet with this email sent around to his friends, he was modest and seeking respect for privacy, as he gave his new email address with a career and life change update.

The BBC launched Make It Digital in 2015, a program designed to shine a light on the world of digital in a major UK-wide initiative to inspire a new generation to get creative with coding, programming, and digital technology.  According to the BBC Make It Digital website, the UK faces a significant skills shortage with 1.4 million digital professionals needed by the year 2020.  The BBC partnered with over 25 organizations at the start of the project to create a small programmable device, the BBC Micro Bit, a mini computer.  Throughout the UK, 11 year-old children were given Micro Bits and were taught basic coding and programming skills. The plan is to help foster “Digital Visionaries.” Working with Microsoft, Samsung, Acorn Computers, BT, Google and others, the goal is to distribute a million BBC Micro Bits.  And then to renew the project and distribute a million more.

If only a small percentage of that first million become Digital Visionaries, the Make It Digital project will have made it.  Plus a generation of UK kids will be digitally fluent and computer savvy.

How one measures “making it” is a curious topic.  Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak created the first Apple computer, and shortly thereafter had a vastly popular and successful machine, selling and getting rave reviews.  Had they “made it” or was there more to do?  Obviously they felt there was more to do.  Bigger, better, more intricate and advanced models came about. Faster, more capable, and of greater capacity and usability for Apple computer users was delivered with each new model. 

In the digital world there are endless new possibilities.  Ubiquitous connectivity coupled with increased computing power and the widespread presence of devices has brought about social, cultural and lifestyle changes.  And with that digital discovery occurs often by accident as opposed to by design. 

Flickr, the original popular online photo-sharing service -there were others, but Flickr shot to popularity unlike and above all the rest- was created by accident.  In 2003 the team was working on an MMO game (Massive Multiplayer Online Game), an aspect of which included uploading images.  The beta-stage players were making great use of the upload and image sharing utility.  So much so that it became more popular and more of a focus among the players/users than the game.  This accident of fate created a great success.  By 2004 Flickr evolved into an entity of its own.  Two years into the operation of Flickr it was acquired by Yahoo for over $20 million dollars.  To some, that would indeed be making it.

But there’s more! Stewart Butterfield, one of founders and creators of Flickr, after working at Yahoo on Flickr for a few years, transitioned out of the company.  And then he returned to his roots, creating a game. The team building it was split between San Francisco and Vancouver.  The game didn’t take off, but the team had developed an excellent digital communications system between the two locations.  Butterfield and his crew wanted to keep using the system. They launched it as its own company, now known as Slack.  Slack is in use by hundreds, perhaps thousands, of companies as a digital communications system.  It’s valued at $5 Billion dollars.

That would qualify as making it.

And yet to some the simple act of learning how to use a smartphone is their version of making it in the digital world.  All things being relative, making it can take many forms.

Dean Landsman is a NYC-based Digital Strategist who writes a monthly column for PR for People “The Connector.”








Dean Landsman

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