Edit: Moving this to the front page because there's some fun comment action.
I get asked quite a bit how I got into this job and how it is working in online sports media -- new media, if you will. The short answer is I don't know. The longer answer is a bit of luck mixed with a lot of hard work.
For those that don't know, CougCenter is not my full-time job -- at least not technically. None of us do this full-time, though I'm the closest thing to an around-the-clock contributor. CougCenter is part of my job because I work for its parent company, SB Nation.
But it was never supposed to be like this. And since I keep meaning to write down how I got into this business, I figured I'd throw it up as a FanPost with a question at the end.
This is written in the same vein as Bomani Jones' post about his wild career path. It's something I've had bookmarked forever and open just about every month as a reminder about what it takes to succeed. I also get to work with Bo now, which is a great perk of the job.
Warning: This is a long piece. It might seem a bit navel-gazey, but whatever. I've been meaning to chronicle this all because it's been such a weird path.
I went to school at Washington State for computer science -- the only thing I'd considered doing from about my senior year in high school. I took a computer science class at Green River, excelled at it and was hooked. No, I didn't get in because I liked video games and thought it'd be cool to make them -- those people typically drop CS with the quickness.
I spent my life in Sloan, trudging into the same classrooms and staring at computers for hours on end. Plenty of long nights were spent writing code and errors in logic and syntax to make everything work. Coding is an up-all-night business, and not in a good way.
Five years later, I had a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science ... and no idea what in the world to do. I could write code and make programs just fine, but I found myself with nothing to do. And that's when I started messing around on CougCenter.
I knew SB Nation from Lookout Landing -- a gateway blog for me. I'd been reading since before SB Nation was SB Nation and one day realized there was a Washington State blog. So I read and commented and became part of the community. Mind you, this was after sitting around, unable to find a job for about a year. I was starting to panic.
Around the 2010 NCAA Tournament, I got an email from Jeff saying they wanted me to partake in a test run. A week later, after bombarding the FanPosts, I was a writer.
I had no idea how to write, mind you. The last time I wrote at length was probably my freshman year of college in one of those Gen Ed classes we all had to take. The rest of my time was spent speaking in code fragments and incomplete sentences. But I did have to lean heavily on logic, because that's all computer science really is at its basic level. That knowledge plays a big part in my writing and editorial process, and always will.
From then on, I wrote, and wrote, and wrote some more. Every day I was writing something. The only way to get better was by doing, right? I was writing long emails to Jeff trying to flesh out ideas and posts at CougCenter, doing anything to improve and polish what little I knew. It was a crash course in writing, and Jeff was the teacher -- he still is, in fact.
Around August, SB Nation Seattle -- one of 21 new regional sites -- had a change at the editor position. Ben Golliver, one of the managers at Blazers Edge, took over and brought Jeff on as a columnist. Jeff then suggested I come over and help with the news. About the first week in September, it fell into place and I was writing about all Seattle sports.
Oh, and somehow Jeff convinced WSU to credential me for football on a game-by-game basis. Here I was, just getting started as a writer, covering WSU football. Bill Stevens, the SID at WSU, was incredibly accommodating and always has been. He let me wander into the press box, where I quietly sat in the back, wondering what the hell I was doing.
Since I had no idea, I just paid attention to what Vince Grippi was doing. I introduced myself awkwardly, and eventually it got to the point where we'd spend entire practices talking about football and life. And along the way I learned invaluable lessons about journalism.
Meanwhile, over at SBN Seattle, I was having some of the most fun I've had in this line of work. Ben and I would sit at computers for 16 hours a day -- he in Portland, I in Seattle -- and write about the news. We'd go back on forth on GChat, BS about life and write stories at a break-neck pace. We were good at what we did, and people started to notice.
And then Ben left for CBS. He left me in a good spot, and I took over as editor. Now I was getting some cash to write and had my own playground. At the same time, SBNation.com was looking for a night editor -- a West Coast guy to work the late shift. A couple phone calls later, I was that guy, and I was getting paid more to write about sports.
From 7-10 p.m., four nights a week, I was running SBNation.com. It was like being thrown into the fire, and once again I was learning on the job. Every morning I'd get "love notes" from our Senior Editor, Chris Mottram, with tips, tricks and things I messed up. They served as an incredibly valuable learning experience and forced me to tighten things up while instilling a greater attention to detail. I messed up quite a few things in the beginning, but at least I never broke the site.
Oh, and I still had no idea what I was doing, but I was figuring it out along the way. CougCenter was growing, SB Nation Seattle was growing and SBNation.com was growing -- and all still are growing at a rapid rate today.
In December, Jason Kirk, Holly Anderson and I spent hours upon hours upon hours obsessing over a college football bowl spreadsheet. We lived and breathed the coverage plan over the course of a month, hitting every angle for every bowl -- from that crappy early December bowl to the BCS Championship. I still have spreadsheet nightmares, but the spreadsheet almost became like a proving ground. It was, essentially, a proving ground, and we kicked ass at it.
Time passed and SBN Seattle continued to grow, as did my own responsibilities. Around May of last year, I was offered a full-time position with SB Nation. I started on July 1, 2011.
Now I was a full-time writer. Not only a writer, though, but an editor, a manager and a whole bunch of others things. Three of us oversee everything on SBNation.com and are responsible for the day-to-day operations of the site and its hubs.
Part of the job is working with an incredibly talented staff of writers. Spencer Hall can tell a story like nobody's business. Jon Bois is one of the funniest writers I've come across. Andrew Sharp and Bomani Jones have an amazing ability to make readers think, and both are supremely talented writers. I never thought I'd be working with Rob Neyer and Amy K. Nelson, both of whom came over from ESPN, or Dan Rubenstein, one of my favorite college football guys and part of the Solid Verbal team.
I've also been able to interact with the people you don't see, from the executive level to those that plan and create the tech tools we use in editorial work and beyond. Some of my favorite times have been spent talking cycling with Tyler Bleszinski, the man that started this whole network of blogs you see in front of you, in the middle of the night. From the feature writers to the sport editors to those who hammer out the news and those that work behind-the-scenes, it's an incredible operation to see.
In short, I stumbled into the career path I now have and, with a bit of hardwork and luck, am able to watch sports and work from home in an online environment for a living. And along the way, many talented people offered tips, words of advice and straight-up taught me how to do things -- all of which went into a knowledge base I draw upon daily.
If you're looking to get into online media -- specifically the sports sector -- start by writing. A lot. I write every single day to stay sharp. And when I'm not writing, I'm thinking about angles, trying to find something different and interesting in each story.
Working from home and getting paid to watch sports seems fun and easy, but I can assure you it's much more difficult than you may realize. Everyone at SB Nation grinds, working long hours to produce thoughtful features, news updates and stories. That means writing until 3 a.m., waking up in the morning and doing it all over again.
And I wouldn't change it for anything.
So now the question: How did you find your way into the career you have? Did it come right away? Did you have to switch jobs and even focuses to figure out where you wanted to be?
If you're a student, what do you want to be when you grow up, and how are you going to get there?