Like most people, I fell into SEO by complete accident. I never planned on doing anything even slightly related. I’d never heard of search optimization or pondered how search engines curated results. Now, however, I’ll never be able to look at the internet the same way again. I almost miss the the blind ignorance I had of thinking search result were completely natural.
That was about 7 years ago. Recently, I’ve accepted a Director of Marketing position at a startup in Austin. The company was a client I’d been working with since the beginnings of their launch and it took off. Within just a few months the company went from a staff of 2-3 to 30-40. As much as I’d love to claim this was solely due to my valiant marketing efforts :) it’s much more than that. They found a product people love. This sparked a newfound enjoyment for me. I found myself spending more time working on this one client than anyone else, so when an offer was made, the decision was easy.
This may seem like a standard job move for anyone else advancing in their career, but to me it meant a lot more than just a good opportunity.
I wasn’t dealt the best hand growing up. My childhood was spent in Newark, NJ where we lived in the basements and attics of family’s houses; My mother was mentally ill; my early teens were spent traveling with my dad who was running from law enforcement; and my high school years were spent in a low population
redneck “old fashioned” town in the middle of West Virginia (This was right around 9/11 and I’m a short middle eastern guy). I would never take anything back and I have no regrets, but it made life difficult to say the least. I don’t think I lived in one place for more than a year or two until the age of 14.
I spent most of my teen years at home working on computers and playing the banjo (I mean come on, I was still in West Virginia). Then when I turned 17 and finished school, I did what I was used to and moved. I went to college in Pittsburgh for a while, but it just wasn’t for me. My father who worked hard for his degree, disowned me (we’re fine now). Ultimately, I spent the next several years moving to a new city about every 3-6 months. I slept in my car, stair wells, and the couches of kind strangers. I worked whatever job I could find: I sold art, I was a bartender, I did design work, I cleaned rugs, I repaired computers, I sold fruit, I set up music shows, I dug ditches, anything. I had no long term plan. I just wanted to aimlessly wander around with my backpack, my dog, and my banjo.
(me back then)
I got good at meeting people from moving around so much, so I was always able to get by and make friendships quickly.
About 4 years later I was working a construction job and while I was out of town, my foreman quit unexpectedly. This meant I no longer had a job, so I decided to just stay in the town I was visiting; Greensboro, NC. This is where I met Jay Young and Julie Joyce.
Jay has spoken at several conferences and Julie frequently writes on Search Engine Land and other popular SEO blogs. I first met Jay at a neighborhood pub where we both brought our dogs. both dogs enjoyed playing together, which naturally led to us conversing. We began discussing tech and computers and eventually he mentioned he was starting an SEO company, Link Fish Media. This is the first time I’d ever heard of SEO and I was instantly intrigued.
Soon after, I started working with them as a link builder. I was one of the first hires, so there wasn’t much training to be had. I had to do a lot of research on my own and the more I learned, the more fascinated I became. I spent long nights just reading about search marketing and learning how to maintain a website. I started working on my own projects and tests. Anything I could do to learn more, I did. I found something I was good at and something I really enjoyed.
I also loved the people in the industry. It sounds a little embarrassing now, but anytime I heard an SEO was coming to visit, I would get overly excited. I think the first two I’d ever met were Tony Spencer and Rob Kerry. Something about the industry just seemed to spit out amazing people and I saw a uniqueness in the SEO community that I never found anywhere else.
All of this was overwhelming and exciting for me. I hadn’t found something I was passionate about since I was a child.
I no longer felt like I had to move around for no reason. This lead to me living in Greensboro for a full 3 years. It may not sound like much, but staying somewhere that long seemed impossible to me at the time.
It gave me the chance to make real friends again and become a real person in society. And for the first time in my life, I had a real apartment! Not a one bedroom with 6 people living in it or a mattress in a garage. I had a real fucking apartment! It was an empty apartment and my bed was a sleeping bag, but I didn’t care!
These changes in my life spiraled into me always reaching for more. I didn’t just want a better place or nice furniture, I wanted a career. I needed to prove to myself that I had the capability of excelling at one. I eventually felt as if I’d hit a wall in Greensboro and there wasn’t much more I could do. I needed to move again, but this time it wasn’t aimless. I had a reason for moving.
I decided the only real choice I had was to go to Seattle. That’s where SEOmoz and Distilled were and it seemed like my best shot. However, through an odd set of circumstances, I accidentally ended up vacationing in Austin. I immediately fell in love with the tech and startup scene there and well… I didn’t leave. Shortly after, I started working at uShip, which was my first in-house position. I think this planted a seed in me that got me attracted to in-house roles. I enjoyed collaborating with other departments, which can be hard to find in an agency setting.
After that, I realized I still had a lot to learn and began working freelance jobs with startups around Austin. I enjoyed it and since I had no “boss restrictions”, I was able to be a little picky about what clients I took on. I held out for the ones that sounded the most fun. This may not seem “economical”, but it gave me the most motivation to accel.
My move to Austin was about 3 years ago and now I couldn’t be happier. I’m exactly where I want to be in my career and in a city that’s perfect for me. I completely attribute it all to SEO. It may sound ridiculous, but I truly believe I wouldn’t have gotten nearly as far in my life without my first gig as a link builder. Something I’ll be grateful about for a long time to come.
Since I just started this new gig, my time is a little strapped. I still plan on keeping up with the blog, however, less frequently. I’m hoping I’ll soon have some good case studies to share with you guys.
For everyone I’ve gotten to know over the years, both face to face and electronically, thanks for being so amazing. I have no idea where or how I would’ve ended up otherwise.