As you all know by now, Aaron's last day with PhoneDog was yesterday, December 31, 2012. David Beren (Mr. TmoNews himself) and I have been chosen to split his former role. David is now Editorial Director of all PhoneDog network sites and I am the Managing Editor of PhoneDog, effective today. I could not be more excited to be stepping up and guiding the site through the years ahead, getting to know you, the readers, and bringing you all the best content my wary fingers and Kermit-like (or Seth Rogen-like) voice can provide.
For many, the entire situation is bittersweet and emotional, especially for me. Aaron was (and still very much is) a mentor and a great personal friend of mine. He is the sole reason I started in this field and he led me every step of the way, from the very first article to even the last few days. (He was hounding me in emails about some typos just last Friday.)
It was always a pleasure working with and for him. And something about not having to answer to him anymore is upsetting – daunting even. The best I can explain the feeling is to say it feels like moving out for the first time all over again. The one who brought me into this field, who taught me the ins and outs of the online tech journalism world, is not there to guide me and smack my hand when I screw up anymore.
That said, I'm not apprehensive or nervous. I am ready to take the site in a new direction with fresh ideas and a new perspective. I have a lot to learn and some gigantic shoes to fill. But rather than feel discouraged, I see this as a challenge I am more than ready for. It's what I've been working towards for years, and now it's finally here. I never expected it to be so soon.
Ever since I started writing for PhoneDog, the question I get asked the most is about how I got started in the industry. There is no short or simple answer to that. I didn't apply. I didn't ever plan to be here. But it happened and I couldn't be more happy that it did. Following these leadership changes at the turn of the year, I figured it would be fitting that I finally share the story of how I ended up here, at PhoneDog.
Three seemingly short years ago, I was nothing more than your typical college student who worked part-time selling cell phones at Best Buy Mobile (BBYM). I worked 34 hours per week – the most I could work without Best Buy having to offer benefits – and had a hefty helping of college courses on my plate.
At the time, I ate, slept and breathed BlackBerry. Other than an hour or so on CrackBerry each day, though, I spent little to no time on the Internet. I had no idea such an expansive culture of tech enthusiasts existed. I had no clue what Engadget, TechCrunch or even PhoneDog were. I went to school, worked and created themes for my BlackBerrys. In a nutshell, that was my life.
Then, one day at "The Box", a man with a Rick Astley pompadour and a tweed jacket walked in and handed my boss a piece of paper. The two disappeared for a few minutes and returned with a self-sealing Best Buy bag full of phones. They exchanged a few words, shook hands and the man walked out with a half dozen, newly-released smartphones.
Excluding the BBYM manager, everyone was a bit confused about who the man was and why he walked out carrying a bundle of phones without paying. I approached my manager and asked him who the man was. He explained that his name was Aaron Baker and he worked for a company – a website – called PhoneDog. Those phones, I would later learn, were for the One-Paw Bandit giveaway.
As soon as I got off work that night, I looked up PhoneDog and read a few articles. I found Aaron on Twitter, followed him and introduced myself. We exchanged a few tweets and that was the last I heard from Aaron for a while.
A few months later, Aaron returned to my store. He and I spoke for a while and I eventually sold him a phone for one of his countless personal lines. Days later, he returned. The best I can remember, he walked straight towards me, shook my hand and asked me if I would be interested in helping him with a new website he was managing. My broad knowledge of BlackBerry piqued his interests, since his role at the time was managing BBerryDog, a BlackBerry-centric PhoneDog network site. He wanted me to be a forums moderator, to peruse the forums and delete spam or anything I deemed unfit for the family-friendly website.
Weeks went by. Every day, I spent several hours in the forums, keeping everything tidy and friendly. One day, Aaron asked me to write a short news piece to see how honed my writing skills were. I wrote another. Then another. And after several months of endless, tiresome (volunteer) work, I was promoted to Managing Editor of the site.
Long story short, it was a bad time for any up-and-coming BlackBerry fan site. I worked day and night – even while in classes and while on the clock at Best Buy – to grow the site and tripled the traffic. But it came time to make a decision. I cut my losses and took a huge leap of faith. I quit my job at Best Buy and decided to move my efforts to working full-time for the mothership, to become a full-time writer at PhoneDog.
For two years and eight months (my official hire date is May 24, 2010, though I wrote a few pieces before), I have dedicated my life to my work, to PhoneDog. I have often worked 17 or 18-hour days, fallen asleep on my keyboard and woken up to do it all again. (This actually makes me think back to CES 2012. Aaron and I were both fighting sleep harder than we ever had before to publish the last few pieces for the day at 2:00 AM in a hotel room after 21 hours of running around Las Vegas. A day in the life at CES. I remember waking up at least seven times while attempting to publish the Sony Smartwatch gallery.)
For the first time in my life, I do not regret waking up to work every morning. I don't mind working full days outside the hours of normal work. I thoroughly enjoy all that I have the honor and opportunity to do.
That said, I never thought I would be here. I never thought I would (or could) be a writer. I was told my entire life that I didn't have it in me. It wasn't until I reached high school and met one of the most inspirational teachers I have ever had the pleasure of learning from – Gerry Gibson – that I realized I enjoyed writing and that it didn't necessarily have to be boring or soulless. (Gibson, as we called him, is also the one who introduced me to soccer and productive resting. I owe a lot to that man, too.) And now here I am, writing and leading a mobile tech site into a new year.
But the point I'm trying to convey is that anyone could do the very same thing. Hard work does pay off, believe it or not. And I realized through PhoneDog that, if you're with the right company, hard work gets noticed. That was always one of my favorite qualities of Aaron's – no good deed or hard work went unnoticed, and it always motivated me to do more.
To wrap this up, I said I would answer some of the questions my Twitter followers had in this piece, so here goes.
Q: How old are you?
A: I am 22-years-old and will turn 23 in April.
Q: Where were you raised?
A: I grew up in a log cabin (seriously) that my father built in a farm town, Pinnacle, North Carolina – a tobacco town thriving off R.J. Renoylds Tobacco Company. Our land was leased to tobacco farmers and my neighbor had cow pastures. Hello, Green Acres!
Q: What were your favorite hobbies as a kid/teen?
A: Growing up, I enjoyed riding dirt bikes and four wheelers, playing with LEGOs and K'NEX and, sometimes, working with my father. I built the cabinets that were used in our kitchen when I was around seven-years-old, which was also when I got my first dirt bike.
Q: What did you study in college?
A: In college, I pursued electrical engineering and later changed my degree to computer science after discovering a love for programming.
Q: What got you interested in consumer electronics?
A: I was always a bit of a tech nerd, but I didn't seriously get into consumer electronics until I saw my friend come into work at The Shoe Dept. with a Motorola Q. I bought one myself and it was all downhill from there. (You can read a bit more into that here.)
Q: How long have you been in the industry?
A: I have been in the wireless industry for just over three years now. I started working at Best Buy in mid-2009. But I started applying at every wireless retailer within 50 miles the day I turned 18. This just goes to show that hard work and tons of dedication go a long way.
Q: What is your favorite gadget of all time?
A: This one was a doozy to answer. My favorite gadget of all time would have to be my BlackBerry Curve 8330. It was the device that got me so interested in mobile technology. I spent hours tinkering with it, soft bricking it, building themes for it and slaving away over unofficial software updates. That phone was my baby.
So here's to 2013, what will certainly be nothing short of an amazing year for PhoneDog. David and I have awesome things planned for the site, and we can't wait to show them to you. And I guess there's no better time than the present for me to start getting used to being in front of the camera.
Keep it locked on PhoneDog, ladies and gents, and don't forget to drop in and say hello from time to time. I will be hanging around all day to answer any more questions you may have and to chat, so be sure to leave your questions below!