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First Day on New Job & I Throw Out My Back!

I'm a 52 year old SEO expert who has been working in the tech industry for over 25 years. After working at a spin-off of Commodore and a PR company in NYC, I created the Web 2.0-era writing suggestion tool HitTail. I have since done interesting things such as crawling websites directly into Google Docs with API-joins. Today, I'm starting a new journey as an employee of Moz.com and am excited to use my skills and experience.

25 Years of Tech Experience Leads to New Job at Moz.com

By Michael Levin

Monday, February 27, 2023

Hello World! Today is my first day as a Moz.com employee. I’m 52 years old and got into SEO when I was about 27 years old and it was mostly about AltaVista. What drew me was the fact that I had recently been studying the work of the legendary business consultant Peter Drucker and locked in on the concept that the mission of any business is to get and keep customers. This went for pretty much any organization or non-profit. Sure, there was whatever its stated cause was, but at the end of the day if you’re not getting and keeping “customers”, you’re going away. Having your website come up when words were plugged into a search tool in the course of researching felt like the epitome of valuable skills and a good place to invest my time.

Fast-forward 25-years. It’s a friggn’ quarter-century later. I have not made my fortune. I have not built empires. I have not invented world-changing technology. But I have achieved my goals and am happy. I have internalized over the years all the tools, methodologies, techniques and skills it takes to get and keep customers via Web search and the many related facets such as reputation-building over the years. Since those days of AltaVista, Google has come and refined that circa 1996 web search landscape adding AdWords for huge profits, taking over much of the mobile platform with Android, taken a few swipes at the Desktop with ChromeOS, but not much else. The world is surprisingly unchanged over those 25 years, the same way automobiles are greatly unchanged for a hundred years.

Habits die hard. Something can not be just twice as good. For one technology to replace another, it must be at least 10-times as good. This is a truth often spoken by Andrew Grove, one of the people responsible for Intel’s stellar rise. Sea-changes are required to motivate/force people onto the next step in evolution. Good-enough is a powerful effect lasting decades or centuries. While humans will adapt when forced, we collectively work much more like a predictable animal. This sentiment is reflected in everything from old SciFi like Asimov’s Foundation series to quant billionaires making money off the stock market from these principles today. The actions of individuals are hard to predict but the behavior of the masses are much more predictable because of statistics.

I’ve had regrets that I have not taken advantage of my insights more in an external investment sense. I could have invested in Google or PayPal back in the day. I new Google from its kindergarten logo days, PayPal from its days as X.com days and Amazon from when it was contending with CDNow to be the preeminent hardgoods web outfit. I even was reading the Reddit threads during the rise of Bitcon. Dropping a few dollars into any of these could have set me up for life, changed the course of my life, and most probably sapped all the motivation and life-drive out of me. Over the years I’ve come to believe, perhaps out of cognitive dissonance, the mental discomfort of holding contradictory belief.

The words of Bob Ross come to mind: Ever make mistakes in life? Let’s make them birds. Yeah, they’re birds now. Who knows what life brings. I could have ended up a very unfulfilled person, never actually taking the steps to internalize the tools and skills that drew me to the field in the first place. I loved the Amiga computer from Commodore computers, which was actually in the kick-ass hardware legacy of Atari computers with a brand new flavor of software which while not Unix, was very close to it (TRIPOS). The combination resulted in a hardware/platform software that was loveworthy and motivated me possibly more than anything else in life before or since. Then it went away.

That kooky social multimedia feeling the Amiga instilled through its visually stunning software and the community that sprung up around it was a sign of things to come. Almost everything today, even on mobile and with all the crazy media interaction, was going on in one way or the other with the Amiga as the 2012 book on the topic, The Future Was Here, made clear. It explains a lot why I feel such fatigue at all the excitement these days over TikTok and related tech. I’m watching the boorish bombastic hyperbolic honeymoon that happens when kids discover wonderful new toys. Very little about video editing, augmented reality effects and the like excite me. I had both the Video Toaster and the Mandala virtual reality system in the same Amiga 2000 in the early 90s before even the rise of the Web.

The underlying text-based system on which the Amiga operated is another story. I never got tired of that. The tenants of Unix were mostly all there. It was hard to separate the incredible (for the time) graphics of the Amiga from everything else about it that was so love-worthy, but as it turns out all the graphics stuff doesn’t age well but all the text-stuff does. As angry as I got at Commodore for bungling the Amiga and even at the Amiga developers for failing to move forward the state-of-the-art to keep pace with PCs that were leapfrogging ahead once the Web, GPUs, Soundblaster cards and the DOOM 1st-person shooter game hit. From 1991 through 1996 the nails were hammered into the Amiga coffin and Commodore went out of business.

So there I was with the love-worthy bits of the Amiga deeply internalized and the Amiga gone. I went to work for a Commodore software spin-off company called Scala that ported its software to the PC and went after the “digital signage” market, a term which I helped coin. It was in this capacity that I really delved into SEO because it was an emerging industry and nobody quite knew what to call it, so I wrote about it a lot from every angle and published those pages in perfectly optimized and linked-together compelling story-telling sequences. Just merely by writing this content and presenting it well, Scala would get and keep customers. Well not quite actually. As it turned out the over 10 sales-leads per-day I managed to generate were all being ignored.

I was running both Scala’s website and Intranet at this time. I didn’t make Scala’s first public website, but I hired the guy who did. When he moved on I took it over. I created a tracking-gif system like Google Analytics (Urchin in those days), a profoundly search-optimized content-management system to make the website. I made a messageboard system like Reddit with a customer relationship management system overlaid in which salesleads could be assigned to product dealers (called value-added resellers or VARs) worldwide. By 2004 I had basically created an internal product that was much like HubSpot, SalesForce and WordPress combined. It even did the bill-of-materials for factory builds and shipping, so it was even business logistics.

And I did nothing further with that software and neither did Scala. Were it extracted like David Heinemeier Hansson did with Ruby on Rails, I could have been at the head of a massive movement and empire years ahead of the rest of the world. But I went to New York City to become a vice president at the public relations company that launched Amazon.com. They saw what I did and was impressed enough to give me what I considered an opportunity out of my reach in my wildest dreams, being a mere graphic design undergraduate and not an MBA or other fancy credentials. And so I was in NYC marketing agency life. Ugh!

While I made it work for a good number of years, I could feel my soul gradually being poisoned by the slick marketing agency life. To remedy this I used those parts of my earlier skills to create a Web 2.0-era writing topic suggestion tool called HitTail. It worked with the old tracking gif technology that worked so well before Google switched to secure web search, an event labeled as “Not Provided” in which the keywords that brought a visitor to your site were no longer directly provided but had to instead be retrieved in a less useful and informative version through Google Search Console (Webmaster Tools in those days).

While my HitTail tool had a 16-year run, it was not enough to save the company and I moved onto other hotshot agencies in NYC such as 360i, the company that taught you that you can still dunk in the dark. I did a few interesting things for them involving crawling websites directly into Google Docs with API-joins before such things were commonplace. This got 360i into the upper-right quadrant of the 2012 Forrester Wave report and together with their real-time marketing turned them into a top-tier marketing agency that was subsequently acquired by Dentsu Aegis. But the changing filed of SEO hit me hard as the good data-sources were being cut off and I switched into 360i’s tech department.

Somewhere in there I got married, had a kid, and left 360i. Almost all my old tricks involving Microsoft Active Server Page (ASP Classic) were now passe. I felt betrayed by Microsoft whose new .NET stuff was profoundly complicated in comparison and all the new tech that was popping up like Ruby on Rails felt wrong. This was not long before NodeJS came onto the scene and had I waited any longer to commit to my next platform I might have become yet another undifferentiated full web stack developer. Instead, having gone on a hunt to recapture that Amiga-magic with modern tech, I discovered Python, re-discovered Linux, and found my way to the vim text editor and the reality of the pervasiveness of the git distributed version control system. The Linux, Python, vim & git combo felt right.

Something that must probably be said here is that I’m a slow learner. I learn slow and learn well. I like to think perhaps I learn deeper and like to internalize my tools like muscle memory when driving a car perhaps more than most out there in the field of tech appear to. Otherwise there would be cries of bloody murder at how often whole branches of tech are suddenly obsoleted leaving those internalized parts of you as “dead” parts. How long is ReactJS going to go on as an atrophied part of your body after the next 4 or 5 web frameworks replace it? You might say it’s okay because they’re all JavaScript, but I would say that there’s something more subtle going on that has allowed Python to become special to me in my heart, but not JavaScript no matter how much I’ve tried over the years.

Wow, okay. Transitions are funny. Today the work-provided Mac arrived. I have a lot of Windows laptops in my life from over the years. I really like being on Windows now because Windows subsystem for Linux (WSL) is really coming of age. It’s still a bit flaky with the Linux terminal sessions just freezing and becoming completely unresponsive from time to time as if the Linux VM crashed. I guess this is possible. Usually it can be gotten back with the wsl –shutdown command, but it’s a sign we’re in a primitive state with WSL and Microsoft has not worked out all the details, especially I believe with systems making use of support for systemd. In other words, I feel systems running and making use of systemd services are more flaky and that’s why Microsoft doesn’t want it enabled by default. They can’t have the public at large experiencing what I’m experiencing. But that’s just my belief.

So I’m settling into a circa 2020 Macbook Pro. Interesting. Whereas my Windows laptop went with the camera to unlock, my Mac is starting with fingerprint.