Can blogging boost your career?

Online journals can showcase your IT smarts, but make sure your employer is OK with it.

The companies that have fired employees for blogging reads like a Fortune 500 list: Apple, Delta Airlines, Google, Johnson Controls, Microsoft and Starbucks, to name a few.

With so many widely publicized examples of employees getting sacked for posting their thoughts online, is there any career upside for IT professionals who want to create their own blogs?

Yes, according to pioneering IT professionals who say their blogs demonstrate their familiarity with the latest Internet technologies and trends. IT bloggers recommend proceeding with caution, however, when they post work-related information.

"You have to be very, very careful about what you say," says Mike McBride, creator of a 5-year-old blog about his exploits in IT support.

"But I put my blog on my résumé. This is what I do. This is an opportunity to read about what I think and about what I know."

The issue of whether to blog will probably come up for more IT executives as blogging becomes more common.

About 12 million American adults - 8% of adult Internet users - are regular bloggers, according to a survey released last month by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. Blogs also are becoming more popular reading material: 57 million American adults read blogs, or 39% of the online population.

"Blogs are as individual as the people who keep them, but this survey shows that most bloggers are primarily interested in creative, personal expression," says Amanda Lenhart, a senior research specialist with Pew.

McBride says his blog showcases his creativity and problem-solving skills. He began his blog, which has 300 subscribers, when he was a one-man IT department working for a nonprofit organization.

"It seemed like a really good way to enhance my own knowledge and to network with people," he says, adding that his boss was supportive. "I wanted to have people I could ask questions. At that point, Google was my best friend."

McBride, 38, switched jobs a year ago and now supports the help desk at a midsize law firm. He has continued to maintain his blog, though the focus has changed now that he works with a 14-person team. He has never named either employer on his blog; nor does he name bosses or co-workers.

"It's just not important. I write about technology. I don't write about the business of the organizations that I work in," he says. Keeping his employer anonymous protects him from getting in trouble for saying the wrong thing.

McBride thinks listing his blog on his résumé helped him get hired for his current position. He uses it to showcase his Web skills and to experiment with new software tools. "I think [my new boss] saw it as a plus," he says. "It shows that I'm able to be creative and to find a way to learn what I needed to learn."

Ken Fasimpaur, an English major in college who has spent 12 years at various jobs in a corporate IT department, views his blog as a way of showcasing his writing skills. Fasimpaur is a 34-year-old IT coordinator with a defense contractor and writes a blog about user-support issues for Network World's Web site.

"I find it a useful thing to bridge the English, technical-writing side of my brain with the IT side of my brain," he says. "I write a lot of stuff on my blog that demonstrates the two aspects of my career are not totally disconnected."

Fasimpaur has other creative outlets: photography, feature writing and music reviews. For his blog, he sticks to IT-related subjects where he has something special to contribute instead of providing links to interesting articles or blogs elsewhere on the Web.

"It's challenging to work in this format as a writer - to crank out two paragraphs of relevant content and try to make a good point," he says. "I could be more creative, and it might be more fun, but that would be self-indulgent. Then the blog wouldn't be serving anyone."

Fasimpaur tries to update his blog two or three times a week. He is careful not to divulge anything about his company, which remains anonymous, or its network infrastructure. This takes time, he says. "I had files of notes with good subjects of blog entries, but knowing it would take me a couple hours to write a good, coherent statement on the subject would put me off," he says. "I'm trying to get to the point where I can bang something out in about 20 minutes."

Blogging requires a significant time commitment. McBride spends two hours a day reading other blogs and writing entries, which he posts four or five times a week. He says updating his blog can be overwhelming when he returns from a vacation. "Probably the only person who notices is my wife, and she has her own blog," he says.

Blogging also costs money for domain name registration and hosting fees. Most IT-related blogs such as McBride's and Fasimpaur's don't generate revenue.

Blog creators see career benefits, however. "Knowledge is the big benefit. Getting the feedback from other people is a benefit," McBride says. "When I'm stumped I'm able to post about it and then get another idea that sets me off in another direction. In a small IT shop that was a huge benefit," he says.

For Fasimpaur, the benefits of blogging are intangible: "I'm trying to use it both internally and externally to show that I'm just not the guy who hides in the server closet," he says. "It's on the current version of my résumé. It's a way of showing my work history, of saying: Here's something that gives you a feeling for me as a human being."

Not everyone thinks IT professionals should blog. Christopher Conti, a partner with executive search firm Christian & Timbers, says blogging is OK for IT consultants who need to market their skills. Corporations, on the other hand, are leery of hiring executives who share their ideas and interests too freely on the Web.

"When we do our background checking, we inevitably pull up everything that's been out there on the Web. Occasionally we come up with a blog or Web site or Web page," Conti says, adding he has never seen a blog help a job candidate, but he has seen blog entries eliminate candidates. "I think IT executives are better off spending the time in peer group communities, professional associations and user groups."

Most Adult Workers Don’t Read or Contribute to Blogs


Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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