W3Interview’s Web Industry Interview with Dave Taylor

As is increasingly common, I was recently interviewed about my writing and business career. This time, it was by the new site W3Interviews.com: Interviewing the Web Industry. Here’s how it went:

Dave, you have quite an interesting past. What has been the best period of your career?

Not to be trite, but the best part of my career is still ahead of me. In fact, now that I think about it, I’ve had more than one career already. I started out as a software developer (though in those days we called ourselves ‘programmers’), and have been continually migrating towards executive management and business analysis.

Considering your varied success, you’ve always maintained a relatively low profile. Why is that?

I don’t know that I agree with ‘low profile’, since I’ve been speaking at professional conferences, teaching at different colleges, and writing for magazines forever, it seems, but there’s always space to move further in self-promotion as an author and expert in a given industry, and I’m working on that too.

You’re a writer, speaker, consultant and teacher; but which one you love doing most?

I see them as all facets of the same thing, actually — my interest is in how people communicate with each other, and whether I’m teaching a class, speaking to a group of people or writing an article for one of my Web sites, I’m focused on taking complex ideas and helping people understand them. Even my management consulting has the same basic goal, to help companies achieve clarity and coherence in their corporate vision.

Is it difficult to wear multiple hats?

Actually, I would think it would be difficult to wear just one hat. It’s much more intellectually stimulating and interesting to have a bunch of balls in the air, juggling, than to have one ball that you hold onto tightly. Further, since I never know where my next opportunity may come from, the multiple hats are really a diversification strategy for myself.

You’re someone that is familiar with different technologies, from coding, to search engines. How did you master all this? Don’t you find it difficult to keep up to date with all those technologies?

Yes. I think that it’s more about identifying narrowly-focused experts and keeping track of what they believe is important. If you want to use business terminology, most technologists are ‘vertically’ oriented, learning everything there is to know about Subject X. Instead, I’m more interested in being ‘horizontally’ oriented, knowing sufficient to be knowledgeable about a wide range of topics, and knowing who to call when I need more depth in a given area.

Which web development technology promises the biggest opportunities for a career?

Weblogs and their impact as communication tools on corporate America.

Can you tell us how your site askdavetaylor.com started?

I receive 15-30 questions each week from readers and other people who find my works online and used to just spend way too much time answering everyone. Worse, it was highly inefficient because I wouldn’t be able to leverage a given answer for the next person. By pouring it all into a weblog, I now have a nice Q&A mechanism where people can peruse and find answers to questions that they might not have even realized they had, while I get to answer questions ONCE, not dozens of times. A win:win, as we business types say.

How many new questions do you get daily? Do you have time to answer all of them?

At this point, I’m seeing 5-10 questions come in each day for AskDaveTaylor.com, of which only 10% or so are just completely inane and not worth responding. I can’t possibly answer them all – particularly since so many are about Microsoft Windows, an OS that I don’t particularly like and don’t run on a daily basis. My backlog of questions is about 200 at this point. In fact, I’ve been looking for a PC tech research assistant, if any of your readers are interested in doing some digging and making a few bucks…

How would you differentiate your site from a webmaster related forum?

Completely different beasts. My site is clean, easy to read, professionally written, and devoid of flames, obscenities, and trolls, among other things.

You also started AnswerSquad.com which is a paid email discussion list. Why a paid email discussion list?

As a writer, I have a network of other tech writers who are top experts in their categories. About 18 months ago I suggested to a group of them that we create a support collective and for a remarkably low fee, the general public would have access to over a dozen gurus for as many tech support questions as they’d like.

There have been many sites coming up with paid help. What according to you makes yours different from the others?

Well, AskDaveTaylor.com is more fun than paid help, right? And while it’s free, of course, I do encourage people to thank me by buying me (and hopefully my wife!) a chai. AnswerSquad is different in the paid world because we’re acknowledged experts, not a faceless group of people who might have the knowledge you seek, but probably don’t have the ability to communicate it clearly and understandably. How many times have you given up on tech support after talking for hours and hours, without being able to convey your problems to them so they understand, and with them telling you to do things that just don’t make sense? That’s the motivation behind

You’ve written so many books, but which one do you personally like the most?

I really liked the process of writing The e-Auction Insider with my friend Susan Cooney, particularly having to spend money on eBay for research. 🙂 And I really liked creating all the scripts that are included in Wicked Cool Shell Scripts, especially writing interactive games as shell scripts.

What is your source of inspiration?

Industry trends, discussion with peers, magazines, publishers, and, sometimes, whims and guesses.

Your book Wicked Cool Shell Scripts is considered a best-seller. What’s unusual about it?

I have found that programming books in general, and shell scripting books in specific, are very focused on ‘how to do’ but forget to talk about ‘what’s worth doing’. I have spent a lot of time writing shell scripts and really enjoy it, frankly, but all the books on the market are about ‘how to write an if statement’ and ‘how to test if a file is writeable’, but the actual examples are dull, tedious and uninteresting. I simply turned that equation on its head and wrote a ton of really fun, interesting and informative shell scripts, the very best I could, and then added explanations of how they worked and what key interesting feature or capability was being demonstrated. Your readers are invited to see for themselves as every one of the over 150 scripts are accessible online at http://www.intuitive.com/wicked/

We have a new breed of technology authors in the industry now. In your opinion, are they on the right track?

I think that there are lots of tracks, actually, and that different people learn in different ways. However, there are two basic types of books in my personal taxonomy, reference and tutorial guides. I feel like the Internet has obsoleted reference works, so the emphasis needs to continue to move more towards tutorial guides. The problem is, for every really good technical writer, for every enjoyable and informative book, there are a dozen more wannabes that aren’t helping anyone and are just cluttering up the marketplace. The challenge, of course, is to figure out which is which.

Now, the answer everyone wants to know: Are you coming up with any new titles?

I’ve been moving more and more into the business segment and generally branching out, so yes, I’m working on some new titles, but look for me to be writing about the Internet as a marketing communications revolution, the impact of global outsourcing on corporate strategy, etc. I’m also working on a book about fatherhood that I have high hopes about too..

W3Interviews.com’s Quick Ten Questions

1. Your favorite browser?
2. Your favorite search engine?
3. Windows or Linux?
Linux, thank you.
4. PC or Mac?
5. Best thing about the net?
Making new friends and finding new colleagues.
6. Worst thing about the net?
A darn big ocean to swim in with oh, so many distractions.
7. What is your favorite instant messaging software?
Adium for Mac OS X.
8. Do you use online project marketplaces? (i.e. eLance)
Blech. No thanks.
9. Do you turn your workstation off for the night?
Why would I do that? 🙂
10. Please feel free to share with us any final comments, concerns, or important advice to the W3Interviews members.
My final fortune cookie advice: If you want to do something, don’t wait, don’t study, don’t find reasons to hold off, just do it!

Note: In case it’s not obvious, I enjoy being interviewed, whether it’s on radio, on a podcast, or in print. If you’ve a venue and would like to schedule some time with me to talk about business, blogging, or a variety of other topics, please don’t hesitate to contact me directly. Thanks!

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