Now that I’ve changed careers, I figured it was an appropriate time to share the story of how I eventually decided to become a community manager. I’ve been reluctant to share this publicly because being a Community Manager brought me regret-less joy and I would never want sympathy because of it. I also never wanted the tale to impact how my community responded to me.
I’ve mentioned in other posts that I was bullied in my youth. This had a profound impact on my self esteem, self worth, and ability to make friends. The bullying ranged from teasing, to being physically hurt, to a few very cruel things. I don’t think it was the worst bullying one could receive, but it was to a degree that it made me pretty miserable and occasionally scared.
Over the years, I learned coping and defence mechanisms to deal with it all. Most importantly, I was also fortunate enough to have the Internet during the hardest times. I was about 9 when I first went online. My older brother introduced me to a type of online game called a MUD (multi-user dungeon).
It was quite the discovery for a lonely and socially awkward child to find a plethora of social groups at one’s fingertips. It gave me the ability to test out different peer groups with very little negative consequences. I had the ability to simply avoid and forget places where I wasn’t happy.
This is a bit embarrassing to admit, but my first crushes and solid friends I met online. Even to this day, I am in contact with people met over 15 years ago online. Some of my closest and most trusted friends today were once people I never thought I’d have a face-to-face conversation with.
By the time I was in high school and hormones were the dominant force in social situations, I still never had a very easy time fitting in. School work was boring and I found most of it tediously unsatisfying. I didn’t have any peers in my life that I felt close to and certainly didn’t have a best friend to confide in.
There were a few peers that I would talk to and on rare occasions do things with outside of extra curricular and school activities. I just never let anyone in anymore, because the transition to high school taught me that my friends were temporary. Middle school friends had turned into either strangers or joined others who bullied me.
I was lucky that my mother was my confidant. It made the earlier years easier to deal with. I would spend an hour after school every day unloading all of the hurt feelings and schoolyard gossip to her. I never told her about the times when things got physical, but I told her everything else. She also would play games with me and listen to things I was far to embarrassed to share with my peers. By the time I was 14, my mom was practically everything I needed in a best friend and my Internet friends filled in where my mom couldn’t.
I still remember when I let it slip to a classmate about my Internet friends and a boy online I had a crush on. Let’s just say, they didn’t get it and gossiped about it to other friends and for a while it gave the folks who picked on me something new to tease me about.
I kept my online life pretty secret from that point forward. I let very few people know about the communities I was involved in online and certainly never talked about my friendships. I eventually started becoming penpals with some of my net friends and would buy calling cards with my allowance to talk to them on the phone.
While the other teenage girls in my school were spending nights gabbing on the phone with their classmate friends, I was gossiping on the phone with people I met online about school and community drama. Never once did it feel different to have a friend I never met in the flesh versus a friend I saw in meatspace every day.
It was the summer after I turned 16 that solidified my feelings of true friendship with my online friends. My mom died at home that summer very suddenly and without prior illness. It took my entire family by surprise and it was quite difficult to deal with. To make matters worse, I lived in a one stoplight kind of county where everyone knew everyone else’s business.
While I did have peers offline who I know honestly tried to be there for me, many people didn’t really know how to help. I certainly didn’t make it easy for anyone by becoming even more reclusive. Most of my support came from a guy about my age who lived in Ohio.
I met him in the Area51 geocities chatroom around my freshmen year and eventually developed a long distance relationship with him. He was, for all intents and purposes, my first high school boyfriend. He would spend so much time with me on the phone, we’d talk about our school, family, and mutual Internet friends. He was there to listen to me sob over the phone, telling him every detail of my mother’s death and every way it affected me. We didn’t even formally ‘meet’ until 2010 by chance at Blizzcon and had gone our separate ways/lost touch for several years before that.
Even after I left high school and joined the military, the friends I made through online communities remained my primary support group. They wrote me letters in basic training, sent me care packages when I was deployed, and did so many other things to support me in life just like any good friend you’d make in person.
At some point, my dear friend Marco (who I have yet to meet in the flesh) had given me the chance to help be a part of running the online community he had created and was also the community I had been involved in since 1999 (and still am today).
It was just around the dotcom bust and there wasn’t really as much of a concept of a community manager. The notion of being given money to run a community and make friends on the Internet was a unobtainable pipe dream of mine.
It makes me laugh when I think of all the times I’d muse about how awesome it would be to have a job running online communities. It really was my dream job. There was no hobby or social activity that brought the same pleasure to me like being a part of an online community.
Needless to say, when I discovered in 2005 that companies were paying people a salary to do things I was already doing for fun, I did everything I could to make the career change. I was working as a Pathologist Assistant making some pretty good money and took a pay cut that was so large I’d have never afforded it if it weren’t for the dual income my household had at the time.
I quit a good paying career with retirement benefits and turned my 15 minute commute into a 2 hour one. I even had a child just starting kindergarten that I had to deal with. This was all to get my foot in the door to become a community manager.
My first job was a site where you could create tributes/memorials for loved ones who died. I won’t knock it, it gave me paid experience which led me to other very awesome opportunities. One of which was being the Community Director at a site called Justin.tv back when it was only a team of seven.
Being the JTV community director was really everything I wanted out of a community management job and more. It gave me a lot of unique work and life experience I honestly don’t think I would have gotten anywhere else. I got to experience the extreme goods and bads of the work and came out a wiser and happier person.
So there you have it. The full story of why I decided to become a community manager. It was truly my dream job. I dreamed of being the person who was responsible for growing, shaping, fostering, and keeping an online community together.
I did it because I knew there were others out there who wouldn’t have had as much friendship and emotional support without the online communities they were a part of, and because I wanted to be a part of making any online community as happy as the ones I was apart of made me. But mostly, to get paid to play on the internet.