Ironically, I started the Technology Awards List because I wanted to exit the PR and marketing industry.
Back in 2012, my chips were down. I was laid off from one of the best jobs I’d ever had: I was an analyst covering social media and collaborative technologies at a large, well-known industry analyst firm.
Licking my wounds and considering a new career, I learned of the nascent industry of dev boot camps. Sign up, move across the country, learn coding for 12 hours a day, and 8-12 weeks later, BAM! you were a Web developer, with a starting salary of $120K+.
(Spoiler alert: it was too good to be true and I never did get a job as a Web developer.)
Build an app!
At the time, I couldn’t just drop out of life and move across the country and attend Dev Bootcamp (aptly named, though surprisingly, it shut down just a few years later), Hack Reactor, Starter League, and a handful of others.
(To give you an idea of how large the industry has grown, CourseReport, a website that tracks the industry, reviews over 500 coding schools currently in operation in the US.)
I was, however, able to take a few online courses and then attend a part-time, remote bootcamp called Bloc. It was fun and exciting, as my mentor, Brittany, was a marketing professional who had studied with Bloc and successfully transitioned to becoming a developer.
“Jake, if I can do it, you can do it,” she would say to me often.
The final project for Bloc, as it is for many bootcamps, is to develop your own production-ready app. They call this a capstone project, and you have to create a web-based or mobile app that allows users to publish, search, or interact with others in some way. (i.e., you couldn’t just “build a website.”)
I didn’t have time to complete a full-on app by the time I graduated from Bloc, but soon afterwards, as I continued my Web development journey and took additional online courses, I started to think of an app that I could truly use, or that people I know could truly use.
I started to think of a product that PR folks like me could use that would actually help them in their jobs. And that is when Technology Awards List was born.
The thought process that goes into creating an app is interesting because the way I saw it and the way the developer community saw it were two different things.
When considering what sort of app to build for one’s capstone project, Bloc and the other bootcamps offer this exciting—but vague—advice:
Think of an app that doesn’t yet exist, that you think the world needs. Or, think of an app that you use every day, that you think you can make better.
(In hindsight, this turned out to be dangerous advice for the young, budding Web developer. How in the world can someone who has only studied Web development for 9 months or less figure out a way to build a better Facebook?)
From my perspective, I wanted something that would save time and reduce headaches. Something that would make a PR person’s job and life easier.
That headache was list-building for awards programs. Sure, there already exist Cision, Muck Rack, and other media list services, but there was nothing for awards programs.
In case you were wondering what it’s like for a PR person to manage awards submissions, when your boss or client asks, “Say, what awards should we consider this year?” you normally have to start from scratch, do Google searches, and keep lists in Excel or Google Docs. A royal pain in the a–.
I was so excited that I first wanted to build a list for EVERY award program out there—yes, including the Oscars. But, of course, that was laughable, so I figured that the category of technology would make sense first.
And here we are, 8,000+ awards later.
…or the egg?
The developers had a different perspective on my proposed app. I reached out to some new industry colleagues, and even a Web development firm in Europe, for advice, and their suggestions for features ran wild. Here are a few:
- Users should be able to create profiles, with sign-in via Facebook or Google
- Building the data table in SQL and Python
- A message board system that allows threads, tagging, and email pushes
- Social sharing, commenting, and upvoting for each award
- Tiered subscription plans
- A credit system, whereby users can purchase credits and use them to purchase portions of the list
- A backend system, showing me who has logged in and who is viewing which awards
Mind you, some of these are not completely preposterous, especially the subscription plans. But what was preposterous was that they though that these features needed to be built immediately, and that the app would be useless without them.
Further, not one of them asked me: “Jake, where are you getting the information for all of these awards?”
Duh. That, of course, had to be sourced from humans. (Which it ultimately was, and is, and we continue to add, subtract, and edit awards on a weekly basis.)
That is when I knew that I would forever be more of an entrepreneur than a developer. I was thinking about first addressing a shortfall in the daily work of a PR person, and the developers were simply thinking of typical functionality for a business app.
(And perhaps the Web development shop in Europe was eyeing the hundreds of development hours needed and the money they would make building these features.)
Where we are today
So, the Technology Awards List launched without relying on professional developers. This was because first and foremost, I wanted to focus on the real reason why any PR or marketing person would use it—the data itself: 8,000+ awards, with information about how to enter or contact the organization.
This was a priority—not some advanced features that no one would really use or care about at first.
In fact, we’re even offering it for free at the moment.
Thank you, all, for sharing in my and the Technology Awards List’s journey. I am proud of what we have created so far. Welcome.
For suggestions and feedback, you can always drop me an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tell us about your awards strategy.
Have you applied for awards before? Did you win? We’d love to hear how you used it in your marketing strategy to increase sales or customer engagement.