Interview with Marketing Scientist Dr. Peter J. Meyers

in Independent Contracting Jobs, Indoor Jobs, Internet related jobs, Jobs in Writing

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Dr. Peter J. Meyers of SEOMOZ and www.usereffect.com gets JobShadowed about his career as a Marketing Scientist.  You can find Dr. Meyers at the website above and on his Twitter feed in the sidebar of this interview.

What do you do for a living?DrMeyers

I’m a Marketing Scientist for SEOmoz, a marketing analytics company based out of Seattle.

How would you describe what you do?

My slightly made-up title is sort of a compromise to reflect the reality that I’m roughly half marketer and half data scientist. As a marketer, I produce content, including blog posts and more permanent pieces, to grow our brand and attract visitors. As a data scientist, I essentially study Google – I track changes in the underlying algorithm and changes in search features. This research also drives content, so there’s definitely a back-and-forth.

What does your work entail?

A lot of writing, a lot of analysis, a fair amount of programming, and a ton of communication. A data scientist in the business world really has to be able to look at a mountain of information and try to find the story in it.

I’d just encourage people not to think too narrowly about roles and job descriptions. If you only apply to the jobs that get listed, you’ll always end up being defined by someone else’s expectations. You don’t have to start your own company to do something unique – you can forge your own job description even within someone else’s company. It takes time and work, but it’s absolutely worth the effort and risk.

To really be successful, you have to be able to not only find that story, but make it compelling (in an honest way, of course). In many ways, I think of myself as a story-teller – it’s just that my stories are driven by data.

What’s a typical work week like?

My role is somewhat my own invention, so it really varies. I write almost every day (I try to carve out at least 30 minutes), and I collect/analyze data daily. My data collection is driven by engines I’ve designed and built most of myself, so there’s usually some coding (PHP/MySQL, for the most part). I have meetings, but not a ton, since I work remotely (out of Chicago). I always carve out time to learn new skills and just to think about big ideas.

How did you get started?

That’s a bit of a long story. My undergraduate degree was in Computer Science and Psychology, but I graduated in 1992 and a career in comp. sci. was still pretty traditional. So, I went to graduate school and got a Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology. Between those two graduations (1992-1997), the internet really hit the public world, and I went to work as the first employee of a web-based software start-up.

I’ve never regretted taking a short-term risk to do something more worthwhile, enjoyable, and lucrative in the long-term. If you’re terrified to take a step back, you’ll probably ending up moving incrementally through your career.

I helped grow that company to 15 people and just shy of $2M over 8 years, but then decided it was time for a change and went to work for myself for about 6 years. I started working with SEOmoz a couple of years ago as a contractor, and loved the culture and the work. Gradually, I built a role for myself and decided to go full-time late in 2012.

What do you like about what you do?

I love being in a “science” that’s so new. It’s easy to discover things that no one has bothered to dig into, and it’s a bit like the Wild West right now. I’m finding more questions than answers most days, and that’s exciting. I have a ton of flexibility, and I really enjoy writing for a well-read blog. I’m also surrounded by amazing co-workers and peers, which has really upped my game.

What do you dislike?

Working remotely can be challenging, although it’s something I’ve done for quite a while. I have two kids, so I love being home at times, but you really have to work to stay connected to your co-workers. Like any job, there are some tedious aspects to my day, but right now I’m really enjoying 90% of the role.

How do you make money/or how are you compensated?

I’m technically an independent contractor, but I’m full-time.

How much do you make?

I’d rather not get into details, but low six-figures.

How much money did/do you make starting out?

My first year of full-time work? About $30K, if I recall. My first year of working for myself? About $4K, after expenses 🙂 It’s been a roller coaster, but I’ve never regretted taking a short-term risk to do something more worthwhile, enjoyable, and lucrative in the long-term. If you’re terrified to take a step back, you’ll probably ending up moving incrementally through your career.

What education, schooling, or skills are needed to do this?

That’s a tough question right now. For search marketing in general, it’s wide open on the education/schooling front. There aren’t a lot of formal programs. Some companies look for college degrees, and some don’t. Technical skills are certainly important. Most companies are more interested in what you’ve done or can show that you’re capable of – putting together your own projects and sites can be a huge advantage. For data science, a formal education is certainly more common – although it could be in a variety of fields.

What is most challenging about what you do?

The difficulty of being on the frontier is that you don’t always have a lot of guidance for whether you’re heading in the right direction. It’s exciting, but I take a lot of missteps. It’s important to work for people who understand that that’s part of the process. The tools to do what I do are being invented as we speak, and so it’s really important to be able to self-learn on a constant basis. I love that, so I’m not sure I’d call it “challenging” in any negative sense, but carving out the time is a challenge.

What is most rewarding?

Discovering something new is the biggest reward for me, especially when it helps people do their jobs better.

What advice would you offer someone considering this career?

Be curious – about how things work, about what makes people tick, about anything, really. Curiosity is probably the driving force behind data science, and it leads to the kind of passion that can also make you a good marketer. Connect with people early and often – don’t want until you’re between jobs to network. Building up relationships takes years, and it’s vital to your long-term career opportunities.

How much time off do you get/take?

Although I’m technically a contractor, I do get paid vacation. It’s about 3 weeks, I think.

What is a common misconception people have about what you do?

For search marketing, many people still just see the snake oil side. What’s funny is that I actually spent a lot of time on the usability side of the fence, and I got back into search when I saw how much it had evolved. Google is a massive filter for the world’s information, and our job is to try to make our information worth passing through that filter. Done right, that means creating content that people want.

What are your goals/dreams for the future?

I’m really just starting on this leg of the journey, and I’ve always seen my career as more evolutionary than revolutionary. I’d like to do something more philanthropic down the road, but I think even that would involve what I’m learning as a marketer and data scientist. Right now, I’m a bit Google-obsessed, and I’d like to expand that a bit (before I start wearing tinfoil hats). This is a fast-moving industry, though, and it’s hard to say where any of us will be in 5-10 years.

What else would you like people to know about your job/career?

I’d just encourage people not to think too narrowly about roles and job descriptions. If you only apply to the jobs that get listed, you’ll always end up being defined by someone else’s expectations. You don’t have to start your own company to do something unique – you can forge your own job description even within someone else’s company. It takes time and work, but it’s absolutely worth the effort and risk.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Madhu Nair February 12, 2013 at 10:14 am

Nice one .. I have been using SEOMoz for about 2 months now and love it. It has given me so many more extra hours. I look forward to every Tuesday, that is when I get the results of the MOZ.

Anyways … good for you Peter. To be able to enjoy 90% of your job role is definitely enviable.

Good luck!

Reply

Waqid February 11, 2013 at 2:03 pm

Great interview and awesome to hear from a superstar over at seomoz!

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