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Amy Vernon: Laid Off Journalist turned Digital Marketing Expert

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After fulfilling her childhood dream by becoming a journalist, Amy Vernon was crushed when she was suddenly laid off about five and a half years ago. Fortunately, Vernon rebounded in no time – mostly thanks to her social media savvy.

Today Vernon is an online marketing expert living in NYC. She does social media marketing consulting for companies of all sizes. Moreover, she has been featured on Mashable‘s  Twitter lists of social media mavens to follow and is the top female submitter of all time on Digg.com.

Despite Vernon's experience in writing-based fields (i.e. the newspaper industry and now online content creation), she has always had a natural gift for quickly adopting new technologies.

Knack with Computers, Dreams of Journalism

From a young age Vernon had exposure to computers and excelled naturally. In only the third or fourth grade, around the late 1970s, Vernon was part of a group at school specially selected for an accelerated math program. Once or twice a week this group had the privilege of going to the computer lab – basically a supply closet that had a row of computers and a dot-matrix printer.

Throughout her schooling Vernon continued to work with computers. In fact, once entering high school, she was so advanced that she tested out of the intro to computer course.

Nonetheless, despite her natural prowess as a techie, Vernon's heart was set on being a journalist.

Accordingly, this dream led her to Northwestern University where she studied journalism. While in college Vernon also took basic CS and math courses. Somewhat ironically she received higher grades in these classes than in her writing courses.

In any event, Vernon reached her dream of becoming a journalist quickly after finishing college.

Combining Technology with Journalism

As a journalist, Vernon continued to rely on the power of the computer. She ultimately used much of this new technology to make her a better journalist.

Whereas many of her colleagues despised working on the computer and preferred more traditional writing methods (like the typewriter), Vernon used computers as much as she could.

She took notes on the computer while speaking on the phone. Vernon used online databases to investigate potential stories, like tracing criminal records and financial improprieties. She even scraped complex data to arrange important charts. For instance,  when the database reporter in charge failed to deliver, she took it upon herself to analyze the state Education Department’s test scores and demographics.

“All the while, whenever I tried to move into computer assisted reporting or web editing and development, I was passed over for a guy. In some cases, the guy was far more experienced than me. In other cases, far less. In 17 years, the newspapers I was at only had one female data reporter.”

But Vernon trekked onward and taught herself HTML. When technical difficulties arose at the workplace, she even lent a hand to her coworkers. Eventually, with the evolution of online news, Vernon took an interest in discovering ways to attract more viewers online.

“I tried everything – MyBlogLog, BlogCatalog, Digg, Reddit, StumbleUpon, Cre8Buzz, everything – and found ways to drive more traffic to our content than ever before.”

And then she was laid off.

Forging Her Own Path

The layoff was sudden and unexpected. Fortunately, Vernon's involvement on social media pre-layoff gave her an advantage. Only a day after being laid off Vernon received her first consulting contract.

But, of course, the transition was tough.

Being a journalist was a dream Vernon had since fifth or sixth grade. Completely rerouting your map after dedicating 20 years to an industry is never easy.

For others facing a similar situation, when your “dream” derides from the rails, Vernon recommends,

“My best advice, really, is that you need to look at everything that happens to you as an opportunity. That's not to say some things aren't difficult, and that you need to be happy about them. It just means that if you don't look for the opportunities in difficult times, you'll end up missing out on some great stuff.”

Becoming an Online Marketing Thought Leader

Fresh out of the dying newspaper industry, Vernon decided to integrate her natural digital skills with her love of writing by transforming into an online marketer.

“My greatest fear was that everyone would figure out I had no idea what I was doing. In a sense, I really didn't. I mean, I had the knowledge to do what I was doing, but I had never worked for myself, had never been a consultant, had never had to negotiate contracts. I didn't know marketing jargon.”

Similar to how Vernon picked up using a computer in elementary school, she quickly learned new digital marketing tactics and strategy.

Nowadays, Vernon is a bonafide master of social media and content strategy on platforms such as Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Digg and StumbleUpon. For instance, Vernon has over 65,000 followers on Facebook. She offers consulting to a range of companies, both big and small. She has also become an avid speaker at a variety of marketing and social media conferences.

Of course, Vernon continues to write. But she has made a transition from old to new media. Rather than writing for printed newspapers, Vernon now contributes to online publications like The Next Web, VentureBeat and others. Moreover, she has been featured in articles on The New York Times, Forbes and PRNewswire.

It's no question that Vernon is highly accomplished, with accolades in a range of fields. Nevertheless, she continues to better herself by always learning new skills and taking on challenges.

Lately, it's been coding.

What Vernon's Learning Today

Aside from learning about computers from elementary school throughout college, Vernon likes to stay in the loop on latest tech trends. Especially those related to the web/mobile space.

“I taught myself HTML mostly by trial and error, and had some great folks I turned to when I couldn't figure out what I'd done wrong; they'd help me find what I'd done and show me how to fix it.”

Vernon used the same trial and error method for learning CSS, too.

At the moment, though, Vernon is enrolled in a Udemy course on iOS7 app development. Her reason being,

“Because I got a great discount and figured it would be useful to learn. And I like a good challenge.”

Identifying as a Woman In Tech

Vernon discusses in one of her recent blog posts the difference between “women in tech” and “women who tech”. Vernon identifies as a woman “in” tech, where women “who” tech are the programmers, engineers, etc. in the world.

However, as she point outs, even though there is a difference between the two, there is certainly room for both.

She explains,

“We are at the point where it can benefit most people to have some degree of tech literacy, even if it's just the terminology.”

Basically, although we may not all become mobile app developers or software engineers, there is still great benefit in learning how to communicate in technical terms. For this reason, it's crucial for more women to be “in” tech.

In the end, starting at a young age Vernon had an inclination towards technology. Throughout her life she harnessed the power of the computer, from the newspaper industry to present-day as social media and online marketing specialist. And while Vernon may not be a women “who” techs, she certainly has a solid understanding of technical skills and lingo – making her a woman “in” tech.

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