Building a tech career in the Kootenays

Nelson’s Tammy Everts address the monthly Tech Meetup on Thursday

It’s her job to say, “You’re doing it wrong.”

When Nelson tech worker Tammy Everts goes into a workplace to help them streamline their web operations, the first thing she does is figure out where the problems are.

“The thing about tech is that most people don’t know they have problems, or they’re barely aware,” Everts told the monthly Tech Meet-up during a meeting in the Jam Factory last Thursday.

“So my job is to do a bunch of research to find out that the problem exists, figure out why it exists, and then convince them to address it. I’m a problem evangelist — I’m the Cassandra with bad news telling you that you’re doing it wrong.”

Everts was addressing the monthly meet-up at the invitation of organizer Rose Hoeher, and delivered her talk “How to Build a Career from the Middle of Nowhere” while looking Zuckerberg-esque, in bare feet and with her hands in her pockets.

The audience pumped Everts for information, getting progressively more esoteric with their subjects while they ate chips, drank beer and sat cross-legged on the carpet. In the room were web developers, game designers and tech workers, all of them eager to hear about how she’s successfully developed her tech career while living in the Kootenays.

And, as it turns out, it’s been an incredibly lucrative field for her to be in. Having started out as an English Literature major with a Master’s in Publishing, her first job out of grad school was a gig with a web consulting firm. It was a random message from a stranger on LinkedIn that ultimately led her to take a position in Vancouver.

“To this day, I have no idea how we knew each other. He told me they needed someone to do content marketing, which is the first time I’d ever heard that phrase, and he said, ‘It’s in the web performance space’ and I didn’t even know what that meant.”

Even though she didn’t yet understand the nuances of the job, she jumped at it, throwing herself into the role while raising her two boys. It was the beginning of a haphazard trajectory that resulted in her picking up gigs doing things the average person — like her Mom — don’t even understand.

“I work in tech, but I’m not a developer or an engineer. I’m not a lot of things you’d be familiar with,” she told the gathering.

“For the past twenty years I’ve been working in user experience. I was an information architect a long time ago, back in the day, but in the past eight years my career has been funnelled — I’d like to say it was with intent, but it wasn’t — into a corridor of web performance.”

According to her LinkedIn profile, Everts is currently the Chief Experience Officer for SpeedCurve, which is based out of Auckland in New Zealand, and until recently she was director of research and editorial at SOASTA, which is based out of California. She’s also worked for Radware and Strangeloop. She’s presented her research at conferences such as IRCE, Velocity, Fluent, eMetrics, Conversion Conference, RWD Summit and shop.org.

Everts’ first foray into web publishing was uber.com, a zine she ran with her husband John Paolozzi. Its URL has since been sold to the transportation app.

“We thought we were really getting away with something. ‘What a scam, they gave us $2,000 for this domain!’”

And that’s only one example of a “dumb thing” she did in her career that taught her a lesson, she told them. Since moving to Nelson to work remotely five years ago the company she was working for was acquired, but she’s continued to expand her skillset through networking and presenting her research at conferences with a global audience, building herself an extensive online network.

So could someone follow in her footsteps? One member of the audience asked if her experience was “replicatable,” wondering aloud whether a local tech enthusiast would be better served by moving to the big city.

“That’s the crux of what I wanted to talk about tonight. Even though for me there was a lot of luck and happenstance, I think you can reverse-engineer strategy from that. The things I think are replicatable, that anyone can do from anywhere, are things like building an online presence.”

Her main advice: “Learn from people who know what they’re doing.”

“For a long time I was basically a lurker. There were some hashtags around performance, in this industry ones like #webperf, #perfmatters, #UX, those were the big three, and I looked at who was active on those hashtags. Then I took it from there.”

Everts encouraged anyone wanting to know more to check out her conference talks online, or to read her 2016 book Time is Money: The Business Value of Web Performance.

After the meeting, local developer Bradley Higham thanked Everts for sharing her expertise.

“Major takeaway for everyone is to get involved online, put yourself out there and contribute to your niche! If you put in the hard work, you will be rewarded!”