After writing this column for six years, I have received my share of
email from readers. This email has come from both local readers and
those farther afield, sometimes even outside of the United States.
This has shown me just how far my words can travel and it also drives
home the importance of thinking about what you are saying before releasing
it “into the wild.” This is true whether you are writing
for publication or just sending email to a colleague across town. The
global nature of the Internet insures that your words might be available
to readers far beyond their intended audience.
The intended and unintended
Whenever you commit your words to electrons you must always be thinking
of your audience. Even if you are just sending a quick note to a
friend, your messages can be easily, even accidentally, forwarded
people who you may not know. Be careful about making disparaging
remarks, off-color comments or anything else that could be considered
by others. Your email can become public in the blink of an eye.
While public email can make your life difficult, it can also have
disastrous effects on your career. Recently, an employee at one
of my client sites
found himself out of a job within minutes of a misplaced email. He
accidentally sent an email discussing some work problems to the worst
possible person, his boss. His boss quickly requested a meeting and
they decided that it was best for the employee to leave.
While this is an extreme example, email goofs happen all the time,
with varying results. There is no way you can be absolutely sure
of your audience, so it is best to remain as gracious and forgiving
possible when hitting the send key.
The Public Forum
These same guidelines also apply doubly to any writing you place in
a public forum. These forums can include email mailing lists, web-based
bulletin boards and even manufacturer’s support forums. Inaccurate
or nasty messages can quickly make their way into the larger world,
as they get passed from hand to hand. Even worse, the original content
and context of the message can be distorted as it is passed from person
The ubiquitous nature of the Internet also leads to further complications.
It is not uncommon these days for managers, supervisors and job interviewers
to use Internet search engines to turn up information on you and
your past. Public forums are some of the easiest places for them
this information. Search engines, such as Google (http://www.google.com)
can quickly turn up a wealth of information about not only your job
history, interests and hobbies, but also other information that you
might rather be private.
In many cases, your online writing many be the only view that others
have of you. Be sure that you are putting your best foot forward whenever
you are writing. I am reasonably assured that if one of my clients “Googled” my
name, they would not turn up anything that could damage our working
relationship. How can I be sure? In truth, I can’t be 100% sure,
but the fact is I have “googled” myself so I have a fairly
good idea of what anyone else might find.
As I was writing this column, I did a quick search in Google Groups
(http://groups.google.com) to see what might turn up. Google recently
included a fairly old archive of Usenet News messages in its archive,
so I was interested to see what I may have been writing about in the
past. It was quite a trip on the “wayback machine” for
me. Long before the Internet was a commonplace part of many homes and
businesses, I was sending messages to a variety of groups. The oldest
message I found was from 1989, nearly 13 years ago. If this doesn’t
impress on you the longevity of your online communications, little
It is an important part of high-tech career management to constantly
be aware of what you are saying about your clients, your co-workers
and yourself in a public space such as the Internet. As you have seen,
online communications have a long life span and are easily searchable
by anyone. If you don’t pay attention, you might find yourself
suffering from a less-than-successful high-tech career, without even
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