Stumbling Into Success: How’d That Happen? By Dave Chappelle

Mom wanted me to be a writer. Dad wanted me to go into electronics. Sadly, they died before I made my mark doing both.

Two years ago I was a PC support specialist. Fun, learning every day, great boss, and travel, but inconsistent money. One day I saw an ad in an alternative entertainment weekly. A national computer publication was looking for a lab tester.

For years I’d been reading this magazine, and knew it was beyond me, but applied anyway. I was shocked when I received an email request for an interview. The editor asked “Why do you want to work here?” and “Why should we hire you?” then handed me a wireless mouse, and told me to write a review in 20 minutes. During this the Test Lab Editor introduced himself and asked, “So, you’re here for the writing job?” I remember thinking, “Writing? No, I wanna test stuff. This is a writing job? Oh no, they me to write for the magazine I’ve been learning from all these years?”

After only three questions, I was shocked again when they requested a second interview. Then I learned the position was part-time, for a monthly trade publication owned by the same company. They were interested because I worked for a reseller and understood what resellers wanted to know. I guess my enthusiasm helped, because they hired me.

After completing three lab test product roundups, the new owners folded the trade magazine. I knew the job was too good to be true. But the editor had other ideas. The website needed new content daily. Would I consider testing products and writing full time? I said yes, if I could remain a contractor.

Online writing is different from print writing. What you say in 1200 printed words must be said in less than 700 online. To learn more, I subscribed to many online writing newsletters, including From website tutorials I learned html, to insert links for readers and make the Online Editor’s job easier.

Three months into the online gig I received an email from the editor of a national financial magazine. She’d seen my reviews, and asked if I would write about buying a notebook computer. It was another great learning experience. Even when I thought I was over-simplifying, she kept saying “You’re too technical. Explain what you mean. Loosen your style.”

My freelance career was running! Within months, with no marketing effort, I had exposure in national consumer, technical, and trade publications, and experience in online reviewing.

When the recent economic slowdown reached me, I asked PR reps I’d met at media events for help. After a few calls I received an assignment from the editor of several trade magazines, who some consider the competition of my main customer. Neither have a problem with me working for the other.

My sister says customers/employers are only concerned with three things:

1. Can you do the work?

2. Can you meet the deadline?

3. Are you going to cause trouble?

Remember those three on every job.

To me, computer peripherals, software, and related products are toys. Playing with toys and writing about them is so fun and easy that after two years I’m still amazed I’m paid for it. While I’m not getting rich, not all remuneration is monetary. I’ve time for other things. My book will be finished by the end of this year.

Sometimes I like to think that wherever they are, Mom and Dad know what I’m doing.

Dave Chappelle is a Technology Reviewer for Canada’s largest computer magazine, The Computer Paper and Toronto Computes!. You can read his reviews at , including a review of Angela’s book. He has also written for MoneySense, Canada Computer Wholesaler, Computing Canada, Computer Dealer News, and Direction Informatique. Until now the two-year-old personal website he did to teach himself html from free website tutorials has remained private. At great risk to fragile self-esteem he’s chosen to publicly unveil the address in WritersWeekly, so aspiring writers can see that html isn’t the great mystery propeller heads want others to believe. Visit quickly, because the host ISP went out of business in June 2001, and the server space could be claimed at any time.