Competitrack had racks of VHS machines set up to record the top broadcast and cable channels in dozens of US cities. Someone would swap in new tapes and box up the old ones for shipment to New York. The team of TV “coders” would receive the tapes and scan through each one to find and identify all of the ads within our tracking universe. Whenever they found a new ad, competing ad agencies would want to see it ASAP, and the standard practice was to send a videotape via bicycle messenger.

In 1995, I built a “QuickView” service for digital video transmission. First, we’d digitize the video. Then, we’d transfer the files to a dedicated computer at the client site using separate point-to-point transfer solutions for Mac (Apple Remote Access) and PC (Norton PCAnywhere). Finally, we’d ping the client computer to launch a desktop application that would sound an alert and play the locally stored QuickTime video. Several moving parts, but it worked fine.

The result was that within minutes of an initial airing, ad agencies and their lawyers could review competitors’ new creatives, down to the fine print. It was a big hit, especially on Super Bowl Sunday.

But it wouldn’t be long until the service would be made obsolete by the Internet. I started reading about the Internet. I figured we needed one of our own.

I called Sun Microsystems:

“Hi, I’m calling to request brochures for your server hardware.”

“Sorry, we don’t have any brochures.”

“How can I find out about your products?”

“All the information you need is on the Internet.”

“But we don’t have an Internet. That’s why I’m calling you!”

The technology had moved on. I was way behind the curve. I had lost my edge.

What I needed was a mentor. It’s important to have an ongoing dialogue with an industry expert who can guide you towards what you should be learning next.

The good news was that the company had just hired an experienced IT professional who had worked in the advertising business. He was put in charge of the three-person department.

The bad news was that I was an entitled hotshot with a fragile ego. I didn’t want to work for anyone except the boss. I wasn’t ready to be managed. That’s to say, I was unmanageable.

It didn’t go well. I started planning my exit strategy.

I wanted to find similar work that would give me more responsibility, more autonomy, and more money. And my plan was to get some kind of certification.

We had been experimenting with Oracle, but we were a long way from deployment. I wasn’t ready to pass the certification exam to put myself out there as an Oracle expert.

Our company was using Novell NetWare. I read the manuals cover-to-cover with the thought of getting certified as a Novell Network Engineer. But the new boss wasn’t interested in paying for certification. After reading those manuals, I didn’t want to pay for it either.

On my own nickel, I did get certified in the legacy software that we had been using. That was a waste of time and money. I had been hoping to move on from that outdated technology. Instead, I solidified my connection to it.

My mistake, or rather, one of my mistakes, perhaps somewhere among the top five mistakes within this post alone, was thinking that certification would do anything for my career. Telling the QuickView story would have been a better place to start.

Stories can get you a job.