76. Courtney Linder – Technology Reporter

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Reading Time: 7 minutes

“I listen to and read others’ work and try to think about it as an experiment in what I can learn from them, rather than an exercise in comparing myself to others. The latter, of course, would be demoralizing.”

Tell us a little bit about what a typical day looks like for you.

To say this is my “typical day,” is misleading because every day is drastically different. I know that everyone says that about their job but it’s especially true in my field — I quite literally depend on you all in the tech world to tell me what my schedule should be.

For example, if there is major Uber-related news, I basically stop everything and go into panic mode, making calls, sending emails, typing frantically. Hoping my editor doesn’t think my draft looks like I vomited all over the CMS. That kind of thing.

But, on a more “typical day,” I wake up and check my email immediately and if nothing is urgent, I get to work and start reading financial and tech news from both local organizations and national outlets (I dig Wired, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and Recode, most).

Then, a few days of the week, I put together my newsletter called Tech.pgh (hi: you should subscribe, but more on that below).

Then I’ll probably make a few phone calls or head out to someone’s office or co-working space for an interview. I love doing them in-person. There’s so much more to gather when I’m engaging all of my senses.

When we talk over email or on the phone, I’m not able to think as creatively and, therefore, don’t ask as many interesting questions. So, I try to do that at least once each day, where possible. In general, though, I’d say at least 30 percent of my day is pure research outside interviewing — which I guess you could also say is research!

How do you stay passionate in your career?

First, I think it’s worth noting how easy it is to burn out in journalism. I think that is often undercut or overlooked by outsiders to our field.

We are not subject matter experts, but we do carve out a niche if we’re “beat writers,” as I am. So while I know more about tech than your average hamster, every interview is like a different raindrop hitting that overarching umbrella.

So I constantly have to be switching gears. And, after shifting so much, sometimes you need to see a mechanic for a new gear-shifter. I kid, but it does get exhausting to hear from people that know more about a topic than you do every single day.

So to maintain sanity and try to keep creative, I love listening to podcast interviews because they allow me to kick back and relax and passively learn, but also force me to think about the way that the interviewer is asking questions.

This goes without saying, but Kara Swisher is my absolute favorite for this. Today, for example (Jan. 17), I listened to an episode of Recode Decode where she interviewed Emily Weiss, CEO of the makeup behemoth Glossier. It was spectacular and even gave me story ideas.

TLDR: I listen to and read others’ work and try to think about it as an experiment in what I can learn from them, rather than an exercise in comparing myself to others. The latter, of course, would be demoralizing.

Did you have a traditional path into tech (i.e.: CS/IT degree transitioned into tech job)?

If you’ve read this far, you already know the answer to this! Absolutely not.

I studied creative nonfiction writing (which, I should probably tell you, is NOT a journalism major – I had to learn on the fly) as well as economics. I also have a certificate in Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies and a minor in legal studies.

I entered college in fall 2013 with the expectation that I’d study civil engineering or neuroscience, but after one composition course, I couldn’t deny the love I have had inside of me, since I was a child, for the written word.

I was the kind of student that performed about equally in all areas so sometimes, I still wonder who I’d be or where I’d be if I had studied for a STEM career.

I can tell you that at one point, all of my roommates were studying the natural sciences (one chemistry, one biology) or chemical engineering. I felt like a tiny mouse in comparison. But you know what? I love telling my best friend, a chemist, all about the cool things I understand about tech, now, even as an English major.

I must admit that as a hobby, I began teaching myself some VERY basic HTML/CSS/Java with free online resources and found it fascinating. It was for a story I was producing on coding bootcamps, but I still dabble here and there.

I hope to carve out more time to practice so that I can better understand the conventions of the industry I cover but also — so that I can design, host and lay out my personal website in a way that looks acceptable. I want to prove to myself as a “non-techie” that I can do it.

Plus, I’ve been paying for www.courtneylinder.com for four years and haven’t used it yet!

Are there any apps, software, or tools you cannot live without?

1) Libby, the Overdrive app that makes it way easier to place holds on and read books from your local library. It’s transformed my hatred of reading on my smartphone. I used to detest the user interfaces of so many different apps I’ve tried, but Libby is just a delight in so many ways. Tell all your friends.

2) I’m all about Twitter because, ya know, journalists need to follow other journalists to see what we’re missing, when we’ve been beat on a story, what we need to keep on our radar. Lists are essential.

3) Chartbeat — to keep abreast of my stories’ analytics. News and technology have a complicated relationship, given that Google and Facebook are often ostracized for gobbling up the ad revenue that once supported the journalism industry, at large. So, we need to make sure we’re producing stories that people like, in order to make a subscription-based model work. And by we, I mean not just the Post-Gazette, but the industry, at large.

4) Reddit, of course. Here’s a secret of mine: I like to copy and paste the links to my stories that are doing well (based on analytics) into the search bar on Reddit’s desktop version to see if someone’s already posted it in the r/Pittsburgh subreddit. That way, I can see the conversation sprouting from that story. It helps me ensure I’m being accurate, gauge how my target audience views my coverage and sometimes garner new story ideas.

It’s common knowledge that women and femmes often face obstacles in the tech industry based on their gender. Have you ever had to deal with this type of experience and if so how did you handle it?

Given that I’m at a crossroads between two industries (tech, journalism) that are currently under scrutiny for the treatment of self-identifying women, this is tough.

In covering tech, I do find that some men may ask to meet for dinner for an interview — and I always decline, whether their tone indicates that they’re being a bit skeevy or even if they just think it would be a nice place to talk. I don’t want to be put into an unethical position, where my job is on the line and I certainly don’t want to feel uncomfortable around someone I’m considering writing about for a story.

So I instead recommend grabbing coffee or tea, or perhaps lunch if they can’t meet at their office for some reason. It’s always a safer bet to meet during business hours for interviews.

I want to reiterate that these people may have had golden intentions, but I’m not willing to take that risk.

Now on the other side of the token, I do deal with some scenarios wherein I get “mansplained.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the expert — I’m the listening ear and the observant eye — but I am familiar enough with tech, generally speaking, that I don’t need a “101” crash course on Every. Single. Thing. Tech.

Please, by all means, break down your training data for me and any bias within that set, but please don’t explain to me what artificial intelligence is. It’s part of my CAREER to know that and you should trust that I’ve done my research. And I am constantly doing follow-up fact checks with my sources to ensure I’ve gotten the story down right.

What’s your favorite thing about being a woman in tech?

As a non-traditional woman in tech — one on the fringes covering the industry these fine ladies work in — I find that it’s so gratifying to forge genuine relationships and rapport with the folks I cover.

I love that I have contacts where, we’ve built enough mutual trust, that I can call on them or text them any time of day (or night) about a topic I’m writing about. Or to grab a coffee to give me the latest scoop about both the tech industry and their life.

That’s one thing that I love about being a journalist: building rapport with sources so that we can talk openly and frankly.

If applicable, how have you given back to the WIT community?

I’ve spoken on so many panels now that I almost can’t keep count. I give lectures on self-driving car tech for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute for engaged retirees. I’ve moderated a panel on women in fintech.

I hope that I write stories and profile women that are doing incredible work. But I’m not perfect and I hope you’ll share more of those stories with me.

PLEASE spam me about the other incredible women in Pittsburgh tech who are not covered often enough.

One of my goals this year is to quote more women and focus on more women because tech is so male-dominated and the media generally shapes the public’s understanding of an industry and who matters in those spaces. I hope to showcase more of these entrepreneurs, scientists, engineers — you name it.

What is a piece of advice you would give to others wanting to or currently pursuing a career in tech?

Well, if you’re in high school or even in college — use Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) to bolster your skills. I’ve heard this time and again from people that I’ve interviewed who came from unorthodox backgrounds for a tech worker.

Tell us about a time you felt extremely accomplished in the past year. 

Every time I’m invited to moderate or participate on a panel, I’m so humbled. That’s a feeling that you just can’t replicate; the idea that someone thinks your input and your voice is valuable.

I was also so proud to have pitched a new series called “Patented in Pittsburgh” that my editor let me run away with. I even got to assign stories to interns, so I acted as a pseudo-editor! Pretty cool stuff considering I’m still learning the ropes.

Favorite quote:

“There must be quite a few things that a hot bath won’t cure, but I don’t know many of them.”

This comes from Sylvia Plath in “The Bell Jar,” one of my all-time favorite novels.


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