Publishing the first In 30 Minutes programming guide

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Over the past year, I have done several content experiments or expansions in the In 30 Minutes series, ranging from cooking to health and medicine. In this post, I’ll be talking about the jQuery Plugin book that my company released this month. While software has been a focus of the series since the beginning, this is the first title that gets into making software as opposed to using it.

The story begins last summer. I am a long-term member of the Hacker News community, and on a thread about ebook publishing I left this comment about best practices for experimental publishing. It got 16 upvotes, which was a nice validation — I am not a hacker, but I like to be able to positively contribute to Hacker News when I can. But the thread moved out of sight, and after a few days I forgot about my comment.

Six months later, I received an email out of the blue. It started:

I’ve been checking out your “30 Minutes” series and was originally inspired to write my own ebook after reading your post on HN a few months ago.

I have since wrote a small 48 page guide on “jQuery Plugin Development”.  I haven’t launched it yet, just waiting for some feedback after sending it to a few friends first.

The author was Robert Duchnik, a Canadian developer who was living in Thailand. We began corresponding, and tossed around the idea of releasing a programming title as an In 30 Minutes guide. This was an interesting area to expand into. Most In 30 Minutes titles are written for mainstream audiences. They range from Melanie Pinola’s book about LinkedIn to the experimental easy Chinese recipes cookbook on the iPad authored by Shiao-jang Kung. The jQuery Plugin guide was focused on a much narrower, highly technical niche audience. Marketing to this group would be a challenge.

Moving Forward With jQuery Plugin Development In 30 Minutes

Rob’s book had some big things going for it:

  1. He’s a jQuery Plugin expert, with many years of experience in the field and the operator of Websanova, an online resource devoted to jQuery Plugins.
  2. Rob has an existing audience, via Websanova. From previous releases by Melanie and Tim Fisher (author of Windows 8 Basics In 30 Minutes), I have found that those authors who already have existing online audiences have a huge advantage right out of the gate. Not only can they turn to their fans to purchase copies and help spread the word, but by virtue of the fact that they have already interacted with the audience over time they have an innate knowledge of the problems that readers face, and what people want to know. This makes for better books and a better author/reader relationship going forward.
  3. There was already a draft manuscript. It needed some light editing and a proofreader, but otherwise it was in pretty good shape.
  4. The manuscript was short. This is an asset, as we want readers to be able to understand the topic at hand in less than 30 minutes.
  5. The market for books about jQuery plugin development had a hole. Through discussions with Rob and a quick analysis of competing titles, I determined that there is a need for this type of resource (high-quality, quick-start programming guide) on this topic, especially if it were priced right.

jQuery plugin bookThis last point is important. I am not talking about low-balling the competition. There are already lots of free online resources about how to write jQuery plugins. There are also a small number of books about jQuery plugins, but most of them are long and somewhat expensive. There was not much in the middle, in terms of length or price. This is where jQuery Plugin Development In 30 Minutes would live.

Rob and I came to an agreement in January, and we moved forward with preparing the manuscript for publication. There were some new writing tools to try out, and some difficulties related to producing code blocks in Scrivener (my primary book production tool) but we established a workflow based on markdown and Github and published the title at the beginning of April. You can read the table of contents for the jQuery plugin book here. The title is available for the Kindle, iPad, Nook, and Google Play, as well as a paperback and a PDF.

Innovation is more than an academic pursuit

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In early January, I wrote the following email to WGBH, a well-known public broadcaster here in the Boston area. The station produces some excellent programming, but I have been mildly disappointed in a new program that is close to my heart. Here’s the text of the email:

I would like to make a comment about the radio program Innovation Hub.

I had high expectations for this program when it launched, as there is so much innovation taking place in WGBH’s neighborhood, from the labs at local universities to the small and medium-sized startup companies concentrated in the region. There are also many established organizations trying innovative approaches to their products, services, and ways of doing business. In other words, there is no dearth of guests who can come in to talk about what they are working on or where new opportunities lie, in fields that include biotechnology, manufacturing, media, banking, architecture, and even farming and food preparation. Of course, Skype and other connection tools make it possible for innovators all over the world to take part in the program.

However, when I turn on Innovation Hub every Saturday morning, I’m invariably treated to very long interviews with academics or pundits. Today, for instance, I heard the dean of a school of public health talking about research into innovation, and a doctor and a researcher talking about a minor finding in obesity and mortality data. This is not an unusual slate of guests or discussion areas. Often I hear authors and researchers talk about innovation in terms of studies or classic examples (e.g., what Google or Facebook is doing), while at other times they discuss some surprising finding in their research that goes against prevailing attitudes or experience.

While interesting, I feel that these discussions are 20,000 feet above the trenches where actual innovation is taking place, and the interviews are so long that there are too few opportunities for the program to talk with people who are actually carrying out innovative projects, product development, or new ways of doing “x”.

There is so much innovation taking place these days in New England and around the world. I hope the program can consider devoting more time to actual innovation and the people who make it happen.

One thing I would like to note: This was not intended as a passive pitch for my own business. I was motivated to write it by a desire to hear from people in the trenches of innovation. There are so many interesting things taking place right in WGBH’s backyard, and it seems like it would be so easy to get a slew of interesting people from all kinds of backgrounds to talk about the work that they are doing.

 

 

Startup publishing and managing early growth

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At a certain point in the lives of most product-oriented ventures, founders confront a slew of growth-related issues. In this post, I am going to talk about growth in the context of startup publishing, and the challenges that my own publishing company i30 Media has faced over 18 months of growth.

Windows 8 guide bookA bit of backstory: i30 Media publishes how-to guides under the In 30 Minutes® imprint, as well as several fiction titles. The most recent release is Windows 8 Basics In 30 Minutes, a Windows 8 user guide. The venture started in mid–2012 as a Lean Media experiment with just a single title written by myself and distributed on Amazon’s KDP self-publishing platform. Since then I have incorporated the venture. I30 Media has released about ten In 30 Minutes guides in various ebook formats as well as in paperback, and distributes to every major ebook platform (Kindle, iBooks, Nook) as well as growing platforms (Google Play Books, Kobo).

In the first six months of the venture, I was occupied with figuring out the publishing landscape, expanding distribution channels, cranking out early releases on my own. While I was new to book publishing, I am not new to the media industry, and applied domain knowledge from magazine/news publishing, online media, and the mobile app space.

One of the first growth lessons was being forced to give up the “one-man band” idea. That guy attracting a small crowd on the local town common with a drum pedal strapped to his foot, a tuba around his waist, a harmonica in his mouth, a xylophone in one hand and maracas in the other is technically able to mimic a real band. But he will be limited in what he can do with his instruments (e.g., the xylophone sounds better using two hands than one) and quality ultimately suffers. Actually, let’s not beat around the bush — one-man bands sound terrible. Can you imagine listening to their stomping, honking tunes on the radio, or downloading the music to play at home? People enjoy one-man bands for the spectacle, not for the music.

I was a one-man band in the first month. I did everything, from writing to setting up the websites to designing the cover image. And I wasn’t doing it for the spectacle. I did it because it was cheap and I could do everything. But I could see there was a quality gap with the competing titles available on Amazon and elsewhere. The covers looked amateurish, and I was worried about the quality of the copy. I began to look for things to outsource, and one of the first was cover design. I contacted Steve Sauer, a graphic designer I used to work with, who was happy to take on the freelance work for his consulting firm Single Fin Design. His first cover, for Dropbox In 30 Minutes, was a big success (see Do people judge an ebook by its cover?). I decided to have him do new covers for other In 30 Minutes guides going forward.

I also found people to handle other tasks, including copy editing and market research. But the big growth impediment was writing. It was quickly apparent to me that I could not grow In 30 Minutes guides into a successful brand unless I found other authors. While the guides don’t take long to write (I tell prospective authors that the first draft of a 10,000–15,000 word guide typically takes 5 or 6 weeks, writing on nights and weekends) there is so much other stuff to do when it comes to growing a business — marketing, expanding sales and distribution, accounting, dealing with production issues, etc. As i30 Media grew, I knew that I would have less time to spend on writing. The only way to keep growing and strengthen the brand was to find other authors to write new titles, including topic areas in which I had no expertise.

The impact of my recruitment efforts is apparent when looking at the In 30 Minutes catalogue. Of the first 5 titles, four were written by me. Of titles #6 through #10, only one was written by me.

Besides production, the other side of growth relates to sales. As mentioned earlier, I follow Lean Media principles when it comes to marketing and sales. That entails lots of experimentation with everything from advertising to sales calls to potential enterprise customers. But it’s not just about identifying opportunities, and then measuring the impact of pilot experiments. In order to expand growth, it’s also necessary to identify which opportunities not to pursue. One area which I have stayed away from so far is bookstore distribution, based on early discussions with (mostly disinterested) bookstore managers, an evaluation of visibility and competition within B&N and Staples, and the industry standard requirement that demands 55% discounts and the right to return or destroy unsold copies. I haven’t completely written off the opportunity (in fact, I have made many titles available through the back-end ordering systems that bookstores use) but I don’t want to spend loads of time fighting to get In 30 Minutes guides in a channel that may ultimately be unprofitable.

I have also avoided ebook platforms that have too much overhead, are weak on terms, or look like they could undermine or cannibalize other sales channels. I stayed far away from Sony’s ebook platform, owing to the way it basically demanded that independent publishers beg to join. I have also been a skeptic of Scribd’s ebook subscription service.

What does the future hold for i30 Media? Certainly, more guides and more sales. In addition to the Windows 8 user guide, I have a new title about jQuery plugins in the works as well as a non-technology title (still in stealth mode). I am also planning growth of the company itself. Already I have begun thinking about hiring my first employee. The numbers aren’t aligned yet, but we could see action on this front in 2015.

The behind-the-scenes story of an experimental Chinese cookbook

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My company just released a new “In 30 Minutes” guide, titled Easy Chinese Recipes In 30 Minutes. I’d like to share a little behind-the-scenes news about the title, which is special in several regards:

  • It’s the first cookbook we’ve ever released
  • The author, Shiao-jang Kung, rose to the challenge of creating authentic recipes that contain ingredients you can get in any large supermarket. The recipes include Sesame Cucumbers/涼拌小黃瓜, Soy-Flavored Fried Tofu/香煎豆腐/香煎豆腐 (includes video), Fried Rice/炒飯 (healthy recipe – limited oil and no soy sauce!), “Almost” Three Cups Chicken/“差不多”的三杯雞, and more.
  • It incorporates video and an app-like user experience
  • It only costs 99 cents (!)

Easy Chinese RecipesThe inclusion of video and other app-like features is something that has been talked about for years in the industry, but it has been very hard to implement for the Kindle, Nook, and Android tablets. However, Apple has created production tools that let authors incorporate video, photo slideshows, and other elements, and I decided to apply them to Easy Chinese Recipes In 30 Minutes.

If it proves successful, I will look into creating a Kindle version … but the lack of production tools and uncertain support for features such as video will be hurdles. This gets into the “walled garden” problem that is cropping up for sophisticated ebook technologies. For a basic ebook that uses just text, photos, and links, Scrivener has served me well. I just create the ebook, and then export to epub (iPad and Android tablets), .mobi (Kindle), PDF, paperback, and other formats.

Because Apple’s production tools do not support export to non-Apple formats or the ePub standard, that limits the distribution of the title. I am sure the smart people at Amazon are looking into enabling video support for .mobi ebooks, but if I have to use another product tool to create it, that will lead to all kinds of production headaches. I will basically have to build each title multiple times in different production tools, and make sure that edits in one manuscript are applied to the other.

To learn more about the guide and download a copy for your iPad, iPad Air, or iPad mini, check out the product website for Easy Chinese Recipes In 30 Minutes.

Harvard Extension School ALM in Management vs. full-time MBA

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I received an email from a prospective student asking about the Harvard Extension School’s ALM in Management program. He wanted me to compare the ALM in Management vs. a full-time MBA.

In my reply, I noted that I have never taken any ALM in Management classes. My ALM concentration was history. But I have followed the Management program since it was introduced and have a full-time MBA under my belt, and feel qualified to make some comparisons.

From my point of view, while the ALM in Management has a price that’s hard to beat, it does not compare with a full-time MBA. Here’s where I think the ALM in Management program comes up short:

  1. There is no cohort experience, vital for building a network that can serve you long after after the program concludes.
  2. Even though many of the classes are similar to those you would find in a business school, the ALM in Management degree is technically not an MBA. It’s a liberal arts degree in management (!). This fact may cause skepticism among some potential employers.
  3. Most instructors are not Harvard faculty, and there is no affiliation with the world-famous Harvard Business School.
  4. While online classes are a lot of work for students, they are not a substitute for in-person learning experiences. Extension School students have complained about some of the deficiencies in the past.
  5. Recruiters either don’t know about the ALM program, or don’t regard it as a good program because it’s part-time, mostly online, etc. Note that some recruiters view any part-time business degree with skepticism.
  6. Among recruiters, the reputation of the school has been damaged by HES graduates who have omitted their Extension School background on their resumes. In some cases graduates have innocently followed the Harvard Extension School resume guidelines, but in many cases there have been deliberate attempts to portray themselves as graduates with a Harvard MBA or Harvard College degree.

In other words, it’s a mistake to assume the ALMM is like a Harvard MBA lite. That said, I think there is real value in some of the on-campus classes that expose students to important business concepts. There are takeaways that can be brought back to the workplace, or help students shift their careers in a new direction. For students who cannot enroll in a full-time MBA program, ALM in Management classes are an attractive alternative.

 

The Startup Roller Coaster

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In 2010, I heard a talk by angel investor and entrepreneur Howard Anderson about the emotional roller coaster that comes comes with launching a new technology venture. He explained how the highs are so high, while the lows feel really low.

For those of us in the room who had never been in the position of launching a company, it didn’t sound surprising. Of course the pressure will be intense, and incredibly risky. But how extreme could the highs and lows be?

Extremely extreme, as it turns out.

I worked in large organizations for more than a decade. A bad day at an established company might entail sharp-elbowed office politics, hurt feelings, and worry about career advancement or a raise. Worst cases involved the loss of a job. But in most situations at a large company, problems will eventually be worked out. Everyone knows the organization will endure.

Startup Roller CoasterNot so at a startup. Before you’re funded or generate revenue, the venture is fragile. Things move fast, there is too much to do, and the sense of responsibility is huge. Even minor problems feel big, and failure of the business can take many forms.

Conversely, the accomplishments feel huge. Hard work, a new In 30 Minutes title, positive feedback from readers, and lucky breaks can really boost your spirits. When a bunch of things are working well at the same time, the feeling is spectacular.

Then the crash: reality checks, unforeseen problems, pushback, lack of alignment, and the flat-out “no” when you were hoping for a “yes.” These and other issues can really throw a wrench in the works.

There are ways out of the funk, though. Keep on executing. Work through or around the problems. Reach out to your partners or customers or mentors or anyone who might be able to help with a new approach or pivot. The wins begin to trickle back, and the cycle starts again.

A few years ago, I met an experienced startup founder at the Cambridge Innovation Center. She was very familiar with the entrepreneurial roller coaster, and offered some advice on how to handle it.

“For the highs and lows, be careful of what you do on those days,” she said. For instance, on a good day when you get a big win like recruiting a customer, call your investors and tell them about it.

She also alluded to things founders should not do on the bad days. She didn’t have enough time to explain what they were (it was at the end of a late-night meeting) but one of them I have been able to deduce from multiple sources (including Y Combinator founder Paul Graham), as well as Howard Anderson’s reminder at the end of his talk: “It’s always darkest before the dawn,” he said.

In other words, keep pressing ahead, even when the world seems to be working against you. And don’t give up.

The above image is a creative commons licensed image from Tanki on Flickr.

Brazil’s SEED startup accelerator, and an opportunity for foreign startups

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If I were 20 years younger, and not already dedicated to In 30 Minutes guides, I would be all over this. The Minas Gerais State Government in Brazil (home of the local startup hub known as San Pedro Valley) has set up an accelerator program that is open to local or foreign startups. For teams that are accepted to SEED, the program provides living expenses, co-working space, startup capital (equity free!), and support for staying in Brazil (the announcement doesn’t state what the support is, but hopefully it involves helping with visas and other bureaucracy).

There is a deadline coming up October 17 for the next program, but there is also a late December deadline for the following session. Details are located on the official SEED website, but here are the most important elements from the announcement (I’ve also added the official infographic to the bottom of this post):

Seed capital, equity free, for each startup varies, approximately, between US$ 35,000.00 (for projects with two participants) and US$ 40,000.00 (for projects with three participants). Part will be transferred as monthly scholarships of US$ 1,000.00 for each project participant, to cover living expenses and guarantee exclusive dedication to their business while participating in the program. The remainder US$ 22,000.00 will be transferred to fund a high-potential prototype or a releasable version of a product or service.
SEED offers too exclusive mentoring program; an inspiring co-working space and connection to a global community of entrepreneurs.

Who can apply?
Participants must be 18 years or older, Brazilian or foreigners in condition to stay in Brazil for duration of the program (SEED will assist all foreign participants in meeting this condition). During their participation in the program, entrepreneurs must be willing to live in Belo Horizonte, contributing to develop the local startup ecosystem.

Startups can be from anywhere in the world and must be in an early stage, that is, planning or developing a high-potential prototype or a releasable version of a product or service

As I stated at the beginning of this post, if I were 20 years younger, I would apply in a heartbeat — and not just because Brazil and Brazilian people are so special. The financial support (no equity!) is important, as is the “cohort” experience of being with other like-minded startups from all over the world. But there’s something else: Living in a foreign country is not only a rewarding personal experience, it allows you to focus on activities and goals without the distractions and expectations of one’s home country. I spent most of my 20s living abroad, and was able to make connections and accomplish projects that never would have been possible if I had remained in Boston.

As it is, I am older now, and have a wife and school-aged kids and other obligations that prevent me from relocating to Brazil. In addition, while my In 30 Minutes venture leverages a number of e-publishing technologies to produce this Dropbox guide, a user manual for Google Drive, and the most recent release Twitter In 30 Minutes, it is not a pure tech startup, which is what SEED appears to be looking for.

The official SEED infographic contains more details:

Brazil SEED accelerator

Why it took so long to release Twitter In 30 Minutes

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At the beginning of this month, I released a new In 30 Minutes guide that explains what is Twitter and how to use it. Some people who have been following my story over the past year may wonder why it took so long to release Twitter In 30 Minutes — after all, the series has covered popular Web and mobile services since the beginning, and Twitter is one of the most popular services of all. Why not write it sooner? But I have my reasons, and this post explains some of the thinking behind the timing for this particular title.

What is Twitter?I have considered the idea of doing Twitter In 30 Minutes since the early success of the In 30 Minutes guide for Dropbox in the summer of 2012. It was clear there was a marketplace need for titles that quickly and clearly explained consumer-oriented online software. In addition, a guide to Twitter would not be hard for me to write — I have been using Twitter since the early days (2007, to be precise) and have a solid level of domain knowledge.

But a few other factors held me back. The first was the lackluster release of Excel Basics In 30 Minutes in late 2012. It was a hard title to write, and it flopped upon release.

I did a lot of experimentation with pricing and positioning of the guide, but it took a long time before I was able to get much sales traction. Why? It seemed like a perfect candidate — the software is complicated, and there are millions of people who need to learn how to use it. But on Amazon there are about 100 other titles that explain how to use Excel, and many of them target specific versions. It was therefore very hard to stand out in the crowd with Excel Basics In 30 Minutes. I foresaw a similar problem with a guide to Twitter. In the Kindle store in particular, there are dozens of “how to use Twitter” guides, which makes it much harder to stand out.

Another issue that crossed my mind: Was Twitter so easy to figure out, that few people would actually need a guide? Compared to Dropbox and Google Drive, Twitter is a cinch to start using. But I also knew that many people who started using Twitter stopped shortly after for a variety of reasons. One Harvard Business School case I read claimed Twitter’s retention rate in the late 2000s was just about 25% after the first month. The rest gave up, many never to return. That meant lots of people could be coached on techniques that would keep them interested and engaged.

A couple of other factors pushed me to consider bringing Twitter In 30 Minutes to market.

  • Readers of other In 30 Minutes titles began asking me for a guide to Twitter.
  • LinkedIn In 30 Minutes, released in May 2013, was a breakout success

LinkedIn In 30 Minutes was an interesting case. Even though it was entering a crowded market (there are dozens of LinkedIn guides on Amazon), it did manage to have strong sales right out of the gate. This was in large part because of creative and sustained marketing efforts on the part of author Melanie Pinola and myself. In addition, it was written by someone who I knew was a strong writer and more of expert on LinkedIn than I.

Based on the success of the LinkedIn title, I began asking contacts, bloggers, and other writers to see if any were interested in taking on Twitter In 30 Minutes. When that did not work, I considered just hiring someone out. But I was worried about quality issues and costs. Eventually, I decided to do it my own. Now I am asking myself if it’s time to create Facebook In 30 Minutes.

If you’re interested in learning more about Twitter In 30 Minutes, check out the table of contents and the options to buy the guide for paperback, Kindle, iPad, PDF, and other formats.

CIC Cambridge: A review of the local startup hive that most locals have never heard of

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The Cambridge Innovation Center is a startup office space located at One Broadway, just around the corner from the Kendall Square T station and across the street from MIT Sloan. Few people in Cambridge and Boston have ever heard of it, but it plays a very important role in the local startup ecosystem, as I will discuss in this post.

I spent a fair amount of time in the CIC from 2011 to 2012, and still go back on a regular basis to meet people or take part in seminars that help me run my business (In 30 Minutes guides). I am not an insider or expert on the CIC, but as a participant in the local startup scene, I have some observations which others may find useful.

Famous CIC alumni include Carbonite and Hubspot. But most of the hundreds of CIC startups are still in the relatively early stages of their existence. Almost all have some sort of technology focus or angle, although there are many companies that provide services (such as law firms) as well as investors with offices in the building.

Cambridge Innovation Center CIC C3Some startups are no more than a cubby and red belongings bag in the Cambridge Co-working Center (C3), the CIC’s low-cost co-working space. In 2011, C3 cost $250/month, which included random desk space, wifi, access to conference rooms and printers, free coffee and snacks, etc. I’ve heard it’s gone up. Regardless, this is an attractive option for companies with little funding or revenue. It’s not uncommon to see practically every seat in the C3 areas occupied on a typical afternoon, and the work continues there well into the morning hours.

Established companies with funding, customers and revenue have their own offices in the building. Some are quite small. I’ve been in a CIC office that is no more than a tiny, 30-foot-square room with a desk and some shelves. Others have larger spaces with lobbies and their own conference rooms.

There is a fair amount of churn at the CIC. Walking around the lower floors, it seems that there’s always someone moving in or out. That’s to be expected. Startups are inherently risky, and many of the C3 companies may not make it past the idea or early prototype stage. For those that do, they will eventually outgrow C3. Upgrading to a larger CIC office is an option, but if they grow big enough they will eventually have to find larger (or cheaper) office space elsewhere.

CIC events are worth mentioning. Venture Cafe is well-known in the local entrepreneurial community. It’s held on the 4th-floor of the CIC on a regular basis (usually on a Thursday afternoon). It’s a great place to network as well as access expertise and investors.

Besides the Venture Cafe, there are many other events held in the CIC for founders and people interested in starting their own companies. I’ve derived a ton of value from the free seminars organized by McCarter & English, a law firm that serves the startup and investment communities and has an office in the CIC. The speakers are all pros. I’ve attended talks on seed-stage funding, accounting for startups, and a great session on startup marketing featuring Bobbie Carlton, the founder of Mass Innovation Nights.

While the CIC is just part of the startup ecosystem in Cambridge, it’s an important part. We’ve found it to be an excellent place to start entrepreneurial efforts and make connections that will help sustain new enterprises. The CIC blog gives a feel for the character of the organization, activities, and some of the startups and founders that are based there. You can find out more about the CIC at its website and learn more about the history of the CIC on Xconomy.

Harvard Extension School résumé guidelines are bogus

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If you are a graduate of the Harvard Extension School, how should you list this accomplishment on your résumé, or on LinkedIn?

That’s easy. You type “Harvard Extension School” in the place where the university name is supposed to go. For the degree name, write out “Bachelor of Liberal Arts” or “Master of Liberal Arts”, or type the official designation, ALB or ALM. Then add “Museum Studies”, “History”, “Biology”, “Information Technology”, “Management”, or other concentration in the place where the field of study is listed.

Simple, right? It clearly identifies the school you attended, the degree you received, and your area of concentration.

However, for some Harvard Extension School graduates, it is not so simple. For evidence of this, take a look at this comment on a recent Atlantic essay about the Extension School:

I have a master’s degree from Harvard obtained through the HES. My diploma says Harvard University (in latin no less). I have had headhunters and recruiters question me on it and state that it was misleading for me to list Harvard University as my school. My diploma says Harvard University, my classes were all taken on campus at Harvard (before online classes were popular), so many had to be taught by Harvard professors and not instructors, I completed all the degree requirements. I don’t see anything misleading and I don’t know how else to list it on my resume.

The headhunters are right. It is misleading. Every student and alumnus at Harvard identifies with the school he or she is affiliated with. And, like it or not, “Harvard University” is synonymous with “Harvard College” in the eyes of the public, and many people in the corporate world. At the graduate level, “Harvard University” is associated with the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences programs that lead to MAs and PhDs. The Extension School is very, very different than the College or the advanced programs in GSAS.

As for the comment that she doesn’t know how to list the name of her school on her resume, why not list “Harvard Extension School”?

This question gets to the heart of the identity issue. Some graduates don’t want to admit they attended the Harvard Extension School, because of the stigma associated with the part-time program. Other Extension School graduates deliberately take advantage of the “Harvard University” label to mislead people into thinking they attended the highly selective College or GSAS programs. Indeed, many Extension School students (matriculated or not) insinuate or outright claim to be College students to other people at Harvard. The cases I know about include Abe Liu, as well as these incidents listed here, here, and here.

But there’s another possibility: The Extension School tells its graduates that it’s actually OK to use “Harvard University” (with at least one interesting exception, described below). Further, it tells graduates to use the bogus “in Extension Studies” designation when spelling out the name of the degree:

Harvard Extension School Resume Guidelines

No one at the Harvard Extension School majors in “Extension Studies”, so why do we have to state this on our résumés? The only reason I can think of is to compensate for the misleading use of “Harvard University”. But if you are clearly stating the name of the school (e.g., Harvard Extension School) instead of “Harvard University” there is no need to add this inaccurate qualifier to the name of the degree.

There is an exception to the official Harvard Extension School résumé guidelines: People who have completed the ALM in Management program are supposed to use “Harvard University” and “Extension School”, but not “In Extension Studies”. Here’s the screen shot from the current Extension School website:

Harvard Extension School ALM Management resume guidelines

Why this exception? My guess is the Harvard Business School got tired of fakers running around suggesting that they had completed the MBA program …. or the Extension School wanted to avoid friction with the B-School.

Note also that the guidelines have changed. The 2008 website’s official resume guidelines did not require “Extension Studies” or “Extension School” anywhere:

old Harvard Extension School resume guidelines

I never followed those guidelines, either. I felt “Harvard University, Master of Liberal Arts, Concentration In History” was misleading and not representative of the degree that I earned through the Extension School. I have always used “Harvard Extension School” on my LinkedIn profile and paper versions of my resume, and clearly state this fact on this blog and elsewhere.

Bottom line:

  1. Be proud of your school. As anyone who has completed the ALB or ALM programs know, it requires years of dedicated study and some extremely challenging academic requirements, from the Harvard Extension School admissions requirements to the ALM graduate thesis. People who take online classes have it even harder, as there are no nearby students to turn to for support and it’s often impossible to ask questions during class or interact with faculty.
  2. The Extension School’s official guidelines obfuscate the degree and serve no one except for those graduates who want to claim “Harvard” on their resumes while avoiding the actual name of the school.
  3. If you insist on using “Harvard University” on your resume while knowing that most people reading it will assume it refers to Harvard College or GSAS, you’re either fooling yourself or are deliberately misleading people. When people find out, it not only makes you look bad, it reflects badly on all of us.
  4. Be clear about where you attended school at Harvard, and be clear about what you studied. People expect it, and it’s the right thing to do.