The Backblaze Master Class: What to Work On, When You Can’t Work Out

Judging by the number of photos on social media of elaborate loaves of sourdough, completed five thousand-piece puzzles, and quarantine push-up challenges—we’re all looking for ways to improve our skills (or maybe just distract ourselves) while we’re observing social distancing and staying closer to home.

In an effort to help distract you from baking bread (and thereby ease the strain on the flour supply chain) we thought we’d offer you some different approaches to skill development from some of the experts we work with at Backblaze. We polled some of our team members—ranging from SEO experts, to financial gurus, to engineering powerhouses—to ask them for their favorite entry-level and pro-level resources for building new knowledge and experience in their fields of expertise.

Here’s what they recommend:

Want to Learn About SEO?

Toren Ajk, Backblaze’s E-Commerce Specialist, says that it’s integral to have a solid foundation of the basics of search engine optimization (SEO) before exploring the full range of what you can do with it. In his experience, there’s more to SEO than meets the eye at first, so taking the time to get an understanding of the basic elements lets you make better decisions as you move forward.

He recommends these resources for getting a good grasp of the fundamentals:

For specialists who are looking to learn more about SEO, Toren recommends:

  • The #SEOFOMO Newsletter. In her weekly newsletter, expert SEO consultant Aleyda Solis covers SEO news, resources, and useful tips.
  • Digitaleer’s “SEO This Week.” In this video series, digital marketing and SEO specialist Clint Butler breaks down interesting stories and trends related to e-commerce and SEO.

Wondering About Sales?

Terry LoBianco, Director of Media Sales for Backblaze B2 Cloud Storage, first became interested in sales after going on a sales call with her dad. She remembers that he had a great relationship and mutual dialogue with his distributors and it was inspiring to see that he didn’t use a hard sell approach.

Later, she got her first sales job for a healthcare company with a revolutionary product—the first blood centrifuge machine—which was exciting, fun, and inspired her to keep representing a reputable company with a strong belief that she can offer a quality product and service.

Terry recommends that beginners in sales follow a path similar to hers. She looked to her father to understand the basics of success in sales and recommends you do the same. Ask, listen, and build relationships with people working in the field and learn what you can from them.

For sales professionals looking to up their game, Terry recommends:

  • “See You at the Top.” In this classic book, author and sales master Zig Ziglar shares how to set goals and reach them, and why it’s important to believe in yourself to achieve your goals.
  • Online courses. Platforms like SalesHacker and LinkedIn offer a variety of courses on specialized topics within sales.

Thinking of Getting Started in Human Resources?

Natalie Cook, Director of HR, says that HR is a great path for anyone who loves a good challenge and finds great joy in other people’s developments and achievements.

Natalie’s recommended resources for beginners:

  • Simon Sinek. He was one of Natalie’s first HR role models whose lectures encouraged her to continue on the path of helping people.
  • Patty McCord. As the former chief talent officer at Netflix, McCord’s approach to finding talent and defining culture set the stage for many tech companies in Silicon Valley. In her book “Powerful: Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility,” she describes the path towards achieving a workplace culture of high performance and profitability.

Natalie’s recommended resources for experts looking to hone their skills:

  • This is one great tool for any HR professional who wants to learn more about the field.
  • Online HR courses. LinkedIn and Coursera offer a variety of courses from foundational lessons to more specific topics.

Curious About Finance?

Backblaze’s CFO Frank Patchel describes his job as increasing the value of the firm. Value comes from the people, products, services, and profits.

Frank’s recommended resources for finance beginners:

  • Study economics. Frank initially became interested in finance in college, when he took an economics course. He learned to see finance as applied economics and now, he recommends anyone take an economics class of some kind, even outside of a school setting, as an introduction to finance.
  • Read the Wall Street Journal. The digital version has a lot of articles beyond company news and the state of the economy, so you can see if specific financial topics seem interesting to you.

For other financial professionals looking to learn more about the field, Frank recommends:

  • Take a development course. Just as it’s helpful for beginners to study, professionals can expand their skill set and breadth of knowledge through specialized classes.
  • Connect with other experts. Some professional organizations host classes and events to help professionals stay current, as well as meet other people working in the field.

Interested in Marketing?

Ahin Thomas, Backblaze’s VP of Marketing, says that he’s always been fascinated by pop culture, music, and food, then eventually realized that the common thread between them was storytelling. “After I made that connection, I came to the conclusion that marketing is so much about storytelling—crafting the narrative, polishing the delivery, and responding to the audience,” says Ahin.

For people who are interested in getting started with learning more about marketing, Ahin says it’s important to start thinking about the “why.” Ask yourself why someone would be motivated to evangelize a specific thing, and how they would gauge their success. What’s the message, and who is their audience? Ahin believes that one of the best resources is reading and listening to the stories of other marketing experts.

For marketing professionals who are looking to hone their skills, Ahin first recommends talking to other marketing professionals, especially those who are facing unforgiving marketing challenges, but are able to make things work.

For more pro-level resources, he recommends:

  • Ghostery. This Google Chrome plugin primarily helps protect user privacy and security, but also tells you what marketing tools other companies are using, making it easier to learn how to copy the success of others.
  • “Building the Minimum Badass User.” In this 2012 Business of Software Conference talk, programming instructor and game developer Kathy Sierra gives advice about how to approach software development, which is also a great lesson for marketers about understanding their customers.
  • “Made to Stick.” Authors Chip and Dan Heath help explain the principles that make some messages more memorable than others in a succinct encapsulation of successful storytelling.

Want to Learn About Business Analytics?

Jeannine Smith, Head of Business Analytics, says that one way to start learning about business analytics is to look for examples of analytics and optimization in your everyday life. One of her first jobs in high school was at McDonalds, where she was taught to measure everything with a standard operating procedure to optimize the metrics. For example, she learned to fry potatoes in a specific way that yielded the most orders of fries per pound of frozen potatoes.

Jeannine also says that being curious and detail-oriented is just as important as having a background in business intelligence or data analytics. You can look at visualizations of public data sources that interest you on Tableau, which she uses regularly. Zillow Research also publishes housing data including visualizations and the raw data.

Jeannine and her team also suggested a few resources for business intelligence and analytics professionals to continue building their skills:

Ready to Start Your Own Business?

Gleb Budman, Backblaze CEO, explains that building a business is like parenting. You play a part in creating something that you love and care for and try to make the best decisions for it with lots of conflicting input, data, and opinions. You also have to know that you’re going to screw them up in some way no matter how hard you try, but hope you provide the right guidance and guardrails, then watch them grow beyond what you even imagined—all while being on a wild roller coaster ride with them throughout the journey.

Gleb says that the best way to start learning about running a business is by…running a business. Nothing can replace the experience of trying, so he recommends that the best resource is to just go ahead and start your business.

  • Talk with potential customers. Try to sell them what you intend to sell them. If they’re ready to give you money, you’re onto something. If not, you either haven’t found the right customers, are planning to make something your customers won’t buy, or you might not be explaining it well.
  • Read founder Paul Graham’s essays, such as “Organic Startup Ideas.”
  • Take a look at Stripe Atlas, a package of tools to help you get started with your business’s essentials.
  • Learn more from Signal vs. Noise. In their blog, the founders of Basecamp explain how they explicitly designed their company to be profitable, self-sustaining, focused on the long-term, and with a good work/life balance.

Resources that Gleb likes to explore for new inspiration and to build his skills:

  • The Lattice Blog. Gleb recommends reading the Lattice Blog for insights into building and managing teams and culture.
  • The AngelList Blog. This is a great source to read for news and guides on startups and growing businesses.
  • SaaStr. Gleb also looks at SaaStr for perspectives and learnings on growing and optimizing a SaaS business.

About Lora Maslenitsyna

Lora Maslenitsyna was the associate editor at Backblaze. She appreciates developing content that’s helpful, easy to read, and tells a great story. She has experience as a content writer and has previously worked in marketing for arts organizations, universities, and non-profits. Connect with her on LinkedIn.