When I 1st started out learning about SEO Donna Fontenot was one of the 1st people I came across online. I read everything she wrote, and I asked questions in the forums which she always answered. More importantly she made me feel excited about SEO. I wanted to interview her because I wanted to find out what made her tick 10 years on from that and why she’s still doing what she’s doing. I also wanted to know about what she values in life and more about Donna the person rather than Donna the SEO. It is my belief that who we are as people, feeds directly into our attitude at work and at play. I still have a lot to learn from this wonderful lady and I hope you also gain something from reading the interview
You have been working in web related stuff for a really long time now, what has been the most exciting moment in your career so far?
I remember my very first BIG day of revenue extremely well. I kept running back and forth from my office desk to the living room to announce the latest stats. Run…run…run…”I just made $200!!!” Jump…jump…dance…dance. Go back to office. A few minutes later: Run…run…run…”I’m already up to $600!!!” Jump…jump…dance…dance…giggle like a schoolgirl. Go back to office. (Rinse.repeat). If the sky had fallen upon my head that day, I wouldn’t have cared. As far as I was concerned, life would never be more exciting that at that moment in time.
Why did you choose to work in web? What is it that’s so interesting about it for you?
I love the web in general because the entire world is contained in the 22″ monitor sitting in front of me. I love working with the web because it so neatly allows me to combine my talents and interests, mash them up, mix them together, create something totally ME, and then share it with the entire world via some box sitting in some server room somewhere on Earth.
Did you ever consider going into computing? If so why and if no, why?
When I was 17 years old, I graduated from high school and was preparing to enter college. Where I was going to college was never in doubt. I was born into a family that lived and breathed LSU football. We lived in an area that is fanatical about college football (the American kind), and it would have been treason to even think about attending any other university. The problem was that I had to major in something.
What did I really, really, really want to major in? Computer Science.
Why? Because I’d watched a movie that showed these great big enormous rooms filled with giant mainframe computers, along with large spinning tapes, and people in white lab coats walking around looking very intelligent. I wanted to be one of those people so badly, even though I really had no clue what any of it was truly about. (Keep in mind that this was a time period before the PC, when data was typed, causing holes to be punched in cards to represent the letters. If you made a typo, you had to start over. You couldn’t just backspace and plug a hole in a piece of paper).
Anyway, I’d always been a good student, with English being my best subject. I wasn’t bad at math, but I’d never been interested enough in it to take more than the basics required. So when my mother went to the Dean of the Computer Science department to discuss my interest in the subject, he asked her if I’d taken Calculus in high school.
When she replied that I had not, he told her that I would probably be unable to handle computer science, and I should probably major in something better suited to girls – like English. Well, despite the fact that I was a little miffed, and highly disappointed, I really had no reason to believe that the Dean might be wrong. I ended up graduating with a B.S. in English Education, but the entire four years that I attended school, I worked in one of the computer science related departments on campus. I never got a formal education in Computer Science during that time, but I got a lot of hands-on education.
I never did become a teacher. Shortly after graduation, when I realized that the pay was $10,000/year (no one told us that before we graduated), I knew I’d chosen the wrong path. Over the next 30+ years, every job I held was computer related in some way. Whether I was being the world’s best data entry operator (and yes, I actually believe at one point I probably could have claimed that title), or managing a database, or programming in RBasic (a language long gone), or even owning my own computer repair service, I just kept learning everything I could – on my own – so that I could stay connected to the field I loved.
Funny thing is that although I wanted to be one of those computer scientists in the long white lab coats, without really knowing anything about the profession at all, it turned out that computers really were my passion after all. And despite being informed that I would be incapable of understanding computer science; despite getting no formal education in the field; I just set about learning what I could on my own, and enjoyed my life’s many computer-related careers quite a lot.
So to answer the question…I did consider going into computing – and in my own way – I’ve been into computing all my adult life.
You teach a lot, what is the most common misunderstanding that you encounter?
The most common misunderstanding I encounter is the one in which people think there are “secrets” to being successful. No matter where one works, or what one does, online or offline, the only real secrets involve hard work, time, patience, passion, drive, tenacity, with maybe a little good luck or good timing thrown in. The only true shortcut is the one in which you are given good solid resources that help you make good solid decisions along the way. But everything else - real work – still has to be done. If someone is still ready to tackle their dreams after understanding that part of it, then they’ve got a good shot at being a success.
What would you change if you had to do it all again? (career-wise)
Oh I’d definitely have taken many more risks, and done everything in a much bigger way. Every time someone thought I “couldn’t”, I would have set out to prove that not only COULD I, but I could do it better than they’d ever seen anyone do it before. No doubt I would have failed at that more times than I would have succeeded, but I darn sure wouldn’t have regretted trying.
Aside from the web, what is your biggest passion in life?
Well, this one is a little more difficult to describe. But my biggest passion is life is finding ways to spread joy and happiness; showing how being positive beats being negative; how sharing peace and smiles fosters the creation of more peace and smiles. I know, first hand, what it’s like to be sad, depressed and negative. I also know, first hand, what a wonderful life we can live when we choose to live it in joy. Being pleasant isn’t just a matter of being polite.
That pleasantness reaches out and touches lives in a positive way that may not be seen by the one who was pleasant that day; but the effect is there and it can spread far and wide. And I believe that we don’t have to do this in any big, giant, impactful way. Just by impacting our own tiny pieces of the world – at our corner market, or at the post office, or in our own homes – we can make a huge difference. Like I always say, “You’ll never shine if you don’t glow.” :)
What do you have planned next, what’s your big goal?
My big goal is to be FREE AND CLEAR. (I mumble that phrase “free and clear” to myself quite often). I want to owe no one anything. I want to be completely self-sustaining. That’s my big goal.
Bonus: What’s your favourite tune today? (this one is compulsory I’m afraid)
I can only have one favorite? Hmph. That’s impossible.
My favorite motivational song is “All Star” by Smash Mouth. My motto comes from that song – “You’ll never shine if you don’t glow.”
My favorite “happy feet” song – the one that is guaranteed to make my head bob and my feet dance – is Walking on Sunshine by Katrina & The Waves.
My favorite genre of music is Smooth Jazz. That’s what I listen to while working.
My favorite tune that isn’t ancient (like the examples above are) would probably be either Feeling Good by Michael Buble or I Kissed a Girl by Katy Perry. (Obviously, my tastes are wide-ranging). :)
Oh, and my latest fave video is Coder Girl.
This interview was great. It basically showed something pretty important: that attitude in life does determine your success and your happiness also. I was disapointed that Donna didn’t get to study computer science, her story around that is sadly common, it is a male dominated industry afterall and less that 20% of women represent the profession in the US. Things like this need to change. I hope you’ve discovered another side to Donna (especially the fact that she cheated in the last question and picked no less than 6 tunes).
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