Prairie Portrait: Thomas Frank, senior at Iowa State University
Name: Thomas Frank
Bio: I'm a senior at Iowa State University and the creator of College Info Geek, one of the largest student-focused blogs on the web.
Title: Head Geek at College Info Geek
Residence: Ames, Iowa
Intro music: "Bios," by Mika Kobayashi
Silicon Prairie News: Can you explain the mission of College Info Geek and why you decided to launch the site?
Thomas Frank: This answer has two parts, because my mission has drastically changed over time.
In all honesty, I had no plans of launching my own site in the beginning. At the time, one of my favorite college blogs was taking applications for writers, and I wanted to be one. Unfortunately, they rejected my application. That rejection (and the fact that I had a full post I had sent to them) motivated me to start my own college tips site.
Now that I've been running it for a while and have more experiences under my belt, my mission is simple. I want to show college students that they can make their college careers absolutely remarkable, and I want to show them how to do it. This isn't "how to survive college" — this is how to win at it.
- Where does that affinity for lists come from?
- What — other than your own lists — are a few of your favorite lists?
TF: 1. Lists certainly aren't the only type of content I like making, but they're really effective. I think everyone loves lists — they break a concept down into nicely organized chunks of information that you can easily remember. For that reason, people tend to click on posts that contain lists. It isn't something you should do all the time, but a well-done list post every once in a while can be hugely successful.
With regards to my Impossible List — that's a list for me more than for anyone else. I want an ever-evolving list that reminds me of what I have accomplished and what I want to do in the future. I put it online so other people could see it and be inspired to start their own. By the way, the idea for the Impossible List isn't mine - I got it from Joel Runyon, one of my favorite bloggers.
2. I'm a really big fan of the list of Reddit's 250 favorite movies — since it's driven by a community of geeks with similar tastes to mine, it's pretty devoid of boring art films and full of picks that are actually entertaining.
Another list I really love is The Oatmeal's 6 reasons bacon is better than true love. Because it is.
SPN: Building your personal brand is a big part of what you do. For other college students out there looking to build their own brand, what are some pitfalls in the brand-building process that you've experienced and they should avoid?
TF: Honestly, the biggest pitfall out there is not getting started. That's the one most people are going to run into, and the deadliest. Every day you spend putting off meeting people who inspire you, creating your brand and building your expertise is a lost opportunity.
Another pitfall I think a lot of students run into is not realizing just how connected their personal and professional lives are on the internet. If you don't want employers finding the pictures of you doing a kegstand on a trampoline while wearing a green tuxedo vest and no pants, then don't post it. If you do, people are going to find it, and associate it with that professional Twitter profile you've worked so hard on.
Honestly, I keep my online life entirely public — nothing is hidden and nothing is locked down. You can see everything I do. I also post some things that might not be appreciated by certain employers — but I'm not looking to work with those types of employers. it's important to sit down and decide where you want to work, and then to tailor what you post online accordingly.
SPN: You started building websites for people in high school. What were some of the most valuable lessons you took away from that early entrepreneurial experience?
TF: I think the most important thing I learned is that it pays to learn how to code and design. There are so many things I've been able to do for myself that I would have had to pay for if I hadn't learned those skills early on. Now, if I have a problem with my website, I can dig in and fix it right away. If I need graphics for a post, I can design them myself. Doing web design has given me a really broad skillset that enables me to do all of my work on my own.
Another thing I took away from doing web design is simply the experience of working for myself. I also had a lot of part-time jobs in high school, and last year I did a full-time corporate internship. With all these experiences behind me, I have a real-world perspective on a large range of working situations. I no longer have to guess about my ideal work environment — I know what it is.
SPN: As an avid traveler who's expressed a desire to travel full-time after graduation, what's your dream vacation? Imagine you're given one week to go anywhere and do anything, all expenses paid. What's your itinerary look like?
TF: Constraining my time to one week kind of forces me to change my ideal plan, as I prefer to travel for longer periods of time and immerse myself in the culture of the place I'm in.
If I had to return home after one week, I think I'd take the opportunity to head out to California or Hawaii and learn to surf. That's the next domestic trip I have planned anyway. As far as international travel goes, my next trip will be to Europe with my trilingual friend Martin. After that I'm going to head back to Asia for a return trip to Japan and then to explore Singapore, Hong Kong, and anywhere else that people recommend.
Credits: Photo courtesy of Frank.
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