Interview: MDM Alumni Turns Love of Scuba Diving into a Successful Online Community
When Nadia Aly enrolled in the Master of Digital Media program back in 2007 she didn’t think it would lead to founding and running a popular online Scuba Diving community.
A graduate of the MDM program’s first cohort, Nadia worked at both Microsoft and Google until finding her true passion in scuba diving. She started Scuba Diver Life 3 years ago and has quickly grown it into a very successful online community, with over +800,000 fans on Facebook.
We chatted with Nadia over the phone about how Scuba Diver Life got started, her ocean conservation work and her advice for students who are thinking of enrolling in the MDM program.
The following is a recent phone interview with Nada Aly.
1. Tell me about how Scuba Diver Life got started.
After I finished the MDM program, I got my first job in the digital media industry as a consultant at Microsoft. While I was there, a colleague and I were entering online video contests and I ended up winning one of the contests with Tourism Fiji for a diving trip.
When I was planning for my trip, I discovered that there were no online resources for divers so I decided to start Scuba Diver Life. I began the blog and then immediately started a Facebook page for the site. I knew that Facebook was going to be an important component to the blog.
On a whim I decided to apply to Google online—I had heard applying online meant your resume went into a big black hole—but that was not my experience. I was called for an interview the next day and 9 interviews and 4 weeks later I had a social media manager job at Google. Because I was making more money at Google, I could put more money into Scuba Diver Life and was able to pay writers and run Facebook ads. While Google was a great place to work, I realized that I really needed to be working in the scuba diving industry so I left to work at PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors).
I went from Google—a young, innovative, forward-thinking company—to PADI—an older, non-technical company that in my opinion didn't get my vision for digital media strategy. So it was the right direction but wrong environment. I left PADI to see if I could do Scuba Diver Life full-time. I emailed a ton of advertisers and within two weeks I was making enough money to support myself through the blog.
Now I have advertisers, can pay lots of writers and am able to spend a lot of my time travelling getting content for the blog. We also have a mobile app that, for $3.99/month, gives subscribers access to more in-depth articles.
2. You have a huge online following, including almost a million fans on Facebook. What do you think is the appeal of Scuba Diver Life?
Scuba diving is so many people's passion but very few get to do it for a living. A dive master makes doesn’t make a lot of money. So people have their other lives but they want their ‘scuba snacks’ during the day—beautiful dive photos, dive stories and ideas of where to go next.
There are many types of people who visit Scuba Diver Life. The first are the affluent divers who are looking for where to dive next and who to dive with. They go onto the site and book their next dive trip right away. Then there are the people who do 3 to 4 dive trips a year and the people who only do 1 dive a year. They go to the site to get inspired and think about diving year-round. The content on the site is valuable but it's also emotional for divers.
3. You are also involved in conservation efforts, tell me about that.
I'm in the process of starting HelpOurOceans.com, which is meant to be an online conversation about ocean conservation. I want to create a mainstream source of daily content about ocean conservation issues worldwide and what people can do to help.
It's a hugely important issue—we're over fishing, we're shark finning, we're polluting the waters with plastic. These are facts that the whole world needs to learn about. For example, 80% of our oxygen comes from plankton. The more sharks that are killed, the more plankton predators there are to eat up the plankton. How is this going to affect the world's oxygen if there's less plankton in the waters?
There are so many different things people need to think about and areas where they can take action. But the important message is that there is always hope for how we can help our oceans.
4. What did you get out of the MDM program?
When I was originally deciding on grad school, I thought that the program was a really cool idea. I was considering film school in New York but thought that MDM would build on the foundational skills I had already acquired at the University of Victoria.
I was different from most of the other students in that I wasn't into the gaming side of digital media, I was more into the marketing side. I still ended up getting a lot out of the program. From Patrick’s improv class to the gaming course, I learned a ton of valuable skills. I also threw myself into the digital industry in Vancouver, going to all of the networking and industry events.
It all came together to give me the confidence to go into companies and tell them ‘here's who I am and what I can do for you,’ which helped me get hired as a consultant.
5. Any advice for students thinking about applying for MDM?
Try and figure out your passion and roll with it. There's nothing worse than living your life doing something you're not enthusiastic about. Find a way to use your passion and combine it with digital media.
6. What's next? I saw on your twitter feed that you're planning a trip to the Galapagos Islands.
I'm going on a month-long trip to Mexico and the Galapagos Islands. And then next year is pretty full of travel. I like taking 1-2 month long trips. I don't like being in Seattle for the winter!