Veronica Belmont
  • Years in Tech


  • Current Role

    Podcaster / Video Host

  • Place of Origin

    West Hartford, Connecticut

  • Interview Date

    February 2, 2016

Currently, I’m a tech and geek culture podcaster, writer, and video host, pivoting into a new career in product management. In my spare time, I’m probably taking pictures of other people’s dogs.

Tell me about your early years, and where you come from.

I grew up in Connecticut, in West Hartford. I hate to use the term tomboy because that’s really come out of vogue these days—but I was kind of a rough and tumble little girl. I was really into being outside, and doing imagination stuff, and running around with the boys on my streets, and that kind of translated well into…male-dominated industry is my whole life.  

Did you have any inclinations as a kid that your would end up in something techy?

I didn’t. My main goal was to go to college, and I only applied to one: Emerson. And to get a job working in the audio field. It was technical, but it was really more related around the audio industry and live sound. And it wasn’t till I moved out to San Francisco, kind of on a lark, that I realized I could combine my love of technology, which I liked as a fan, and my love of audio, to kind of build this strange career that I’ve made.

Walk me through the path from production to hosting to be a well-known nerd world media figure.

I went to school for audio and radio production, but I was really a tech; I loved computers. I loved everything about the early internet. I’ve been on the internet since the CompuServe/Prodigy days, but I never really thought of it as something I could do for a job. We had computer classes at school, but it wasn’t that time yet where people were really like, ”Oh, yeah. You should be a programmer. You should be a developer. Like this is something that you could do.” It was like, ”We’re going to build stuff in CAD or we’re going to take typing classes.” So it was a very different kind of atmosphere back then.

So I got to San Francisco—I moved out here with two girlfriends, and we shared a tiny apartment and I lived in the living room, and slept on a mattress on the floor like everyone does at some point in their life. And I was constantly searching Craigslist for job postings. One day, I found one for an internship at CNET. At the time, I was temping, so I was taking any work I could get. It was a very low-paying internship at the time, definitely not something I could have lived off of. But it was that opening door, that opportunity to get in on the ground floor.

So I put my resume in, got the callback, and went in for an interview. I showed them I could edit audio and work production, and got the gig. At first, it was very boring stuff. It was like white papers and audio from board meetings and things like that. I was much more interested in the consumer tech side of things. They eventually needed someone to produce and edit one of their early podcasts, Buzz Out Loud (a daily tech news show hosted by Molly Wood and Tom Merritt), and I just fell in love with it.

I jumped on the chance and found after couple of weeks that I had a really hard time keeping my mouth shut when they would start getting into conversations about the news of the day in the tech world. So I started talking, and I eventually became the third co-host. Eventually, my boss was like, ”Hey, you should really give this video thing a go. We’re relaunching CNET TV. We need more hosts. I know you know how to video edit and produce so just jump in there. Write a script for yourself, get on camera, see how it feels, see if you like it.” And I did.

What shows were most rewarding for you over the course of your career?

Tekzilla on Revision3 (now Discovery Digital), was really fun for me. I did that show for about five years, and we covered everything from viewer tech support to product reviews to big segments on internet privacy.

But I think my favorite show for Revision3 was Fact or Fictional. It was a look at the technology and science in media. Comic books, video games, TV, film—how accurate were they? I would bring on guests like scientists, engineers, and thought leaders to give me the rundown on what was possible and what was just totally make believe. That’s always been my M.O.: combining information with entertainment and making it palatable and fun.

What are the most captivating things about your work? What aspects of the work just totally drive you and excite you?

Fan interactions or viewer and listener interactions. The Sword and Laser, the sci-fi fantasy podcast that I’ve been doing for the last eight years, has fans that have been listening since day one and they still contribute, and they still talk at the forums, and they still call in. I just love it. It feels like a family. It feels like a deeply nerdy family [laughter].

What have been some of the toughest parts and the biggest struggles? Particularly as a woman in tech media?

It’s been tough occasionally, and you definitely get a lot more flack, I think, for being a woman. But there are so many women in the space now that it’s hard to write them off as anomalies anymore. For me personally, my biggest issue has just been dealing with rejection, because I have tried to do so many projects. Things for TV, or things for other channels and networks, and it’s so hard to put all your passion and energy into a project just to have it brought down by some nameless faceless person on a network somewhere, sitting in a room deciding what’s going to be on TV for the next year. That’s tough and it’s something that I don’t think you ever really get used to. Each time just feels like a slap in the face.

There is a considerable amount of the population of the internet that seems to be kind of obsessed with you at times, and I’m curious how you handle that.

I think it’s about boundaries. I’ve built up certain walls of protection around myself, and if something gets too out of hand, if some fan, or listener, or viewer, gets a little too familiar, you just have to shut that down. It’s hard, because when we talk to people online we feel like we know them. Especially if you listen to a podcast or watch a video regularly, that person, me, I’m in your ear talking to you on a very personal level every week. So people feel like they know me. But you can’t always be an open book I think, and there are some boundaries you have to mentally set about what you share about your personal life.

You work in some of the nerdiest part of the internet where there’s been some aggression lately. Do you catch the brunt of any of that aggression or has it been largely positive for you?

For better or for worse, I try to stay out of it. The few times that I have jumped into the fray have been, well—the amount of shit you get is so disproportionate to the comments that you make that it doesn’t ever feel worth it. I stood up for my friend one time on Twitter and I just woke up the next morning to a wall  of responses from GamerGate people. I was just like, “You know, I’ve got work to do. I’ve got a life.”

Where do you find your support networks? Where did you find them in the beginning and where do you find them now?

I think the biggest support is probably my husband, Ryan, because he gets me. In this weird industry, it’s hard to find a lot of people that can relate to the lifestyle, especially when you’re a freelancer, and especially when you’re working on the internet, and especially when it’s a medium like audio or video. It’s a very weird experience and he encouraged me to do it. That was when we first started dating. He was like, “Go for it. You’re good at this. You should try it.”

But also other women who work in the same space, we all comment about everything, from weirdos on the internet, to not getting a gig, to not getting people to pay us in a timely manner. It’s been nice to have a community of like-minded women that I can share those experiences with.

How have you seen tech change culturally over the years or have it?

We’re kind of in this weird place right now where we’re moving away again from blogs. When I started my career, the big threats to CNET were Engadget and Gizmodo, and sites like that that were able to turn out content at an incredible rate and just really stay on top of things in a way that the old media sites weren’t really able to compete with until much later. And now it seems to be less about blogs and more about curated content and stuff that we’re receiving through social, whether it be through Facebook or Twitter. Now, everybody’s trying to figure out how to reach the most people and get the most clicks to make things viral.

Of course now, we’ve got a huge industry around on-demand products. You know, rides when you want them, food when you want it, groceries when you want them. That whole industry has really shaken everything up in a pretty incredible way. The technology is changing so fast and moving in such an incredible rate that now we’re like, “Okay. When’s the backlash coming? When’s the next backlash coming because it’s going to happen.”

If tech media were this way today, would you want to be in it? Would you feel encouraged or discouraged?

Totally discouraged. From my particular career, I would be intimidated by the YouTubers, and the Vine stars [laughter], and the people who are just building and amassing these beautiful audiences through different channels. That didn’t exist back then. I think I would still probably want to be in technology, and that’s kind of where I’m going with my next career shift. Lately I’ve been thinking about getting out of the video space and getting into more of an operational role at a company. That’s really exciting, but yeah, it kind of feels like I’m starting over at 33 [chuckles].

What do you look for in a job now versus when you started?

I actually just wrote a big post about the freelance lifestyle on Medium, that’s got a lot of traction because I’ve been a freelancer now for the past eight years. But there’s always the feast-or-famine scenario; there’s going to be highs and lows. Planning for that can be especially difficult in my type of work where you’re essentially waiting for people to need you. They have to come to you. It’s hard to schedule in advance for gigs. San Francisco’s an expensive city and you need to be working all the time. So now, I’m like, “Okay. So maybe a full-time thing.” Not only because of the money but also because of the peace of mind.

What has the hunt been like and what have you learned about yourself in that process?

The first step was figuring out what I wanted to do and where I fit. Things like evangelism and marketing make a lot of sense, but they’re not really what I’m passionate about. Now I’m looking at product management. I’m looking at working with many different teams to kind of oversee the development and creation of a product, because I love building things. I love having my fingers in all sorts of different pots, so being able to work with the engineering team and with the marketing team and sales and all the different groups that come together to build something amazing.

Do you think that you will host at all? How would it feel like to potentially leave a decade of community behind?

I don’t think I’m going to leave all of that behind. Sword and Laser is just such a part of who I am at this point; that’s not something that I have to give up. But I hope I can kind of keep some of that audience and keep that conversation going through being active on things like Twitter, and Facebook, and Snapchat. I’m still going to love the things I love and want to talk about the things I’m passionate about, it just won’t be such a major part of my job anymore.

Oh, man. Exciting times.

We’ll see!

Okay, let’s go macro for a second. What do you think about the state of tech in 2016? What are you excited about? What are you frustrated about? What would you like to see change?

It is confused as fuck right now because it wants to be more inclusive and it wants to be more diverse, but I don’t think it knows how to be both of those things. So I’m excited to see how bringing in more diversity, more different kinds of voices into the tech space can make it a better place for everyone. The more perspectives we have and the more voices we have only mean that products are going to get better and cater to more people, and that’s good for business.

Do you have any thoughts on what you would like to see change in that realm in the next few years?

I think I’m just frustrated with, like, hot takes. And I don’t think that will ever go away from media [laughter], but I think it’s especially bad during an election cycle. It just becomes too overwhelming. I love deep dives, and that’s something that a lot of sites have gotten really good at doing. That’s kind of where I see the most value.

Are you working on anything else? Any other projects for work or for yourself?

No. In fact, I’m trying not to. I’m intentionally not taking any more freelance projects after the two that I’m working on right now end. So I can focus 100% on the next thing, whatever the next thing is. I just want a clear head and a clear calendar. I’ve got a few speaking gigs and I’ve got a couple of jobs to wrap up, and then I’m going full-bore into Veronica 2.0.

I would say finding focus is a project in itself. I feel like all of last year I was trying to figure that out.

It’s hard [laughter].

It takes time. It takes time.

It’s stressful.

Where do you see yourself in five or ten years?

Still in San Francisco. And hopefully, being a voice in whatever new career path I have decided to take. I have a hard time not being outspoken about stuff, so I hope to keep communicating with people who are interested in the subjects that I’m excited about.

What lessons have you learned from your time in tech that makes this whole career switch not so scary for you?  What gives you at least a little bit of peace of mind?

People want to help. And people want to help you make it. They want to connect you to the right people. They want to start the conversation and it feels really good to know that there’s people on your side. This is the one place where you could say you wanted to do anything and people are like, “How can I help?” And compared to where I grew up or most places on the East Coast or people would be just like, “Well, are you sure you can do that?” Whereas here, just not having the roadblocks associated with people just being like, “You can’t do that,” or when those are removed and people want to help, it’s like, this is the best place to do anything.

What advice would you give to folks from similar backgrounds who are excited about tech and hoping to get into it as a career?

This is the advice I always give and I think it’s still is very true today as it was ten years ago, which is that if you’re passionate about something, you should be doing it already. You should be getting blogging, making a podcast. The barrier to entry is super low now. Do videos on YouTube. Build up a portfolio of stuff. If you’re a programmer, start building things get on GitHub, publish your stuff. It’s so easy now for someone to get attention building something cool, even if they’re not a known entity, just because you can put it up on Product Hunt or other ways for you to get noticed. You’ve just got to start hustling.