To chronicle the chaotic new reality of our times, Robert Safian at FastCompany recently published an article which identified speed, chaos, and uncertainty as defining qualities of business in the twenty-first century. Some—Safian identifies them as “Generation Flux”—have survived and even thrived in the new economic climate by adopting a mindset that “embraces instability, that tolerates—and even enjoys—recalibrating careers, business models, and assumptions.”
In the spirit of GenFlux, we decided to interview some of the “fluxers” here at Knewton. Earlier installments of our series focused on design, data visualization, marketing, and product management. This post will feature Multimedia Producer and long-time Knewtonian, Ian Parker whose past and current work includes teaching, computer science, and film and television production.
CY: Tell me about your work here at Knewton and how its evolved over the years.
Ian: My title is “Multimedia Producer.” I’m one of the oldest Knewtonians here. The first thing I accomplished when I joined the company was make hundreds of videos for an entire GMAT course. I was also responsible for the live classroom setup. We built it from the ground up and got everything working– the soundproof stations, the cameras, the software– and had to keep it working.
My role has definitely evolved since we’ve hired more people and pivoted to platform and college readiness. I’m still doing similar work, but there’s a much bigger video pipeline. We went from creating hundreds of GMAT videos to thousands of readiness videos. It’s exciting to think of all the students who are learning through these videos. It feels good to be a part of that.
CY: 5 years ago, did you see yourself working in tech or edtech? How did you find your way here?
Ian: I grew up as a huge video game nerd, so I think I’ve always been interested in balancing the humanities and technology. I went to college for an experimental computer science and art degree, but oddly enough, my first job after graduation was working as a high school math teacher. The experience had a permanent effect on me–it really solidified my interest in education. I didn’t have a lot of breathing room in the curriculum, but I loved the opportunity to give my students hands-on, creative extra credit assignments. I found ways to make the subject more interesting. I come from a long line of educators, and I’ve always viewed teaching as an honorable profession.
From there I worked as an in-house editor and web/TV producer in London and Los Angeles for a couple of years, but it wasn’t very rewarding. So I headed to NY to do the freelance thing for a bit. Around that time, Knewton software engineer Ashley Miller gave me a call. She brought me in to meet the team, and when Jose gave me the pitch and mission, I was totally sold. That was three and a half years ago. So, to answer your question, I’ve always seen myself working in tech, but I actually didn’t hear the term ‘edtech’ until joining Knewton, and it was the sweetest thing I ever heard.
CY: How has your work at Knewton informed your extracurricular work?
Ian: On the job I’ve learned a lot about agile development, team building, and new and upcoming tech tools. There’s nothing like that “dive-right-in” start-up training philosophy. And of course the hard deadlines that hone your project management capacity and your ability to roll up your sleeves and just get stuff done. That type of drive inspires and guides me constantly.
CY: Any thoughts about media, technology, and the times in which we live?
Ian: I’m really interested in this notion of remix culture and how it relates to media literacy. The written word is still important, but there’s a new generation of kids who are exposed to an overwhelming amount of media (ads, news, data, movies, music). It’s so crucial for them to know how to digest the media that’s rushing at them from all directions– how it’s created, how to read it, and ultimately, how to analyze and critique it, too.
Here at Knewton, Robbie Mitchell, the Indiana Jones of the marketing team, is famous for saying “I work here to improve the past version of myself.” I completely agree with that. Looking back at my education, I can see that if concepts were presented in a slightly more creative or interactive way, I could’ve been more empowered at a younger age. I think media literacy gives people more opportunities to explore that creativity and interaction, and it could play a huge role in empowering the next generation.
CY: That seems to be a theme among people here–this idea of improving the “past” version of yourself… so what’s the point of it all in the end?
Ian: Tools are becoming inexpensive, the internet is an astounding resource, and more everyday people are designing things to streamline our lives. It’s democratizing everything. The possibilities are endless! Hopefully, we’re gaining more of an ability to relate to each other, and helping others do the same in the end.
CY: To wrap up, tell me about a project that informed your work here and vice versa.
Ian: When I first started at Knewton, we were about 15 people working insane startup hours.
Oddly enough, I found that my favorite way to spend my short windows of free time was to make goofy videos with my friends under the name Goddamn Cobras.
One of the first videos we made was a live-action remake of a Brat Pack mashup video on YouTube set to the song Lisztomania by Phoenix. Today, our video has over 350,000 views on YouTube, and people from 45 different cities worldwide have made their own remixes of it. The remix guru, Lawrence Lessig, even mentioned the call-and-response phenomena in his TED Talk! Probably my favorite thing to happen out of that though was getting interviewed by a 4th grade class in Kansas about the making of the video.
I’m always learning new things, applying them to Knewton and vice versa. Since then, I’ve never had a shortage of fun side projects to keep me on my toes.
CY: What are you working on now?
Ian: I’m developing an interactive storytelling app for a short film we made last year. Stay tuned!