I woke up this morning simply glowing with inspiration.
Last night I had the privilege of bringing a diverse panel
of AV industry representatives to discuss the industry and career opportunities
to a group of young adults in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY.
Back in December, I wrote about the Red Hook Initiative
(RHI) community center’s Digital Stewards, a group of 19-24-year-olds
installing a free Wi-Fi network across their technology starved area of Brooklyn.
Read that blog for full background here if you missed it.
They have been installing, maintaining, promoting, and
supporting the Wi-Fi network through software and hardware troubleshooting. After
a year in the Digital Stewards program, these ambitious young adults are
looking for more training and jobs.
I first learned about the Digital Stewards through Twitter
and community news outlets—I live nearby RHI and followed the tremendous
volunteer work the nonprofit facilitated in response to the devastation
Hurricane Sandy brought to Red Hook. I knew there had to be a
way to connect this great program to our industry. They were looking for
technology jobs, and our industry is looking for young talent. So it seemed
like a no-brainer to bring the two together. After attending a community
meeting about the Red Hook Wi-Fi program, I hatched the idea for this event
along with RHI’s director of media programs, Tony Schloss.
I was really nervous prior to Wednesday’s panel—not knowing
what to expect or if people would even show up. But my expectations were truly
exceeded by the six industry guests and the 15 or so Red Hook youth who all
brought a tremendously positive energy and actively participated in what turned
out to be more of a round-table conversation than a panel.
The gracious panel consisted of Steve Greenblatt, president
of Control Concepts; Rob Badenoch and Alex Mayo, consultants from Shen Milsom
& Wilke; Mark Feinberg of Home Theater Advisors; Aaron Harrow, an AV design
manager at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA); and Ethan McCarty, director of
consulting and integration for IBM’s marketing and communications lab.
After first discussing the nuances of each of their unique
positions, the panelists each went on to respond to questions about problem
solving, mentorship, training and certification, and programming skills.
Greenblatt explained how problem solving is about thinking
logically and eliminating potential trouble spots in a logical order. Harrow
added that it was important to change one thing at a time when troubleshooting.
McCarty encouraged self-directed learning, taking advantage
of MOOCs (massive open online courses) and other online education sources, like
Code Academy, TEDtalks, and Kahn Academy—a sentiment SM&W’s Badenoch
Having a passion for the technology, and a mutual love of
music and video resounded across the panel. They each had individual stories
about how their passions led them to the AV industry, from Harrow’s youth
making beats for a hip-hop group to Feinberg pulling apart electronics as a kid
and later being the go-to person when friends needed a TV setup.
More than having advanced degrees or a high GPA, all the
panelists said they placed much more value on people that live the lifestyle. Harrow
said he ignores degree type of information on a resume and looks for personal
initiatives—how technology is a hobby for prospective employees.
“If you love the work, you’ll do whatever you need to do to
be able to work [with] this technology,” Badenoch said.
One of Greenblatt’s best programmers, he said, has no college
degree, but he’s the guy that goes home on the weekends and learns a new
Mayo, as the youngest on the panel, really exemplified many
of the ideas expressed through his frustration in college that there was no
undergraduate degree anywhere for acoustics. He realized that AV consulting was
a job, and that he was interested in it, and then he created his own major at
the University of Hartford. He encouraged the young people to research
companies out there that do what they want to do. That’s exactly how he ended
up at SM&W; he found them on his own.
One of the digital stewards was curious to know what keeps
them going when the job gets tough and they feel like quitting. McCarty said
having a network and being able to talk through frustrations with a friend or
colleague helps him.
Feinberg recalled his previous corporate career where he
worked marketing women’s clothing, saying that he goes “back to the green
dress” when his job gets tough.
Mayo told the youths that he works backwards from his
problem, reminding himself what he wants to do in his life to break through an impasse.
The biggest overarching message was probably about the role
the young people as individuals play in determining their own fates. Success is
about making decisions and taking action to help move toward a goal—enlisting
help from any type of personal connection you may have or technological
“All you need to start a home theater company is a decent
drill and a drywall saw,” Feinberg mused.
After the huge success of this AV career panel, I’ll be
planning more of these on a larger scale in the coming months, and I’ll be
looking for manufacturer partners to host and help support the program. The
idea is to create a channel for young technology enthusiasts to learn and
network about AV careers while dually serving as an opportunity for integrators
to mine for talent.
Please contact me with any ideas, feedback, or interest in
participating, at ladler[at]nbmedia[dot]com.