The Light at the End of the Tunnel

by Nolan Ether, iMedia ’12

As we enter the last full month of our 10-month program, reality is beginning to set in. After finishing the Winter Fly-In, many of us were relieved, having heard that the Spring semester goes by much faster and is significantly easier to manage. While I agree that it has flown by, it is certainly not easier. Just as childhood feels like it lasts forever because you’re encountering so many new experiences, the first few months of the iMedia program seemed to move at a snails pace. Many of us were learning a whole new skill set and each day seemed to last an eternity as we struggled through tutorials and projects to hone our skills.

The Spring semester is much different. The learning curve is gone but the boundary has been pushed out, yet again, just beyond reach. Capstone projects take up a large portion of our time but many of the other classes offered in spring are just as challenging as the fall course load. In addition to our Capstones and our regular coursework, a slew of other things eat our time and weigh on our minds.

Portfolios

This is why we’re all here, right? We were told that our program would lead to enough quality work to build a whole portfolio. We came in realizing that this was the end-goal and most of us have geared much of our work this year toward making it “portfolio-worthy”. What many of us didn’t realize however was the thought, time, and energy it would take to turn a rag-tag group of projects into a cohesive portfolio with clear goals and a focused message.

Our Personal Brand

While the portfolio may be the hub of the personal brand wheel, there are many other spokes that need to be fleshed out. Essentially we are branding ourselves. This can mean everything from nicknames, and slogans to color schemes, logos, and a unique style.

Once we decide who we want to be, we are tasked with implementing it into all aspects of our professional life, including…

* Portfolio
* Resume
* Business Cards
* Email signature
* Social Media Profiles

IMX

As graduate students, we are tasked with creating an event near the end of the semester, intended as a networking event and showcase of our individual Capstone projects. We are all split into groups including project managers, advertising, event coordinators, social media and more. It is our responsibility to plan and coordinate the event. This includes everything from reserving and setting up a space to coordinating refreshments, to finding and inviting people to attend the event.

We have all put a lot of work into this year and our Capstones are supposed to be the culmination of all of our work. All of us want to throw a great event to create opportunities for ourselves as well as to celebrate our accomplishment.

The Job Search

Ross Wade is a crucial and valuable resource, but he can’t be tasked with personally finding jobs for every student in the program. From the beginning of the spring semester, Powell had a different feeling. No more games. We were hungry. For many, the past few months have been a blur of networking events, meet ups, informational interviews, and internships in hopes of making that one great connection.

Some people are starting to get interviews and a few even have jobs lined up already. While the sentiment seems to be that the economy is improving and the job outlook is better this year than in previous years, it’s not stopping any of us from pounding the pavement and doing whatever it takes to make it happen for ourselves.

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

Our professors seem to be reminding us every day how much time we have left in the program. It’s obvious they’ve been through this before and have seen other classes get hit with reality as the spring semester flys by and students begin to run out of time.

Friends and family have been asking me lately, “Do you see the light at the end of the tunnel?” My answer to them? “Get back to me in a month.”

Words of Wisdom on Fall and Winter Terms from iMedia Class of 2012

By Nolan Ether, iMedia, ’12

It’s already March but this is the first post I’ve written since the end of the fall semester. We’re already waist deep in our new coursework, internships, capstone projects, and job searches. For the benefit of future iMedia students, I think it is valuable to take a look back at the fall and winter terms while they are still fresh in our minds.

We would like to pass on some of the wisdom and best practices we have acquired thus far in the program, in hopes that future students will take our advice and not have to learn these same lessons first-hand. Instead, they can use this knowledge to be even more successful than the iMedia classes that came before them.

“Time Management is Key”

  • “Find time to chill… You will be tempted to work all the time, but you have to make time to relax, even if only for a short time.”
  • “Start projects early and don’t leave them for a few nights before they are due. That way you have at least one day a week that you can take time to step away from work and relax.”
  • “Don’t worry about not hanging out with your friends. If they’re really your friends, they’ll be there when you’re finished with the program. Keep your social life to the point of keeping your sanity, but mostly focus.”

“Listen More, Speak Less”

  • “We’re told to think of every project as a portfolio piece, but I’d take that a step farther by saying once you’ve handed it in and gotten feedback, make those changes right away. Even if you’re sick of looking at the project, you’re better off making those changes immediately than pretending you’ll com back to it later.”
  • “Don’t take everyone’s comments about your work personally. Use your peers as tools. They are there to give you help and constructive criticism. Use that to your advantage. It is something positive to help you improve your skills… not something you should beat yourself up over.”
  • “Learn from those around you, keep an open mind, stay positive, and keep progressing.”

“You Can’t Know it All!”

  • “It’s not about how much you know more so than the next person but it’s about taking what you know and capitalizing. Creating a new pathway for your future. Embrace your comfort, while learning new things, but find a way to make your comfort your new empire.”
  • “Even if you don’t master everything, find one thing you’re passionate about trying and master and run with that!”
  • “I don’t know how to do it can’t be an obstacle. There are going to be times where you don’t know and you look it up and you still don’t know. Sometimes it’s about finding an efficient work-around”

Winter Fly-Ins

  • “Be as prepared as possible but mostly be ready to be flexible and hit the ground running. You won’t really know what your project is until halfway through your trip, so be ready to observe, collect, invent, experiment, and learn.”
  • “It’s amazing the way things tend to come into focus during the Winter Fly-in. If you don’t know what you want to do, this will likely be where you’ll be able to narrow it down. Be aware of what aspects of the project you’re drawn to and which you aren’t interested in.”

The fall and winter terms are really tough. Once your winter fly-in projects are completed it is natural to feel as if you’re “over the hump”. The spring semester is really about networking, refining your skills, and completing a nice portfolio and Capstone project. Fall and winter are your foundation. Make the most of them.

A special thanks to my peers in the iMedia Class of 2012 for providing such great insight.

Social Media: Our Best Tool & Our Worst Enemy

By NOLAN ETHER, iMedia class of 2012

A group of iMedia students recently had the opportunity to attend a meeting for the Triangle Social Media Club (@SMCTriangle). The meeting was held the same day as the f8 conference where Mark Zuckerberg announced the new Facebook Timeline. All of the buzz had us wondering how interactive media students could make the most of social media to establish a reputation online? How should we use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and other social networks? Lucky for us, the Triangle Social Media Club’s members are mostly professionals in the field of of social media. I would like to share some of the takeaways and best practices.

All Social Networks are NOT Created Equal

Each social network has their respective strengths and weaknesses and should be used for different things.

Facebook should be treated like a backyard barbecue. You can invite who you want but it is important to realize that any of your friends can affect your reputation with comments on your posts, tagging inappropriate photos, or writing on your wall. Though new features of Facebook allow you to “follow” people (similar to Twitter), most people use Facebook to stay connected with people they know personally. Facebook should typically be used in a way that displays your personality and shows your interests but still reflects the way that you would like to be perceived both personally as well as professionally. The new Timeline layout that Facebook will be releasing fully in the next few weeks will make it easy for anyone you are connected to to browse your entire Facebook history. If you have not done so, now may be a good time to start cleaning out your old statuses and untagging your old college photos.

It wasn’t long ago that it would have been impossible to connect with leaders in an industry or people whom you admired but never had a chance to meet. The best you could hope for would be a response to an email or letter. Twitter has removed the gatekeepers, enabling anyone to put a message in front of anyone else. Twitter should be viewed in similarly to a conference that you would attend in your field. It is a great place to share things like news or tips in your industry as well as to participate in discussions with people whom have similar interests as you. If you want to establish yourself in an industry or to network professionally, this is the social media platform to do it. No matter where you look most social media professionals agree, if you actively contribute positively to conversations and share interesting and relative content, the retweets and follows will come.

It’s important to stay in touch with your professional network. These are friends, former colleagues, clients, and professors who know you professionally and whom you would like to stay in touch with. LinkedIn is the place to maintain these relationships. Think of LinkedIn like the Chamber of Commerce. LinkedIn sharing should be always be relevant to your field or professional interests. Utilize this social network to build an online portfolio, get recommendations from people who have worked with you or who you have done business with, as well as to make new connections. While many people add everyone they know on every social network site they belong to, this is not a good idea with LinkedIn. Perhaps the best feature of LinkedIn is the groups. Groups are easy to find in almost any field and give you a direct line to thought leaders and professionals in your industry as well as the latest news and often interesting discussions.

Google+ just recently went from a beta release to a full release. Many people in the field feel as though Google is on to something good with the way Google+ is laid out and some of the features, but the market may be too saturated right now for such a major player to make a dent. While there is great potential here longterm, most social media professionals seem to think you could hold off on Google+ for now.

Adding to the Conversation

Each social network is different and content you share on one is not necessarily appropriate for another. Beyond this, social networks like Twitter have their own styles such as the use of the ampersand or hashtag. These symbols and means of communication aren’t as effective for other social networks that work differently. Even if you are posting the same thing to multiple social networks, it is a best practice to craft your message differently for each network, in a way that will make sense and connect with that audience. Apps like TweetDeck and Hootsuite are great to keep up with all of your networks in one convenient place but don’t simply use these tools as a way to send mass posts out of all of your profiles at once. Not only is this not taking advantage of what each network does well, it also makes you look like a spammer.

Social networks are not only a great place to stay connected to people that you know. They are also a great way to meet new people in your field or with similar professional interests. If you want to establish new relationships, the best way to do this is by utilizing each network the way that it was intended. On Twitter, follow people who interest you and generate compelling discussions with them based on their posts or response to posts. On LinkedIn join groups and start conversations or add to ones that already exist. LinkedIn even allows you to connect with someone that is one degree of separation from you by allowing you to ask your mutual connection to “introduce” you.

Professionals in the field of social media seem to agree on one thing. If you don’t know the person, don’t send them direct messages or private messages. This shows that you already have a misunderstanding of the social networks and that you don’t respect their privacy. If you engage them in discussion and they find you interesting the relationship will grow on it’s own.

Protect Your Name

Recent research suggests that upwards of 90% of employers are now making it a part of standard procedure to look up potential hires names in search engines and social media. Whether or not you enjoy social media, it is important to realize that your profiles on these networks represent you to anyone who wants to look you up. It is important to make sure that you understand your privacy settings for each network, that you are careful what you post, and that you maintain your social media profiles regularly. It is also a best practice to do a search for your name from time to time on the major search engines including Google, Yahoo, and Bing, to see what comes up. Just as you check your credit report to make sure there are no errors, you don’t want things to misrepresent you online and cast a negative light.

Becoming a Thought Leader

We are all entering an industry that is new enough for us to make a real impact. For many of us, that is one of the most exciting things about what we’re doing. One of the benefits of coming into an industry at the ground level is the opportunity to establish yourself as an expert in your field. Whereas it may have been difficult to do this in the past without getting a PhD, writing a book, or being a CEO of a startup, today your reputation is only limited by your diligence and the quality of your thoughts and content. Social media has made it so that the only thing required to be an expert is expertise. Connect with thought leaders in your field, join in on the conversation, and you could establish yourself as a thought leader.

Final Thoughts

We are three months into the iMedia program and while we are sleep deprived and our brains often feel like mush, things are starting to click. We are nervous and excited about wrapping up our Fall semester and preparing for our Winter Fly-In. We are taking a look at the classes being offered in the Spring and are starting to think about our Capstone projects and job prospects. We are updating our resumes, thinking about our portfolios, and networking as much as we can. Social Media is a great tool that will help us all to find the opportunities we are looking for come Spring. At times like this it is important to take things seriously but not to get too far ahead of ourselves. Everything will come in time. Now is the time to keep pushing, finish out the Fall semester strong, and get ready for a much needed Winter Break.

…And He Lived To Tell The Tale

By Nolan Ether, iMedia class of 2012

We’re coming up on week 6 and the sentiment around the second floor of Powell seems to be the same amongst most of the students. We realize we’ve entered the grind. We’ve come to terms with the fact that we probably won’t get a good night’s sleep until June. Every professor seems to have assigned “project 1” within days of each other and they’re all on our plates at the same time. We love what we’re doing and are all trying to do everything we can to make the most of this year. Right now we could use a little encouragement.

Of all of the students that have graduated from the iMedia program over the past two years, one name seems to come up constantly; Conor Britain. According to our professors, it was Conor’s drive and determination that really made the difference for him. I recently had a chance to catch up with Conor over the phone to get some advice and encouragement and to hopefully get a glimpse of how things look on the other side.

Conor has been an Interactive Designer at RED Interactive in Los Angeles for over a year. It is the same job that he had lined up before graduating from the iMedia program.

What do you do at RED Interactive?

CB: I started out exclusively doing design but I started to become interested in coding. It’s ideal for an interaction designer to have a good foundation in code. It really opens up your creative opportunities. A senior developer here has taken me under his wing. Now I split my time pretty much 50/50 between design and coding.

Do you remember how you were feeling at this time while you were in the program? 

CB: Honestly, I don’t know if I’ve ever been busier then when I was in the program. If you’re really busy, that’s a good thing. If you’re overwhelmed, that’s a good thing. It means you’re giving yourself a lot of opportunities. One year is not a lot of time.

For the fall semester I think 85% of your time should be devoted to your work. The additional 15% should be for informational interviews, feelers, research on your field, whatever.

For now, take some pressure off yourself in terms of having to figure out what it is exactly that you want to do. At the same time be very vigilant. Know where you want your skills to be and what the standards are for the fields you’re interested in. If I didn’t have a good survey of the field AND I didn’t know what I wanted to do, then I would be concerned.

In the winter and spring you should shift more time towards trying to find a job. After the winter fly-ins, you should ideally have it narrowed down to one or two things that you’re interested in.

What was the most important thing you learned during your time in the iMedia program?

CB: Utilize things like social media and blogging. I think it’s really valuable that you can contribute to your field and hear from all of these amazing minds. All of this before you even have a job. With interactivity, just by nature, there is so much more information and people willing to help you on the internet. It’s a great way to establish a reputation. Actively keep up with and sound off on changes in your world. This way the people in your field know you’re in touch, you’re engaged, and you care.

I also think it was great to learn how to collaborate with all different kinds of people. Rarely do you have an opportunity to collaborate on big, big things. Learning how to work with different personality types and with people that you may not have the benefit of being friends with.

What would you do differently if you could go back and do the program all over again?

CB: I wish I had managed my own projects better. I wish I would have used my time more efficiently so that I didn’t have to pull all-nighters. As weird as it sounds though, I kind of miss those times. It sucked at the time but it’s rewarding to know that you were all working towards the same goals. Often I found myself spending more time on the things that were fun and that I enjoyed like my flash projects. I would push the big papers and things aside. I kind of made my lifer harder.

I also wish, as I said earlier, that I had found more of a voice with my blogs for school. Try to force yourself to update it even more than you have to.

I would also focus more on mobile and app development.

How are you different now than you were when you graduated?

CB: One thing that never really goes away is the need to be a good writer. There are things I don’t have to know anymore, like I don’t have to do calculus anymore. But it is always helpful to be a good writer.

What was the best choice you made during your time in the program?

CB: I’d like to think that I got here from a series of choices rather than one choice. I can not stress enough to you how great Ross Wade is. I didn’t have the first clue of how to reach out to this company that I now work for. I asked Ross for help and he just ran it down for me. I followed his advice and it all started to fall into place.

You need to make sure you follow a good lead once you have it. And it will take a lot of leads. I first contacted RED right around the time of the Winter Fly-Ins. The work they were doing kind of inspired me. It reminded me of things I love to do and at that point it just kind of clicked for me. I had a few informational interviews with people there and I kept in touch. I started to gear my portfolio toward what my ideal job would be. I started using Flash for every presentation. You know, instead of using Powerpoint. I used Flash with good interactive features.

Once I got my foot in the door I just kept in touch and did whatever I had to do to keep my foot in the door. Things didn’t work out with the other companies I had contacted but they worked out with RED and that’s where I really wanted to be.

What trends are you seeing in the field of interactive media that excites you?

CB: There’s a lot to be excited about. Mobile development is very exciting to me right now. HTML5, Javascript, and CSS3 too.

Actionscript is very similar to Javascript. Even though there’s a lot of talk that Flash is on the way out, I don’t think that’s going to happen for a long-time. You can’t go wrong learning actionscript if you’re interested in development.

This was something I was worried about and had heard a lot about even when I was there so I would like to do what I can to qwell those fears if you all are having them.

Flash is simply a platform. You’re always going to be able to refactor your skills for the new platforms that come out. It’s your intellectual capital that’s important. You’re ability to think creatively.

I’m not a Flash designer, I’m a designer. Flash is just one of the tools I use. Animation, color theory, motion, that’s what desigining is all about. The tools are temporary. The skills are what’s important. If you run into a problem with the tool, the answer is usually just a Google search away.

What other advice do you have for this years iMedia class?

CB: If you can find the time to do so, have a social life with each other. You need the time to de-stress. I miss the experience a lot. It was really special.