An Interview with New Seidenberg Advisory Board Member and Pace Alumnus Matthew Knell, VP of Social Media and Platform Partnerships at About.com

Matt Knell headshotMatthew Knell is one of our favorite alumni for various reasons. A hardworking student who went on to an exciting career in social media and digital marketing, Matt is a thought leader in the industry, having spoken at conferences including SXSW Interactive, Social Media Week and SocialFresh, and having been featured by leading publications including Fast Company, CNBC, PR Week, TechCrunch, AllThingsD, and Advertising Age.  He also contributes regularly to publications and maintains a thriving site discussing digital media trends on Medium.

Even while leaping from success to success, Matt has never forgotten his experience at the Seidenberg School. He is always happy to attend events and lend his support – which is why we asked him to bring his expertise to the Seidenberg Advisory board (spoiler alert: he accepted).

We recently had a chance to sit down with Matt, shortly after his appointment to the board – giving us a unique chance to learn about Matt’s career, inspirations, and very particular selections for making a PB&J. Enjoy!

What motivates you to support the Seidenberg School in so many ways?

I was the first in my family to go to college, and Pace has a soft spot in my heart because of that. Scholarships and great instructors gave me a great way to get out of what could have been a very ordinary and average life. Not a bad life, but ordinary. When you have the opportunity to learn from great staff, people who really care, the community, you want to give back to that and help other people so they can have the same chances you did.

How would someone get to where you are now?

The way I’ve built my career is about being open to different things and trying things that are interesting. I was an Information Systems major, which gave me a fundamental understanding of how systems work. Learning how things are put together helps because you learn in time that everything in life has a system. Understanding the core frameworks of systems helps you figure them out. If you can understand how a system works, you can master it.

I’ve learned to be open to new ideas and, as much as possible, to be flexible in work environments. I  try to be the nicest person in the room. Relationships help you get far in life, and having a core group of people who you help and who help you is never a bad thing. I try to make the world a better place and to do the right thing by people. I don’t always get it right –  I don’t think anyone does. But, don’t let that make you afraid to make mistakes, because you’re going to. If your heart’s in the right place and your motives are pure and genuine – then you’re probably going to be alright.

For fun I took a personality test, and found out my personality type is “virtuoso”.  I think it describes me well.

Who has inspired you in life and why?

All people I know have inspired me a little bit at a time. This industry (digital media) allows people to be creative and it’s inspiring to see people problem solve when presented with new things that have never been seen before.  Each job I’ve had, I’ve been lucky enough to have a mentor to help me through things.  In terms of outside of work, I’d have to rank  Jim Henson as an absolute genius. What he built with the Muppets was genuinely amazing. I’ve always thought Kermit the Frog was very pragmatic and you see a lot of Jim in him.

Would you rather be liked or respected?

Probably respected. Treating people fair and equitably means you’re always going to do things that people don’t like. You can be kind and thoughtful in horrible moments of life, and people remember that, even if you’re doing a difficult thing.

Do you think you’d be in your position if you were a jerk?

No, definitely not. The CEO talked to a lot of people who know me and this is where being the nicest guy in the room really matters. I think good hires are a strong blend of character and talent. No one likes working with a jerk.

What do you think about when you’re driving alone in your car?

Typically what I’m gonna do next, make next, how can I make my job better – it’s forward thinking.  But you’re just as often likely to find i’m thinking about the next Mets game and where I can get a great sandwich.   

How do you make a PB&J?

Generic Wonder Bread (though I do love Trader Joe’s Texas Toast when I can get it), creamy not crunchy PB. It has to be grape or strawberry jelly, and if it’s grape, it has to be concord. Cut the crusts.

What would you do if you won $10 million in the lottery?

Besides buying a house and paying all the debts, give to animal relief organizations. They gave us all our pets; we’d like to give back. Invest in tech businesses – giving start-ups like Codapillar a chance to grow.

Matthew Knell sneakersBest gift you’ve received?

When I was a kid, I wanted a pair of Ken Griffey Jr sneakers so badly I got a job to save for them, but I didn’t end up getting them. A few years ago, they made a retro version and my wife got them for me. Getting them was a culmination of 12-year-old Matt’s delight and glee.

What were your experiences when the internet first started to roll out?

I was a junior in high school. I remember being one of the first to get on Staten Island’s internet provider. My first experience with the internet was Compuserve and I remember vividly playing text-based trivia games you’d play for $4 an hour. Email addresses were all numbers @compuserve.com

I remember AOL being the hot thing because it has pictures. Old AOL chatrooms, followed by IRC, which was the next wave of ‘how do you get on the internet?’ Then the web browser came along. When I was a junior in high school I taught myself HTML, then I started going to Pace. Having the experience of watching the internet grow was really cool.

If you were stranded on a desert island, what three items would you have to have?

Food, obviously! My wife, of course, somebody to talk to. Then probably my iPad because I can do so much, even if it doesn’t have connectivity.

You’re still on that desert island, but you now have all the items in this room: what would you build?

(In the room: a long conference table with 12 chairs. A TV, lots of snacks)

Does the island have internet access? A superentertainment system. Plus, I have Chips Ahoy!

You wouldn’t try to get of the island?

Not if I have everything I need!

Tell me about one of the items on your work desk

I have a bunch of things. A picture of my wife. A little plastic Wall-E toy, and a Wall-E and Eva, which reminds me of my wife and I. I have a LEGO business card holder – a reminder that you can always keep building on things, and if things aren’t working out you can always build them again. them. And, of course, a Pace t-shirt.

What’s the best advice you can give to technology students?

Talk to people – especially people who aren’t technology students. Get out and learn from people who are not technologists.  The number one personality type I hire is a technologist who can actually communicate. It’s wonderful to be smart and be able to build the most awesome things, but if you can’t communicate it to others, it’s just not going to happen. Go to conferences. Go to hackathons. Meet people – your 20s are for building a life.

This is New York: invent a pizza topping

Chopped up Nathan’s Fries. They get just gooshy enough that if you cook them they get soft, and they’d go great with the cheese.


Thank you, Matthew, for a wonderful conversation and we are looking forward to having you as a member of the Seidenberg School Advisory Board!

Read Matt’s Medium post about his Pace University experience.

Niamh spent her summer at this tiny company called… Foogle? Gooble? Oh right – Google!

Nooglers Niamh and Megan
Niamh (L) and her fellow intern, Megan, wearing their ‘Noogler’ hats on their first day at Google.

1. Who are you working with this summer? (…and what do they do?)

 I am working for Google at their New York office this summer and they do a lot.

2. Can you tell us a little about what you are doing? (We might not understand the technicalities, but we’d love details!)

I am an Engineering Practicum Intern (EP), working on an internal mobile and web application in a division that creates apps for Googlers. I work on a team with full-time Google employees and one other intern. My summer project is to create a search feature for the application so I have been working on both the server and on android.

Through my work I have gotten to learn about how programming happens at Google. I have also learned a lot about the Google culture throughout the summer by going to events, lunches, and a Google Women Engineers conference.

3. Is there a particular class or professor at Seidenberg that has helped you prepare specifically for your current internship?(Clearly, we’re all about shout outs this summer!)

Although my work at Google is different than what I have learned in the classroom, the support I received from the Seidenberg community as I went through the process toward my internship was a great help!

4. Does your new office have a favorite restaurant/hangout they go to after work? (No! we’re not going to show up like proud parents!)

The New York office has five cafeterias that each offer a variety of cuisines as well as micro kitchens so there is no real need to go outside of the office frequently for food. The desserts and smoothies are my favorite, especially the frozen yogurt.

Niamh Fitzsimon is now a Sophomore here at the Seidenberg school, pursuing her bachelor’s degree in Computer Science. 

NYVR Meetup co-organizer DJ Smith answers our questions about VR

DJ Smith

At the same New York Virtual Reality Meetup mentioned in the previous blog post, Seidenberg students Avery Leider and Harpreet Singh Wasan were able to interview a few of the other attendees and founders to pick their brains about the VR industry as it’s suddenly growing as software and hardware are becoming easier to access by the day. By attending Meetups in the NYC tech scene, Avery and Harpreet hope to gain substantial knowledge on the state of the industry as it’s expanding and also to experience the various developments that people are bringing to these Meetups, both hardware and software related.

In this next interview we hear from DJ Smith of Morristown, NJ, NYVR’s co-organizer since the beginning of 2014. Smith is also a member of the Washington DC VR Meetup, but between Meetups he works as an engineer, builder, artist, and entrepreneur. Here are his responses to our students’ queries:

Harpreet: From the time you started with Virtual Reality until now, what, in your opinion, is the most exciting development in VR?

Smith: Now, the Social VR Apps, obviously, because I just presented on it, that has really excited me for two reasons – one, the freedom to basically create the worlds, and then, two, to be able to share those worlds with other people and communicate with them directly. I think both of those things are wonderful aspects of VR Social Apps and I am anxious to see how far they will go.

H: Is there anything else that comes to your mind that is also about to take off?

NYVR

S: Right behind Social VR Apps, I really like what people have been doing with the actual live video aspect of it. So, basically, to be able to film in 360 degree video or 180 degree 3-D video, and in being able to view an event in a headset that is around your entire body, you just get that sense of presence, and I think the future of media is going to be just that. It’s going to be an all-encompassing thing. So, I think Social VR apps and then the 360 degree and maybe 3D live video – however they will be incorporated into the public – those will be the two main focuses.

H: What is your advice to Pace University students who want to get into VR?  How should they go about getting into the industry?

S: Come to New York VR Meetups!

Avery: So, if Pace University students wanted to help you in your Virtual Meetup room, to add our Pace University assets to your VR world, what do you recommend we do?

S: Wow, if I could get a bunch of college kids to build my virtual room, that would be awesome! The VR Chat room that I created [for the Meetup], NYVR Room, is built in Unity. I’m a very basic developer without a lot of advanced knowledge. It’s relatively easy for a newcomer – just download Unity, start messing around, and reach out to me. If there are students who are willing to contribute, I’m happy to incorporate their stuff and give them small tasks. Or, better yet, go on VR Chat, build your own thing, that would work, too. And invite me, because I want to see it!

So there you have it. It doesn’t take solid groundwork of experience to get started in VR development. This is our challenge to other students at Seidenberg who have caught an interest in VR: start playing with it and share something at the next NYVR Meetup!

A chat with Virtual Reality Trailblazer, Eric Greenbaum

Eric Greenbaum Harpreet Wasan
Eric Greenbaum (L) and Harpreet Wasan (R)

Virtual Reality is riding on the latest boom in the technology sector, and one way Seidenberg is keeping up with the ever-growing community is through Meetups. These Meetup communities and events are an excellent resource for exchanging information, ideas, and joining forces with other trendsetters in the field. Just last week, Seidenberg CS graduate student Harpreet Wasan and CS PhD student Avery Leider attended the most recent New York Virtual Reality (NYVR) Meetup to interview some of the leaders there to see what’s new and improving in the VR scene.

One person Avery and Harpreet were eager to speak with was Eric Greenbaum, an original founder and organizer of the NYVR and NYVR Developers Group MeetUps. Greenbaum works as a patent attorney, entrepreneur, and start-up consultant, and has also been active as a ‘Virtual Reality Trailblazer‘ since seeing the 1992 movie Lawnmower Man, in which the main character becomes a genius through VR technology used to augment his intelligence. And although Lawnmower Man may not be the best advocate for convincing the world of the usefulness in VR technology — there is definitely an allure to VR’s range of possibilities! In fact, Greenbaum believes that with the introduction of the Oculus Rift, “VR is poised to take the tech world by storm.”

Harpreet and Greenbaum talked about the current expansion in the VR industry:

Harpreet: From the time you started with Virtual Reality, how far has VR come?

Greenbaum: The VR industry has grown a lot, since 2012 until now, from being essentially nonexistent to being one of the world’s most exciting technology platforms — kind of like the Internet. I think it is important to recognize that before the recent excitement, there were people working on industrial VR for the last 20 years. So there has been this whole movement, bubbling beneath the surface, of really dedicated scientists and engineers working on VR since the 90’s. It wasn’t until the cell phone industry drove down prices on screens and inertial measurement devices that enabled accessible VR for the masses. So, how has it changed? It changed from like 7 people in the grimiest co-working space in midtown to like 1500 people [in the NYVR MeetUp], and we’re packing out Microsoft on a monthly basis.

 H: What’s the most interesting thing you’ve seen in VR? 

G: The social VR is the most exciting; you saw some of it [at this MeetUp] and it is a little bit primitive, but it holds a promise to change the way we interact with each other. Imagine being able to sit in a virtual space with your friends from around the country or around the world and share and watch a movie or play chess or have that feeling of being together in a space. It’s really powerful and I think it’s going to change everything.

H: So, there are students at Pace University that are interested in getting into the VR industry – what advice can you give them to get started?

G: If you want to get into VR, the most important thing is to have an idea. What do you want to build? Before you start to think about what concrete skills you need to build it, spend some time thinking about what unique characteristics VR can bring to the table and how can I use that to do something amazing? Once you think about your idea, the tools that are available are really accessible. For example there is a program called Unity, which is a go-to tool to build a VR experience, and even if you have no programming experience at all – no gaming experience at all – if you sit down and spend a few hours with Unity you can make strides and build things. As someone who two years ago had zero experience, the experience of sitting down and building a space and then entering it in a virtual way, was one of the most transformative technology experiences I’ve ever had. If you haven’t done it, do it. Unity is free – there’s no reason to not do it.

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For more information about the Virtual Reality scene, stay tuned for other interviews we’re conducting with various members in the field! You can also head over to Eric Greenbaum’s blog to see what VR topics he’s currently discussing. Lastly, don’t hesitate to get going on the Meetup trend. There are a bunch of events coming up in the city, so let us know on Twitter (@pace_seidenberg) when you’re going!

 

CS, IS, or IT? Dr. Dwyer Explains the Differences

Freshman year of college is a year of discovery and exploration. Your first year is a great time to find what inspires you and what you want to spend the next four years pursuing. It can be tricky to navigate the sea of different majors when choosing just one or two feels like such a huge decision. But not to worry — for those who are interested in the complex world of computing, the chair of Information Technology (IT) at Seidenberg Dr. Cathy Dwyer sits down and answers a few questions freshmen want to know.

Dr Dwyer

What is the difference between Computer Science (CS), Information Systems (IS) and Information technology (IT)?

“There are a few differences between CS and IS and IT. CS focuses more on building software, whereas IT and IS focus more on the use or the application of it. CS is where you focus on building software — you become interested in things like “is this the right algorithm?” “Is this software being as efficient as it can be?” “Am I using the resources of the machine in the best possible way?” In CS you study patterns and techniques to make your software as efficient as possible.

In the IS and IT department, your focus is more on the application of the program. These students think more on how to use the programs and the best way to use them. It is more focused on identifying real world problems that people have and want to use technology for. IS and IT students look at problems in such a way that you can say, “okay, this is the right tool and this is the right way to use it.” That is the difference between the two.”

What is a skill that both IS and IT students should have?

“You actually need two sets of skills. You need to have good IT skills but also good people skills; it’s very important to be able to communicate. When you get a job, it isn’t just working in IT — you’re also sort of a conduit. You need to be able to explain your IT skills to people in a way that those who are not in that department will understand. There are a lot of excellent programmers who can’t explain what they’re doing unless it’s with someone who is also in that field, so this is where good people skills come in.

What is big in IT and IS?

“Right now it is big data, data analytics, text analytics and using a variety of analysis tools to look for relationships between the data that are of interest and documenting or explaining them in a way that’s useful.”

What’s the best way to find an internship?

“The most important thing is to get involved in Co-op and Career Services. I know it can be a pain sometimes to go to workshops, but they are definitely worth it. Seidenberg actually has someone in the office every Wednesday that can help you find an internship. Just from spending time at Seidenberg, you’ll hear about internships and there is also a bulletin board that is always filled with flyers advertising different job opportunities for students. For freshmen and sophomores, it’s really about feeling ready for an internship, and what’s great about career services is that there are interview workshops to help you prepare and the Seidenberg career counselor is available to look at your resume and talk about what to emphasize and maybe even discuss other opportunities to further your experience before you take an internship.”

For freshmen, an internship may be the first job they ever have. Sometimes asking about money can be awkward, what do you think the best way to ask an employer about payment?

“It’s about asking at the right point. Before you actually commit to something, just ask. If they don’t answer you, they most likely are not going to pay you. So it is up to the individual to decide if the job is worth the experience or not.”

Are there any classes you recommend to freshmen?

“If there are any freshmen in the IT or IS department, I should know them. Come and introduce yourself and together we can figure out what you’re really interested in and what courses are best for you. For people who are testing the water, I suggest they take the Web Authoring and Multimedia Class (CIT231) or Service Learning (CIS102W) or Hardware (CIT211) as a way to get their foot in the door. But to really pick a direction, come talk to me or make an appointment to talk to one of our very talent academic advisors Stephanie Elson and Kim Brazaitis to find the right path for you!”

Do you have any advice for freshmen?

“I really encourage students to try to get internships. Come to the computer club — get involved in any student activity. Go to meetups just so you’re exposed to the profession, so you can get a sense of what people in your field are doing and the kind of problems they are working on.”

Dr. Dwyer is currently teaching Introduction to Information Technology (CIT 110) and in the Fall she will be teaching a graduate course on Social and Mobile Technologies (IS 676) and Java Programming (CIT 312) — check them out in Schedule Explorer!

Carol Wolf: A Life in Academia

Carol Wolf, one of Seidenberg’s professors, has had quite a life in academia and education before joining our program  in 1986, only a couple years after Seidenberg was founded in 1983. Born during the Great Depression, Professor Wolf grew up with parents who, both being academics, were adamant that she and her older brother receive a full education. Wolf began working at age 16, for a whopping 55 cents an hour (much to her delight), at a local soda fountain and, soon afterward, the library. These jobs were Wolf’s introduction into not only the work-world, but the work-worlds dominated by women, which were rare, given that this was during the early 1950s.

Wolf, in an interview with a student, stated that she knew from an early age that she wanted to be a mathematics professor. She then brought up the obstacles she faced as woman in the male-dominated field of mathematical academia. She started her work in teaching as a teaching assistant for a three-dimensional calculus course at Cornell University. The class she taught was a sophomore-level class of all males who did not trust that a woman could teach engineers. The students tested Wolf on a daily basis, asking her to work through the hardest questions in their textbooks. She explained that she didn’t realize it was a test until two or three weeks in, when the students also realized that she was not only incredibly capable of solving the problems with ease, but also skilled in teaching the material to the class while doing so.

Every year she taught, she experienced a similar series of tests from students who were unaccustomed to having women teach in their field. Wolf points out that she was one of two women in the department, and the only one who taught full-time. Her experience with gender bias at Cornell was not unusual in universities at the time. She mentioned a friend who, while teaching at Harvard, was told by a professor that she had no business being in mathematics — it was not a women’s field.

Things changed when Professor Wolf found Seidenberg. Our school was started by a woman, Susan Merrit, who was once the Chair of CS on Westchester’s campus. Considering the fact that Professor Wolf is still with us at Seidenberg today, it’s clear that this position has been a great fit for her, professionally.

Wolf, in her own words, shares with fellow women who are learning and working in a predominantly male field that, “the thing is, there is this stereotype of the nerd sitting in the basement programming or studying all day, and that’s not what life is like. There are all sorts of interesting things you can do. I think women maybe provide their own reasons not to do it, but as far as any intrinsic ones, the field is open.

We celebrate Wolf’s talents and enthusiasm here at Seidenberg. It’s not easy to trudge through the politics that can surround academic fields of work, but thankfully Professor Wolf has made it through. There is still progress to be made, especially for women and minorities, but it is pioneers like Wolf who show us how it’s done right.