Teaching Programming to an Ad Student

Company Complaints HomepageI recently read an article by Mindy McAdams, a professor of online journalism at the University of Florida that got me really thinking about learning programming as a communications student.

Mindy’s article, Teaching programming to journalists, explains how she can only get her students interest in coding if they believe they can do it. The problem is, she doesn’t know how.

I’m not a journalism student, and I’m not sure I have the answer to Mindy’s question. However, I understand where she’s coming from and hopefully, can shed some light on my own experiences learning about programming as a non-programmer.

Since freshman year, I’ve become enamored by the way the web is disrupting people’s consumption of media. It didn’t take me long to realize I would end up studying advertising, a field I felt had a better grasp on how the Internet was effecting it’s profession than say, film and television or public relations.

In addition to studying advertising, I chose to take a computer science course in the College of Arts and Sciences during my fall semester of sophomore year. I knew I needed to learn programming to become a better online advertising student. Even if I chose to not become a developer myself, I’d still have the ability to think like one and have a better grasp on product.

It was a disaster. I had chosen the intro class for CompSci majors — the one meant to weed out the pretenders. I had also chosen to overload that semester and taking an extra course in computer science wasn’t the best decision.

So, midway through, I dropped the course and received a ‘W’ on my transcript. I had good grades in the class and enjoyed learning about the intricacies of Java. However, my performance in my other classes was slipping as I spent more and more time trying to understand concepts for an elective course.

I decided while learning programming interested me, it wasn’t for me. I couldn’t do it.

Fast-forward to today. I’m finishing up something I said I couldn’t do two years ago and am 98% of the way done with my first web application.

What happened in between and what I decided to do differently helped me realize that not only could I do programming, but I enjoyed it too.

So how did I stay motivated despite a minor hiccup my sophomore year? Continue reading

Building Creative Ideas for the Real World

ViralityAs I mentioned in a previous post, I built a website with a few other BU students to help our peers find better on-campus housing. The experience was a great learning experience for us in how to build a product and how to acquire users.

More importantly, the project taught me that while conceptual work can be cool, it isn’t as satisfying as creating something real and tangible — something you can get results from and show to a potential employer.

I bring this point up, because I notice a lot of my friends – those who want to go into the ad industry – are building out portfolios of creative work they’ve done for brands – conceptual work that, to be honest, tends to stay in their binder and not go much further.

This problem is also encouraged through the academic model. Even in vocational-based programs like business or communication schools, classwork is very much theoretical and doesn’t leave the walls of the institution.

Business schools still for the most part, emphasize the business plan competition but don’t actually emphasize the more important part – the execution. At BU, students simulate building a fake product and company through a cross-functional curriculum. When the semester’s over, so is the fake company.

Communications programs in the advertising area provide students with an education built on theoretical work and producing campaigns that never end up being used by their theoretical clients.

Instead, what these programs should be doing is incorporating more real world assignments – things that can be measured with real results like page views, referral traffic, or if you’re in business school, pre-orders and/or sales.

(Although I love business, for the sake of keeping this post shorter, I’ll only be talking about what I think students in the advertising world should be doing. The truth, is it’s a bit harder to get the capital needed to make a business product a reality. However, media, for the most part, can be created for next to nothing. )

Web 2.0 has made it easy for those with amazing content to get recognized. Nowadays, those who create interesting Tumblr’s (like Texts from Hillary Clinton) or cool videos (like my friend Eric’s Mad Men/Facebook mashup) will be more in demand. If you’re content is great and you know how to get the right key people to see it initially, you can make magic happen.

Times have changed.

We don’t need to rely on creating stuff that only you and your professor see because we now have this much larger audience we can use to help us gauge our progress and talent.

From the educational perspective, imagine not being evaluated on a holistic scale by your teacher and instead being graded by something much grander and tangible. How cool would it be to be to receive a grade based on how many page views your work got? Or how many social referrals? Or the influencers who saw it and commended it? Or the press you were able to receive?

All of a sudden, that work matters a lot more. It’s made an impact past the class room.

From a career perspective, that work will mean more too. Now, instead of showing that theoretical Miracle Whip print ad you created, you can show a potential employer a meme series you made of Jersey Shore’s Pauly D hawking the mayo-product. And unlike the ad that you’re still unsure would be a real world hit, you have proof you’re talented through insane page view metrics, great referral traffic, and countless imitators on Reddit.

I’m not saying you still shouldn’t put you’re fake Miracle Whip print ad in your portfolio. By all means, go ahead. However, the superstar hires, the people every agency wants, will be those who have already achieved success in a measurable way.

Because at the end of the day, success isn’t about the theoretical. It’s about those who can create something and make results happen in the real world.

*Photo taken with permission from Eric Leist

BU Room Swap: Building a Website To Solve a Problem

Last semester, myself and a couple of other students (Matt Auerbach, Guy Aridor) set out to build BURoomSwap, a website we thought could help those on our college campus who were looking to switch to a new dorm if they didn’t like where they were living or weren’t getting along with their roommate.

The BU process for swapping involves going to housing, filling out a card with your information and then flipping through a binder of countless others looking for a new living arrangement. And if that seems like enough, you can also put up a card at each dorm you’re interested in switching into.

This archaic process is a pain in the ass – I know from first hand experience of having to go to the housing office and the dorms multiple times to re-check the binder for new postings.

Our solution was a simple website where you post where you currently live and where you want to live. From there we easily match you to someone who wants what you have and you can chose to propose swapping with them or not. Simple. Easy. Solves the problem.


We weren’t really sure if people would use the site or not, but with over 300 submissions (and a solid number of room accepts) in only a couple of weeks, we know we’ve probably done a better job then what’s currently available.

A few of things I learned while building it that I think are helpful to other students interested in entrepreneurship:

  • You don’t have to build the next big thing to learn about being entrepreneurial. We didn’t set out to build a business. We just set out to solve a problem. It is a small problem, but it’s still a problem and one we felt we could fix. Working on this small venture though still taught us a lot about building something from scratch, working with others who had complimentary skills, and trying to get someone to use something they don’t necessarily have to.
  • You don’t have to be technical to be a product manager, but you do have to understand product and what’s technically possible. Well, the truth is, there are certain times where you do have to be technical in order to be a product manager. But in many cases, as long as you understand product and get the ramifications of what is and isn’t technically possible, you can still act as a product manager. Even though I can’t code (I’m learning…), my ability to wireframe and come up with user flow as well as managing conflicts and building out a timeline were integral to the site being built. Continue reading

4 Biz Dev Tips that Can Be Applied to The Job Hunt

Last night I attended Startups Partnering with Big Companies: Best Practices, an event for business development folks in New York City.  Among the panelists was foursquare‘s VP of BizDev, Tristan Walker.

Tristan gave some amazing insight on the panel when Rachel Sklar, founder of Change the Ratio and team member at Hashable, asked about how a BizDev person should go about creating partnerships and relationships with big companies.

Tristan jotted down four bullet points on a napkin which he gave to me when the night was done. The advice was so good, I wanted to make sure I got what he wrote down correctly.  When I looked back over his notes, I saw that his insight could be applied to a lot more than just BizDev, specifically the job search.  Here are my thoughts on how each point relates to finding employment:

  • Nothing to lose, be persistant: Tristan mentioned how if you really want to partner with a company/brand you should just reach out.  There’s really no risk in trying, only reward.  I think this can be applied to emailing potential people you’d like to meet as well.  Personally, I’ve had plenty of times where I’ve wanted to meet with people who I thought could be a great resource for advice and knowledge.  Never once was I turned down and the best part was that I usually got a free meal out of the deal too.  Being persistant and realizing you have nothing to lose is really important to get the job and more importantly, be a hustler.  Afterall, had Tristan never emailed Dennis Crowley eight times, who know’s if he’s be working at foursquare right now?
  • Build a great product – they’ll find you: More poetically, what Tristan meant to say here was: If you build it, they will come.  Tristan explained how he’s been lucky that he works on a great product like foursquare that eases the job of trying to create partnerships.  In the job world, you have to look at yourself as a product too.  It’s important to hone your skills, hustle, and be a real team player.  Without those traits, the product (read: yourself) that you’re portraying to potential partners (read: employers) will be undesirable and not worth their time to look at.
  • Focus and do your homework: Tristan mentioned how important it was that no matter what vertical and company he was looking at, he was well versed in the lingo of the business.  For example, Tristan brought up how when he met with Pepsi he made sure to learn as much about the CPG vertical as possible.  In the job world, you can’t half-ass your way into a position.  You have to know what you’re talking about and be able to back it up.  Tristan also mentioned how yes, you can be picky on who you choose to work with.  I think many students underestimate this statement.  I personally wouldn’t take an internship with a company if I didn’t like the way they executed their business or their actual product.  This past summer I had a few offers from some pretty cool start-ups in New Yorks.  However, I never applied to a company if I thought their start-up’s idea sucked or their vision at the top was murky — at the end of the day, I wasn’t planning on taking an internship just for the sake of taking an internship.  I wanted to work for a company doing interesting things that had a vision at the top as well.
  • Practice Humility: Even if you do your homework, you have to realize you don’t know everything and there’s still room to learn and grow.  My advice with the job world is simple — when you interview or meet with someone, listen to what they have to say.  Don’t own the conversation, but be a part of it.  It’ll show you care about what the other person says.  More importantly, because most people love the sound of their own voice, the person you spoke with will be impressed with you and even think the conversation went exceedingly well. It’s surprising how people will be impressed with your silence as you listen to their stories of how they rose to the top of their company and/or industry.
Overall, the BizDev event was an amazing learning experience for me.  It gave me more knowledge of another field I can pursue in startup land.  I think I still have a lot to learn, but these 4 tips were definitely an excellent place to start.

IBM: Watson and a Smarter Planet

Last week, IBM pitted a super computer against Jeopardy’s two best players in a 3 episode arc to see if machine could out perform man.  Much to the excitement of IBM, the super computer, also called Watson, obliterated his competition and created a whole lot of press for the technology company headquartered in Armonk, NY.

On Saturday February 26th 2011, BU’s Public Relations Student Society of America is hosting PR Advanced: Be the Change with keynote speaker Jon Iwata (SVP of Marketing and Communications at IBM). As a last minute promotional tool to get attendees excited for the conference, I (along with the Ginny Soskey, the conference’s coordinator) had the opportunity to interview IBM’s Brandi Boatner (external relations) about Watson and the company’s “Smarter Planet” Campaign.  The video above is just a snippet of our 30 minute interview with Brandi.


How to Take Your Education Beyond the Classroom

This post was originally written for Bostinnovation.  This is only an excerpt of that post.  For the full article, please click here.

As a digital marketing student, I’ve discovered that I can’t only learn about the industry from what my professors teach me in the classroom.  There’s only so much you can be taught from a whiteboard and textbook.  I’ve found that the best way to learn about marketing is by pushing myself to work beyond the homework assigned in class.

Over the past two years at Boston University, I’ve come up with a few ways, both on campus and within the city itself, to supplement my classroom experience.  In no particular order, here are a few of the ways students can enhance their education while in the city of Boston: Continue reading