From English Major to Ad Tech (in One Generation)

April 26, 2016 — by Avi Spivack    

The first job I took after graduating from Wesleyan University was at a publishing company. After four years of dissecting the narrative genius of Joyce, Shakespeare and Hemingway as an English Lit. major (my thesis: “Defender of the Faith: Philip Roth and the Jewish-American Experience”), I was predictably bored out of my mind at my 9-to-5. There was a lack of creative anything. The real world was too real—and I had to wear shirts with buttons and tuck them into my pants.

I got out of there fast—like less than six months—quickly jumping to a multimedia publisher as a content editor. It made sense, from the writing standpoint. I’d had minimal exposure to tech and the internet at this point. It was 1999 after all. The turning point was when we were contracted to create a website about personal finance education for young adults. I had to write the content and organize the pages thoughtfully. I went into a room and started clicking through the shell of the website. It was dynamic. It was off the page and onto the screen with a click of a button. And it was so cool.

I want to do THAT, I thought.

Thus began my foray into understanding the inner workings of the web and the early beginnings of online marketing. Through a series of serendipitous steps, I ended up really enjoying learning about the underpinnings of technology, especially the structure of the internet. I’d bounce around to a few more jobs before getting into the proverbial adtech space, as it’s known today. My roles were always client-facing and super interesting because of the diversity they afforded. I never worked with just one client or industry.

When I joined Akamai back in 2009, my technology and marketing knowledge began to converge. The first month there, I truly thought I was in a different country. I literally did not understand what people were saying. I had no grasp of the terminology being spoken around me (DNS, CNAME, 302 redirects anyone?).  The “aha” moment came when I finally began to understand and speak articulately to the ways in which systems talked to one another. I started to have these moments in micro form—This is what’s literally happening behind the web page when it’s loaded.

Then it all began to make sense…And then it didn’t—because this industry is always changing.

After MediaMath acquired the advertising business that Akamai had incubated, we re-branded as Adroit Digital in 2013 and I started running Product Marketing and Commercialization (the marriage of product understanding and true go-to-market strategy) which I loved. Since Adroit was reintegrated back into MediaMath earlier this year, I’ve been leading our national sales engineering team, partnering with our North American sales team to unleash our product expertise and offer strategic support across the sales cycle. It’s been quite a journey.

My 11-year-old daughter recently asked me about my childhood, “What do you mean you didn’t have on-demand television or carry a phone around?” (No Instagram?!) It didn’t exist when I was 13, email was barely mainstream in college and I didn’t even have a portable phone until I was 23. And now it’s a necessity. It’s woven into the everyday. And this is completely changing how we do marketing, and I love being at the helm of helping marketers figure out how to fully adapt to the new and ever-changing reality—the reality that my daughter will be the always-connected, totally demanding consumer one day very soon.

But back to that 20-year-old English major for a second.

It’s funny to think about what creativity meant to me back then (when I used a—gulp—typewriter to fill out my college application forms) and what it means now. I don’t think I really knew the potential of the creative process until I got interested in technology. It sounds a little crazy, especially when naysayers shout about how all our gadgets and gizmos are making our minds idle. But I truly think technology is transformational. It’s now at the forefront of the practice of marketing, and it’s amazing. It’s forcing businesses to evolve, not just in digital and in how ads are becoming more relevant, but in how they are reorganizing themselves internally. They’re building new centers of excellence, new marketing “muscles” and adopting technologies that didn’t even exist five years ago.

How is that not inherently creative, when you’re continually disrupting the way you do things?