I was born in 1972 in Brooklyn, New York. I am a creative and cerebral digital project manager who always carries crutches with me. Being born with cerebral palsy introduced me to lessons in basic problem solving in order to walk, talk, and smile with personality. It also taught me redefine problems create solutions, sometimes just by changing perspectives. Most of these early lessons began at home. One included learning and from building small lessons of failure to eventually achieve success and standing tall. In the fall of 1978, I got a unique opportunity to appear on Sesame Street and with Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch. I also appeared on Romper Room. This was one of many experiences which gave me new perspectives. Sometimes it was better to control the fall or failure, rather than struggle to stay in the same place. Redefinition also became an important tool by using jealousy as a motivational tool to push beyond my own limits. I also learned early on that if processes or situations didn’t exist, I created solutions or alternative opportunities with a choose-your-own-adventure mentality throughout grammar school and high school as a playground broadcaster and later a high school statistician.
In college, I worked during my sophomore and junior year as a resident assistant in the freshman dorms. In my junior year, I developed more of an interest in TV production after writing some script ideas for the Baywatch, and writing a public service announcement using Beavis & Butthead promoting fire safety for class projects. I got the idea for the fire safety PSA because MTV had some negative publicity after fires were accidentally started by a small number of viewers.
I graduated cum laude from Marist College 1995 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications with a concentration in journalism. I went on the interview at MTV Networks in the TV production area. MTV didn’t have any openings at the time, but I was told that Nickelodeon recently had an opening with a new online partnership with AOL. I started with Nickelodeon Online in August 1995. I monitored bulletin boards for Nick at Nite, and moderated chats about Lucille Ball, Dick Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore, Andy Kaufman. Over the next few months, I handled customer inquiries, support questions, and customer engagement emails.
Over the next few months, I supported different online games including a Mr. Ed Magic Eight Ball and a Rugrats Match Game. By this time, both the Nickelodeon and Nick at Nite websites were supporting on-air contests, events, chats and launches of shows like Hey Arnold, and Angry Beavers, and Happy Days. I also helped with web support for events like the Kids Choice Awards, The Big Help, and the launch of the TV Land network.
For my work with Nickelodeon, and my secondly for my disability advocacy, I received the Ability First Award in 1996. By 1997, the web exploded with all different kinds of websites from big companies to small companies looking to capture niche markets. During this time, I found out that Nick News with Linda Ellerbee developed the idea to produce a special on understanding disabilities. I heard from coworkers that they were working with Christopher Reeve and John Hockenberry as the celebrities with disabilities. I got permission from our bosses to meet with some of the production staff on Nick News Special Edition: What Are You Staring At? I voice to my appreciation to Nickelodeon producing a show about a difficult topic, but I also voiced my concerns about growing up with cerebral palsy, and dealing with peer pressure conditioning and identity issues that kids with disabilities go through. I pointed out that both Christopher Reeve and John Hockenberry (as admirable high-profile examples of disabilities success) did not have their respective disabilities until they became adults. They simply lacked the knowledge and experience of a childhood disability. I discussed these issues the executive in charge of production for Nickelodeon and sat in the control room during the taping of the show. The next year the show won an Emmy award for Outstanding Children’s Program.
My involvement was uncredited on the show. In the next few months, however, I received multiple referrals inside Nickelodeon to do different training and development opportunities on both web and disability issues. I also published an essay on how I used jealousy as a motivational tool for Mainstream Magazine in October 1997. The plethora of opportunities prompted me to leave Nickelodeon behind in February, 1998.
I started consulting as the assistant director of the the Digital Clubhouse@Silicon Valley the same month. I supervised the Digitally Abled Producers Project. It brought together teams of high school students with different ability levels and skills. The teams used a variety of web and media development tools which resulted in emotionally compelling digital stories. We also hosted and participated in a variety of conferences on web accessibility and W3C standards. I also delivered leadership and empowerment presentations and trainings through New York University Early Intervention, the YMCA and YWCA, the state of Wyoming and the US Department of Defense Dependents Schools.
In addition to the trainings and presentations, I also wrote an articles for the Disability News Service. One article profiled in exhibit at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum on the future of accessible design for everyone. DNS published the article in the fall of 1998 and the exhibit lasted until the spring of 1999. I wrote another article which profiled Douglas Schwartz. He co-created, wrote for, and served as an executive producer of the TV show Baywatch. He handled all of these responsibilities in spite of his visual impairment, retinitis pigmentosa. The article, not only expanded the field of vision of readers beyond the stereotypical eye candy associated with the beach and bathing suits, but it also elaborated on the more than 45 story lines that involved different types of disabilities.
I continued to do web and disability consulting throughout the rest of the year. In February 2000, I decided to focus more on web design and development after getting securing contract work with Addison, a creative branding agency which focused on financial and annual reports, for companies like Ryder Transportation, Franklin Templeton Investments, and The Doctors Company, just to name a few. I also worked on an extended project documenting and digitizing thousands of historical pages the Holocaust denial trial proceedings.
By May 2001, the Dot-com bust caused a seasonal slowdown in workload. My contract was suspended for the summer. With the intention of resuming the contract in the fall of 2001, I took the summer off to move to Brooklyn, New York, to be closer to the city.
Although I wasn’t directly affected by the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, it changed the swath of future possibilities. As a result, my contract did not get renewed, I took small jobs with small companies and schools over the next two years working as a one-man web department. In the summer of 2003, I redesigned and redeveloped a small, five-page furniture demo site into a high inventory, content-rich retail website with a depth of over 100 pages. I continued to maintain and update the site over the next two years.
In October 2005, I took a full-time job with benefits as a quality assurance manager for a higher education marketing company, GoalQuest in New York City. The company focused on recruiting, enrolling and retaining college students with targeted educational information and emails. Within the first couple weeks, I fixed some documentation and reporting issues that prevented the quality assurance department from identifying and quantifying repetitive issues. They included, but were not limited to, grammar errors, spelling inconsistencies, link problems, client changes, along with website launch and email delivery issues. I worked directly with the VP of operations to create auditing processes and batch control protocols adopted from the pharmaceutical industry.
The first step combined multiple issues and problems into comprehensive but separate email and website reports. By focusing on time, effort, and other communication factors, the QA team exposed problems like duplicating effort, sharing information and making mistakes. Mistakes often caused problematic reactions which were rooted in the lack of training to solve both local and global issues. I educated my team and other teams to look beyond mistakes. Mistakes were bad but, I advocated bad habits were worse.
The freedom to identify mistakes and quantify mistakes led to the use of higher quality design templates and the reuse of code and content. By the summer of 2006, lessons and procedures applied in the launch and maintenance process were continually implemented in the initiation, development, and execution of projects, even before testing started. Quality assurance procedures also moved beyond the QA department when I led the creation of both company and client specific wiki-based style guides with input from every department to ensure the documentation standards and provide an evolving mechanism for client support and satisfaction. Other departments also shared best practices like track changes and other handoff procedures to improve productivity. It sounded simple but building the websites correctly the first time according to standards also involved documenting and communicating changes during the overall process.part of the QA documentation process included variations, not only on what the client wanted, but it also included what the client didn’t want. Simple examples were mailing address changes for different offices that were no longer valid, school marketing policies on acceptable and unacceptable name abbreviations, etc. The QA team also became responsible for email testing beyond Outlook and Gmail. We set new standards for text versions as well as other email platforms.
Over the next year, I trained people in all levels of the organization and increased the enforcement and edification policies that encouraged shared responsibility. I conducted meetings about removing both abstract and physical obstacles to not only make things easier for team members, but also reduce future difficulties for others down in other phases of projects. Some examples of methodologies included pointillism (a technique which utilized a small distinct colored dots to create larger patterns and a larger image). I adapted pointillism as a quality assurance expression of balance between the importance of minor detail while not losing perspective of the larger picture.
By the fall of 2007, EducationDynamics purchased GoalQuest to augment its educational product portfolio beyond college search capabilities. EDDY rebranded GQ as the enrollment and retention division. The company moved us to Hoboken, New Jersey. During the restructuring which occurred over the next few months, I lost my staff of three people.
I hired and trained a new staff of three with some immersive but unorthodox training examples that were borrowed from movies like The Karate Kid, Lean on Me, Invincible, The Incredibles, amongst other self-sacrificing movie gems to ramp them up quickly. I asked my team to face sometimes combative pressure and overwhelming attitudes with silent focus on uncovering problematic issues. As my QA team members worked diligently, they encountered some steep resistance from legacy issues. I encouraged my team to follow my QA triple T rule. Following trust the training methodology of previously implemented documents processes and protocols, actually protected the team from fallout after uncovering issues. My trust the training interpretation stemmed from my walking with crutches. I reminded my team that finding mistakes or stumbling blocks, inconsistencies, etc. remained the goal of the department. Failure of the protocols did not reflect on them individually but it rather required more rigorous guidelines and procedures. My team members trusted me and I trusted them. Mistakes exposed weaknesses and required changes. The strength of both new and evolved protocols mattered most of all. Within a month, I restored company confidence in the QA department.
By February 2008, new EDDY management people shared a strategic plan with me which detailed the hiring of a new web development team in Ecuador and an email/content loading team in India. The plan also included the full decentralization of QA functions. My new directives were to cross train not only different departments on QA policies and procedures but also educate the new international vendor teams on the effective policies and procedures. One policy I instituted involved keeping track of not only the right thing to do, but also client exemptions on what not to do. Another policy involved basic checks amongst the different teams will peer QA checks before tasks or projects moved to the next department. One person built or loaded something, and another person performed QA. Additional employee tracking and training functions were left up to the VPs.
In return for dissolving the QA department my staff and I were trained as digital production managers. I started as a digital production manager in May 2008. I trained with one of my former QA team members who actually became a digital production manager a couple weeks before I did. She used some of the same training techniques that I had previously used with her. Over the two weeks of training, I took advantage of my QA process experience to document common production processes like loading content and editing PSDs. During my training, I realized the website production process only comprised one phase. I advocated for three phases. The first phase became preproduction, the second phase became production, and the last phase became postproduction. These phases allowed for the creation of lead time and the possibility to set up and the assets we had proactively and provide requirements/fillers for the assets we needed and track changes from the beginning to the end.
My first project became a NYU health and wellness program during my training. Early projects the first year included clients like West Liberty College (which later became a University in 2009), William Paterson, Marist College, Miami University of Ohio, SUNY Oswego. I coordinated with account managers, designers, managing editors, web developers, and content loaders to organize and deploy websites, contests, and surveys and email campaigns. The programs were designed to increase recruitment, enrollment and retention user participation rates. Website requirements were facilitated through Excel project briefs and set up through the content management system. Email campaigns were tracked with Excel job tickets and deployed through the Zeta email platform. Email, survey and article content were all written in Word. Ongoing maintenance and changes occurred because clients often changed content or events to help drive more traffic. In response to this, different team members and vendors pitched in on other projects to meet same day or next day turnarounds. The production team began to implement agile methodologies to control different workloads.
Website and emails were templates built often built by the vendors as one-off requests. In July 2008, I advocated for combining work in the same templates and created batch processes. This involved taking efforts and examining the greatest common factors and lowest common denominators from templates and programs of the same and different platforms. Some of these platforms involved logins and social media connections, while others didn’t require logins, but display videos and slideshows.
Other protocols also incorporated variable data with variable content for subject lines and segmented article content. Batch building of emails in the same template saved time through duplicated efforts. Batch processing initially required upfront approval, but I adapted it for use with surveys and contests in November 2008. Batch numbering were implemented even for one-off and customized campaigns. These protocols also allowed for the use of placeholder images and content blocks.
Link changes and link depreciation commonly occurred during the production, launch and maintenance stages of all the sites. Link changes were especially problematic because some website departments at higher education institutions regularly changed links, or site structures without informing client contacts in student affairs and admissions. The internal client confusion caused some problems and unexpected delays in getting emails deployed. In April 2009 I pushed forward manual link checks on site content twice a month, during the first and third week after testing at a dozen of my live sites from the beginning of that year. All 12 sites had been live from 3 to 6 months. All 12 sites had at least one broken link. Three of the production managers maintained about 40 live sites. Realizing the volume of both current and upcoming work, I recommended all the sites be checked between the three and six month marks. This timeframe also coincided with the development and deployment of new batches of messaging. It dramatically reduced the incidence of client and third-party links wreaking havoc on the production team and vendors. Following the implementation of the new process, broken links and manual site testing only averaged three incidents a month for the live sites.
Over the next year, I managed dozens of sites, but I also became involved with content strategy, as contests, survey, and email deployment. The release schedules spearheaded by the editorial department, allowed the production team to construct smaller deadlines and cultivate user behavior twice a month. The Miami of Ohio program educated parents on transitional independence issues, like budgeting time and money, fostering supportive healthy relationships, etc. Most parents were eager to receive articles from the school to stave off the evolving anxiety. Within a few months of regular emails, we saw a dramatic increase of repeat visitors. Not only did the client share the alternate Sunday schedule with parents, but word spread through social media, and therefore, the content became predictable. Another circumstance also added to the parent engagement rates without any extra effort down the road. In order to accommodate the article release process, vendors tested and verified live content Friday morning. In addition, they scheduled the email for release on Sunday night. Over the next two months, we noticed a handful of participation prior to the Sunday deployment. It became a mentionable bonus that the client also spread. The managing editor and I later adapted similar processes for other parent programs.
With the surveys, I built and loaded the first versions. It allowed me to break down each step for the pages and the emails. I separated the variable content from the repeated content. I also parsed out batches based on the loading platforms. By dividing up the tasks, I figured out which tasks were more complicated. I then allocated an extra day for the more complex tasks and an extra day for testing on an older platforms. After survey emails were built and the account managers decided on a dated schedule, a conflict arose between sending scheduled emails and survey emails on the same day. I resolved the issue by implementing a floating system to create space between the deployments. I also adapted and expanded the system to accommodate holidays, weekends, and new users.
In July 2011, ConnectEDU, purchased the enrollment and retention division of EducationDynamics. CDU bought the company and added our products to its existing portfolio of education data and course evaluation tools. Over the next six months, I helped to educate, senior management and new employees about our processes and procedures. During this process, I found out CDU did not previously have been editorial or production department. The teams introduced the batch control procedures both by training the Boston-based CDU staff and vendors on Elementool and Basecamp, etc. This provided greater transparency and accountability across the company.
By the beginning in 2012, CDU integrated the account management, editorial, and production management teams into the folds of the entire company. I gained more responsibility and monitored budgets, increased vendor training, and looked at portfolios of programs. After looking at the program portfolios and the workflow with the associated budgets, I made recommendations. In my expanded role as a business analyst, I discovered manual link testing as one of the biggest drains on time, effort and cost for both staff and vendors. Over the next month, I researched automated software and testing tools. I found a Canadian software company that reduced the testing time and effort from six hours for 100 page site, down to six minutes. Multiple websites were also tested the same time. I trained staff and vendors within the next two weeks, before it was rolled out for company use. Because of the effectiveness of the software, vendors and staff were able to monitor live sites and link problems for the next two years.
Another problem I discovered as a business analyst became vendor disparity. The web developers costed more than the content loaders. I facilitated training so that the web developers learned how to load content and be content loaders learned different aspects of web development.
Also, during this time, my workload of programs increased because we both staff and vendor resources. Because of these reductions, I became more of a strategic thinker, problem solver, and client negotiator. We even began to eliminate clients that had requested unreasonable turnaround times, changes, or provided invalid data. In addition, we increasingly alerted client tardiness and informed them of the reduced impact the lateness caused on the different phases of time sensitive windows for student engagement. Sharing turnaround times with clients and limiting client ad hoc choices helped curb one-off requests. For example, by giving clients scalable choices, the production department asserted more control with easily managed percentages with images and content spaces.
In addition, the production department gained more control over setting and enforcing all the timelines. Cautionary emails and regular meetings became softer touch points for monitoring internal and external communication. By having a full view into client changes and updates, we were able to split new costs, efforts, and expectations evenly with client.
In the spring of 2012, I led a strategic feedback engagement team which planned, organized, and deployed comprehensive survey information across more than 50 websites. One of the keys to the initiatives success leveraged stakeholders from every department to develop benchmarks, deadlines and mitigate separate risks. I worked with the strategic team not only to gather information on individual clients and programs, but the members helped to build individual and group user profiles. The planning and execution tools and information also were reused for future surveys.