March FableFriday: Brian Grossman, Technical Director


brian_fablevision

Ten years – a full decade. That’s how long Brian Grossman, Technical Director at FableVision Studios, has called himself a FableVisionary. Brian comes from a strong technical background, but it’s his genuine belief in what FableVision stands for that makes him a perfect fit for his job.

“I believe strongly in FableVision’s mission and appreciate how committed we are to embodying it in all our work,” Brian says. “I'm an idealist at heart. I love that I don't have to compromise my idealism at FableVision.”  

In addition to being an idealist, he is a tireless learner, and believes that education is at the heart of doing good in the world. The breadth of his responsibilities is vast, too: he manages our technical team, architects experiences for our projects, and stays on the cutting edge of new technologies to ensure that we’re bringing expertise and prowess to all our projects.

“It's great to have a job. It's better to have a job you enjoy. It's even better-er when you enjoy your job and believe that you're helping to make the world a better place by doing your job,” Brian shares.

This month, Brian shares more about his position, what it’s like to manage one of the most talented technical teams out there, his passion for teaching and cooking, and how his 10 years at FableVision connects him to our mission of helping learners of all ages reach their full potential.

What is your journey to FableVision story?
After completing my Bachelors and Masters degrees in Computer Science from MIT in 1996 (I created math tutoring software for my masters thesis!), I moved to the Bay Area to work in hi-tech at Netscape. After about a year, I realized I would be happier if my job was in the education space. I left Netscape and worked at a couple educational technology start-ups. In 2000, I moved back to Boston. I soon started working at WGBH, creating websites and games for the children's TV shows Arthur and Zoom. In 2002, I worked on a freelance project at FableVision, making math interactives with Houghton Mifflin (Shelby Marshall, now Vice President of Strategic Partnerships and Product Solutions at FableVision, was our client!). Then, in 2003, I was hired to head up the technology team at Six Red Marbles, another educational software company in Boston.

In 2006, the Technical Director position opened at FableVision Studios. Remembering how much I enjoyed the company, I applied for the job. Now, ten years later, I'm grateful to work at a company that I believe in, that challenges me professionally and employs many of my favorite people on the planet.

What’s your favorite project you’ve worked on at FableVision and why?
It's hard to choose just one, but I think I'd say Lure of the Labyrinth, developed with Maryland Public Television. It was a pivotal project for FableVision. It was the largest game we had built at the time, requiring us to learn lots of new technologies and strengthen our process for working together in larger teams. We've come a long way since then, but Lure of the Labyrinth will always be a special project for me.

What do you like about being a developer?
I love making stuff. Being a developer is the ultimate job for people who like to make stuff. Anything you can imagine, you can model on the computer – and making stuff on the computer is generally faster than making real objects.  My father is a mechanical engineer by trade. He works with a team that makes communications hardware. The difference in the scales of time we work in is extreme. In the time it takes his team to build one piece of equipment, we've completed dozens of projects – all different, all fun to work on.

fablevision_developers

Things change very quickly in the field of tech. How do you keep up with current trends and/or learn new skills?
In my role, this can sometimes be a significant challenge. I spend a lot of time researching technologies that would be beneficial for our projects. One of the best things about working in technology is that the internet provides an endless library of great information and relevant case studies. Additionally, I leverage the other developers on the FableVision team, who are doing their own research. We learn and grow as a team, sharing with each other at our bi-weekly developer meetings and weekly code reviews. Our technology team is the best I've worked with – each member is incredibly talented and well-versed in a number of skills – from the tried-and-true to the bleeding edge.  

What does a typical day at FableVision look like for you?
I really don't have a typical day at FableVision. I like to stay involved with lots of facets of the company, from managing the developer team, to helping estimate projects for proposals, to overseeing the technology on projects, to brainstorming ideas, to maintaining the IT infrastructure. There's no shortage of things I can work on.

As a “Tech Guy” on projects at FableVision, what's your role in the creation process?
All of our projects start with some brainstorming. During the brainstorms, the technology representative needs to constantly ask the question: "Do I feel like I can come up with a technical solution for this idea?" At a place like FableVision, where there's so much creativity, it's critical to be flexible and open-minded as you never know what ideas will surface. Once we've got our idea, the technical team member is responsible for choosing the right technology and coming up with a plan for how to get things built. Then, when we move into production, the technical team member needs to work closely with other folks, particularly the art team to implement the product and ensure everything works.

What are some of the more interesting or useful things you’ve made using your programming skills (either at FableVision or on the side)? 
I love programming little tools and small websites for lots of random projects I work on. I've created websites in the office to choose the next cooks for our weekly Soup Group (see below) and the next books for our Book Club.

Outside of work, I've been able to leverage what I've learned to help with various tasks running a large fundraiser for my kids' school and planning my high school reunions. I've also created a Lego portrait of my son and I'm planning a Perler Bead project for my daughter. I've even written software to generate works of art with waffles!

You’re an excellent cook! What got you in the kitchen? What kinds of things do you like to make?
Growing up, my mom was an amazing cook and baker. Every night we had a delicious meal and there were always fresh baked goods in the cookie jar. Interestingly, I never did much cooking until I moved out of the house on my own. Given the void of no longer having my mom's home-cooked meals each night, I had no choice but to start cooking. When I moved out, my mom packed me with a notebook of all my favorite dishes – handwritten. I still cook these recipes regularly.

Along with standard cooking for our family of five, I love challenging myself to cook things that might be a little more complicated. Some things I've tried to include: fried ice cream, sour dough bread, French macarons, homemade cannolis, from-scratch hot chocolate with from-scratch marshmallows, and cronuts.

What is Soup Group?
At FableVision, we share a kitchen with a company called Jumpstart. They had started a group called Soup Group, which was essentially a weekly potluck where individuals would take turns cooking for each other. It looked like fun, so a co-worker and I asked if we could join. Now, five years later, it's still going strong and we've got about 50% FableVision employees and 50% Jumpstart employees. Soup Group day is always the best meal of the week.

You recently started co-teaching classes at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. What’s one thing you have learned from the professors or students?
From tutoring peers in high school, to working in elementary schools and summer camp while in college, to teaching high school math, to teaching at Boston University and Harvard, I've always had a “second career” as a teacher.

The most important thing I've learned from teaching is how important it is to listen. I'm teaching (mostly) non-technical individuals how to program. In this role, it's critical that I am able to listen to the students when they don’t understand the material and come up with creative ways to teach the concepts.

What’s one thing you would recommend to someone starting out in the field of tech? What qualities do you look for in a new hire?
The tech field is a great option these days. Everyone needs technical folks. When we're hiring, I strive to find individuals who are not only good programmers, but are good communicators and passionate about the work we do at FableVision. I like it when candidates abandon their “interview script” and talk casually about themselves and their interests. That's when you can start to learn what it's going to be like working with them.


Favorites!

Place to eat in Boston: Anyone who knows me knows I always like trying new restaurants. I have a list of 200+ bookmarks on my Yelp account. Whenever I have the opportunity to go out, I always consult my list to see if there's a place nearby.
Place to eat with your kids: Home. With two working parents, it's hard to find a way to eat together at home, but we do our best.
Ingredient: Sugar. I'm a sugar-holic.
TV show: I've got a Netflix watch list of stuff I've been chipping my way through. Whenever I get a recommendation, I write it down.
Favorite movie robot: I dunno… maybe the robot tailors from Woody Allen's Sleeper?
Favorite season:  Those first few days of spring in Boston are pretty special.
Favorite gadget: It's not hi-tech, but I love my DSLR camera.
Vacation spot: The National Parks. I love natural beauty. I've been to about 20 so far, but I'd love to see more. 

4 Comments