A year into his AV career, 24-year-old system design engineer Jesse Scarborough, CTS®, chair of the new Young AV Professionals Committee, talked to AVIXA about his entry into the AV industry and his thoughts on how the industry can appeal to millennials and the next-generation AV workforce.
Q. What was your start in AV?
A. I worked for an AV company in North Carolina, where I was living after I graduated from Elon University, but the work culture wasn’t what I was looking for. One of my friends was moving out to the Bay Area and I said, "that sounds really cool, can I go with you?" We lived in Redwood City and I was working here for about 6 months as a freelance live sound engineer but it didn’t seem like the long game was going to work out in terms of being able to make enough money to live. I happened to see an ad online for an AV company, CoitCom, based here in Redwood City, and they were looking for a project manager. So I sent an email and said, hey I'm not a project manager but I do have these skills and I have worked for another company and I’ve been working in AV for a few years now to various extents. After two interviews, they ended up hiring me.
Q. What are some of your responsibilities in the company?
A. I started out doing service, and I did install on the side for a few months. At some point our system designer asked if I was interested in doing design as well. And I thought, sure, if someone else thinks I'd be good at it, I'll give it a try. I took my CTS probably 2 or 3 months into the job, and then I started design a few months after that, in October 2015. Since then, I've been in the process of learning how to design systems, which felt like it came relatively naturally. It's a lot of fun. It's like putting together a big puzzle, except it actually does something when you’re done.
Q. What is a typical day on the job and some of the challenges you encounter?
A. Overall, the hardest part has been getting used to the business relationships and how that meshes with the whole process of bidding, acceptance, and execution. It would be beautiful to live in a world without change orders! We’re only 30 people, but the company is expanding pretty rapidly. It’s really busy. A typical day for me begins at 6.30 a.m. and I mark on my white board all the tasks I have for the day. I build quotes, do signal flows, and assist with architecture and CAD drawings sometimes; occasionally I will also act as a field engineer and go out in the field with our programmer and help QA his systems to make sure everything’s working. Given my audio background, I've also done some of the DSP programming.
Q. What is it about your work in AV that you love?
A. The variety of it. The mix of technical aspects and interpersonal aspects. I get to talk to people, I get to build stuff, sometimes I get to go out in the field, and sometimes I get to spend the day in my office. A lot of different things can happen, even in the same day or position or company. It's very broad.
Q. What professional achievement are you particularly proud of?
A. On the personal side, it would be making a living and not running out of food in Silicon Valley. In the professional realm, it's really just feeling like I'm in a position where I enjoy my company and my coworkers, and feeling like I'm making good things happen. It's not one particular achievement, it's the continuous satisfaction of a job well done.
Q. What’s your connection with AVIXA, aside from being chair of the new council?
A. Aside from studying for and gaining my CTS-certification, I went to the InfoComm show this past June and, earlier this year, I attended the InfoComm Connections event in San Jose, which was the first time I’d attended any sort of professional gathering or networking event. At that event I went to the "Youth in AV" luncheon, which was just a meet and greet with food, and someone got up and spoke about the changing industry. My company is hiring and we’re trying to find other young people like myself — #millennials — but I was the youngest person there by 4 or 5 years!
Q. What do you feel might attract young people to this industry?
A. This is an industry that a lot of people aren't really aware of as an industry, and there’s a lot more to it than people expect. You can come in with an advanced degree and find a good place; but you can also come in as someone who’s only ever done construction but has an interest in, say, home theater. There are a lot of different things for people. Today's young people have certain expectations when they're entering the world of work. And AV, because it's bridging the gap between construction and technology, has an interesting work culture because it's an old industry but working with a lot of new companies.
Q. What do you think employers can do to make themselves attractive to potential new, young hires?
A. I think it's useful to understand that younger people expect a certain sort of business environment that isn’t necessarily what's already there. It's a little bit like the difference between the Silicon Valley work environment and the traditional work office one. There is a pretty wide gap there, but younger people are expecting something closer to the Silicon Valley model, and probably aren’t wanting to come in and wear a suit and tie and do the same thing at their computers every day. People like variety and positive reinforcement. And that's part of a changing work culture everywhere. Sometimes that can be as simple as little perks, like having a company lunch every once in a while. There's a program where your company signs up and you can get discounted movie tickets, cheaper gym memberships, those sorts of little things, that combine to make people's lives a little better on the day to day. At our company, we've talked about various ideas, like having a cereal bar where you can go and get some cereal whenever you want. It's goofy but I would totally appreciate it if it’s around. I think also companies need to be mindful of the fact that young people today have grown up with technology and tend to be far more comfortable with it. In general, they can adapt to changes quickly and competently. That's a real positive.