We recently chatted with Ty Ahmad-Taylor who is currently at MTV Networks as SVP of Product Development and Strategy. He is originally from the Bay area and had previously worked at Comcast, @Home Networks, and MetaTV. We were able to discuss his career progression and what it is like to work at MTV. Check it out:
(13:37:12) BW 2.0: Can you take us through your career up to where you are now at MTV?
(13:37:37) Ty: Sure
(13:37:54) Ty: I grew up in the Bay Area, and ended up going to school at Haverford, a small school outside of Philly and then sort of Forrest-Gumped my way into the New York Times where I did infographics; which are a blend of information design, reporting, database analysis, and cartography.
(13:38:53) Ty: Because I was younger and could run fast (I guess) I got a lot of the death and destruction stuff:
(13:39:09) Ty: 1. LA Riots
(13:39:18) Ty: 2. Oklahoma City bombing
(13:39:25) Ty: 3. Waco TX craziness
(13:39:34) Ty: 4. First Gulf War
(13:39:40) Ty: During my time at the paper I came to the conclusion that I didn’t know enough about Journalism to work there so I obtained a masters in Journalism at Columbia University while working full time so I was grumpy from 1993 to 1995.
(13:40:23) Ty: When I got out of Columbia I started writing more and covered special effects in movies, video games, and the web.
(13:40:47) Ty: I came to the conclusion that I could write about this stuff or actually do it and I was homesick for the bay so I left the paper and joined a company called @Home
(13:41:25) Ty: where I was the 43d employee of what was then a small start up
(13:41:27) Ty: this was 1996
(13:41:35) Ty: I became the Creative Director overseeing a staff of art directors, technical art directors, freelance designers, and the video production people
(13:42:11) Ty: and we built the first three broadband portals in the US
(13:42:18) Ty: and they were old school (the first was optimized for 640×480)
(13:42:31) Ty: Zany!
(13:42:36) BW 2.0: wow@ “optimized for 640×480”
(13:42:37) Ty: (I use the term ironically)
(13:42:46) Ty: and I also didn’t know what I was doing they asked for broadband pages
(13:43:00) Ty: so I created a 17.5 MB animated gif and brought down a couple of servers
(13:43:13) BW 2.0: lol
(13:43:16) Ty: So I was banned from posting material to live
(13:43:18) Ty: whoops
(13:43:25) Ty: and we came up with staging servers
(13:43:34) Ty: Innovation on behalf of the customer, I always say
(13:43:37) Ty: or something like that
(13:43:45) Ty: Regardless
(13:44:11) Ty: the VC that had invested in @Home wanted us to buy Excite so that they could cash out their stake in the merged firm
(13:44:24) Ty: so we acquired Excite and became Excite@Home.
(13:44:32) Ty: I left the day of the merger, which I believe was June 4th 1999 as I was burned out and needed a break
(13:44:56) Ty: I moved to London for a year and went to cooking school (Australian-Asian fusion school, as the Brits can do horrible things to meat)
(13:45:28) Ty: and then came back to the US with less than impeccable timing in the summer of 2000 when everything was dying on the vine (but no one knew it yet)
(13:45:46) Ty: I joined up with MetaTV an interactive television firm where I was the Chief Creative Architect and I oversaw our product development there for 18 months.
(13:46:33) Ty: I had rented a ski house in Lake Tahoe for the season so I departed amicably and went snowboarding for the winter/spring of 2001-2002 and then started hunting for more work
(13:47:13) Ty: and I knew that Comcast was about to buy AT&T broadband making it the largest cable provider in the world
(13:47:28) Ty: I joined Comcast that fall and moved back to New York and commuted down to Philly
(13:47:48) BW 2.0: Ouch
(13:47:56) BW 2.0: How long did you do that?
(13:47:56) Ty: Which is not necessarily the smartest thing I have ever done
(13:48:03) Ty: I did that for 4.5 years
(13:48:08) Ty: 90 miles each way
(13:48:13) Ty: 2 hours door to door
(13:48:20) Ty: and in the meantime I got married and had my son
(13:48:31) Ty: so something had to give
(13:48:34) BW 2.0: Right!
(13:48:38) Ty: as he was thinking of me as
(13:48:46) Ty: “that dude who is here on the weekends.”
(13:48:49) BW 2.0: lol
(13:49:08) Ty: At Comcast, I did strategic planning for two years, and then cross-platform interactive products which is essentially figuring out ways to increase subscriber time on the networks (broadband and TV) by developing products that worked seamlessly across both media.
(13:50:19) Ty: This was challenging at a 60,000 person company that had grown through acquisition. But I was able to co-author several patents and get some cool products launched while I was there.
(13:50:37) Ty: Which brings me to MTV
(13:50:51) Ty: I began looking for jobs AFTER I left Comcast, and the MTV opportunity came up and it was a mere 19 blocks from house, to boot
(13:51:16) Ty: I run product development in the music and logo group which is comprised of MTV, VH1, CMT and Logo (all television networks)
(13:52:29) Ty: and we have had the opportunity to relaunch MTV as an HTML site from its non-SEO friendly Flash state in 2007, add social networking to the sites in the portfolio, create an API for accessing our content on the fly, widgets, things of that sort.
(13:53:09) Ty: These features are old hat for most firms in the Bay Area, but relatively new for large media firms, and we are still working to make them better, but I am happy with my team and where we are.
(13:53:20) Ty: (my fingers hurt)
(13:53:23) BW 2.0: lol
(13:53:25) BW 2.0: I am sure they do!
(13:54:04) BW 2.0: What is your day-to-day like there? Who do you manage, what roles do your team consist of?
(13:54:57) Ty: Day to day I “grind” as they say in the Wire, which means I am either meeting my staff, in other meetings, or wading through PRDs and/or wireframes
(13:55:27) Ty: Most of the digital product development heads in the Music group dual-report to me and the heads of those brands
(13:56:09) Ty: and then I have my own staff of Product Developers, Designers, UX experts, Front-End Developers, Engineers, and supporting PMs and QA folks.
(13:56:17) BW 2.0: Can you give any advice to people looking to get into product development?
(13:56:25) Ty: First, the phrase “Product Development” means many things to many people
(13:57:15) Ty: In the Valley, it traditionally refers to the Tech Lead on a product/project (at least at Google it does)
(13:57:34) Ty: In New York and LA, it is an emerging job that really didn’t exist five or six years ago
(13:57:52) Ty: And the key is being responsible for the product, or what the customer experiences and being able to synthesize business goals into product requirements (which may end up as PRD or a brief or a whiteboard sketch) and then being able to translate those requirements into annotated wireframes or a functional prototype
(13:59:19) Ty: which is then designed and executed as code (and then revised, released, and hopefully endlessly tweaked to make improvements)
(13:59:29) Ty: and this is a bit different from product management which is lifecycle management
(13:59:40) Ty: or Product Marketing which speaks for itself
(13:59:50) Ty: some people/firms conflate all three.
(13:59:20) BW 2.0: Ok, I know you have to go, but very quickly some fun questions:
(13:59:59) Ty: Go right ahead
(14:00:07) BW 2.0: Fav TV show?
(14:00:30) Ty: I am big fan of “The Wire” RIP, 30 Rock
(14:00:45) Ty: Robot Chicken
(14:00:59) Ty: and Weeds.
(14:00:55) BW 2.0: Best product of all time?
(14:01:30) Ty: The best product is that which solves the biggest problem for its user
(14:01:44) Ty: So for me
(14:01:46) Ty: Hmmm…
(14:02:02) Ty: People are pretty good products
(14:02:07) Ty: you can talk to them
(14:02:10) Ty: they talk to you
(14:02:14) BW 2.0: lol
(14:02:17) Ty: there are shared experiences
(14:02:37) Ty: they can make you happy and/or sad.
(14:02:32) BW 2.0: What is your most used website on a daily basis?
(14:02:44) Ty: I use Netvibes,
(14:02:52) Ty: which is more of an aggregator than anything
(14:02:58) Ty: and that is tied with Facebook
(14:03:02) Ty: for prominence in my life.
(14:03:17) BW 2.0: IE, Firefox, or Flock?
(14:03:22) Ty: FF
(14:03:59) Ty: (though I wish there was an easier way to synchronize extensions across machines, in much the way that Foxmarks syncs bookmarks)
(14:04:16) BW 2.0: Yes I agree!
(14:04:18) BW 2.0: Do you have an iPhone or iPod touch?
(14:04:22) Ty: Not yet
(14:04:33) Ty: I needed the new software that talks to Exchange servers
(14:04:44) Ty: otherwise I would have had to carry two devices
(14:04:48) Ty: and now the stores are sold out
(14:04:55) Ty: so I will try again this weekend
(14:05:02) BW 2.0: lol, yes, I have yet to try exchange in iphone
(14:05:11) Ty: It works well and is easy to set up
(14:05:28) Ty: but it is a vampire to your battery life
(14:05:38) BW 2.0: I know!
(14:05:47) BW 2.0: iPhone battery sucks in general for me.
(14:05:12) BW 2.0: You will have to let me know what your fav apps are when you get yours
(14:05:42) Ty: I have a bunch I put on my wife’s old school 2.5 g
(14:05:57) Ty: the easy Spanish phrase app
(14:06:00) Ty: the remote app
(14:06:10) Ty: Solitaire so I don’t have to make eye contact on the subway
(14:06:17) BW 2.0: lol
(14:06:16) BW 2.0: Yup love the remote app
(14:06:20) Ty: the list goes on.
(14:06:29) BW 2.0: Ok last one, fave food/dish?
(14:06:34) Ty: Oh man
(14:06:39) Ty: I can’t render one
(14:06:43) Ty: Let me see…
(14:07:22) Ty: What would I bring to a deserted island (that was climate controlled, as I like it a steady 65°, San Francisco style)
(14:07:37) BW 2.0: lol
(14:08:26) Ty: My mom used to make some old off-brand, non-legal-in-Italy East Bay lasagna that she has somehow forgotten to make
(14:08:46) Ty: and my wife makes an insane four-cheese shell macaroni and cheese
(14:09:02) Ty: so both of those Atkins-busting items and perhaps
(14:09:08) Ty: (and I ashamed to say it)
(14:09:24) Ty: Chicken from one of the Middle Eastern carts in Midtown.
(14:09:26) Ty: There.
(14:09:28) Ty: I said it.
(14:09:29) BW 2.0: rofl
(14:09:42) BW 2.0: Thank you so much for taking the time to participate!
(14:09:45) Ty: np