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Secondment: Paying it Forward

A secondment at MIT’s Media Lab can offer career-changing opportunities for our people as they learn new skills

A secondment at MIT’s Media Lab can offer career-changing opportunities for our people as they learn new skills

Within the tech industry there are few hallowed halls. Still there are some temples of thought that influence the way we all see, use and think about technology.

One of my early career’s most formative experiences was working in one of them: PARC (Palo Alto Research Center), Xerox’s legendary research arm, right in the middle of Silicon Valley.

Working with some of the most brilliant technologists around gave me a unique perspective. What really made the experience, though, was the sheer diversity of disciplines, backgrounds and points of view I found there.

Institutions of innovation

Jumping forward to today, I’m fortunate enough to be on the Advisory Council of MIT Media Lab. The amazing people there are creating a future that connects innovation to human needs, both individual and society.

It’s exactly the kind of place where tech communicators can get the same kind of formative experiences I had.

Earlier this year we began to offer our team secondments at the Media Lab. For six months at a time, one of our people will work with the in-house communications team. Immersed in a cutting-edge creative environment, they have the chance to do innovative work themselves.

Lessons learned

Danielle Killick, from our London office, just finished her secondment. Soon Betty Bai, from Singapore, will take her place.

For Danielle, this was a chance to go “in-house”, knowing she would come right back to a job she loves.

“It’s important for everyone to go in-house at some point,” she says, “It helps you understand the company, what your client is trying to achieve, and what they’re dealing with internally.”

This can be invaluable in understanding clients’ thought processes, the hurdles they face, and the demands on their time.

Danielle also found it rewarding to tell the story of communications to the researchers inside the Media Lab.

“Many people there are more comfortable talking to science and tech publications, so there’s a lot of learning,” she says. Mostly learning to help experts turn complex and dry concepts into compelling stories for consumers.

Looking forward

Betty’s hope for her upcoming secondment is to learn better story-telling skills for technical topics. At the same time, she will apply her knowledge of the Asian markets and cultures to the challenges at the Media Lab.

“I want to help bring more awareness of the Media Lab brand in Asia. To build more cultural connectedness for the brand with people in Asia,” she says. “Without awareness of cultural differences, the story you tell in America might not have the impact you want in Asia.”

Secondment Opportunities

I’m excited about this program, both for what it offers our people and for what it brings back to the agency. I’m also excited that it’s something that makes talented people like Danielle and Betty want to be part of our team.

“I rarely hear about any agency that provides its people the opportunities Text100 does,” Danielle says. “Despite our size, we have the culture of a small agency. Management listens to ideas and tries to do something about them.”

As a leader, it’s more than gratifying to hear words like that, because I truly believe in this kind of opportunity.

I never saw the world, or communications, quite the same after working at PARC. I’m guessing these people will one day look back on their time at the Media Lab and realize how much it impacted their career in ways they could not have imagined.

In the meantime, they return to us able to see technology through a new lens and as even-more-skilled storytellers. At the same time, the Media Lab will have a new disciple, advocating its mission in many far-flung parts of the world.

Pretty cool!

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