Welcome back to the Fall 2011 semester! We will be continuing to post monthly Alumni in the Spotlight interviews in the blog and hope that you enjoy them. If you are an alumnus and would like to be interviewed or would like to recommend someone, please let me know. Just send me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The September interview is with Yunjie Duan, a 2001 graduate of the MS in Publishing program. Since graduating, Ms. Duan has worked at Pearson Education/Pearson Technology where she is currently an IT Project Manager. In this interview, she will share her thoughts and insights on what it is like working for one of the largest educational publishers in the world and on the impact of technology on the publishing business.
Prof. Denning: Hi Yunjie, and thank you for agreeing to do this interview. It has been 10 years since you graduated from the MS in Publishing program. What have you been doing since then?
Y.D.: Through the Publishing program, I found myself interested in strategic planning and analysis. Right after graduation, I worked at an Internet Consulting firm helping major consumer good companies define their online strategies. A year and a half later, when the Internet bubble burst, I joined Pearson Education to do multimedia development for one of their higher education divisions. About four years after that, I moved to Pearson’s Internal Technology department to design and manage information systems.
Prof. Denning: How has the industry changed since you began your career? What was the work environment like then (in terms of job opportunities) as opposed to now?
Y.D.: In my humble opinion, the publishing industry is going through a significant restructuring and redefinition process at the moment. While 10 years is a significant time for any industry, the past decade has seen revolutionary changes in the publishing industry: new digital product offerings, new ways to reach consumers, and the new technologies that drove all of these changes. This could be a long thesis topic by itself!
Using educational publishing as an example, 10 years ago, digital products were mainly supplements or freebies. The majority of them didn’t produce any profit. Nowadays, expanding the digital revenue stream is on every publisher’s priority list. At Pearson Education, digital revenue now accounts for about 30% of its revenue. And the trend is expected to continue. This digital trend has been, and will continue to be, the driving force in changes in product planning, product development, sales/market, and organizational changes in every media company.
I also saw a big shift on the job front. The pure technical, design, and production jobs are no longer as plentiful because they can be outsourced to areas with much lower labor costs. Whether this is beneficial for the country is a different matter; this is the current status of the job market. The jobs that cannot be outsourced are the ones that are closest to the consumers, such as editorial, sales/market, technical management, etc.
Prof. Denning: Please tell me a bit about how our educational experience at Pace prepared you for your publishing career.
Y.D.: The Publishing program at Pace has been extremely valuable to my career development. First of all, as an international student, the program gave me a great introduction to the industry in the United States, which is quite different than that in China. Apart from the program’s convenient location in midtown Manhattan, I was able to find three internship opportunities one month after I completed the first year. The job market in 2000 was of course very different, but without the program, I wouldn’t have received so many offers.
Secondly, the program helped me discover a different side of myself. I was a computer engineering major as an undergraduate. Through the accounting, marketing, and entrepreneurship classes at Pace, I discovered and developed my interest in these business-related topics. I eventually went to NYU Stern to pursue an MBA. Without the program, I definitely wouldn’t have explored so many career options.
Thirdly, I became acquainted with many wise and friendly faculty members and students, many of whom I still keep in touch with. Their perspectives and help are invaluable, and I am grateful that I got to know them through the program.
I think the essence of education is to open eyes and open doors: open a student’s eyes to the things she never thought of, and open doors to the opportunities that she would have never been exposed to. The program at Pace has definitely done that for me. It was indeed one of my life-changing experiences.
Prof. Denning: What advice would you give to students as they embark upon writing their thesis papers?
Y.D.: I have done many theses at Pace as well as after graduation. I have always enjoyed writing thesis papers, and I do want to encourage students to take full advantage of this process. Take charge of this project, explore a subject that you are interested in, interview people you don’t usually talk to, and expose yourself to a subject that you are not usually very confident in. The purpose of school is to stretch yourself, and school is a fail-safe place. I think every student should do various academic and professional experiments in school. Writing a thesis is one of the great projects that prompt you to do so.
Prof. Denning: Have you always been interested in publishing? What does your position as a Project IT Manager entail?
Y.D.: I never planned a career in publishing as an undergraduate. However, I have always been a curious person, and I happened to see a publishing job right before graduating from college and decided to give it a try. An IT Project Manager has different responsibilities in different companies. Depending on a person’s background, she could have different commands on various aspects of the job. As a general description, it entails managing schedules, resources, and project budgets, leading the requirement gathering process with users/customers to define the requirements of the products, leading the IT development team to deliver a product based on the requirements, and coordinating with other teams/people in the organization to get the job done.
Professor Denning: How do you interact with your colleagues in other divisions of the company?
Y.D.: Although I always prefer face-to-face communication, the reality is that most people I work with are “remote.” I need to communicate with them using whatever technology is available to me. On a different note, when working with people from other divisions, one thing to keep in mind is that they have their own jobs, their own priorities, and their own personalities. To be able to recognize that and create a cooperative atmosphere in which to work together is an art. It takes practice and patience. No matter how different they are, it’s your job to figure out how to best use other people’s talents for your project. After all, you can only change yourself, not others.
Prof Denning: Can you tell us a bit about Pearson and what it is like working there?
Y.D.: The public information about Pearson is, of course, on Pearson’s website. I have been there for 10 years and still feel like most people I work with have worked there longer than I have, but one thing I would like to add is that publishing companies are operating in a revolutionary age. Pearson, in particular, is eager to change its technology and talent structure in order to keep up with, and lead, the digital revolution. Meanwhile, Pearson is a conglomerate. Any company of this size isn’t particularly great at handling change, so it’s an interesting time to watch how the major publishing companies play out in the digital revolution.
Prof. Denning: How does the ever-changing technology impact your job? What are some of the challenges? Opportunities?
Y.D.: My parents were in the technology field as well. They told me that if one is working in the technology field, one has to be prepared for constant learning and constant change. After all these years, I would say that I couldn’t agree with them more. The speed of change is only getting faster. There are, of course, many challenges; I have to constantly think about where I am in my career and how I can adjust my knowledge structure to keep up. I need to be conscious of what added value I bring to my job and to the company I work for. The good thing is that this is a field that loves new talent and new ideas. Seniority doesn’t always mean a lot. Someone with a brilliant idea and the ability to execute it can get ahead pretty quickly.
Prof Denning: What do you think the future holds for book publishers? Do you think the launch of designated ebook readers and the iPad (and subsequent tablets) forever changed publishing as we know it?
Y.D.: I definitely agree with the statement. In the past two thousand years, publishing has always been on paper (or a platform similar to it: silk, cloth, etc.) although different technologies can probably enable different printing quality. However, digital media is a completely different platform. Presenting content through digital media is quite different on many fronts. I still think print products will hold their share in the industry, but maybe only for specific subjects. A brilliant company rarely stays alive for over 100 years. If you look for the successful companies in the early 1900s, very few of them still exist. I think the successful publishers in the future are those who can successfully reposition themselves in the digital age or those newcomers who know what to do with the traditional publishers’ content.
Enough can’t be said about going digital. Publishers face many challenges: new product offerings, new ways or channels of marketing and selling to consumers, new ways of organizing the organization’s resources and, last but not least, new business processes that enable employees to get things done in the digital world. It’s easier to recognize the challenges. It’s not easy to come up with ways that work for an organization (especially a big one) to address these challenges.
Prof. Denning: Would you like to speculate on the future ebooks? Books in general? What areas do you think will be the most impacted (textbooks, childrens, trade, graphic novels, romance, etc.) by technological changes?
Y.D.: In a general sense, education publishing faces the most challenges in the digital age compared to other publishing sectors. That’s why you see more complex digital offerings from educational publishers than from their trade counterparts. In educational publishing, you see a new package of product offerings, as well as platforms to enable new ways of teaching, assessing, and learning. My observation on the trade side is that changes are more on the platform side. The new features of the digital platforms, to a certain degree, mimic that on paper; there are not too many revolutionary features. There haven’t been too many complete new product offerings yet. An exception may be gaming products. I am keeping an eye on these interactive product offerings as well as the new educational gaming products in this area.
Prof. Denning: What do you think the essential skills our students need to leave the program with in order to succeed in the industry?
Y.D.: One thing I can’t stress enough is to explore as many areas as possible. You never know what could be your next job. Any little experiments that you have done at school could help you to deal with the changes in your current job or help to land your next job. In this process, you may identify areas that are of interest to you. We seldom study the area that will be our next job. As long as we are equipped with the ability to constantly learn new things and adapt to new changes, we can say that we are prepared psychologically for the real world.
Prof. Denning: How have you been involved in the program since graduating?
Y.D.: I really enjoyed the program and can’t say enough positive things about it. I have kept in touch with a few professors since I graduated. I came back to translate for some publishing executives from China and also lectured on Information Technologies for the graduate students. I have taken a lot from this Publishing program, and I am happy to give back anything I can to help the program do the same for other students.
Prof. Denning: Any other advice you would like to offer up to our students? To those looking to survive and thrive in this industry?
Y.D.: First, be a good student academically. You will feel that what you learned in school is never enough. So take advantage of it as much as possible. Secondly, don’t forget the social aspect of it, too, if you want to succeed in the corporate world. While feeding yourself the academic knowledge, don’t forget to sharpen your networking skills and learn to better present yourself and your ideas. You have to toot your own horn to be noticed in the corporate world, so you might as well try that in school and network with your fellow students and professors.