geek speak with Matt Popke

As regular readers would know, I (semi-)regularly like to ask fellow culturegeeks how on earth they ended up working in museum tech. It’s not a straightforward career path for most people, and frequently involves chance and changes of direction along the way.

Today Matt Popke from the Denver Art Museum has agreed to tell his story. I first met Matt at MW2011. In fact, he was the first person I met at MW, but despite talking a number of times at the conference, our conversation remained fairly shallow. However, Matt has become one of my favourite blog commenters, and always adds thoughtful, eloquent and useful ideas to the discussion. He is certainly not the only person writing such comments – only this week a fellow museumer mentioned how impressed they were at the thought and effort that people put into the discussions here at museumgeek. But I thought this geek speak, it would be lovely to get to know Matt’s story a little better.


Matt Popke

I was one of those kids who had so many different interests when growing up it was nearly impossible to predict what I’d want to do with my life, but certain interests wound up having more pull than others. Thanks to video games, William Gibson and early Wired magazine, I somehow landed on computer science as a primary major in college. I also decided to pursue a degree in philosophy at the same time, hoping I would extend my worldview beyond my small town upbringing. In my pursuit of new ideas I ended up taking the philosophy classes that interested me rather than the courses that would actually earn me a degree, so I only graduated with the bachelor’s in computer science.

Initially, I wanted to go to grad school and research artificial intelligence, but I needed a source of income to pay my tuition. In late 1997, through random chance I got a job working for a small web design consultancy where I learned, much to my surprise, that I actually liked design a lot more than science. That shaped the rest of my career, and I have pursued design in one form or another ever since, including going back to school to study industrial design focused on interaction design.

In spite of my change in direction, I have always maintained a strong interest in the hard sciences, and I approach design with a working knowledge of the underlying craft. I think of myself as a software developer as well as a designer, and I maintain and use both sets of skills because together they are the core of my work. Web design is a hybrid occupation where success requires equal parts science, engineering and design process.

Serendipity has played a significant role in my career, and my current job is no exception. It was only through luck that I even knew the Denver Art Museum was hiring a web developer. I was freelancing at the time and was starting to get tired of working on my own. It’s too easy to become complacent or fall into the trap of habit when your only real critic is yourself. Working with a team forces you to challenge yourself and exposes you to more critique than you might get from clients or stakeholders who often don’t have the domain knowledge to challenge your ideas and suggestions. I missed the dynamic of working with other people.

Though I had looked for jobs for a while, I found no mention of the DAM’s opening anywhere. It was only through a friend of my girlfriend that I knew of the opening. It seemed like it would be an interesting place to work, so I applied and made it through the hiring process without really knowing what kind of work I would end up doing. I knew it had something to do with a website redesign and relaunch, but the real scope of the project(s) would not hit me until after I had started. That was almost exactly a year ago.

Museums are in the midst of an interesting transition now during which the audience is changing rapidly. It used to be that “generation gap” was a term used to describe a slightly different taste in music or clothes between children and their parents. Occasionally a generation gap signaled a new ideology or slightly evolved social attitudes regarding civil rights, but those have been more the exception than the rule. The generation gap today is characterized by children who communicate with other people in vastly different ways than their parents did, and who define themselves and their relationships with the outside world using a completely different set of assumptions and values. It might not be long before children and their parents are almost literally speaking different languages, perhaps using the same words but with completely different meaning. I often think this is already the case, where the savviest of our children today are effectively bilingual, capable of communicating with their parents but immersed in an entirely different mode of thinking which is their true native territory.

I see shades of this already in my relationship with my parents. I can’t imagine how big the gap must be for parents whose children are in their early teens today. Those kids were born in the territory I migrated to, and they have no direct experience of the culture we came from. They’ve known from the beginning that information about a thing is at least as useful and as valuable as the thing itself, and sometimes it’s more so. They’ve known their whole lives that information is infinitely copyable, infinitely shareable and impossible to contain once it’s been shared. They have completely different assumptions than the ones I was raised with, when knowledge came from limited sources and required significantly more time and resources to acquire, when the term “expert” had an implied meaning. Kids today are used to the idea of communicating asynchronously with many different people simultaneously. They have a totally different social experience than I did, when most people engaged each other one on one in synchronous exchanges and only addressed large groups if they had the resources or some kind of acclaim.

These, of course, are generalities. There is no real thing called a “generation” that you can safely and easily wall off from other generations and say, “This is a different group of people.” Part of the real challenge with our current generation gap is that it so unevenly distributed. There are kids in their teens today that match the description above, but there are just as many whose attitudes and experiences match their grandparents’ more closely than they do other kids who live only a half-hour’s drive away from them. But I talk about the “current generation” of kids anyway because it seems that’s where we’re all inevitably headed.

What purpose does a museum serve for that generation? When you possess a half-dozen different devices that can answer any question you could possibly imagine at just about any time, what function does a museum serve? What role does it play in their lives? Is it a place of quiet reflection? Is it a place to experience first hand those things you read about on a screen? Is it a place to gather with others and share those experiences? Is the museum an important piece of the fabric of that generation’s lives? Or is it just a big building filled with the physical manifestations of cultural trivia?

I don’t personally believe that museums are, or should be, trivial collections of accumulated cultural trinkets. But what I believe isn’t that relevant in the grand scheme of things. What will today’s teens think when they’re old enough to support or not support museums? What value will a collection have to them when the same information can be gathered instantly and for free from just about any place on the planet? I believe that museums will have to be places of experience. Museums will be places where people can go to experience something first-hand that they can’t get through an incredibly detailed and complete description that is always accessible. Museums need to become centers for shared experiences and not just collections of objects.

What kind of experience should museums offer? I don’t know. I have ideas, but I really don’t know what museums are going to do ten years from now. Answering that question is going to require a lot of trial and error. We’re going to have to experiment, and we’re going to have to do it very quickly and with lots of iterations. We’re going to need to be much more agile and adaptive than most of us currently are. But before we can do that successfully, we need to build a stable platform on which to create those experiments. We need a set of services that will enable us to redirect our resources quickly and efficiently in whatever direction they are needed today or tomorrow.

And right now, that’s my job. I’m building one of those platforms—the online platform for the Denver Art Museum. It’s going to take some time, but when it’s finally ready for launch, we’ll be able to experiment with it quickly and easily. Once all the core pieces are in place, we’ll be able to move them around and reconfigure them. We’ll be able to add new pieces easily and quickly, and we’ll be able to drop or abandon the pieces that aren’t working without impacting everything else. The initial launch of our new web site may not feel like we’re redesigning the wheel, but it’s only the beginning of a much longer process of constant experimentation and reinvention. The hardest part of iterative design is getting off to the right start. But it’s the most important part and, unless they’re one of the few that has already started, it’s what every department in every organization should be focusing on today.

Matt Popke is a web developer at the Denver Art Museum in Denver, Colorado. Working with a cross-departmental team, he is responsible for the design and implementation of the DAM’s online presence and services. His interests are legion but his current obsessions include games and game design (all kinds: board, card, dice, role playing, tactical miniature and videogames), applied aesthetics, procedural rhetoric, and more recently, kites.

geek speak with Erika Taylor

This month’s culturegeek is museumgeek’s first curator and first Australian. Erika Taylor is the Curator of Science, Technology and Industry at the Powerhouse Museum, and she is one of a whole collection (boom tish) of passionate museum tech people who work at the institution. Before I met Erika, I kept seeing her name pop up on Twitter – and always in interesting conversations – so I thought I would try to find out just how a science curator ended up so interested in the digital world. As always in geek speak, I’ve asked Erika to write a post responding to the question “How on earth did you end up here?” Enjoy her story.

Erika Taylor - Curator of Science, Technology and Industry at the PHM - being awesome.

First and foremost I guess I am a science nerd. I grew up wanting to know how stuff works, I went to uni and found out how much I could drink stuff works, and I discovered a love of teaching other people about how stuff works (except magnets).

After I finished my science degree, I wandered the world for a while working in backpackers hostels, drinking, eating, and visiting museums, until I returned to home to look for a prestigious, well paid, and stable job in science. Shockingly that didn’t work out.

So what could I do with my love of science, learning, teaching, and museums? Masters in Museums Studies fit the bill, so off I went to learn about the history of museums, how to do paperwork, how to dodge bureaucracy and red tape, and that you must wear gloves when touching old things. The best part of the course was the opportunity to do two internships. My first internship was project managing a website build for a special interest group of Museums Australia. My supervisor was none other than the wonderful Ms Lynda Kelly at the Australian Museum. My second was at the Powerhouse Museum, which eventually led to them hiring me as a science curator.

I did what “curators do”. I researched, published, interpreted material culture, put on exhibitions, and gave talks and presentations. This was at a time when museums were just starting to discover social media, and experimenting with its uses, it was also a time when the Museum’s 300,000+ collection had been digitised. I started to become interested in curators and the digital world, and concerned at the growing gap between the two.

I found mentorship under two of the most influential people thus far in my professional life, Seb Chan, and Paula Bray, and began working in that gap between curatorial and digital practice. I wrote a paper about the current state of play between curators and social media and presented it at Museums and the Web 2010, in Denver. I was inspired by some of the most amazing digital and web people from all over the world, learnt that Dutch really is the language of the future, and became Chief Curator in Charge of the Spinny Bar Historical Society.

I was the only curator there. Why? Why were museums doing such cutting edge and amazing things on the web, yet curators were so disconnected from it all?

Since then I have been working at getting curators involved in everything from blogging, basic web editing, using social media for things other than posting photos of yourself drunk on the weekend, making iPhone and iPad apps, and everything in-between.

So that’s me. I work in the gap. I am passionate about finding creative ways to use digital mediums to tell stories and interpret collections. I am specifically interested in how the future will shape museum curators, and plan to be an active participant in its evolution.

Erika Taylor is the Curator of Science Technology and Industry at the Powerhouse Museum. When not developing exhibitions on climate change, historical plastics, or strange medical implements, you can find her teaching someone to write blog posts, making iPad games, or user testing mobile walking tours.

geek speak with Neal Stimler

Ok, it’s time for geek speak – my regular guest blog series, in which I ask fellow culture geeks to write about their journey to museum tech. Looking back at the first couple of editions, it would be fair to say that neither Jasper Visser nor Lori Phillips knew they wanted to be in museums when they started their career journeys. Neal’s story is somewhat different, in that he had his mind set on working in museums from the very beginning.

Neal and I are both volunteering with the marketing committee for MCN2011, and we’ve connected via the Internet over the last few months. We had a Skype chat a little while ago, in which he recounted to me his days growing up in Ohio, and his time studying abroad writing German poetry and visiting museums. It was cool stuff, and I thought it would be nice to hear from someone whose path to museums has followed a far more traditional route of interning and persistence.

“What is to be done?” – geek speak with Neal Stimler

Neal Stimler: Renewing American Democracy Through Museums & Digital Culture. From Ignite Smithsonian, 11 April 2011 at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Photograph by Michael Edson

Note: The remarks herein are the personal views of Neal Stimler and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

I grew up on the summit of the majestic Cuyahoga River Valley, the son of two fair-minded attorneys and the great-grandson of farmers and factory workers.  My parents, from an early age, instilled in me a love for the arts.  Other beloved mentors nurtured interests in history, literature, music and poetry.  I have been a scholar as long as I can remember.  Museums have always been the place where I felt empowered to reflect upon my place in the world.

I began my museum career as an intern at Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens in Akron, Ohio during my last year at Walsh Jesuit High School.  Stan Hywet was the home of the founder of the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, F. A. Seiberling and his family.  I believe the family’s motto, “Not For Us Alone,” defines the vocation of the museum profession.  During my first summer in college, I was an intern at the Akron Art Museum.  While working at the Akron Art Museum, I gained practical museum skills cataloging collections records, taking digital photographs and preparing for exhibitions.  I also participated in an arts program for teenagers through the City of Akron’s Lock 3 Summer Arts Experience.  The most enlightening part of this program was dialoguing with young people struggling through a transformational period in their lives.  I recognized after working at the Akron Art Museum that museums are critical sites for community engagement.

I continued to develop my skills working as the curatorial assistant at the Miami University Art Museum in Oxford, Ohio.  In this intimate university museum setting, I experienced all aspects of museum work and studied a collection of domestic and international significance.  The hours spent with my colleagues and students at the Miami University Art Museum were surely the happiest and most instructive of my college days.  My study of art and culture was greatly augmented by my summer study abroad in Germany and the Czech Republic, where I visited over fifty-museums.  After my undergraduate thesis on the Zen humanist artist Frederick Franck, I made a personal commitment to make social justice and humanistic principles the core of my scholarly practice.

The summer following my return from Europe, I was selected to be a Summer Intern at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Working at The Metropolitan Museum of Art had been a dream of mine since the early days of my studies.  As a Summer Intern, I had the opportunity to learn first-hand from museum professionals in one of the world’s greatest cultural institutions.  During the summer of 2005, I assisted visitors at the museum’s central information desk, gave public tours and worked in the Department of Drawings and Prints cataloging German Expressionist prints.  It was a life changing experience.

Upon graduation from Miami University in 2006, I returned to the Department of Drawings and Prints at The Metropolitan Museum of Art to research American prints made under the auspices of the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Projects.  The projects were part of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal measures to create jobs and reinvigorate American life through the arts, thereby lifting the nation from the devastating Great Depression.  I was deeply impressed by the diversity, technical skill and moving expressions documented in the Federal Art Project prints.  I became especially inspired by the writings of Holger Cahill, the director of the Federal Art Projects, who championed the democratizing ethic of teacher and cultural philosopher, John Dewey.  I believe the art made during Works Progress Administration to be among the greatest achievements in the history of American culture.

Since 2007, I’ve been the Associate Coordinator of Images in The Image Library at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.  In this capacity, I assist scholars seeking images for their study and publication of works from The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collections and coordinate the distribution of images to partners such as ARTstor.

Through a mentoring program sponsored by the American Association of Museums, I was introduced to Nik Honeysett, Head of Administration of The J. Paul Getty Museum.  My conversations with Nik inspired me to further explore the implications of digital technology for museum practice as the chief focus of my scholarly pursuits.  Nik’s guidance continues to influence my work in ways that constantly offer me new perspectives and directions.  Nik is a significant role model in my life.  His foresight into the field always amazes me.  I remain ever grateful for his devotion to my personal and professional development.

While attending The 2009 American Association of Museum’s Annual Meeting in Philadelphia as a Media and Technology Committee Fellow, I met Nancy Proctor, Head of Mobile Strategy and Initiatives at The Smithsonian Institution.  Nancy too has been a stalwart supporter of my immersion into the museum technology community.  Nancy’s welcoming spirit brings so many new voices into the field.  Her visionary efforts with mobile technology and activities in support of Michael Edson’s Smithsonian Commons are critical to building an enlightening, engaging and empowering museum experience through digital technology.

I learn so much from the generosity and open hearts of mentors and colleagues.  I stress to any student or emerging professional the importance of fostering nurturing relationships with the leaders you most admire.  I believe the best way to learn is from self-directed study and apprenticeship to the greatest minds of the day.  This manner of learning cultivates a life-long devotion to critical scholarly practice and awareness that one’s labor in life should be dedicated to the compassionate service of others.  My work for the Museum Computer Network, a volunteer professional organization advocating for museum technologists, constantly reminds me of the importance of collegially working together for benefit of others.

The camaraderie so freely shared with me from friends and teachers alike, affirms my conviction that museum workers have a duty to work for democratic reform within their institutions that encourages greater access for and participation with the public.  Digital technology plays an essential role in this process by transforming observers into persons whose actions meaningfully contribute to our cultural institutions.  Museums are the protectors of our shared cultural heritage, but they must not lock-away the beauty, inspiration and wisdom that are the right of all humanity.

Fear of the public’s use of content or that traditional power structures will be transformed are not just reasons for limiting the inherent freedoms of citizens to utilize the full resources of human creativity.  If museums desire to be part of today’s digital culture, they must reduce the obstructions to their collections and content that the Internet, mobile technology and social media have already opened.  It is time now to use the powerful tools of digital technology to increase communication with the public, and encourage their involvement in the fundamental operations of museums.

I have the utmost confidence that my colleagues in the field will present new platforms and tools to bring about the urgent transformation of the museum community that I have described.  I entrust the work of technological innovation to those whose curiosity and talents will lead them to success in such endeavors.  My work is committed to helping museums better serve their constituents by empowering the public to live the Vision Statement of the Smithsonian, which requires its staff “to shape the future by preserving our heritage, discover new knowledge and share our resources with the world.”  The future of museums will be determined by our willingness not only to utilize new technologies, but by museums and museum workers ability to make sacrifices that serve altruistic, humanistic and social values.

To this end, I have been searching for past wisdom that can offer insights into a new course of action for museum technologists in the 21st century.  At this time of continued global crisis, I turn to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s First Inaugural Address delivered on March 4, 1933.  Roosevelt shared this insightful observation with a depressed and desperate multitude on that inauguration day:

The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.  Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort. The joy and the moral stimulation of work no longer must be forgotten in the mad chase of evanescent profits. These dark days, my friends, will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves and to our fellow men.

Roosevelt’s call was not only for ethical reform, but for immediate action to improve the conditions of citizens.  Museums too are bound to perform this earnest duty as civic institutions at the very center of cultural life.  Museum technologists, with their democratic ethos, are the instruments of hope for the future of an open, free and shareable digital culture.  Let us consecrate our purpose, as museum technologists, to work earnestly in concert with the public for a more compassionate and loving cultural paradigm through the use of digital tools.

Neal Stimler is the Associate Coordinator of Images in The Image Library at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Neal was a Media and Technology Committee Fellow at the 2009 American Association of Museums Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, and his article titled, “‘Ferry Me O’er’: Musing on the Future of Museum Culture,” was published in the July 2010 issue of Curator Journal. He gave a paper, “Fostering A Democratic Museum Culture,” at the 2010 Museum Computer Network Conference in Austin, Texas and participated in the first Ignite Smithsonian Conference in April 2011 with his lecture, “Renewing American Democracy Through Museums and Digital Culture.”  Neal graduated with honors and was a Provost Award recipient from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.  Neal takes an interdisciplinary approach to humanistic scholarship that is informed by art history, cultural studies, digital technology and sociology.

geek speak with Lori Phillips

Hey! It’s time for the next round of geek speak – this time with Lori Phillips. Since geek speak is about journeys into museum tech, I am going to be featuring people at various stages of their careers – and I thought it might be nice to hear from someone who, like me, is just finding her feet in this field.

Lori got in touch with me via museumgeek a couple of months ago, and she and I have been in regular contact since then. She is doing some cool things with the GLAM-Wiki movement (something that I know has a lot of museum people interested), and has just joined the team at the Indianapolis Children’s Museum. Her story paints what is becoming a familiar picture to me when I talk to people in the sector – of joining seemingly disparate interests (ie museums and wikipedia) and producing something new.


Lori and Liam Wyatt in The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis’ collection storage during a Wikipedia Backstage Pass event.

geek speak with Lori Phillips

As a graduate student I’ve had many opportunities to hear museum professionals share about their (often wayward) paths to the museum field, and I too always find them fascinating.  I still very much consider myself an “emerging museum professional,” so I hadn’t thought much about my own path to museums until Suse suggested I be her next Geek Speak guest. I’m honored!

I came into the museum world via social studies education.  I received my BA in History from George Mason University, which is also the home of the Center for History and New Media (the conveners of THATcamp, among a slew of other amazing projects.) Back then, I had my sights set on changing the world through the middle school history classroom, but I was always interested in digital history and social media and how these paradigm shifts in information-sharing would affect future historians.

While obtaining my Masters in Education, I realized that I was the only future-teacher in my class that cared more for the objects and primary sources than I did for creating ideal citizens. At the time I didn’t see this as a problem, but now I’m even more confident that museums are more suited to my interests than the classroom. Around this time I also had an opportunity to work with curators and museum educators at the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, where I found myself in awe of the behind-the-scenes world of museums. It wasn’t until my husband and I relocated from Washington DC to Indianapolis that I had an opportunity to reassess my career path and consider museums rather than the classroom.

Enter the IUPUI Museum Studies program and the incredibly vibrant Indianapolis museum community. When I started out in the program, my husband was pretty wary of this hazy path I was starting down. “But what will you do in museums?” I didn’t actually know. I started out being open minded about both Museum Education and Collections. I later discovered that collections was the place for me, especially because of my obsessively organized nature. I took this newfound knowledge and applied it to two internships:  as collections manager for an exhibit at a small historic house, and a year later, through environmental monitoring at Oldfields, the historic home on the campus of the Indianapolis Museum of Art. So,  history and collections? Check.

But during that time Wikipedia had also entered my life. I think that surprised me just as much as anybody. Wikipedia? Sure. People use it every day. But is it a viable collections management system? This was the central question in my Collections Care & Management course, which went on to establish WikiProject:Public Art. Through my continued involvement with WikiProject:Public Art, I met Liam Wyatt. Liam happened to be a historian who wrote his thesis on digital history and how Wikipedia (and article revision histories) will serve as a virtual palimpsest for future historians.  So Wikipedia was the answer to a question that had nagged me for years? I was more than intrigued.

In the past two years Liam has built up a community around GLAM-Wiki, an initiative that provides resources for Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums to collaborate with Wikipedia in order to share resources. I’ve been lucky to be involved in this cutting edge project, all while Wikipedia continues to inspire my research interests in collections accessibility and digital literacy. I’ve now had the chance to work extensively with The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis and the Indianapolis Museum of Art on Wikipedia collaborations, both of which have opened a number of doors that would never have been possible without my involvement in GLAM.  My projects as Wikipedian in Residence at the Children’s Museum have allowed me to implement fresh ideas within a medium (Wikipedia) that’s becoming increasingly important for museums all over the world.

My job as Web Content Specialist has brought me full circle. I’m now able to apply Wikipedia as one component within overarching projects that share collections, garner audience participation, inspire digital literacy through museum programs, and disperse information through other social media platforms. In the end, all of my past interests in education, social media, collections, and now museum technology, have come together.

I’m now researching three overlapping topics:  interactive and open source digital collections, E-Volunteering, and further developing museum programs that use Wikipedia as a 21st century research tool. If you’re also interested in any of these topics, please get in touch!  I can be a very good idea sounding board – just ask Suse.

Lori is a museum studies graduate student at Indiana University-Purdue University of Indianapolis (IUPUI) and is heavily involved in the GLAM-Wiki initiative, an international group of Wikipedians who provide resources for museums wishing to collaborate with the encyclopedia.  Lori has interned at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, the largest children’s museum in the world, since August 2010, serving as the world’s second Wikipedian in Residence, following Liam Wyatt’s residency at the British Museum.

In June, Lori became the Children’s Museum’s Web Content Specialist. In this role Lori continues her work integrating Wikipedia into all facets of the museum, while also working with the technology, marketing, and collections departments to plan for interactive, web-based experiences for online and on-site visitors. She’s passionate about increasing access to collections through virtual platforms, and researches the role of Wikipedia as a tool for sharing museum resources while increasing digital literacy through museum programs.

geek speak with Jasper Visser

This is the first in a series of guest posts on museumgeek in which I’ll be asking fellow culturegeeks to share how they ended up working in museum tech.

Most people I’ve met in this sector have interesting – and divergent – backgrounds. I love hearing their stories, and thought it might be sweet to capture and share some of them. Doing so will hopefully give newcomers to the field a sense of the myriad of ways that they can break into it, and should also – over time – paint a pretty cool narrative about just who it is that museum tech attracts, and why.

Hopefully you’ll enjoy the series. We’re kicking off with a great story from Jasper Visser from the Museum of National History of the Netherlands that thoroughly captures what I was hoping to with the project. In the coming months I’ll try to get a variety of interesting people to contribute, but if there is someone you’d like to hear from, let me know and I’ll do what I can to track them down and persuade them to post.

How I got here – Jasper Visser

Jasper Visser at Museum Next 2011

Okay, so I’ve got one of the best jobs in the world. Probably the best job in the world. And when people ask me how I got this job, I usually summarize my answer as “luck”. I guess I’m lucky to be part of an ambitious team building a museum with the audacious goal to be truly innovative in every way. To be working on media and tech within this whirlwind of change, especially, is most exhilarating.

But I guess “luck” won’t do for an answer to Susan’s question of how I got to have this job.

My background is diverse. Around the age of 15 I spent entire days building video games with Klik and Play. Also, I took my first steps in web development. This was the time when frames were still totally OK and I had a blast building complex structures. Around 1997 I even built a sort of social network but gave up because I didn’t believe in the concept. If only…

Anyway, university was a drag. I studied a couple of things, but didn’t really like any of it. Only a minor in international development studies got me enthusiastic. So I worked for a while on designing workshops about energy, gender and the Millennium Development Goals for the bigger development organisations. I guess I could have would have (should have) gone to DC for the World Bank if I hadn’t spent a couple of months in the field and liked that better than air-conditioned offices.

Through a campaign for youth representative for the United Nations I met a great number of wonderful people working on social innovation. They changed my life and taught me that non-conformism is a strength, not a phase to get through (as society tends to think about it, “Ay, one day you’ll get a decent job, finish your studies and pop out 1.7 kids”). It resulted in me being rather poor for a while until I found a job as a project assistant for the social aspirations of a consultancy firm.

They introduced me to the books of Jim Collins, in particular Good to Great which has been a guiding book in my life ever since. Although it’s written for business, I think its lessons apply directly to people’s private lives as well. The book and the firm helped me to develop a view on what I want to achieve in my life. In short, I want to make a positive contribution to intercultural understanding and social innovation, using the skills I’ve been given as a connector, inspirator and (hard) worker. Whatever you want to be, if you want to live a life that’s more than just good, read Jim Collins’ book and translate it into action.

Late in 2007 life led me to Madrid, where I became a teacher of the English language and a freelance designer/web developer. Often I barely made ends meet but the experience of living abroad and truly trying to become part of another culture was wonderful. I spent almost two years in the city, becoming half Spanish and a great fan of everything from Rioja to bullfighting. Then, I moved back to the motherland and through a friend was introduced to the people working for the freshly started Museum of National History.

Job interview, enthusiasm, work. That’s how I came to work in museums and tech. It wasn’t planned, although upon leaving Spain I had put “museums” on my list as a place where I would like to work to gain experience. I added “e.g. communications” as I had no idea museums did tech. How quickly I learned… In university I used to call people with great jobs to ask how they got there. I wanted to know what I had to do. Their almost universal answer, “Grab every opportunity to learn and move forward.” I cannot but full-heartedly agree with that now.

Jasper is project manager new technology and media at the Museum of National History of the Netherlands. Together with the team he’s responsible for the new media strategy, (online) participation, community building and online communication. Jasper is passionate about connecting people with culture, society and each other and likes coffee, Spain and Lady Gaga. He writes about innovation in museums on his blog