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