By Julia Marnin
The College kicked off its Brown Bag Series on Friday, Sept. 15, with alumnus Robert LaPlaca (’06) as the first speaker of the semester.
LaPlaca was a graduate of the interactive multimedia program — before IMM became a department within the school of Arts and Communications. He is now a software engineer at Etsy.
He has also worked for various big name companies including Barnes and Noble, R/GA, Nike, Verizon, Lexus and Pepsi.
While on center stage in Mayo Concert Hall, LaPlaca presented his experiences working in New York City in the last decade. LaPlaca reflected on how his failures geared him toward his successes, and spoke of the insightful knowledge he gained along the way.
Assistant Dean of the School of Arts and Communications James Day introduced LaPlaca’s lecture, and said he would gladly share “how he learned wisdom from failure and how he left his comfort zone in order to grow.”
For LaPlaca, who previously lived on the Jersey shore, working in the city was completely new for him.
“One day I made a weird decision,” he said of his decision to pursue work in New York City.
LaPlaca began his journey in New York City with many interviews, including his first interview with Barnes and Noble, which did not go as planned.
While he felt really comfortable with his software skills, LaPlaca was thrown a curveball during the interview when he was asked to write difficult code on the spot.
LaPlaca admitted he couldn’t write the code. Following the interview, he proceeded to study that new skill afterwards.
“What I learned was that interviewing is tough but you have to go for it,” he said. “I’ve tried to adapt and learn from those mistakes.”
Ultimately, the insight LaPlaca gained from interview failures helped him land a job as a software developer at R/GA.
A position at R/GA involved having a “broad skill sets,” according to LaPlaca.
While nearly 100 developers at R/GA were flash developers, changes in technology challenged the developers’ pre-existing expertise.
“Things changed because in 2007 the iPhone came out, which didn’t support flash at all, and I wondered how we adapt and what to do,” LaPlaca explained.
LaPlace believes in the importance of diversifying one’s skill sets.
“If something is changing, learn to adapt,” he said.
While working at R/GA, LaPlaca’s friend reached out to him regarding a job at Etsy.
“Sometimes opportunities just appear,” he said. “You have to figure out if you’re ready for that.”
Etsy was an opportunity he decided to pursue.
During his interview for Etsy, LaPlaca asked to see the job description. Noticing there were various skills listed that he was not wholly familiar with, LaPlace decided that honesty is the best policy.
LaPlaca shared his concerns with his interviewers, and his honesty was rewarded.
“The people I was talking to said ‘don’t worry about it we’ll teach you,’” he said. “If I didn’t leave my comfort zone, I don’t know what I would be doing right now.”
At Etsy, LaPlaca is on the Maker Innovation Team, specializing in building software.
Transitioning into the Q&A portion of the presentation, Assistant Dean Day asked LaPlaca how he viewed his potential career while he was a student at the College.
“I don’t think I had a clear vision,” LaPlaca responded. “I never had a moment where I knew very young.”
Miles Cumiskey, a freshman interactive multimedia major, felt that he benefited from LaPlaca’s presentation.
“I thought (the talk) was really awesome,” he said. “Having speakers that create things and do code in this new age is really important for IMM majors.”