a living with the new technology
trio of alumni and their entrepreneurial tales
Within the last
five years, the business of home computers and Internet access
has steadily grown in the first world, and still the market
hasn't reached saturation. Worldwide personal computer shipments
shot up 15 percent in the fourth quarter of 1998, bypassing
even analyst projections, according to a report released by
International Data Corporation (IDC). It seems that families
are buying second and even third computers for their homes or
upgrading existing equipment to handle "tasks" like music composing,
video teleconferencing and small business accounting.
Software sales for
Internet usage rocketed this past year, IDC says. About 87 million
households in the United States and Canada are on the Internet,
with a global total of 151 million.
As the Internet
and computer businesses keep growing, the on-line culture is
also metamorphosing. Originally made up of educational institutions
and small start-up companies offering various data almost through
the goodness of their hearts, the Internet's primary players
are now increasing in scope and financial power. Netscape and
America Online, for example, two of the most influential Internet
organizations, have merged, while Microsoft, which has worn
the Internet crown, is battling the judicial system to retain
its hold on the industry.
What effect all
this might have on the virtual industry remains to be seen.
One thing is certain, however: a Rochester Institute of Technology
diploma offers versatile and valuable technical expertise, and
RIT alumni are among the pioneers who are making themselves
felt in the computer and Internet industry.
Consider Andrew Welch
'92. While studying to be a photojournalist at RIT, he happened
to write a computer game, a remake of a 1980's asteroids-style
game. "It ended up doing quite well," he says. Welch is now owner/president
of Ambrosia Software, a Rochester company that designs computer
games and sells them via the Internet.
Andrew Welch '92, owner of Ambrosia Software,
uses some of his down time to volunteer at local Lollipop
Or take a peek at
Erin Malone '94. After studying information technology at RIT,
she went to Eastman Kodak Company. Of her stint at the Yellow
Giant, she says: "We had computer and Internet access and, all
of a sudden we're hearing about this thing called the Web. I'm
thinking, 'Yes!'" After teaching herself the technical aspects
of Web design, she moved to California, began her own Web-design
business, with contracts with some top Internet guns, such as
Adobe and America Online. "What I do now didn't even exist at
RIT as a major when I was there in the early 1990s," she says.
"But everything I learned there helped me to make it work."
Then there's Derek Torrey
'94. As editor of ESPRIT, the RIT photography magazine,
he headed a team that designed a 32-page, full-color issue of
the publication for CD-ROM. During the project, Torrey developed
some new and valuable skills in digital technology. Now he is
leader and creative director for the New Media Services Division
of Applied Graphics Technology (AGT), the nation's largest provider
of prepress services. His team has developed CD-ROM publications
and created Web sites for such heavy-hitter clients as U.S.
News & World Report, and is now developing new products that
combine Web design with database management. "We did one million
in sales last year," he says quietly.
Derek Torrey '94, opposite, former ESPRIT
editor, develops Web sites and CD-ROM publications for Applied
This trio of 1990's
graduates is simply a random sampling of alumni who, in true
entrepreneurial spirit, see a good thing, run with it and keep
going till the next opportunity arises.
"When we talk about
the Internet, we're talking about a new industry in which younger
people know more than experienced workers," says Robert Barbato,
RIT professor of management and acknowledged expert on entrepreneurship.
"The industry needs these new workers to continue to grow.
"And if someone
takes the leap toward self employment when they are just out
of school, the risks are minimal, since they don't yet have
anything valuable to lose."
"I did the first
computer game for fun. When it did well, I had to make a decision
on whether to continue or finish school," Andrew Welch recalls.
"I decided to concentrate on school." Shortly out of school,
though, he and several colleagues formed Ambrosia. The company
has offices in Rochester's Cascade District, an up-and-coming
former industrial neighborhood just west of downtown. Now Ambrosia
has six full-time employees and a bevy of contractors. The products,
once only available for download from the Web, are now available
by mail on CD-ROM.
Computer games are
wildly popular, despite their hefty $50 and up price tag, Welch
says. "People spend a lot of money to get a good computer that
can run a game," he says. "You need a high-end PC, maybe some
special add-ons. After all that, you don't begrudge the cost
of a game."
Gamers prefer three-dimensional
games with special effects, "lots of polygons, textures and
things to blow up," he says. "But most people who actually play
computer games play the games that come with their software
and that they already know, like Hearts and Solitaire. We're
looking at products now for that market, non-gamers who play
As Ambrosia has
grown since his inauguration into game design, Welch doesn't
build games alone much anymore, he says. "I am the idea person.
I am doing more producing and coordinating."
"Owning my own business
has allowed me to live the way I want to," explains Welch. "I
work when I need to, take days off when I want." He spends one
day a week as a volunteer at Lollipop Farm in Rochester, likes
to travel, and enjoys scuba diving. (Last year, he went diving
in Papua, New Guinea.) "Instead of living to work, I'm working
to live," Welch says.
Chances are, if you've
used the Web, you've seen something that Erin Malone has designed.
When Malone moved to California, Adobe Systems, Inc., one of the
nation's premiere popular software developers, hired her to develop
their Web site. The Web was so new at the time, Malone recalls,
that, despite all the techies in the firm, no one knew how to
put together a Web site. "They were beginning to see that the
Web would be a great marketing resource," she says. "They needed
someone new to figure out how to do it for them."
Erin Malone '94, top left, works for Web
TV, developing new ways for the Web and television to interact.
Using the skills
she taught herself while at Eastman Kodak, Malone, through her
business, EM Design, created Web pages and completed other design
projects for Adobe. America Online Greenhouse also contracted
with Malone: for example, she designed the first-generation
Web site for HouseNet and designed the graphics and structure
for SweatNet, a fitness site, and NutriBytes, a nutrition information
and food log site.
Two years is about
the maximum amount of time a Silicon Valley employee will stay
in a job, Malone says. "It's a small world. We all have specialties,
so we move around laterally." After her two years at Adobe,
she went to work for Zip2 Corporation, where she designed Web-based
products. Zip2 creates community-based Web sites that offer
information tailored to local needs -- yellow pages, and information
on local shopping, arts, entertainment, travel, weather and
the like. (Zip2 was bought recently by Compaq.) "We did New
York Today, for The New York Times, and sites for
other community newspapers," she says. This year signaled the
end of her predicted two-year stint there, and Malone is now
working for Web TV, an organization recently bought by the infamous
Microsoft. "It's the convergence of the Internet and television,"
she says excitedly of the new project. She will be part of a
creative team that is looking for ways to develop interactions
between the two media.
"It's more about
doing cool work than anything else," Malone says of her career.
"What I've enjoyed about every one of my jobs is that they all
say, 'Here's the subject matter, do whatever you need to get
Derek Torrey got
started with AGT following a call to RIT from that company.
At that time, the organization was looking to incorporate Eastman
Kodak's photo CD technology into their prepress processes. "They
were looking for someone with digital publication experience,"
he says. "After ESPRIT, that was me." He began testing
camera equipment, looking for the best images for digital reproduction,
meantime lobbying to push AGT into the business of CD-ROM publications.
He pulled together a small media team to begin the transition
to that technology, and AGT created CD-ROM and Web publications
for Hasbro, Citibank, and U.S. News & World Report, among
The next step for
Torrey was a new project that combines design and graphics with
database management. This gave him a new, larger team to manage
and the title of vice president of product planning for AGT.
The team works directly with customers to design a Web site
that acts as the "user-friendly" front door to access unwieldy
collections of information. "We look at what each customer needs,
then create it," he says.
a workaholic," Torrey says, laughing. (Although he does get
away from work to snowboard and take flying lessons. He soloed
in December 1998.) "I like to keep pushing to do something better
than the last thing. All of us on the ESPRIT team were
like that. We loved our work and we wanted it to be the best.
"What we did at
RIT really set us up to kick butt."