By Interviewer Mark Canlas, Engineer – @markcanlasnyc: Tim West [pictured] is a second-year intern at Tapad. Tim, along with the engineering team and the other summer interns, participated in a team building workshop based around improvised comedy (or “improv”).
Tell us about yourself.
I go to school at Saint Joseph's University. I was a resident advisor for two years, and I’m in the business fraternity, Delta Sigma Pi, also known as DSP. I wore my DSP shirt to the College Night party at Tapad so people would try to figure out which fraternity it is.
Would you say that you were destined to work in adtech?
Was I? Yeah. It was pure destiny! The first week I came here, people kept saying DSP, DSP, DSP. I thought, “Are you saying Delta Sigma Pi? That doesn’t make sense! Do they only hire fraternity members here?”
What do you do at Tapad?
At Tapad, I’m a product management intern, a bridge between the engineering and business sides of the company. Specifically, I am PM for the intern engineering team for the DSP group. Last year I worked in analytics, which was more technical – a lot of querying and reporting. This time my work involves more of the business side of things.
And which do you prefer more, between technical and business work?
Last year I wished I could do more management style of business, but now I’m wishing that there were more technical projects to work on. There’s definitely benefits to each of them. The grass is always greener on the other side.
How did you first get exposed to improv?
Freshman year of college, my roommate started an improv group on campus with two others. He had been trying to recruit me all semester, but I said no because I wanted to be more academic focused and more involved with leadership. He said I should try it when I could get around to it. I went once and I loved it. Then I started doing shows and going to weekly practices.Some time later, the theater director from my high school wanted to revamp the improv club. He asked if we would be willing to be instructors there. So for the past year, I’ve been instructing improv.
How has improv affected your life?
It’s an outlet to show emotion. I’m not a very emotional person as it is. I realized that if there had to be a way to express myself in a passionate way, it’s through improv. In my life there are very few outlets for such expression. If you’re going through something or had a hard week and you do improv, you can really feel it when you’re in the moment. When you have a lot of thoughts and a lot of pent up energy it’s a great way to express that. It just comes out. In improv, you can say anything that comes off the top of your mind and it’s hilarious to everyone. Being able to express emotion in a way that comes off as entertaining for other people is a gift; it’s therapy.
Isn’t improv only for actors?
The last time I did acting was in middle school, but now I’m an instructor for improv. I think that goes to show that anyone can do it. You don’t have to be an actor. I’m not a really good actor or singer but improv is not really acting. Acting is...you get a script. You have to understand how that character feels in that moment. And you have to really portray that. But improv is you. It’s you and your thoughts and the way you would express them naturally, resulting in a funny skit or exercise. It’s more in the moment than practiced or rehearsed. Anyone can be in the moment and express themselves in an improv way.
What is improv’s place outside of the theater?
I told the other interns that I teach improv. And they said, “No wonder, you kind of have that personality. You’re a goof!” They said that I was professional but also a goof sometimes. That’s not that bad. Improv becomes a part of your personality. I took being called a goof to mean that I’m not afraid to express how I’m actually feeling in the moment. I’m not afraid to be myself. Which is exactly what improv is. In those situations, you have to be yourself because there are no other options. You have to say what you’re thinking. In a professional environment, you want to filter yourself a little bit. But if you practice and do improv all the time, it’s natural to become that person in real life.
How does improv apply to the workplace?
In the workplace, a lot of people feel like, “Oh, I gotta be Mr. Professional and I have to show everyone that I have a high standard of being serious!” But people in a professional environment will like you more if you they can see that you are a real person that has people skills and can interact with people and that you’re not really faking it. This isn’t like actual Mad Men even though we are on Madison Avenue. We’re not in suits drinking whiskey. That’s not who those guys really are. They’re putting on a mask to fit in. If you say to yourself, “I don’t need to fit in,” people will like you more. Even if you’re going to sit down in a meeting, if you can make a joke or be natural about how you act, people will relate to that.In school where my schedule is all over the place, I get to do different things every day. But in professional life, in the real world, everything is very standard. You wake up, take a shower, put on clothes, maybe make your lunch, go to work, do work for the entire day, go back home, watch Game of Thrones, and then go to bed. That’s going to be every single day. It’s going to be standard. But when you have some sort of spontaneous interaction with somebody or you let your personality express itself at the workplace, you’ll be a much happier person. If you don’t limit yourself to that timeframe of when you’re at work, you’re only being serious and not really expressing yourself.
How was the group workshop?
The workshop was great. It was fantastic. It actually taught me a lot that I didn’t really consider as an instructor. After every exercise or skit, our instructor Rick Andrews would stop and explain why this was a good thing, and then introduce the next one. It was controlled and it was explanatory. Whereas with the classes that I teach, I have a group of high school students for a year. It’s, “‘Oh, what are we going to do next, guys?” You have to find a balance. If you can present what you’re doing in a more instructional way, there is benefit to that. But you have to balance that with high school kids who don’t want to learn more after a full day of classes.
The games we played with Rick were very controlled. Like the pet peeve game. [The “pet peeve game” asks participants to rant about a topic of their choice, continuously.] You knew what you were going to say. It’s great for people who have never done improv before. It gives you a little more confidence and you have a little room for spontaneity. For the first session of the year, when I go back and have a new group of kids, you can ease someone into improv that way, as opposed to throwing them into the game and seeing how they interact. Rick did a great job with our group. 18 out of the 20 people, the two of us excluded, had never done improv before.
I’ve never had a 101 class. 101 for me was a bunch of college students seeing if they could replicate Whose Line Is It Anyway?. Eventually it works itself out, but you don’t get the basic instructional points.
I wish we could have done more! [The workshop was a single 4-hour session.]
What attracted you to doing a repeat internship at Tapad?
The type of position offered and because I liked the company so much. Last year, I saw product managers and thought, “That’s so cool, that’s what I want to do with my life.” I want to be like a product manager. When they offered me the position I was like, “No way! Seriously? You would give an intern a product manager position?” They said yes, but only because you have to know the product really well and they would only offer it to someone that would be coming back for a second year. It was very compelling at that point. Interacting with clients, interacting personally with people at the company, going to a lot of meetings, getting information, coming up with solutions...I thought, yeah, that’s great. That’s definitely what I want to be doing.
On top of that, I love the people here. I don’t know how they do it. But they do a great job of making sure that the people are all on the same personality page. I guess not everyone is, but there is a strong culture at Tapad. And the culture is work hard, play hard. I enjoyed it so much last year. It just blew my mind. How is this a real company?
The company outing last summer was like a college party. We could all be at a venue together hanging out. I can’t imagine other companies doing that. I can’t imagine bigger corporations having all of their employees together all having a great time, knowing each other so well, and socializing. I feel like I know everyone here! I know everyone by name. That’s not something you get at every company, even startups. Even with so few people, sometimes you don’t know everyone’s name.
Do you have a message for any future interns at Tapad?
There’s great advice that they give all the interns – you get out what you put in. Meet everyone, and don’t be afraid to talk to them or ask what they do. That’s the most value that you’re going to get out of the internship. That’s definitely true advice. If I could go back and do my first year over again, I would have gone up to people and said, “Can I shadow you for the day? Can you slide me into one of your meetings today?”Here’s my advice – as an intern, you have a unique opportunity that full-time employees don’t get. People at the company know that you’re an intern and are going to treat you in a certain way, which is good. When you’re a full-time employee, you have a lot expected of you. And if you go up to someone and ask if you can shadow for a day, they’ll say, “What? No! I’m busy.” Haha. But if an intern came up and asked they’ll be like, “Oh, this is so cute! Here’s what I’m doing.” As an intern, you have a unique opportunity and you should take advantage of the role of the intern.Compared to the internships of my classmates, my experience interning at Tapad has been very unstructured. In that there is so much room for you to actually understand what the company is that you’re working for. It’s very easy to understand how every piece of the company works and how a business operates. Whereas in a larger company, you might understand how a department operates, a department that’s made up of 300+ people. From a well-rounded perspective, a company like Tapad would be a great place to work for because you really understand how the business as a whole works. And for someone who is aspiring to be an entrepreneur, it’s very beneficial to work at a company like this where you have a lot of room to understand things.
Do you have a message for anyone thinking about doing improv?
People are definitely hesitant to do improv. Even I was. It took me a semester to even get around to going to one improv meeting. And it was a struggle to get our coworkers to try it out, but they loved it! Many people are scared to do improv or they don’t want to put in the effort for it, but they end up loving it. So why not? Why not try it? If you’re someone who is in that position, if you’re unsure, just look at the examples of how many people have been in your shoes and ended up falling in love. I hope some of the people that did the workshop with us end up doing some more improv again or at least go to an improv show.
--Special thanks to Magnet Theater for having us and leading our team building workshop. Find out more about shows and classes at MagnetTheater.com.