Plugged In

When you update your Facebook status from your iPhone, buy a Kindle book on amazon.com, or use PayPal for online purchases, a UT Arlington graduate likely played a role.

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At some point today you probably engaged in a social community that stretches far beyond your immediate family and friends. There’s also a good chance you did so via a smartphone, if not your personal computer or laptop. You may have scanned the news, your favorite magazine, or a best-seller on your e-reader. Perhaps you bought something using PayPal or played a game that you downloaded from the Apple store, right after you sent a tweet to your followers.

This isn’t random speculation. Facebook tops Google for weekly Internet traffic in the United States. If it were a country, Facebook would be the world’s third largest. A new member joins LinkedIn every second. In the Twitter universe, 460,000 accounts are created every day, and 1 billion tweets are sent every week. iPod application downloads hit a billion in the first nine months of their availability, and Kindle books outsold paper versions during the 2010 holidays. As of July, more than 94 million users had PayPal accounts.

The line separating traditional media from social media is increasingly blurred. These days, everything is one big entity, with technology connecting us to the people and things we love on a grand scale. And the phenomenon just keeps building.

The presence of UT Arlington alumni in these fields is on the rise as well. The next time you interact with Facebook, amazon​.com, or PayPal, a UT Arlington graduate likely had something to do with it.

FUN AND GAMES, AND MORE
HIGH-TECH HEAVYWEIGHT

As co-founder and vice president of creative services at Blockdot, Dan Ferguson ’91 helped create the popular word game Chicktionary and more than a thousand other interactive experiences for numerous corporate titans.



Mobile technology over the last few years has created a seismic shift in how we live and work today,” says Dan Ferguson ’91, co-founder and vice president of creative services at Blockdot, an award-winning specialty digital agency for brands and select partners. “This is not a pie-in-the-sky pitch; it has truly changed our daily lives at record speed.”

It took radio 38 years to reach 50 million listeners, but it took the Internet only four years to reach the same number of users. Apple’s iPod took three. And Facebook? It topped 200 million users in just one year. Ferguson’s degree is in journalism, and his classes included graphic design, where he learned the fundamentals of typography and composition he uses today.

A tremendous influence for me was the fact that UT Arlington was an early adopter of technology,” he says. “The journalism department’s resources were actually more advanced than most advertising agencies in the area. Having access to these facilities exposed me to the tools that helped me get my first job.”

His academic training provided room for his business acumen to grow and his biggest ideas to flourish. In the mid-1990s he co-founded NVision Design with two other UT Arlington graduates, Paul Herber ’88 and Michael Bielinski ’87. NVision was one of the first interactive agencies in Dallas and enjoyed great success with the Internet darling Elf Bowling. At its peak, the game was downloaded and installed 900 times per second, Ferguson says.

In 1999 the young entrepreneurs sold NVision and started Blockdot. The company has created more than a thousand interactive experiences for a range of corporate heavyweights, including American Airlines, AT&T, General Motors, Microsoft, Motorola, and Verizon. In 2008 Ferguson was the creative lead behind the word game Chicktionary, an iPhone app that has been the No. 1 word game, No. 1 family game, and No. 4 app in the Apple iTunes store.

“Mobile technology over the last few years has created a seismic shift in how we live and work today.”

I’m fortunate to be in a tremendous industry and receive recognition for working hard while having fun,” he says.

Recognition, indeed. After completing a project for the last Star Wars movie, Ferguson had a Jedi named after him: Dando Urguson. It’s all in a day’s work, and his passion is still going strong.

Are you kidding? I get to make games for a living!” But the iTunes application store isn’t all fun and games. There are apps to help you exercise, manage your calories, organize your closets, keep track of your schedule, and maybe save your life.

Justin Graham ’10, a software engineer, became interested in app development when he bought an iPhone. “The weather apps were limited at the time,” he says, “and the combination of iPhone technologies made the iPhone a great platform for tornado tracking.” After discussing his ideas with family and friends, Graham invented TornadoSpy, which issues an iPhone alert whenever a tornado is spotted in the area.

The app, from which HailSpy, TornadoSpy+, and TornadoSpyHD were born, has become a hit. “It has provided warnings of tornado sightings several hours before some National Weather Service sightings,” Graham says.

FINGERTIP FORECAST

HailSpy and TornadoSpy are among the iPhone applications Justin Graham ’10 has developed. TornadoSpy has provided warnings of twister sightings several hours before some National Weather Service reports.



In the most recent tornado season, users in Illinois spotted several twisters hours before the NWS listed them. While TornadoSpy lists NWS sightings, the combination of NWS and user sightings, along with the AccuSpy tracking algorithm, makes the application really powerful.

Mobile app stores represent a significant milestone for the individual developer,” Graham says. “It makes it easy for a casual developer to reach a worldwide audience on a trusted platform.”

For Graham, the reward goes far beyond the exposure. “I provide an application that can help others. Not only do I get to work with the latest technology, I can use it to help people and possibly save lives.”

FROM SAVING LIVES TO MAKING LIFE EASIER

Abhishek Hodavdekar ’08 started his career at Bloomberg, a financial data company in New York, but never lost sight of his goal to work for a high-tech powerhouse. He moved to Silicon Valley after landing a job with one of the biggest technology companies of all—Google.

He’s now an engineer in the global operations group at PayPal, where he leads a team that provides data services for applications used by PayPal customer service agents. He’s motivated by the job’s direct link to customer satisfaction.

Not only that, but being a part of a tech company keeps me up-to-date with the latest innovations and always provides me opportunities to make our lives better,” he says. “Today every individual has up to seven different devices connecting him or her to the Internet or the cloud. Technology has made our lives easier, our experiences richer, and brought our friends closer.”

UT Arlington helps supply the human capital that makes these advancements possible. The College of Engineering offers eight bachelor’s, 13 master’s, and nine doctoral degree programs. With more than 4,000 students, it’s the state’s fourth-largest engineering college and boasts 21,000 alumni.

“Every day there’s a story about a new technology, new company, or new entrepreneur who is changing the world we live in.”

With such a diverse set of engineering majors, we offer students the opportunity to find exactly the career that excites them,” Assistant Dean Carter Tiernan says. “Then we prepare them extremely well, with high expectations for both their academic performance and their work ethic.”

Many students take advantage of the myriad opportunities to work in internships or engage in research. In his third semester, Abid Hafeez ’09 was part of a Web development team in the Office of Electronic Research Administration that built a site for the University’s burgeoning research portfolio. He says this helped him land his job as a software development engineer at amazon​.com, the world’s largest online retailer.

The ability to adapt is perhaps the most important career skill that UT Arlington teaches graduates who choose to enter a field dominated by ever-shifting trends and lightning-fast technological innovations.

The companies that hire our graduates tell us they are not only qualified in their educational backgrounds, but they also come equipped with teamwork skills and good practices,” Dr. Tiernan says. “We’re extremely proud of the diverse areas where our students work and of the caliber of work they do.”

Like Prateek Shah ’04, who helped develop the Kindle. Or Tim Perry ’94, engineering manager at Netflix. Or Don Skotch Vail ’90, who had a hand in creating the wildly popular Goodreads app and is now engineering manager at Apple. Or Tom Cook ’04, who recently left Facebook to work as an engineer at Quora.

Or Bradley Joyce, who cut short his UT Arlington studies to manage a start-up software/Web development company called Velocis.

I’m not sure there’s another industry where so many smart people have made so much from so little,” he says. “Every day there’s a story about a new technology, new company, or new entrepreneur who is changing the world we live in. I’m sure we’ll see some amazing things in the future.”

It’s a good bet UT Arlington alumni will be part of them.

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