Alumni Highlight: Al Matthews

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Al Matthews
M.S. Digital Media 2008
Software Developer, Atlanta University Center, Robert W. Woodruff Library
Al Matthews is bridging the technical and non-technical at the Robert W. Woodruff Library.

Since Graduation

I’ve been working at the Atlanta University Center library and archives for more than five and a half years. It’s longer than I worked at CNN or anywhere, so a long time. My skills have improved and I find it helpful having an employer who values that. I’m responsible for the search and online presentation of our archival finding aids and digital surrogates and for some long-term preservation planning for other digital assets. I also have a career in the computing arts that I try to hold on equal footing.

One interesting project I once worked on, which excites and teaches me to this day, was working on the Mellon grant to cover a year of software development for the Morehouse College Martin Luther King, Jr. Collection.

A Multifaceted Background

I was a journalist before retraining, and I was a designer before I was a programmer. I’ve gone out on a limb several times in all facets of my career, sometimes before I was ready, and on occasion I have suffered based on that. But what generally pays off for me, is paying respectful attention to my own actions, especially when one’s own motives or direction might still be a bit self-surprising.

As such, when I consistently enrolled in music (and programming) classes at Georgia Tech, both within the department and at what is now Georgia Tech Center for Music Technology, I think I was betting on an untested part of my background. As the years have gone by, I’ve reminded myself to pay attention to that impulse, because I’ve realized what a privilege that was, and it feels important to honor that sort of dogged, stupid, part-blind, part-necessary choice. Success in the arts is hard, but it’s not precisely ‘sunk-cost fallacy’ I think, if we honor something we actually need.

Bridging the Technical and Non-Technical

From coursework and a sort of pure grit I became a programmer, whereas I entered Digital Media as an almost complete novice. I recommend vetting one’s coursework carefully with an advisor if one plans to do that. Open-source work — actual, legible, intelligent, available code — is likewise important. Increasingly though, I find that it’s the breadth of my experience that makes me both technically and strategically viable. I do think once you show technical skills, people find that humanities side of this particular education — the artistic and the theoretical — is interesting.

Staying Connected

Professionally, I am involved with other Georgia Tech graduates and faculty, sometimes simply because I have retained them as friends. I am a board member at Eyedrum, a longstanding arts venue and non-profit in Atlanta. Being focused on the needs of faculty is something I wasn’t as good at as a student, but listening carefully at this helped win Eyedrum, a partnership in a Graphic, Visualization and Usability Center grant with College of Computing. Also on the Georgia Tech circuit, I’ve been part of Sonic Generator performances, at least back in the day.

Advice for Current and Future Students

For people of a certain stripe, I find it can be quite useful to challenge oneself to be as technical as possible. Tech is an engineering school, so if you’re in humanities, venture out to see what else is going on. Emerging from LMC, you always remain strong in the realm of humanities, so it is worth discovering what else there is to know.