As part of our 20th anniversary celebration year, we will be spotlighting a number of Symplectic employees to find out more about their background and the expertise they bring to the community, as well as asking them what they think makes Symplectic (and Digital Science) a great place to work.
How long have you worked at Symplectic and what brought you here?
I’ve been with Symplectic for just shy of 10 years. Back in the mid-2000s, I met Daniel Hook when I was working for Thomson Reuters (now Clarivate) and helped Daniel get set up with the APIs Symplectic uses to harvest data from Web of Science. At some point, I became the unofficial liaison with Symplectic whenever they needed something and got to know a couple of the people there in a friendly workplace kind of way. A little while later, my colleague, Julia Hawks – a very talented individual – left Thomson Reuters to work for Symplectic, which made me think, “Wow, they’ve really got something going on.” One fine day a few months later, I realised I was ready for a new challenge and contacted Julia “Any openings?” I asked, and she replied, “Funny you should ask. We just signed our first U.S. client and need someone local to do support and training.” And, more or less, that was that.
Tell us a bit about your background
I was born and raised in the suburbs of Reading, PA. I was a pretty nerdy kid, which was not so common a thing in the 1970s and so kept most of it to myself. I went to university and puttered around for several years until I accumulated enough credits to graduate. During that time, I had a couple different jobs, including working at a 24-hour diner and a used bookstore/comic book store. Then I decided I wanted to get into publishing and moved to Philadelphia in the late 1980s to work for a small comic book publisher. That gig lasted about a year until it was clear the company was going under, so I got a job in academic publishing, which, one way or another, is the field I’ve been in ever since.
What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the approach to research & scholarly knowledge management over the last two decades?
It’ll sound strange to say it, but the answer is “Computers.” While there were a few computers around when I started in the business, most of them were the size of a room and required a couple hours to turn on or off, so we mostly had to work in analog mode. One of my first jobs in academic publishing was evaluating journals and books for inclusion in ISI’s Citation Indexes, which involved counting the number of citations authors and editors received. The data was listed in these very large, very heavy tomes in tiny, tiny printed on what felt like onion skin paper. It was the first (and so far only) job I ever had that came equipped with a magnifying glass. It actually kind of enjoyed doing this, which I suppose says something about me.
A few years later, computers were much smaller and we no longer used magnifying glasses because all of the data was on the web (after a brief stop on CD-ROMs. Remember CD-ROMs?!).
What do you think are the most important elements (no pun intended) of client support and customer advocacy? What do you and your team strive to deliver?
I think all of us in the Support world think of ourselves as ambassadors in that we’re trying to balance the needs and restrictions of the client with the needs and restrictions of Symplectic. In the simplest terms, we’re trying to save everyone some valuable time.
If a client has a question or a problem, then our responsibility is to get them an answer or a solution as quickly as possible. Similarly, my responsibility to my colleagues is to, as much as possible, protect their time by learning as much as I can about the software so I don’t have to bother them too much (which I know will come as a surprise to a couple people).
What’s the most rewarding challenge you’ve worked on during your career?
Not sure I have a good answer for this one. That said, the most difficult challenge was to decide in my 50s to move from a relatively safe job for a large corporation to a job for what was essentially a start-up (though one that definitely looked like it knew what it was doing). Fortunately, I was fortunate enough to be in a place in my life where I could afford to take a risk, even if it was a moderate one.
What’s something you think people might be interested or surprised to learn about you?
I don’t know how many people will be surprised since it feels like most people who know me already know this but I’ve been a fiction writer for the past 30-ish years. My most popular work is a series of novels I wrote for the Star Trek franchise between 2000 and the late ‘20s but I’ve also had short stories and comic books published here and there. Over the last few years I’ve focused on original fiction, including a collection of short stories released last year and a couple of novels that will be published in 2024 and 2025 (fingers crossed).
What do you think makes Symplectic’s team culture unique?
It never ceases to amaze me how smart, enthusiastic, and quick-witted my colleagues at Symplectic are. Also – tremendous nerds! I remember very vividly one of the first team meetings I attended where we were discussing a sales package called ‘The Enterprise Solution.’ Someone had put together one of those bullet point slides describing the package and casually added an image of the U.S.S. Enterprise soaring majestically through space. “Oh, I get these people,” I thought. “I’m home.”