Engineers Don’t Write Checks

Jonathan Mendez is CEO of Yieldbot, an intent-based ad platform. Follow him on Twitter at @jonathanmendez.

Kirk McDonald, president of Pubmatic, wrote in a piece last week in The Wall Street Journal that he would not be hiring non-technical college grads if they do not know how to at least “speak computer code.” As a CEO of a different “cool, rapidly growing company in the digital field,” I’d like to give another perspective to college grads about advertising technology.

Engineers don’t write you checks. The business of media technology is business, not technology. The people making buying decisions make them based on dollars and sense, not bytes and bits. Instead of taking summer classes learning to code as Mr. McDonald suggests, I have different suggestions for your summer.

1. Teach yourself digital media history. Understand how the flow of dollars has changed of the past five years and why. Learn why search advertising is so powerful. Dig deep on why video failed to meet predictions. Know why brand dollars never came en masse into digital and why social budgets are growing at such a large clip. Know why the percentage of Internet spend for performance has gone up for six straight years at the expense of impression-based buying.

2. Learn where the digital industry is today. Spend time talking to people in the industry. Learn about the economics of the current digital media landscape. Understand how money moves around the ecosystem today and why. Who is winning dollars? Who is losing dollars? What channels are losing steam and which are getting new spends? What publishers are succeeding in the current climate? Know the answer “why” to everything.

3. Learn a new language. This industry has a language all its own. Know how to speak it and understand what it means. Learn the difference between CPM and RPM. Between CPA and CPL. Between CPC and CPE. Understand how these metrics are calculated. Know who buys and sells based on these metrics as well as why and how.

4. Don’t be intimidated by the technology. Most people in advertising technology have no idea how it actually works. They don’t know a SQL query from search query. Hadoop script from a cold-call script. GitHub from GrubHub. The fact of the matter is if you are a smart, personable and you hustle, this is the industry for you. More and more dollars are flowing into digital media, and there is no end in sight to the growth. Plenty of great businesses are redefining the media landscape. Read “How to Win Friends & Influence People.”

So please, don’t waste your time getting “familiar” with two programming languages. Basic understanding of Python or Java is not going to get you hired by most companies in digital media. Learn about where this industry came from, where it is headed and how success is measured for all its constituents. If you can articulate that well in your first job interviews, you’ll be guaranteed that companies will be fighting for you to join them, including mine.

Image via Shutterstock

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