As the Career Center continues to serve students and alumni remotely, we’ve repurposed our blog to keep you up to date on economic trends, businesses who are hiring during the economic downturn, a weekly “cool jobs” post to highlight some of the interesting opportunities in Handshake, stories of hope from previous recessions, and best practices for job searching right now (yes, you can still job search right now!). You can use the menu on the left to navigate to topics, or read the latest posts below. You will find old content on here; we’ve kept it because it’s still good content. Explore! And, as always, if you have questions, please be in touch. Right now, the best way to contact us is firstname.lastname@example.org.
As always, you can access all of the services the Career Center has to offer (including virtual appointments and online resume and cover letter reviews) through our website and on Handshake. We are sharing additional articles and resources on our Twitter page @UNCACareer.
Hi, I’m David and I’m the host of the cool jobs podcast, a conversation where we dive deep into some of the coolest jobs on the planet. This is the home for jobs you’ve never heard of, or ones you never thought about before. This podcast is for students, learners, dreamers, or anyone who’s interested in finding out about the coolest jobs around. I’ll be speaking with experts across a wide spectrum of career possibilities with the hope that you’ll find inspiration for your own career. Thanks for joining in. I’m your host, David Earnhardt, Associate Director for employer Relations at UNC Asheville. And joining me today is Axie Blunden, Hand Sanitizer CEO. Axie, thanks for joining us for the- for the cool jobs podcast. We’re excited you’re here.
Hey, David, thanks for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here.
So first things first, you know, tell us a little bit about your background and how
you got to where you are.
Well, thanks again for the opportunity. David. I am new to Asheville and I have been in the entrepreneurial space since 2016. When I started my first business, originally from New York City grew up in Virginia, educated James Madison University and then moved out west and worked as an activist in the nonprofit sector before jumping over into the regulated cannabis space in Colorado where I worked for a startup which became a very large, ballooning corporate conglomerate and had some amazing experience there. I started my first business in 2016, to do management and supply chain consulting. I started a private label CBD wellness brand in 2017, and built that company to $5 million a year in revenue, and then took a buyout and fulfilled a long standing mission to return back east for my family has been for many generations to get ahead of the cannabis industry as it became federally legal with hemp and as other states began to legalize other forms of cannabis. And so we opened a botanical extraction facility here to manufacture and distribute plant based products with a focus on CBD. And we do that through a process called ethanol extraction. And we use ethanol to extract the valuable essential oils from the plant. And because of that, we had a large quantity of ethanol, and all the other parts and pieces and ingredients needed to make a sanitizer product, which was, of course, in a very sudden high demand when COVID hit. And so in March, after my last pre-COVID trip, I returned from visiting my brother for his birthday, and I was traveling and noticed it on the news and thought, Man, you know, we, we could make some hand sanitizer because I realized people were running out and so we started making it and giving it away for free to our team members, and our friends and family. And then frontline healthcare workers and health and postal workers and things like that. We’re giving it away because it was nowhere to be found. And there was an extreme shortage. And then one of our accounts of a 40 store location that we do all their private label for, they placed an order for sanitizer, and that got us in production producing 10s of 1000s of units of sanitizer here locally, right in western North Carolina outside Asheville. And since that time, we have got the product placed in over 100 stores we’re selling online. And we have had to pivot several times because we went from being the only shop in town with no available sanitizer at all, to within, you know, a couple months. You know, by late spring summer, the supply levels were up the competition was fierce and we were you know, competing with other, you know, startups that were more opportunistic and later to the game than we were and we were also competing with the Purell’s and Lysol’s of the world that had gotten their supply chains back intact and were on the shelves again. And so we then pivoted to not just make sanitizer but to make a very high quality plant based sanitizer. We doubled down on our commitment to give back to the community at no cost and have formed long term relationships with nonprofits such as Eliada Homes, Homeward Bound which both service, well, a lot of homeless youth in Homeward Bound and the homeless population and recently, we will be also donating to Mana Food bank on a long term basis. And so that’s kind of our commitment to help through our Here to Help program. We’re still donating it (hand sanitizer) and still giving it away. It’s made locally of 100% plant based ingredients. And so we are essentially positioning ourselves to be a best-in-class, all natural plant based sanitizer produced here locally in western North Carolina. And still not just selling it to the public through retail and online, but still giving it away to those in need, at no cost. And that’s a little bit of how I got here, and, and what we’re up to over here at Helios.
That’s awesome. That’s awesome. And talk about, like, the number of kinda, shifts and pivots that you’ve had, not only in the last year, but since, since your time in Colorado, too. I can imagine that. There is almost an incentive to…I know for myself, I’m really attracted to the new shiny, like, “oh, man, that’s cool. I want to do that. I want to see that thing” And then, you know, at some point, there has to be a decision of, “well, do I actually really want that thing? Or is it just new and shiny and interesting?” And so I wonder if you can kind of talk to…maybe speak to that a little bit? Like, how did you make decisions based on, you know, based on what you think is going to be a good idea? And how do you position yourself long term to make sure that it’s something that you can actually follow through on?
Yeah, that’s a great point, David. It reminds me of a quote by Ray Dalio, who is- I love reading his books, he’s a leader of one of the larger financial firms in the world. And, and it’s, you know, you can do in this life, you can do just about anything, but you can’t do everything. So if you put your mind to it, you can achieve almost any goal, you know, with, obviously, within reason, like learning to fly, might be out of the question. But if you look at what you have, and, and where you’re going, you can achieve almost anything in this life, but you can’t do everything. So at a point, not just in business, but in life, in general, you have to pick what you want, and commit to that. And then you’re gonna have to make sacrifices and give up a lot of things to achieve that goal and that vision and that mission. Otherwise, like you said, you will get just caught in the weeds of short term opportunities and chasing shiny things. And then you won’t achieve, you won’t achieve everything, that’s impossible, you won’t even you won’t achieve anything, because you’ll be trying to achieve everything all the time. And so, you know, one way I think of that is, uh, you know, is opportunity fatigue, where, especially, you know, sometimes you’re so overwhelmed with opportunities, you know, especially being in high growth, high risk, high reward markets, it’s easy to, you know, see all of the possibilities and get blinded by them, instead of being able to see one thing, clearly. And I guess, you know, I don’t have a secret sauce for how you like, sort through all that. But I would say, you know, a couple of things, and one of those is that, you know, at least where I come from, I need to be, I need to have passion and purpose in what I’m doing. And if I’m not passionate about it, and I don’t have a great purpose for doing that, then I’m not really in it, and I’m not gonna be able to take it to the next level. And it’s, it’s easy enough, and I’ve been there, you know, I’ve, I’ve worked on projects or showed up, you know, to work, you know, kind of in a past life without passion or purpose. Because you’re getting a paycheck, and you just have to, you know, do you know, do your- do your part and, and go home at the end of the day, and that’s great. But for me, and you know, if I’m speaking to other entrepreneurs and other people trying to find something that they’re really going to be happy with, and really spark a fire, you know, to find that passion and purpose. And then, you know, the second point, I would say, is just kind of the boring cut and dry facts of like, you know, go where the money is. Like if you’re… if it’s going to be a job at all, or if you’re going to start a business or do this professionally, that you do have to make money in order to call it a job and you have to like it has to be sustainable to do so. So I know that sounds very You know, cut and dry and pragmatic, but that’s because it is, you know, you have to make sure you check that box before you invest a bunch of your time and energy into it. So, yeah.
I think there’s a lot to that as well as…you know, is this a hobby? Or is this something that you want to do for your living? And I think that, you know, I think that it’s really easy to get started with things and not necessarily so simple to, to actually turn that into a long term success or something that you can be well, well compensated for.
Yeah. I guess one other point, because, you
I have to say, I’m guilty of this like, and you just- when you just said like about starting things, like I love starting things, and I love completing things and like, I love the feeling of a job well done. But there is a whole lot between starting and running a project that is like, isn’t so exciting as it is when you’re starting off, you’re like, “this is so cool, we’re doing this cool thing!” and you’re focused on the end goal, and it’s so exciting. And then it’s really exciting when you complete something and you get to celebrate and say, you know, “we did it!”, but man, between those two points, it takes a lot of hard work and a lot of deep focus. And, and then additionally, you know, I would say to just get it out of your head, get it onto paper, get it in front of other people. So you get some feedback and ideas and welcome criticism, welcome, people poking holes and things, take it to the people you think are going to be the most critical in an objective- not in like a mean way, but like- in an objective way, you know, ask people to tell you to poke holes in it. And, and that’ll help you determine, you know, if it is an actionable, you know, realistic path.
Yeah, I’ve done that with this podcast, actually, I’ve- there’s, there are friends that are, you know, definitely the ones that you want folks to hear it first, just to make sure that there’s no…it’s not boring and terrible. And then there’s others that you want to make sure that they will give you that honest feedback and be real clear with you on what you think and what they think could make it better. And so I think getting that feedback is so important. Because ultimately, I think we all have a little bit of personal bias around the thought of, you know, whatever I do is good. And, you know, having someone give you that feedback that says yes, it’s good and here’s a way to improve it, I think it is critical to making sure that you can be successful long term.
Yeah, and at the same time, there’s plenty of, you know, there’s plenty of cases where somebody had an amazing idea and when, you know, everybody told them, no, don’t do it. And, by golly, they were so sure themselves and, and they went and did it and they became an incredible success or their thing took off. So you know, there’s no, that’s why there’s no, like, one kind of code. At the same time, it’s like, you know, don’t take an idea home to mom and ask her if, if it’s a good idea, because like, our moms all want our ideas to be good. I mean, everybody’s mom’s different. But it’s just to say, there’s no one rule there sometimes, you know, I’ve been called crazy, you know, multiple times. And I…and, and sometimes they’re right, and sometimes it turns out, you know, they were wrong, and sometimes you do have to pursue a crazy idea. So it’s a very, it’s a very nuanced combination of, like, gut, and like, knowing you can do what you say you’re going to do. And then also getting validated, but also, not letting people limit you or, you know, some people might not see your vision clearly. And that’s why I think the process of like, getting it on paper, telling it to your, you know, your close friends, family mentors, those things are definitely gonna get you down the road.
Absolutely. Well, to kind of piggyback on that thought about, you know, good ideas and, and, you know, things that you think are gonna work out and some people say, somebody says, “You’re crazy.” What’s an idea that you had that you were like, “Man, this is gonna totally work, it’s gonna be an absolute winner,” and then turn out to be maybe a dud? And then the opposite of that, may be one that you thought would be kind of iffy, but totally worked out.
Um, so two examples there. And I’m sure I could think of a couple more but these are the two most to think pertinent and,
relatable, is, I think, one…It was the idea that I thought, you know, would turn out one way didn’t necessarily turn… I wouldn’t say it’s a total failure. And I could, I could think of the total failures because we all had them. If you haven’t, then you’re not, you’re not trying hard enough. But when I brought my business here, actually, it was on the premise that by opening up a, you know, processing facility to manufacture products, that we would be in a very strategic position where we would be kind of the only shop in town, and then all of these, you know, because basically in 2018 they federally legalized hemp, and before that there were some state programs, and we thought we would get out ahead of it and be able to do make commodity products at a very, you know, at a very good, profitable rate. And pretty quickly, it wasn’t our whole 100% you know, the only plan we had, but pretty quickly, we realized how many other processors and other folks across the country had had done the same things, and there was regulations that changed, you know, allowing for interstate commerce, and people were a lot looser with restrictions than we were comfortable with and so, you know, long story short is that market, like, quickly, the bottom fell out. And we were competing with, you know, much bigger labs and facilities and bigger, well-funded groups and, and so that model of making commodity products and selling them to other product companies or things like that, that kind of definitely changed because the price for the commodities just went through the floor, right. And then at the same time, when I started making sanitizer, I thought, you know, this isn’t gonna be its own thing. Like, we just need this, it was kind of like, almost not a novelty, like we did it because we knew it was gonna be gone. And I thought, you know, okay, this thing’s gonna blow over, there’ll be sanitizer back on the shelf next week. You know, this, isn’t you, I thought it was a shiny object, I thought it was, you know, I’ve never used, I’d probably use sanitizer, you know, I can count on one hand and turn number of times, I’ve used hand sanitizer before COVID. It’s not a, you know, I’m a clean, you know, person, you know, but I just didn’t use it very, very much. If you told me, I’ve been making hand sanitizer, you know, a year ago, I’d think, “crazy,” you know, and then it happened. And we did it. And it was kind of like, well, we haven’t really seemed too easy. It was like, “Oh, we have all that we can make, that’s no problem. Let’s make a batch. Let’s give it out. Let’s give a bottle to our team members, our friends and family, let’s get back to business here”. And you know, it kind of took, it kind of took, you know, that account, the 40-store location to say, you can make this stuff, like, we’ll order 10s of 1000s of bottles from you. Wow. And that was an example where we did something I didn’t set out for it to like, be so successful, and then it took off.
So take me through that process a little bit. Because it sounds like it wasn’t, it wasn’t exactly a surprise. And at the same time, it might have taken you off guard a little bit. I mean, there were processes that you might have had to start as a result of these, you know, marketing decisions that you had to make, how the labels were going to be set up, you know, what…what did you have to do as a result of this kind of “aha” moment, in order to make it a viable situation to sell 10s of 1000s of bottles when you were planning on giving it away,
man, a few.
A few critical things. And, you know, I look back and it all just happened so fast, and so naturally and organically, that I shouldn’t overlook, like some of the real linchpin kind of strategic advantages that came through during this time. The, you mentioned the, well, you mentioned the label on the brand. And I have a background in marketing more than manufacturing. And I actually had this brand sitting on the shelf, I actually have to give credit where credit’s due. And it’s actually my mother, who after my last company, said I have this great idea for a brand name. And this was years ago and she said Helios and Helios is the God of the Sun. And I used this in some pitch decks and kind of in the background, but I was more focused on making products for other people. And so I kind of kept this brand on the shelf. And then when it came time to..not just make sanitizer, but people were placing orders, we were like, well, we need a label, we need a brand. And it just dawned on me at that moment. Helios God of the Sun, the original and best disinfectant. And so that just like… it was like, boom, no problem. And, because of relationships with designers and label printers, we were able to, you know, create a label and print it like, you know, literally overnight, so that was, it was a 24 hour turnaround, um, can go from an idea to a to an actual product in hand.
and then the other thing, this is what I was thinking is, at that time, there were so many shortages, because so many businesses closed, and then also a lot of people were ordering a lot of the same thing. So that’s why in the grocery stores, they were suddenly out of sanitizer and toilet paper. Well, guess what, at the sanitizer factories, and you know, the chemical plants, they ran out of bottles, there weren’t more little bottles to be found anywhere. In fact, when I got the order for, you know, 10s of 1000s of units to go into the 40 stores, I got that purchase order. I was basically on the phone with the customer and on the other line with my supplier a bottle, waiting for them to confirm the order. So I can order a pallet of bottles, you put the pallet order went through, and he called me back, my supplier in California called me back right away and said, there’s only half a pallet left, we got the last half pallet of bottles for sanitizer, they were able to fill the rest of the pallet with a smaller size unit. And, and that was it. They were out from March until July. No, we went through that so fast that I knew we were going to need more. And so what we actually did is contacted our manufacturing partners in China, who makes some of our stainless steel botanical extraction equipment. And we asked them to source bottles. And so they, you know, went to the factory, you know, down the street, no joke, and and, and we’re able to ask the manufacturer, there are bottles for us. And so then we placed an order and had 50,000 bottles come by sea from China, and actually we’re almost ready to reorder it, we’ll get more bottles, luckily now, supply chains are back and we have options. Ultimately, I want to move away from, you know, fossil fuel based plastics and things like that, and to more sustainable efforts. But yeah, those those two things, I think is what I mean, the fact that we had a facility in all the ingredients to produce the first round prototype. Call it, you know, being a marketer, and having a kind of portfolio of, of brands and ideas, I was able to take this pre-existing idea, and you know, brand name and create a logo and label for this product that happened to be extremely well fitting, being Helios, the God of Sun. And then you know, our existing relationships with manufacturers is what allowed us to get more bottles and keep that supply chain going. So now that I think it all through,it was having the brand and then having the access to the bottles.
Yeah, it sounds like that is definitely some fortuitous timing, and also some preparation, it sounds like you’ve had some opportunities to you know, prepare yourself a little bit for for when opportunity can strike there, when you were kind of getting started, did you have mentors or you know, folks that helped you kind of get started and get ready for for this?
Yes, absolutely. Um, I greatly value, you know, mentors, kind of always being a teacher, and a student, you know, when applicable. I do have several mentors, some more formal than others. But I would, you know, I would say I kind of have a tribe of mentors, which are, you know, a combination of advisors, investors, other entrepreneurs, people I’ve worked for in the past, you know, and some of those are our friends and family, but most of them are people I have direct experience working with…either working under or working side by side or, you know, a number of investors as well. And now, because of our grant through Venture Asheville, I now have two new formal mentors through that program, which I’m very grateful for. And then I have another mentor who is not formally obligated, by anything, but he, he’s the president and CEO of an international cannabis conglomerate that operates in Canada, U.S, Israel, South Africa, Australia, you know, and then basically every state possible in, in the U.S and I worked for him for years. And he’s, he’s, we are mutual fans and have maintained that relationship. But I, I wouldn’t, ever, you know, I wouldn’t advise going out on your own without finding those people that you can call, you know, during a tough time, or when there’s a hard decision, or when you, you know, need somebody…and I would try to find those people that are, have been through similar experiences. And are more experienced, like, I always, you know, I always try to surround myself with people that are better or smarter at doing what they do than I am, you know, because I, I’m kind of, I mean, I’m the CEO, I lead the organization and I, I really build teams and inspire people, you know, to do their work. So when it comes to that specific item, or job, or task, or department or division, or, you know, industry, whatever, there’s always somebody out there that has more experience and has something to say, and you know, what, people want to be mentors, you know, it’s validating to them to be somebody mentor, because it means that they’re doing something right, that somebody else who is on a, has a vision is on a track for success is going to them as the more knowledgeable person. And so the idea, like, I couldn’t say enough how important it is to ask for help.
That’s an interesting thought, too, about how people want to be mentors, they want to be asked, you know, sometimes, especially early on in careers, it’s really easy to, you know, kind of get in your head a little bit and think, you know, “they don’t want me to, you know, I don’t want to bug them, or, you know, they’ve got so much going on, I don’t know if I should you know, and I don’t know if I could ask them for anything.” And I can imagine it’s really easy to talk yourself out of asking for help. And we’re asking someone to help you out and be a mentor.
Mm hmm. Yeah, it’s essential, though. It’s kind of like a, it’s kind of like…almost a sniff test. Or like a where if I’m, you know, gonna go into business, like, if anyone’s gonna be on a long term level, and those and people aren’t willing to seek mentorship and be humble enough to to be vulnerable with their shortcomings, then it says something about their character, you know, that it’s like, well, if you just think that you’re the best and the brightest, and you can do it better than everybody and you don’t need anybody’s help, then you’re, you’re shutting yourself off to like a whole world of possibilities and growth.
Absolutely. Absolutely. And I would think that there are, you know, folks who, you know, might think that they are the best at everything. And that’s great. And I would imagine that they find out rather quickly how much growth they have to do.
Yeah, yep. And it’s, it’s like everything. It’s this fun, nuanced balance, where it’s like this sweet spot between, because at the same time as you need to seek mentorship and be honest and humble about what you can and can’t do, you also kind of need this like, incredible ability to say you can go out and do something to like, say, I’m going to do that. I’m going to I’m going to achieve that goal, I’m going to be like that person, I’m going to build this organization, you know, where it’s kind of you do kind of have to be like, crazy enough to go try to do this, whatever you’re doing on your own, but humble enough to ask for help along the way.
I like that. To be crazy and humble at the same time. I like that. Yeah. Well, so you know, we haven’t really talked too much about your actual, your actual role. So tell me a little bit about the process of your job, you know, like, how do you work with your team? You know, how do you come up with ideas like, you know, just kind of take me through the day in the life of a hand sanitizer CEO.
While I get up between 5:00 and 5:30, and I give myself like, two to three hours in the morning, totally to myself, so that I can work out, meditate or journal, and then you know, prepare some food for the day and really check in with myself so that as soon as, you know, the work day, and you know, the first meetings and things happen, that no matter how the day goes, like, I’ve already won the day, because I made time for myself, I, you know, did those core things of self care and wellness that allow me to go throughout the rest of the day, and, you know, week and months and years of doing this type of activity, in that I say that, because, you know, you asked what a typical day that is one of that is like, such an important part of my day. And only is that that’s only becoming increasingly more important as I you know, age, and continue on this journey. And so I would recommend everybody to really find that morning routine, or just that routine that you give yourself what you need, before you, you know, give yourself away to the rest of the day in the world.
Like that idea of starting with intention, I like, you know, being waking up and saying that “I’m here with an intention, and with a focus,” I like that.
Absolutely, absolutely. And, you know, we have to take care of our own well being before we can, you know, go be of service and, and then you know, so that’ll, you know, get my day going at the office, you know, between eight, and nine. And then
I guess zooming out from there, because everyday still is a little bit different. I spend most of my time working with people in communicating with people either on calls, on virtual or in person meetings, and then via email. A big part of my job is bringing people together, building teams, inspiring people, and you know, identifying the right seat and the right people for that seat. And I try to simplify, you know, a very complex organization and think of it in terms of, you know, sales and marketing is one department operations is the other department and then finance administration, and try to put everything in those buckets. And through my mentors, I have, you know, a lot of tools that I’ve worked with them and have developed. So, you know, as we’ve grown and scaled, you know, I started this business with a friend, and we have friends and family that started helping us. But we…and I’ve done this before, and we’ve kind of outgrown that phase where now we’re finding the right people for the job, not just grabbing the closest, but the person that will win the hand. And so a lot of that structuring the organization, checking in with people, you know, balancing empowering people to take on more responsibility, while not, you know, pushing people too hard, or not micromanaging and all these things. And so a lot of communication, a lot of what I do is to consistently, you know, articulate the vision and mission of the company. And then from there, you know, go through our 90 day, you know, our 10 year, three year, one year, 90 day goals, and then assigning each team member rocks, what, which are kind of your 90 day deliverables or projects you’re working on. So you always have something, you always have that main core focus of, of your, of your job. And at this point, in the, in my journey, we are not, like, taking on a lot of new projects, and not even a lot of new customers, we’ve kind of gotten to like a threshold where, you know, it’s kind of always this kind of game of like build and stabilize and build and stabilize. Right now we’ve built, you know, considerably this year and now it’s time to really stabilize the foundation and get ready for the next climb. And so, I’m very focused on operations and Finance and Administration currently for the rest of the year and you know, that’s the next 60 days call it is going to be heavily focused on that and then it’s going to be time to kind of put some gas in the tank as far as feeding the sales and marketing engine and, and growing again. And I was thinking about that too. You know, before this, it’s like what, in some ways like, you know, as a CEO and as the leader of the organization Um, you know, constantly articulating the vision, making sure we’re all like, heading in the same direction and walking in the same pace. And then from there, I kind of have to, like, just go where I’m needed, you know, and until, until I can hire, you know, a GM, a bookkeeper, a graphic designer, uh, you know, a salesperson, all those things, until I can bring those people in house, I, it’s either, you know, I pay someone to do it, or I do it myself or another member does it. So it’s kind of, you know, wearing a lot of hats, and then once it gets above my head, or my skill set, you know, quickly getting it on the desk of somebody who can handle it. So a lot of delegating. I try not to reinvent the wheel, I try not to, you know, be that person that says, All I can do at all is try to take on too much. I try to let go as many things as I take on meaning, like, empower somebody else to take that role on. And, you know, free in that kind of process called succession where you make sure that there’s, you know, somebody that’s trained so that if I got hit by a bus today that somebody could, you know, still get the orders out the door and things like that.
Yeah, it has to move on. Even if you do get hit by the bus. I,
I always had that same because it just, it’s like, the most generic and it’s most like, well, that could happen.
Yeah, I think about that a lot. I say that a lot. And then at the same time, I’m very guilty of not delegating anything.
I mean, we can’t be perfect. And, you know, and then once again, leverage those mentors and advisors to find people that have done, what, something similar to what you’ve done before. And ask them like, what did you do? between, you know, when you had so much graphic design work, but couldn’t get it in house designer and couldn’t afford an agency? Yeah, because that’s frankly, that’s like, where I am, like, you know, we have so much design work that I could feel designers plate, but you have to find that person, and it takes into process and this stuff needs to get done. So, you know, yep, I think if it’s, if it’s an inconsequential amount of time, you know, give it a stab yourself. It’s a long term thing that you’re like learning a whole, like, maybe it’s like, there’s a rule where it’s like, if people do this for a living, maybe, maybe go ask somebody like bookkeepers or like it’s like graphic designers, or, you know, what, if there’s people doing this full time for a job, there’s a whole, like, you know, if there’s one person doing it, there’s 1000s of people doing it, and the whole firms dedicated to it. So if there’s like, a full time role for this, go seek help. Hmm. So, you know, this
geared toward, you know, students at UNC Asheville, and we’re the public Liberal Arts and Sciences University, for the North Carolina system. So, you know, I was wondering how you would say that you’ve used your degree, and you know, how you’ve used it to get to where you are?
Absolutely, um, great question. And well, first of all, I’d like to say that I did. Tour UNCA, when I was looking at college, and I went to a few other schools, I ultimately, and this kind of ties into the answer to that question, because I ultimately, after high school did not go straight into a four year university. I followed my passion as a musician, and another passion, love of food and cooking. And I had an opportunity to be a kitchen manager of a new restaurant at a very young age and, and also was pursuing a music career. I played bagpipes, and bass. Yeah. And it’s actually very cutting music, very popular here, which is so at home. And you know, that that was really my first entrepreneurial activity was being a musician, and I put a case down on the street and people started throwing dollar bills in it. And I said, All right, let’s see where this goes. I spent, you know, I’ve done that’s called busking, street performance. I’ve done that all over the country all over Europe. I’ve helped build an app for it and I did that professionally for for, you know, on and off for years. And so that’s to say that I didn’t go straight into a university program. I went to I enrolled in community college
in Charlottesville, Virginia in the area where I grew up and I completed the associate’s degree program. And then through in Virginia, they have a guaranteed admission program which you can enroll directly in a State University from community college. And so that’s what I did. And when I was I went from Piedmont Community College to James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. And I absolutely loved it. And when I went to visit when I enrolled, I enrolled in business school in management. And I did that because it was, you know, I said, Well, I like to manage things. And, and, you know, my dad went to business school and as an entrepreneur, and it just kind of dinged and made sense on the surface. And then I started going to the classes, and it was all spreadsheets and all all math, you know, and, and all this at least at that stage in the program. And I thought, Oh, man, I don’t want to do any of this. And it just wasn’t you know, I had already kind of had a sense of business and entrepreneurship and then I’m like stuck doing all these spreadsheets that I was just didn’t weren’t making sense and and work sparking you know, a passion in me and so I switched programs in follow my passion, which you know, I, which is kind of my guiding light. And I switched programs and I studied Media Arts and Design major or SMAD the School of Media Arts and Design and music industry as my minor in both of those programs at that school at that time, were very kind of cutting edge new popular and, and so you know, I did those things, so I could kind of pick up tools that would be useful in marketing and was very still focused on music. I also wanted to kind of surround myself with like minded creative people that you might find in a media arts and music school at a university as opposed to, you know, the everyone at the business school. And I’m very happy with that decision. Mainly because I followed my passion and did something that really sparked an interest in me not because I thought I could land some job and make a bunch of money, you know, out right out of college, but because I knew that I would be doing something that mattered to me and working with people that I wanted to be around, and I used all those, you know, skills, right out of school and was, you know, got, you know, as a marketing manager for a nonprofit and use my design skills and to create all my own fliers for the shows, I was booking and promoting and, and, you know, pursued music and media for some time until I until I moved out west and got involved in, in the regulated cannabis market. And even so, there I was a marketing person. And it only is now, that, uh, that I do live most a great deal of my life when I’m not on calls and on the phone or sending emails, a lot of spreadsheets.
You were able to put that off for a long time, so that you’ve done
what it came back, and I’m glad I made the decisions I did. And I would say, you know, there’s nothing like the opportunity to go to, to go seek higher education, and that’s changing a lot these days. And I think, you know, being open to any sort of education is important and it’s almost more important just to be a lifelong learner, than it is to get any particular degree from any work or institution. As long as you can be a lifelong learner and, you know, study and work in a way that sparks joy and passion. And I think, you know, that’s a recipe for happiness.
the mascot for James Madison is the Duke and it’s very similar to a bulldog so we will we will count you as an honorary Bulldog even though you decided not to go to UNC Asheville Okay, let’s
make that connection.
That’s why I want to marry Bulldog.
That’s fantastic. boy, and I do want to say how excited I am to have My company featured in the entrepreneurship program. So you may likely be here be hearing more about Helios in the future, as we will be the official study of entrepreneurship class there, and really, really grateful for the opportunity to, you know, be a part of that academic community, but we appreciate you being a part of,
you know, opening up your, you know, your world to to students at UNC Asheville because it could be really easy to be very, you know, closed booked and and, you know, close minded around, wanting to, you know, just be protectionist, about your, about your work, and we really appreciate you jumping in with both feet and willing to let students come in and play around, I think that’s going to going to be really impactful for the students that are here in that class.
Absolutely. Well, I’m, I’m just grateful that, you know, you and the other professors there are open to that. And, you know, I mean, it’s, it’s a university and all the cool things start in that world, you know, and so I’m glad that we’re all seeing that, seeing that clearly. And, um, I’m thrilled. That’s awesome.
Awesome. Well, speaking of cool things, who’s somebody that you think has a cool job?
Well, David, you know, that’s a great question. And I can think of a lot of people,
you know, in the entrepreneurial startup world, you know, big names like the Richard Branson’s of the world. And one time in my life that I guess I look, looked up to, you know, rock stars and things like that, but that that’s really changed. And I think what comes to mind is actually, in the local community here is a friend and mentor and colleague Terry Houk, who actually introduced us and has also been representing and helping to distribute our Helio sanitizer product to the local community. He’s an amazing person, big heart, he has a business that is in business to do good, as well as be in business with amp connecting, and placing people in recovery into meaningful, long term opportunities. So that kind of value based business is really something that I look up to, and then also come to think of it he is a alumni of UNC Asheville. And so you know, shows you what, what that institution is putting out and I’m just really excited to have him as a friend, mentor and colleague, and that he made the acquaintance and here we are. So that’s, that’s who I would definitely like to nominate is somebody I look up to here. cool job in the community.
Thank you very much for that. That’s, that’s excellent. I like seeing folks kind of paying it forward and paying it. repaying the favor as well. That’s awesome. That’s right. Well, thank you so much for your time. And for being a part of the cool jobs podcast, we’re really excited that you were able to join us. How can our listeners learn more about healios?
Absolutely, David. Well, thanks for having me. It’s been a real pleasure and an honor to be here and looking forward to engaging with the student body at UNC. I would like to point you to our website. To learn more about Helios that is Helios sanitiser.com. Helios is spelled h e l i o s sanitiser.com. And you can see more about the product there and order it online. Please check us out there and look at the community around us. You can find us in all the Green Sage locations and soon to be in Earth Bear, and others. And you’ll find my contact information on those websites and happy to answer any direct calls or questions.
Absolutely. And if some folks want to hear more about your charitable work, they can follow the hashtag Here to Help if I’m correct in that.
That’s right. Awesome.
Awesome. Well, thank you so much, Axie, for being for sharing your time, your expertise and your Cool Job with us. We really appreciate it. Thanks for listening to the Cool Jobs Podcast, a service of the Career Center at UNC Asheville, like what you heard, give us a like, share with your friends and subscribe. Next time we’ll be talking to Metis Meloch Citizen Science Innovation Project Manager so make sure to check it out. We’ll see you next time.
My thoughts for the week I received my second dose of the Covid vaccine on Friday, and it was a bit of a doozy. On Saturday, I was feeling pretty flu-like, but by the end of the day I was getting back to normal. Arm is a little sore today, but all in all, it’s worth it to keep the spread to a minimum. Plus, I had a built-in excuse to lounge around, eat cereal, and watch Netflix all day…bonus! I was one of more than 3 million people in the US who received a dose on Friday, and at that rate the US is projected to reach herd immunity by June, with every adult eligible to receive it starting April 19. Now it’s time for us to buckle down and for the vaccinated among us to share our stories and encourage others to get their shots as well. We have a chance to get ahead of the spread of variants, but only if we help our neighbors understand the importance, and build confidence in the vaccine. I came across a lovely vlog post from John Green about how to be empathetic to those around you who may be hesitant, and it was actually really useful for me, so I thought I’d share. Feeling hesitant is normal, and completely understandable, there are a lot of reasons why folks may feel the nerves. And, we have the ability to seriously affect the curve of the pandemic if we help others get vaccinated. Interested in helping at the UNC Asheville vaccine clinic? Sign up here, no medical training required.
Our last official event of the semester was “Budgeting for Life.” To continue on that topic, here are some resources around what goes into a budget, things to consider, and even a monthly budget worksheet!
Hi, I’m David and I’m the host of the cool jobs podcast, a conversation where we dive deep into some of the coolest jobs on the planet. This is the home for jobs you’ve never heard of, or ones you never thought about before. This podcast is for students, learners, dreamers, or anyone who’s interested in finding out about the coolest jobs around. I’ll be speaking with experts across a wide spectrum of career possibilities with the hope that you’ll find inspiration for your own career. Thanks for joining in. I’m your host David Earnhardt, Associate Director for Employer Relations at UNC Asheville. And joining me today is Alex Mendez, certified dental technician. Alex, thanks for joining us for the cool jobs podcast. We’re excited you’re here.
00:41 Alex Mendez
Thanks for having me, man. I’m excited too.
00:43 David Earnhardt
Alright, so you know, first things first, what in the world is a certified dental technician.
00:49 Alex Mendez
So a dental technician, we’re basically if you think about it, say you go to a dentist and you need a new crown or denture, the dentist will take that impression from you and send it to us, send it to our lab. And we’ll from there create a restoration. So we’re basically like the warehouse of the dental field will make dentures, crowns, will make nightguards things like that. Just fabricate restorations for the patient. So that’s basically what a technician is.
01:26 David Earnhardt
So tell me a little bit about that process, so you know it’s a you’re you’ve got a, so the dentist puts some kind of ceramic material in your mouth and takes an impression and then what happens.
01:42 Alex Mendez
So say you go to the dentist, you need a new number nine Central, they will then prep that tooth to make it able to accept a restoration. So they’ll prep it down to like a little nub, you know, take an impression of that, and then they’ll send it off to us. From there. In our lab, we’ll create a stone replica of the patient’s mouth. So basically, you’ll have every single thing, every little detail that the patient has just in stone so we can work on it. And it’ll be on a little articulator to articulate the jaw movement and everything. From there, you have a couple options. Traditional way of doing it is a PFM, which is porcelain fused to a metal crown. And that’s basically like a metal substructure with ceramic built on top of it, and then shaped to, of course, a tooth, glazed, and then we’ll send it out the door to the dentist, and they’ll go ahead and cement it in the patient’s mouth. And, and that’s pretty much the whole process down in a nutshell.
02:52 David Earnhardt
So you’re using the word restoration, tell me a little bit about that, what is what is restoration mean? In your own context.
02:58 Alex Mendez
So basically, you know, restoring a broken tooth, or a missing tooth. If there’s absolutely nothing there to work with. If there’s just a tooth that’s been pulled out, we’ll restore it by putting an implant in. They’ll put a little implant post in there. And then same process, we’ll just treat it just like a prepped tooth. So yeah, it’s basically just restoring the mouth to what it used to be or to what the patient wants. can make a crooked tooth straight if they’d like that, you know, so,
03:33 David Earnhardt
So can I get things like fangs? So the real question for you that you want is I want fangs.
03:38 Alex Mendez
You definitely can. And we’ve made them before. Actually their caps, they’ll fit over your existing teeth. They’ll just fit up there with temporary glue and you’ll have nice cool little fangs.
03:51 David Earnhardt
You make a joke and then then the person tells you Yes, that’s actually possible. makes you nervous.
03:57 Alex Mendez
Oh, it’s pretty. It’s fascinating how parallel dental technology and special effects makeup actually run together? Um, yeah, you’ll see shows like face off. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen that show. Yeah, it’s a special effects show. And it’s a lot of the same concept. You take a mold of whatever part you’re working on, say the shoulder, say the jaw, whatever. And then from there, you build a cast and and you just make a cool prep, prop off of it. So it’s pretty cool.
04:30 David Earnhardt
So you’re sculpting in a similar way to what you might see in a show what a special effects artist might do. You’re kind of you’re sculpting and shaping. You said stone is that is it actually a stone or is it like a composite in some fashion like, I’m just imagining, you know, someone doesn’t have a mouthful of gravel in there.
04:50 Alex Mendez
wouldn’t be too comfortable.
04:51 David Earnhardt
Yeah, it might not be very sanitary.
04:54 Alex Mendez
Well the stone is more for just recreating what the patient has on Ready. And then we will make the restoration with a composite, it could be out of lakonia. Or it could be more traditional PFM, like I told you. So the product that actually goes in the patient’s mouth is not stone, it’s, it’s more than likely porcelain fused to metal. Yeah. So, so yeah, you won’t really be able to tell the difference, once it’s in. If it’s done nicely, you know, you definitely won’t be able to see a difference. It’ll look nice. And so it’s very artistic in a way. So you have to, you know, you have to know how a tooth morphs and grows as
05:43 David Earnhardt
So you mentioned, you know, it’s kind of an artistic process. So, you know, take me through that a little bit like, What are you looking at? It’s more than just the shape? I would assume you know what are you looking at, in someone’s mouth or on a, on an impression that, that you want to try to match.
06:02 Alex Mendez
So it’s all about natural aesthetics. You want to recreate nature as much as possible. So, when we’re looking at restoring a tooth, yeah, like you said, we’re trying to match. So your face is very symmetrical. So every tooth that you have on the right side of your face, you’re going to have on the left side. So you’re going to try to match the corresponding tooth the other side of the mouth of course, also function, you can’t put something in a patient’s mouth that’s going to be clashing with all the other teeth, then you’ll have more problems. Right? Which might be good. For the dentist point of view. No, but yeah, so we’re looking for natural aesthetics. And so the line angles have to be just right, they have to bounce the light back. Reflection is a big, big thing in dental technology. You wouldn’t think of it as much but but, but yes, sometimes people will have more reflective teeth, I guess, some patients will have teeth that you can almost look through. And that’s what happens when you know, age, but you can see a lot more translucency within your teeth, right. So things like that, you have to match the shade, you have to match the contours of the existing teeth. So that’s what we really look for is to try to just match that natural aesthetic they have
07:32 David Earnhardt
Interesting, I would have never thought about you know, I can imagine that you know the color, you’re trying to match the color of someone’s teeth. If someone has slightly more white teeth, and you put a slightly more brown tooth in there, they might be really upset about that. But, you know, the thought of like, translucency is such an interesting thing. You know, we are marketed to that our teeth should all be like gleaming white, and yeah, yes. Yeah. Pearly shiny. And at the same time, as you age, your teeth change and, and, you know, if someone gets something at 25, and then at 45, do they need to have something done different? I mean, do they need to have that implant changed in some fashion?
08:11 Alex Mendez
Well, maybe not so, so much the implant, but the restoration itself, 20 years is quite a long time to have a crown in your mouth. If it’s done right, it will last for a long time. Sometimes though, you know, we probably need to replace it. The you know, how natural tooth has enamel, the enamel over time will wear and so expose, it’ll expose the underside of the tooth, the dentin part, which is the meat of the tooth. So, so you kind of want to match that as you age, I’m guessing. And also with the restoration stuff, like I said, it will degrade over time, a long time. But if it does, then you just need to get it replaced.
08:57 David Earnhardt
Yeah, that’s such an interesting, you know, concept to have just, you know, if something happens in your mouth that needs a, you know, hit by baseball, when you’re 15. And then that’s something to change that changes your whole life. That’s something you never think about, I guess.
09:14 Alex Mendez
Right? Right. Yeah. Whenever, whenever people ask me what I do, and I tell them, they’re like, what, what is that? Do you, Are you a dental assistant or close but not really.
09:30 David Earnhardt
You’re not diagnosing you’re repairing and restoring to use your word like
09:34 Alex Mendez
Yes, yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly. We’re just replacing what the patient lost as best as we can.
09:41 David Earnhardt
What made you decide to get into this? I mean, what was your What was the reason why you decided, hey, this is the career I want. This is the goal that I want to do.
09:55 Alex Mendez
Well, when I was 18, let me go back further. My mother and her father were into the field. They were dental technicians. My grandfather was a dentist. So very dental related family. Yeah. So I grew up in a dental lab of that my mother and father owned, it was just them too. So I grew up just seeing how it worked. And the old school methods of how to, you know, replace a tooth is really fascinating. very crude. Now, you know, you have, you know, CAD CAM machines that will just mill out a crown, and you just have to spruce it up. And there you go. But, but, ya know, so I grew up in a dental household almost. And being artistic. I like to draw a lot and I like to build things. I like music a lot. So I’m very artsy type of person. So when it was time for me to really look for a career path, kind of just jumped on board and worked at the lab, my mom was working out at the time, started actually picking up the trash and watching. So yes, I started at the very bottom, I was a janitor at first at a dental lab, and just seeing the process, going to each department and picking up trash and just kind of visualizing what’s going on here. What’s going on there. It was very interesting. So I decided, hey, why not? Let me just put an extra effort and start at the bottom.
11:30 David Earnhardt
So okay, so you left out some interesting stuff there, you went from taking out the trash to being something in someone’s mouth for permanence. So tell us about that process. That’s interesting. Like where I mean, what was the first, you know, the first thing you did? From taking out the trash?
11:50 Alex Mendez
Oh, okay. So the first thing I did, right after the trash, I started at bottle room. And that’s basically like, when, when an impression comes in from the dentist, the shipping room will receive it. And they’ll disinfect everything, make sure everything’s clean. And then when the process starts, it starts in the model room, when we pour the stone into the impression, separated, articulated. So that’s where I started. I started at the very bottom, which is not really the bottom because it’s all equal. But the first process is to pour the impressions out of stone and make an art, make a replica of the patient’s mouth. So that’s where I started. And that’s, that’s what really got me interested, because I’m working with plaster, I’m working with stone and mixing up materials. And, you know, it’s just very hands on. So that’s the kind of thing that I like to do. So that’s where I started. And that’s how the process got started. And from there, you know, just what happens after this department, what where does this model go from here? Well, then you got a couple of different options. If say the patient’s getting a denture, it’ll go to the denture department, and it branches out and into different areas. And that’s kind of how I got my feet wet. In a sense, I just kind of like follow the trails, what happens with this thing after I work on it, you know? So just little by little I got to progress. Seems now. Yeah, to, to now. I’m actually, you know, finishing the restorations and actually seeing it through the whole way. So it’s, I get to put my artistic flair on it at the end. It’s it’s really satisfying. That’s pretty cool.
13:33 David Earnhardt
I can imagine. I can imagine in fairness to you probably you need to have that, that ground up understanding of of the entire process before you can really do what you know what you need to do for the patient?
13:50 Alex Mendez
Oh, yeah, for sure. Too many times, I see where, you know, a crown will be made from a competitor’s lab, where you can tell that maybe they didn’t have as much experience. So the dentist turned to us to kind of help fix this problem. But it definitely does help to have that knowledge to, to know and understand the basics of Dentistry and Dental technology.
14:20 David Earnhardt
That’s awesome. Well, good. Well, yeah. So you mentioned your parents, and the process that they were into, you know, you come from a kind of a dental family, you mentioned, you know, did you have? Were they kind of mentors for you? I mean, did they really kind of show you the ropes or were they kind of, you know, go out and learn on your own kind of kind of scenario,
14:47 Alex Mendez
Very much to go out and learn your own stuff. Because for one I was a kid, you know, I was just in their lab as a kid just running around and not really showing an interest but you know, as Kid, you’re soaking up so many things. So, as far as mentors, I would say, my mentors are more towards my latter years, or my more recent years, here in the dental field, I’m really looking up to the, the seniors in the, in the business who have been doing it since, you know, since the beginning of time. And you really get to learn a lot from these, from these type of people who just have been doing it day in and day out, and they learn all the ins and outs of it. So, I really just look up to the more experienced dental technicians. And even more so than that, I went ahead and got certified.
15:50 David Earnhardt
So you know, so talk to us a little bit about that process of, you know, going from, from someone who knows a lot about it and knows a lot about the the, the process and the work and has a family history in it too, then getting certified.
16:03 Alex Mendez
So you can become a dental technician, by learning hands on, you can go to school, you can get a bachelor’s degree or associate’s degree. But most technicians don’t take it the extra mile and get certified to it much like an electrician would get certified, just to be certified, and so that dentists and labs will know that, hey, you’re serious about what you’re doing. You’re not just a walk on, and just you know, you learned everything by just learning, you know, hands on, you actually took it to the next step. And being certified is just saying that, basically, I’m very serious about what I’m doing. And I you know,
16:52 David Earnhardt
Not only are you serious about what you’re doing, but you are willing to put in the extra work in order to make that be a viable credential.
17:03 Alex Mendez
Sure. Sure. Yeah. And most people, nowadays, they don’t really see it as a, like, such a big, big commitment. But it really is, you know, it’s, it’s a two day process, you know, you have a couple of long tests, a lot of studying, there are so many, so many identifiable points on a tooth that you need to learn. Before, before you can actually make a tooth the right way. There’s so many surfaces, and when you look at a tooth, you think, hey, it’s just a tooth. Right? Right. But there’s so many there’s a lot of lingo, dental lingo that you need to know, sir surfaces on the tooth. So becoming certified really gets you immersed in that field and it really helps you have that background and knowledge to know more about the tooth and what you’re doing. So
17:57 David Earnhardt
When you go through the certification process, you know, you mentioned two days and, and and a couple of tests, like are you actually making implants and having them judged by a panel? Or you know, what is that? You know, what’s that, like?
18:12 Alex Mendez
So there’s two tests, there’s a hand written test and there’s a hands on test. Handwritten is just, you know, a test. You have to know your terminology, the hands on test, that’s where you can choose a field that you want to go into, So my CDT I’m certified and crown and bridge. So that’s basically your crowns, your bridges, fixed fixed prosthetics and
18:39 David Earnhardt
Smaller pieces, right? I mean, like, it’s a bit like, I would imagine that dental or like a denture is a much larger piece. So you’re, you’re kind of pick-your smaller.
18:50 Alex Mendez
Yeah, yes. All right. So dentures, yeah, you can get your CDT and dentures. So you are an expert in dentures. So, yeah, so the testing process the hands on you have five hours to complete a couple of restorations the bridge a single unit. And so it’s very crucial that you know, what you’re doing because a few hours seems like a long time but you gotta put in all the other factors, you know, the heating and drying time, you have to bake these things up porcelain. So, yeah, after you’re done with that, they judge you and it takes about a few months until they tell you hey, you passed or you didn’t that was very nerve wracking.
19:39 David Earnhardt
That’s not a that’s not an easy fight. If it were five months, I’m sure kinds of kind of pins and needles there for sure
19:46 Alex Mendez
Whoa, for sure. The whole time. Yeah. So but uh, but I’m definitely glad I got it done because it kind of shows my employer and it shows, you know, the dentists that we work for that, you know, we’re committed to But we’re doing so.
20:01 David Earnhardt
And I would imagine that there’s a change in your financial bottom line. But also, I would imagine as a certified dental technician, you would have the option of then kind of branching out on your own if you wanted to, right. I mean, you could defer, could theoretically open your own shop.
20:19 Alex Mendez
You sir. Good. Yeah. That’s one way to go. People do that a lot. You know, they’ve become certified now. It’s becoming more regulatory that lab owners and managers within the lab become certified. Before it never used to be that way. So now it’s becoming more of a rule. So. So I guess it’s good that I jumped on the train early. so to speak,
20:43 David Earnhardt
once you’re in, you’re in? Yeah, they can’t take it from you.
20:45 Alex Mendez
And every year, you know, you have to pay a small fee to stay certified. And you have to, you have to get credits as well, you have to take classes and courses and little tests just to stay current with the time because there’s so much technology coming out now. It’s wild. So many new ways of making a restoration is just yet baffling.
21:09 David Earnhardt
Well, what’s an example of something that you know, five years ago, you would do it in one way, and then a piece of technology has changed that to being a totally different way of doing it?
21:18 Alex Mendez
Well, basically, every department in the lab has had some kind of technology, technological jump, in the last five years, CAD CAM systems, they were out, of course, five years ago, but they’re nowhere near to what they are now. Just the technology that they have within their hands, just to say the old way of doing it, the doctor would take an impression of your, of your mouth, right to see what you got going on. Now, they have intra oral wands. So basically, they’ll stick one in there, and then it will take like a 360 view. And it’ll map the whole inside of the mouth and everything. And what they’ll do with that image, they’ll send it to us. And from there, we can then skip the whole stone and model system and just use the CAD CAM computer to do it. We’ll create the tooth that the restoration that we’re wanting to do. And then from there, we’ll send it to our milling machines. And so our milling machines will mill that restoration that we designed on the CAD CAM, it’ll mill it out of zirconia. And so from there, that will cut that crown out, put it in a sintering machine so it’ll solidify that. Because once it, when it’s getting milled out it’s in a kind of a chalk form. So that it can get drilled out and you know, sculpted within the milling machine, and then it’ll get centered to become a hardened actual really hard product where you can’t really, you can’t even hammer this thing apart. It’s amazing how strong these restorations are now. So that’s one way. I mean, in the dentures side. Now where, where it’s, it’s, it’s insane. It’s we’re printing dentures now, where before, it would be like a whole deal. I mean, it would be mold cast, same same deal articulating just a bunch of dirty work. Now, and now we can go straight through the computers and just literally print a whole denture out of teeth, teeth and it’ll have the gradient up to the pink tissue. It’s amazing how what we can do now saves time and money.
23:44 David Earnhardt
Yeah. 3d printing a tray of hedgers is kind of an amazing thought. Oh, yeah.
23:49 Alex Mendez
Yeah, it’s pretty fascinating.
23:53 David Earnhardt
That’s awesome. I think, you know, there is a lot of work that has changed the last five years with the evolution of 3d printing and with the ability of the computing power that has increased quite a bit. Yeah. So I love the idea of, you know, having a wand that is the internal GPS to your, into your mouth. I like that.
24:21 Alex Mendez
Yeah. And it’s so much easier for the patient to they’re less gum bleeding. That’s one thing I don’t miss. We still get those cases, of course, but more and more now. We’re seeing a lot more technology coming through. And so I think I think the future is definitely within the computers. Yeah.
24:40 David Earnhardt
And probably, you know, it’s a lot more comfortable I would imagine. Yeah, right. I mean, it’s more and more accurate, so it’s more quickly comfortable for the patient as well.
24:51 Alex Mendez
So to your point accurate, that’s what we look for accuracy. The old old way of doing it with a with a final impression. So we, we call that old way of doing it, we, we say that there’s a lot of data transfer in that old school method, data transfer, meaning we’re trying to capture everything that’s within that patient’s mouth, to the lab, we’re trying to bring all of that information to the lab and doing it with impression. That’s, that’s one stage of data transfer. And then pouring stone inside of that impression is another form of data transfer. Because the stone itself, when it’s when it’s drying, it’ll expand. And sometimes you won’t get the exact dimensions of the patient’s mouth. So what you’re saying, Yeah, the, the data transfer is very accurate when you’re using a wand, or when you’re doing it, you know, inter orally like that. Yeah. It’s very cool.
25:55 David Earnhardt
Yeah, that’s interesting. You think about a physical medium, right? I mean, you’re you’re pressing in plaster or, or a soft material in someone’s mouth to get as, as accurate a read as you can, but then with expansion and contraction, or when, you know, if someone has a piece of piece of spinach in their teeth, can change the oppression a little bit, right. Yeah. And then does that get transferred over to the stone? And,
26:23 Alex Mendez
and you’d be surprised? You’d be surprised at what we see.
26:29 David Earnhardt
And probably horrified. Oh, yeah.
26:32 Alex Mendez
Oh, yeah, we’ve got some close calls there.
26:35 David Earnhardt
That’s awesome. I think, you know, having that kind of three dimensional, accurate space will make for a better long term product going forward. So that’s really, that’s. So this podcast, the purpose of the podcast is to really, you know, kind of expose folks to different types of careers and different types of jobs that, you know, they may have never heard of, or they may have never thought about. And so, you know, I’m kind of curious who you think, might have a cool job and why?
27:08 Alex Mendez
So, very hands on person, like I said, I really like the idea of woodworking. I’m starting to get more into it now. So somebody that can, that can design things with wood or make furniture or that to me is very interesting, because it’s kind of similar to what I do now, as far as creativity. What. But woodworking, I don’t know, there’s so many more things you can do. A lot of interesting tools as well. So I would say woodworker, woodworker from home or something. That’s definitely something that I’m that I think is interesting. That’s awesome. Yeah.
27:55 David Earnhardt
Well, you know, there is the rumor that Washington had wooden teeth. So you know, you can combine that.
28:04 Alex mendez
That is not a true rumor. By the way we dentures we’re actually used to used to be made out of wood. It’s very crude.
28:12 David Earnhardt
But hey, it worked. It was effective enough.
28:20 Alex Mendez
28:22 David Earnhardt
Well, what type of woodworker is most fascinating to you, because there could be a variety of different ways you could go with that. I mean, there’s, there’s wood carving, there’s furniture, there’s, you know, cabinetry, I mean, you can get one in 100 different directions there. What’s fascinating.
28:38 Alex Mendez
You could, yeah, someone who makes furniture i think has recently tried myself a couple times to to build a shoe cabinet. Although the results weren’t immaculate. The process itself was very interesting and fun to do for me. Because you know, it’s not super time critical. It’s something that I could work on on the weekends for now. But yeah, definitely. Someone who makes furniture I think is a very interesting job to have. Because, you know, you can make a chair, but could you make a chair that will last right or, or be comfortable? You know, I’ve made plenty of little tables, like I said, a shoe cabinet that rocks. So I think it’s very cool to see somebody that has the know how to make a nice piece of furniture that would last and you know, things like that.
29:38 David Earnhardt
So I kind of artisanship and yeah, and knowledge beyond just the rude construction that I know.
29:47 Alex Mendez
Much like Ron Swanson from parks and recreation with his chairs. Yeah, I think that’s fascinating.
29:59 David Earnhardt
And a giant canoe. And yeah, awesome. So you know, tell us a little bit about the way that your employer works like, are you actually in a dentist office? Or are you a separate company? How does this work?
30:17 Alex Mendez
So we are our own entity. We work for dentists, dental, sorry, dentists. So I work for a dental lab. And then from there we will have dentists almost as clients. If you think of it that way. Yeah. dentist, they’ll shop around a couple of dental labs, like, Hey, what do you guys offer? What are your prices? It’s a very competitive field. But yeah, I definitely just work for a dental lab. And then from there, we’ll, we’ll send out our, our cases to a dentist. Yeah.
30:55 David Earnhardt
Nice. So you were What’s the name of the company that you work?
30:59 Alex Mendez
Oh, the name of the company is image dental arts. Located right there in the Biltmore village area. It’s very nice, it’s one of the nicest labs I’ve ever been to, and got all the state of the art equipment, and I couldn’t be happier now where I’m at. There’s, you’d be surprised at the labs, some owners have, I mean, a hole in the wall, just a couple benches. And that’s it. So it’s very nice to work at a place that’s, you know, they got, they have everything you need. And it’s very comfortable there. So
31:35 David Earnhardt
that’s awesome. Yeah, very good. Well, you know, tell us, you know, how folks can learn a little bit more about image dental arts,
31:41 Alex Mendez
If you’re curious about this type of field, I would definitely recommend just popping in. Just Hey, I’d like to take a tour of the lab, or we see a lot of dentists in training, that are going to school to become a dentist, we’ll have a lot of those groups come through and just kind of see what’s going on in the lab and see how the process is so. So they have a better feel of what they’re getting into and what they should expect from a lab. But if you know if you’re a hands on type of person, and artsy, and you think this is something you’d like to do, I mean, definitely pop in and just say, hey, I’d like to see what’s going on. Because a lot of people do start that way, that’s the way I started, you know, I kind of just wanted to see what’s going on and and then from there, I just got carried away.
32:35 David Earnhardt
That’s very generous of, of you and your team there to say, Yeah, come in, see it. Yeah. You know, we’re an open book. I liked that.
32:43 Alex Mendez
We’re always open to looking for talent. And people who are into what they do we see a lot of pottery type people in this field, too. Yeah, it’s very interesting. Yeah.
32:55 David Earnhardt
Well, I guess ceramic. Ceramic. Yeah. Ceramic experience is valuable there for sure. Oh, yeah. Yeah. Well, thank you, Alex, for sharing your time and your expertise and your really cool job with us. We really appreciate it.
33:08 Alex Mendez
Thanks, man. I really enjoyed it. I love talking to you, man. And I really appreciate you having me on.
33:13 David Earnhardt
Thanks for listening to the cool jobs podcast, a service of the Career Center at UNC Asheville. Like what you heard, give us a like, share with your friends and subscribe. Next time we’ll be talking to Axie Blunden hand sanitizer CEO so make sure to check it out. We’ll see you next time.
My Thoughts for the Week I was on a call last week with my colleagues from across the state who work with employers to recruit on campus, and almost to a person, they all stated that their student attendance for events have fallen dramatically since the beginning of the pandemic. Our events have been similarly affected, and I’m starting to believe that this “Zoom Fatigue” thing might be real. Recently, Microsoft reported their users received 40.8 billion more emails last year than the year prior. That’s roughly 3.5 billion extra emails a month, just for Microsoft users. Americans are spending more than 13 hours per day on their laptops, using their phones/tablets, and watching TV. There’s even a company offering $2400 for someone to NOT use a screen for 24 hours. With that said, I think it’s useful for me to advocate for us to do some things that don’t involve screens as the weather starts to warm. Can you add a walk to your daily routine? What would it be like to sit quietly for 5 minutes a day? Is there some time that could be better spent with a pet than with a screen? As the recent Florida spring break crowds have demonstrated, we’re ready to get away from our screens, but doing so too quickly may cause the infection rate to rise again…delaying our ability to have a permanently lower reliance on screens. Let’s start (or restart) a habit now that will help us get through the rest of these screen months, and we’ll emerge better for it.
Meet Be! She is an alum of UNCA and of the Career Center as well. Take a look below to see what she is doing after graduation and how she found her job!
1) What are you doing now that you’ve graduated?
I’m working as a Project Associate for the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget: a think tank in DC.
2) What resources did you use to find and apply for this position?
I started on Handshake. I knew I wanted a job in my major (political science), so I looked at a wide range of positions related to my field. I was treasurer of two political science-related clubs on campus, and I wanted to stay on the economics side of policy, so I tailored my search to fit that in. All the opportunities on Handshake have been vetted by the Career Center staff, so I knew they would be held to higher standards than a google search or a large recruiter website. I sent in a couple applications and got two interviews from what I found on Handshake. There were some opportunities there that didn’t exactly fit what I wanted, but I could go to the websites for the organizations that posted those listings and check them out, as well as their partners. That was a great jumping off point to find other openings outside of Handshake. I also checked the LinkedIn pages of people who have the jobs I either want now or will want eventually. A lot of them started in government or the non-profit sector, so I tailored my job search to match that path.
3) What is the most exciting thing you’ve gotten to do so far?
Some people may not find research exciting, but the coolest things I’ve gotten to do have been conducting research for our projects. It’s awesome to see your work in an important paper or public release.
4) What surprised you the most about your new position?
I was surprised by how much the work I do now mimics the work I did at UNCA: I still write and edit documents, I still do research, I still have a crazy schedule. If it wasn’t for the jobs I had at the Career Center and Writing Center, and the amazing support and guidance from the political science professors, I don’t think I’d be prepared to do the work I’m doing.
5) What advice do you have for current students at UNC Asheville?
Go to the Career Center! Often! When people say they don’t know why they bothered with a degree, or they can’t find a job after school, I can pretty much guarantee they did not spend enough time in their school’s career center. I definitely learned a lot in my undergrad program, but the resources outside of the classroom are what made the biggest difference for me. Learning about networking, and job searching, and getting more out of your undergrad than just a diploma all helped me get a great job that I love in a time where it is incredibly difficult to find opportunities. I definitely got lucky, but it’s not just luck. It’s knowing what the job hunt is going to be like ahead of time, and preparing for it throughout your undergraduate career.
My thoughts for the week I thought I’d take this opportunity to highlight a few companies that have announced new facilities or expansions as we pass a year of pandemic based economic challenges. While there are many others who have/will open over the past year, the ones below represent a selection of positions with above industry wages, and who will be interested in a college educated workforce.
First, I’d like to highlight System Logistics who will be spending 3 million dollars in their Arden facility and adding 47 positions. They will be interviewing UNC Asheville Computer Science candidates next week in partnership with the Career Center. Know anyone looking for an awesome opportunity with a growing company? Show them this link, quick, the application deadline is Friday!
Pratt and Whitney Aerospace Manufacturer, investing $650 million in Arden plant across from Biltmore Park. Promises 800 new jobs by 5th year in operation Thermo Fisher Scientific Scientific instruments manufacturer, in Asheville, the plant focuses on super low temperature refrigerators. Adding 30,000 sq ft of space, and 200 positions Borg Warner Automotive parts manufacturer, Asheville plant builds turbocharging units for heavy machinery. Spending $62.2 million to expand the facility and invest in research and design capabilities, the workforce is expected to grow to 600 Raybow USA Pharmaceutical Manufacturer (outsource) based in Brevard, spending $15 million to expand their facility and add 74 positions Brightfarms Hydroponic growers of salad ingredients, located in Hendersonville, spending $21 million dollars and will have 54 permanent “green collar” jobs These are just a few examples of employers coming to and growing in the region, a promising future is on our horizon!
Hi, I’m David and I’m the host of the cool jobs podcast, a conversation where we dive deep into some of the coolest jobs on the planet. This is the home for jobs you’ve never heard of, or ones you never thought about before. This podcast is for students, learners, dreamers, or anyone who’s interested in finding out about the coolest jobs around, I’ll be speaking with experts across a wide spectrum of career possibilities with the hope that you’ll find inspiration for your own career. Thanks for joining in. The cool jobs podcast is a service of the Career Center at UNC Asheville. I’m your host, David Earnhardt, Associate Director for Employer Relations at UNC Asheville and joining me today is Brandon Idol, Video Game World Creator. Brandon, thanks so much for joining us for the cool jobs podcast. We’re excited, you’re here.
00:54 Brandon Idol
Thanks for having me. It’s, it’s good to be here. And hi to you. And hi to anyone listening.
00:56 David Earnhardt
Excellent. Very good. Well, first things you know, first, tell us a little bit about your background and how you got to where you are.
00:58 Brandon Idol
Well, I’ve always been interested in art on a broad level, and, you know, grew up drawing and molding things with Playdough and all the things that we do as kids always had a fascination with just how things fit together the relationships, you know, between things, you know, via natural environments, and structures and creatures, you know, pets, friends, so just had a broad interest, which probably kind of brought interest level in game development and my transition throughout my years from you know, more of a creature character artist into world design and world building and tools, design and tools building as well. I’m not a programmer, but I do a lot of the just underlying framework design of how pieces will be created and what kind of tools we need or code we need to link them together. So that we can build, you know, worlds or maps, as we call them often in the industry in as efficient a way as possible. And try to negate a lot of the redundancy that goes on in, you know, visual design, and especially computer game design.
02:09 David Earnhardt
So take me through it. So let’s make it really simple for folks who are not in the video game industry. So take me through, like a chessboard that’s on that’s in a three dimensional space, what tools do you need to be able to make that chessboard move and come alive and the rook make its move or stab the queen? You know, what is it that you need? In order to make that happen?
02:32 Brandon Idol
Well, you know, we’ll we’ll start by doing, you know, level level design, which would be what we often call gray box, or gray boxing, where we’ll build crew geo, we’ll put, we have a kind of a generic library of grid materials that we can just apply to basic 3d objects just to get the scale of things to get the camera set, just to kind of know what our, you know, our framing is in the game. And we’ll, we’ll start with that. And then obviously, for you know, moving pieces around, I mean, you’ve got to start coding game logic. And that’ll involve having animation and that animation could be could start off as completely procedural where the, the programmers just saying, hey, just move linearly from point A to point B, you know, if then kind of stuff, we might get fancy and put a put a curve on that and make it start off slow and a little slower. But then that’ll obviously kind of move over once once design is putting the pieces where they need to be, it’ll move over into an artist space where the artists programmers will get together, they’ll decide on what the animation protocols are, what kinds of loops and bits of information that the animator can can provide the programmer and the programmer will start slotting those in based on you know, clicks and input into the game. And then that gets into the whole world of, you know, design interface and gameplay interface. So that, you know, where you get into, like the true sort of game design thing of how things feel, what the response times are, when you click, you know, how there’s something, does something turn instantly, or does it do like a control, you know, time of turning in, that completely changes the feel of the game on like, how snappy it is, or how, artistically, you know, kind of lush again, feel there’s sort of a balance in between those. So that’s generally how these things start off. And there’s a lot of disciplines that kind of come with that. But yeah.
04:36 David Earnhardt
So just to, to kind of simplify it a little bit. If you’re, if you’re thinking about a game character who’s moving their arm, the artist has to say, Alright, so it’s going to have the arm going to move in this direction. It’s going to have this amount of, you know, shade, it’s going to have this color, it’s going to look in a specific way. And then the, your programmer will then make that physical move happen in the game, Am I understanding that correctly?
05:00 Brandon Idol
So generally the physical move, like the artistic expression of it is generally done by the animator. And the programmers aren’t, aren’t typically looking at anything that minute in the data, what they’re, what they’re going to be looking at is okay, hand me, the stand in loop animation, no, sort of that what we call the idle pose, where they’ll stand there. And they’ll kind of loop around just to look like they’re breathing and kind of alive, but they’re not really doing a whole lot of anything. And then, you know, the animator will probably create, you know, what, what’s often called, you know, fidget animations that they’ll, you know, kind of, kind of brush their nose or check their, check their belt, you know, and tighten up their, you know, shoe strings or something, but they come back to the same pose that they started out with, then what the programmer will do is, you know, be aware of those animations existing, have them in a category of animations that can be called upon to, you know, loop in on some interval, it will choose them randomly, probably have, you know, a min max time to choose, you know, whether it grabs one or starts one or stops one, and then goes back to the idle pose. And then same thing with, you know, raising the arm to do the attack would be another discrete animation that would be pre decided upon, you know, like, here’s our attack time needs to be, you know, one second, so you know, you’ve got a quarter of a second to get back to the, to the strike, you know, start, and then you’ve got three quarters of a second to, you know, hit or whatever their timing is, the programmer is just going to take that, and start playing it at the button press, and then they, they will work together, back and forth. It’s always a very iterative, iterative process. And they’ll, you know, they’ll call that in and make that happen. And then upon the attack, there’ll be, you know, either like, a kickback animation that the artist has created with a sword, you know, bounces off of shield hit, or bounces off of the helmet hit, or if it strikes flesh, you know, it pushes on through, so there’s all these, a&b, you know, it’s almost like a choose your own adventure, you know, it’s always the, if it does this, then do this, then do this, it’s a chain, and it’s really does always come down to something, generally, that binary. And the things that kind of obscure a lot of that is, is what we would call animation blending. And that’s become much more robust over the last decade or two, just because of processing power, and coding knowledge and data, and just good database organization where they can do a lot of blending between idle poses, and run run, loop animations, attack animations, so that they can kind of learn from the last few frames of one to the first few frames and the next, and you don’t get the binary start stop, sort of feel of, you know, I came back to this exact frame and then snapped into this other attack animation, it just kind of gives you a bit of smoothness, it just sort of bubbles those things out and allows them to feel a little more natural, even though they’re still based on underneath a very pretty binary system of, you know, if you press this, do this, if it hits this to do this sort of thing. Yeah.
08:14 David Earnhardt
So what I’ve noticed is that there’s a lot of people who have a lot to do with this process. There are animators and there are computer programmers, and there are computer programmers, there are artists who are involved in marketing people. And, you know, you worked on a game called left for dead, and that’s a game about zombies. And so take me through the process of a blank sheet of paper, we just know, we want to make a game about zombies to be ready to be played on a console. And you know, someone is able to actually play that game. And, you know, roughly how long does that take?
08:52 Brandon Idol
Well, yeah, that’s a, that’s a broad question. So, I mean, generally, you start off with sort of a core need, or at least the the designer, which is usually a game fan themselves have feels there’s a core need or a core element missing in the, in the industry or in the genre where, you know, there’s maybe games that have a lot of elements that they they’ve enjoyed, but they just don’t feel that they’ve been mixed in, in the most optimal ways. Or maybe there’s just a new genre sort of unfolding, because of technology, limitation, relaxations and things. So, you know, there’s like you said a lot of disciplines, you have designers, you have programmers, you have conceptual artists, which will do a lot more of your 2d artwork, exploration and IP design, you know, just what the look of your product what the, the you know, the labeling the definition of everything feels like and looks like, marketing that’s that sort of thing. And, and you have modelers, and textures. Many times the same artists or same group of artists on a project. So a lot of disciplines there, it never starts off or ends exactly the same way. I mean, many times, you’ll start off with once again, you know, kind of taking the gray box example of building a world out with just blocks and simple geometry, you know, it might, it might just look like a game from like the late the first 3d games from like maybe the late 80s, that, you know, at that time was like the best we can. And now it’s like something we could do in a day, because of the tools and the understanding and just expert, you know, expertise and experience that people have built up over the years. But, you know, he would start off with, you know, a world sort of at that foundation, where you’re just blocking out, you know, maybe some core, you might just build an outside, you know, flat plane with a wall that you know, if your characters you want to experiment with them jumping or hopping over something, you start deciding, okay, you know, what the wall height? what’s, what does the structure feel like, you know, what’s a good like size doorway to facilitate, you know, if we do want inside gameplay, you just start doing these things at the absolute most crude basic level, there’s no time to, there’s no reason to really spend time in artifying them and making them look pretty, you’re just trying to understand the the core systems and how animation ties into that. And then figuring out, you know, what, what is the core gameplay? You know, is it a single player? Or is it a cooperative or is it a, you know, multi team, you know, multiplayer game online, you know, it could be five versus five or 32 versus 32. I mean, it could be anything. So it’s just this slow sort of, you know, building up of the systems and processes to see how they all fit. And then slowly you keep kind of, Okay, well, you’ve got, you know, one guy spawning in, he’s got, he’s got now the ability to, you know, attack with a baseball bat or push somebody away with the butt of a rifle. Now, let’s, you know, plug player two and start seeing what is interesting between their dynamics, if one, you know, if one gets incapacitated or killed, you know, what does that mean for the second player, and when you know, when can the other player come back, you know, that’s where you start getting into, obviously, all your game design decisions. But all the while you’ve got during this process, just this iterative, back and forth of concept artists creating, you know, images of what these models could look like. modelers building, you know, early first stabs at what that might, you know, look like in game, once again, usually putting a fairly limited amount of time into them as things. It’s like a sketch, you know, you see someone just scribbling out really loose ideas, or it’s like a picture coming into focus, slowly, you see, a blurry background, and things start coming into focus, and the things that look cool, you start emphasizing the bit more and the things that maybe it’s not as fun as we thought it would be, and you, you kind of just leave that a little more blurred. Or just cut it all together. So it is usually a very organic process. Sometimes, there can be a lot of actual kind of hidden organization in that, that storm of what seemingly is just, it’s just chaotic, but some companies can, you know, really pull those things out fairly quickly, once they get that core idea and they start beginning momentum and and then sometimes you just depending on the kind of game you’re trying to create, it’s it’s harder, and it just takes longer, and you go around, you go around the circles, you know, several times trying to find what that formula is why, what’s the key? What’s the cutaway? I don’t know if that starts to answer some of your basic questions.
13:44 David Earnhardt
Yeah, I would imagine that there are, you know, especially with games as as kind of iterative, like you mentioned, like, there is the date, there’s the date that it ships, but it’s never finished, especially now with, you know, with expansion packs, and with, you know, games that, you know, with levels that continue to build all levels and new characters. And so I can imagine that, you know, it might take what, two years to kind of get it from blank page to ship in a in a good timeline. And then you might be working on that same game for a long time.
14:19 Brandon Idol
Yeah, yeah, certainly, you know, two years would be a fairly compact, efficient time creation. I mean, I’ve, I’ve worked on a lot of pretty sprawling video games in my time. And typically these are sprawling because they are almost as much a platform as they are a product. And those can often take half a decade to create. It sounds like a crazy amount of time just thinking that you know, I’ve worked on several games for longer than my entire High School and almost junior high combined. Seems so foreign, just passed now. But yeah, it really you know, and then I’ve worked on projects where I, it can’t you know, like it was a, you know, a sequel to an existing game and it just came together within like an 11 month period, I mean, almost from core startup to finish just kind of staggering how fast so it can, it can be such a wide range of, of time, you know, time commitment and exploration and from conception to completion.
15:43 David Earnhardt
that’s awesome. And I can imagine that there is both a sense of relief, whatever that game is, whenever it actually gets to that point, and also a almost a little bit of sadness that can come along with that of like, I’ve been putting all my work and effort into this forever, and now the kid has gone off to school. What does that, you know, talk about that feeling a little bit?
15:55 Brandon Idol
Yeah, there’s definitely, you know, and traditionally, in the past, you know, we would have a product that, you know, we would spend a couple of years building and then we would, you know, finally get that to quality control level that, you know, was shippable. And we would ship that out. And, yeah, it was just this huge kind of a relief and elation that, you know, this, this thing that you just crafted and honed and, and just poured over, you know, with love for years was falling out there to be, you know, hopefully enjoyed by, by some, you know, customers, but the industry has changed a lot over the years as well, where Now, a lot of products come out are very service minded, very service oriented. And so, even after a fairly lengthy, you know, completion time or development time, these products can, can live on and on, and on and on. And we see so many platforms in the industry, now that do this. And it Yeah, it’s a, it’s a mixed bag, because you can, you know, you can be relieved that you’ve just shipped something new, but then you’ve also on the other foot, you’re waiting for the feedback to come in, you know, the next day, or maybe even with within a few hours of something that’s wrong, or something that you overlooked or something that the general public just doesn’t agree with you on in a, you know, a visual decision or design decision. And that can be a bit of a, you know, pins and needles sort of situation. And it’s always relief when overwhelmingly, you know, you may get feedback online, through, you know, whatever channels you look for, for feedback, but when you overwhelmingly you get, you know, positive feedback, that’s, that’s always a relief. But even then you want to kind of try to try to find any pattern in the noise of, you know, negative feedback and just see if there is a general thing there that seems actionable, even if, even if most people are overlooking it, or just don’t really don’t really mind. If you you know, if you can find, you know, five or 10% of, you know, people like complaining about a particular aspect of it, then, you know, why not, if they’re saying the same things, you know, you can dig in there and
usually find ways to rectify it without ruining what’s good about it, for the people that are enjoying it, it’s usually my take on it. So that I’ve had to, I’ve had to kind of learn that skill, and I don’t think I’ve ever mastered it, but certainly over the years, you know, from some some games, I’ve worked on the distant past, where, you know, it was the first time we really saw the ability with the internet for people to give direct feedback in sort of mass quantities, that you had to learn to just filter through that and and learn to kind of separate the wheat from the chaff. And you know, you can’t listen to everyone because then you would never be sane or you’d never make a single decision because there’s never two voices that completely agree, you know, on negativity stung, but yeah.
19:10 David Earnhardt
Well, that brings me to a question that I always love asking because it kind of it kind of humanizes things a little bit. And, you know, I’m curious about an idea that you had, that you thought was just going to be a total winner, you thought it was going to be well received and totally work and be great. And then, you know, maybe the opposite of one that you didn’t really, you know, was an idea that you thought, well, maybe I’ll just give that a shot and then Holy cow, it totally worked.
19:31 Brandon Idol
Yeah, I, you know, I do struggle a little bit to think of something that was just I mean, and not to sound, you know, cocky or anything, but I can’t think of just something that just turned into a complete utter flop, but certainly things that, you know, many times you’ll start off with a certain design and realize that you’re going to have to make a lot of changes to make it come to fruition and that’s where you have to be willing to be be flexible and be objective about it. And just because it was what you really wanted it to be a particular thing, when you started off, like, it may not end up in that same space, you know, be at design or visually or conceptually. So you, you’re always going to face a bit of that. And there’s nothing, there’s nothing wrong with getting, you know, a little ways down the road and realizing there’s a fork, and you’re going to have to decide, and you can’t always go in the direction you thought you’d be going. And that’s just a natural part of being creative. It’s not, it’s not always about what you wanted it to be originally, it’s just what makes it the best thing it could be for, you know, the customers and for what the final goal sort of ends up shaping like. For the flip side, probably, you know, one of the things that I’ve, it’s been the biggest part of my transformation over the last 12 years or so, is transitioning more out of just the character space or creature space, I’ve done in the past a lot of modeling and texturing for just just hundreds of characters and creatures for various, like Fantasy games, throughout different projects in the industry and for different companies. But over the years, I’ve transitioned more over into, you know, world design and tools, work. And for a long time, you know, we do a lot of just grunt work. And we have, you know, we have projects where, you know, we’ll have a single map, and we’ll, we’ll play on that map for years and years and years. I mean, customers are just spending, you know, potentially 1000s of hours on a single map over many, many years. And it was becoming increasingly clear after shipping that anytime we wanted to make a change to the map, or to facilitate, you know, alternate versions, it was just, it was a lot of just almost undoable work. And it really our options were always limited. And so we started building, you know, just prototypes for how, you know, what kinds of tools could could make this more procedural and allow us to build these more efficiently to have them be more flexible, and ultimately, in the long run, in my opinion, also to just have tighter our quality control, because when you’re doing things procedurally you can you can keep controlling, you know, the repetition of well, you know, if I build this wall, I want, you know, this kind of ivy to grow down, and I want to make sure like, it lines up really nicely with particular details. And you can build all that ahead of time. And every time you know, that wall gets rolled out, those details will get propagated in the way that you designed, and it will, it will automatically make choices, but it can only choose one of the predefined things that you’ve already done. And the industry just increasingly uses that sort of procedural thought and development because the quality scale of games these days, I mean, it would require 1000s of people 1000s of people to create these, if they didn’t rely on tools that kind of took care of a lot of that redundancy. But we took a gamble on some of that, because we typically were, you know, above, we haven’t been that kind of company where, you know, we’ve just built a lot of very beautiful handcrafted things that were very narrative based and scripted based. And as we’ve transitioned into new products, we’ve had to kind of consider, you know, newer methods and find, you know, where they’re, where they’re useful, where they’re not useful. And we’ve certainly discovered a lot of those strengths over the last few years. And we’ve tried to always put those into motion, and then we still bring a lot of our traditional building techniques, and then we have tools that allow us to mix and match when we want to use one and when we want to use the other. So that was probably one of the more iffy things that I spent quite a lot of time just stepping away from actual production and not actually working directly on a product and just building those and getting, you know getting the go ahead to work with some programmers and and start making those a reality.
24:27 David Earnhardt
So yeah, it sounds like what you’ve been able to do is make changes at scale, which is something that makes your game able to be more user friendly. And also it allows your team to be able to focus on the more interesting things the art and the programming and the you know some of the some of the gameplay things that they don’t have to be sitting in and making details match and doing some of the things whenever there’s a change in the world, which that’s pretty interesting. That’s a neat, That’s a neat thought to think about how for lack of a better word, you know, kind of mass producing a little bit it you know, the artwork isn’t mass produced and the, you know, the game isn’t mastered, the gameplay isn’t but, you know, some of the small decisions that you don’t have to make every single time can be mass produced a little bit, which I think is interesting. I like that. That’s awesome. So, I’m curious, you know, who, if you had any mentors in the industry, or folks who kind of helped you get started.
25:25 Brandon Idol
Umm, I have a hard time thinking of direct mentors, but certainly, I mean, every, every place I’ve ever worked, I’ve just I’ve learned, you know, or tried to learn a ton from people around me. You know, from coming out of school in Atlanta, I mean, I went to the Art Institute of Atlanta, and I had, you know, teachers there that were just, you know, fantastic, that they may not have gone as deep in any one particular subject is, you know, what i, where i was trying to go with things, but certainly teaching me, you know, just the fundamentals of, of not only being a professional artist, or, I mean, not not particularly game design, but just 3d art in general like to, to be professional, and to have, you know, a certain kind of aesthetic, and a certain kind of work ethic, as well. To focus, let me say that, to focus on a particular aesthetic, as, you know, suited, the skill level and the particular you know, strengths of each artist. And then also just work ethic, and then at each job, having, you know, concept artists, art directors, other 3d, you know, artists around, I mean, animators, too, I mean, you just, you can learn from everyone, you know, there’s so many times where, on past projects, we’d have an extremely limited set of polygons that we could use for a model. And then, the animators have to take, you know, a character that you build, and they build a skeleton and an animation package, and they start waiting vertices on the model. And if, you know, hopefully, you know, if your artists are in the modeling, curriculum, they’re learning about, you know, vertices and edges and how these things weight to bones, but they have to weight those and then they have to be able to bend, you know, bend, like an elbow or a shoulder and have those vertices follow along with the bone in sort of a complementary manner. And, you know, there’s just times where you, you know, you have very limited polygons, and you’re building out a shoulder, and then the animator comes back to you, and they’re like, yeah, I’m just really having a hard time with like how much there just isn’t enough geometry here at this shoulder, to allow me to create a smooth flex. And so you, you know, you kind of go back and look at what you’ve done, and try to tweak it out and kind of make it something that is more accommodating to them. And sometimes that comes at a cost of, you know, a little bit of performance. But typically, you know, it’s it’s not not generally a deal breaker. And then times I’ve had where I had to add something in one place, and they’re like, No, you got to cut it somewhere else. Because we can’t add anything to this. It’s like the budgets that tight. I’ve worked on PlayStation One products that were really that tight, I mean, where we were just at the absolute bleeding edge of squeezing every drop out of that system of what could be done. So it was just give or take, if you want to add it over here, you got to take it out somewhere else. And so you can get pretty good at min maxing or at least you try to min max those decisions as much as possible. Sure, absolutely.
28:55 David Earnhardt
Yeah, I like the idea that you you know that you’re learning not only from, you know, people who are artistic and creative in in a kind of more traditional sense, but also some, you know, just regular geometry and the the way that bones and bones move in the way that muscles move and the way that you can have a facsimile for those things and using the the polygons and the the geometry. But you know, there is a lot more. It’s a lot more than making it look good, I guess is the is the way that I would say that.
29:05 Brandon Idol
So yeah, constraints are such a massive part of each product, at least in my world in my career. They’ve always been always this overarching thing that had to be reckoned with. And, and sometimes, you know, we were building the sprawling, sprawling worlds that just required, you know, hundreds of players on the screen and a horizon that seemingly never ended and just filled, filled with things animating and alive and quests that you could go on and complete and to create, create a world that feels lush and inviting, but can fit within those constraints with just always is a very, very sobering experience. And, yeah, a lot always a lot of debate back and forth of you know where we should cut where we should add and, and like, it always comes down to iteration and trying different things, you just hope that you’ve come up with a lot of those systems before you have too much content. Because that’s always that can always get you into a lot of trouble where you’ve, you’ve now completed, you know, majority of content for a project, and then you find out that, yeah, we’ve really got to start cutting on a more massive level that gets painful.
30:30 David Earnhardt
Yeah, to see all your work just kind of disappear, that must be kind of heartbreaking.
30:38 Brandon Idol
Well, or to be you know, minimized in some way, you know, more than whether you know, cutting geometry or cutting texture resolution, things start looking blurrier. And things start looking you know, more jagged yet it’s, it’s tough, you know, I always believe in go for the absolute lowest possible thing you can get away with To start with, and I know that’s kind of backwards to probably a lot of the way a lot of artists enjoy working, obviously just want to make the coolest looking thing they can but I so often have had to cut back things that I built, that now I just start with the lowest common denominator worked my way up from there, like, Oh, really? You want this look a little better? Sure, yeah, I could do that. But it always gives your head right, I can always make it look a little better. But that’s harder to cut the other direction.
31:28 David Earnhardt
That’s awesome. I love the idea of like, you know, here’s, here’s the baseline, here’s the thing that I know that I can that I know we can be, and then you know, improve based on what’s what’s possible. I think that’s awesome. You’re talking about being able to heal shapes came naturally to you. And I started thinking about how I can’t draw a heart that’s symmetrical. So I never have been able to get both sides of the heart to be symmetrical. So you know.
31:48 Brandon Idol
No one can. The heart and the star no one, no one can get them right. I think if you can, what is it is like you’re like a sociopath. Sorry. They can draw perfect stars.
32:07 David Earnhardt
That’s exactly what we want. So this podcast is geared towards students at UNC Asheville, the public Liberal Arts and Sciences University in North Carolina. What types of experiences set applicants apart when applying for positions at Valve? You know, how would you suggest them getting experience? If they’re not really in one of those, kind of video game hotspots like Seattle? Or, you know, down in California or some of these other areas that are kind of the natural hotspots? How would you suggest someone getting involved?
32:47 Brandon Idol
Well, certainly experience is really important to us. And it’s and you know, it’s important to the industry. It doesn’t matter where you live, I mean, I think you could probably nowadays with the connectivity that we have online with social media and websites that are dedicated to you know, concept art and 3d model, you know, art art showcases online, I mean, you could probably be you know, just as exposed from Barrow, Alaska as you could be from Irvine, California. But consistency is what we would look for particularly and, and this is just general, you know, just general, across the industry, people like to see consistency. So, if you, you submit a resume, you really want your portfolio to be your strengths, don’t, don’t try to show them that you can do everything under the sun, you might be quite good at a lot of things. But you’re probably not going to be better than what that company is typically going to be looking for in a particular sector strength, via, you know, modeling texturing animation, you’re not going to be able to to be better than everyone that they’re looking for, and all of those different disciplines all at the same time, unless you’re just an absolute savant. And you may be so if you are, then forget everything I just said. But typically, I try, you know, I’ve tried in the past, throughout my career to just take the strongest pieces of my portfolio, they were very, they were very concentrated, be it you know, here’s all the creatures I did for this fantasy game. And this is the show my style and my experiences up into this point, you know, for this project, and maybe the project before I usually don’t go back to many projects because my, when I go back and look at my old work, you know, I’m always kind of critical of it. Even my new work. I’ve just never, never perfectly happy with anything that I do. But certainly when I get back past like two projects, I’m like, oh, man, I just wished and wished I could have you know had better you know, better tools and more time or something, you know, to give me an edge on that, you know, things age, especially with 3d art. But consistency is king and seeing someone who just doubles down on just beautiful, you know, mechanical modeling work or beautiful organics, they just have an amazing feel for muscle and skeletal, you know, tones and in the body. And in animals. That’s the things we’re generally looking for someone who’s just incredible at costume design, someone who just has an amazing feel for animation, not only in just the fluidity, but just the naturalness of it, or in the exaggerated acting of it, you know, taking it more towards like a Disney sort of angle, those, those are the things that make for really strong resumes, it’s generally the resumes that are trying to show you, you know, I, I modeled this and animated it and programmed it into the game, it’s, it’s really hard generally to find those resumes where they stand out in any one thing, but so that’s just been my, my broad sort of experience. And obviously, there’s, there are substances out there, and there are a lot of very talented people. So if you are extremely good at a couple of those, then that’s totally fine. Like use those in your use those in your portfolio, you know, obviously, you might model something really nice and animate it really nicely. And obviously, you want to show those together. So it doesn’t mean you can’t have those at the same time. But don’t just grab everything that you’ve ever done, to put it on there to try to show Well, I’ve just got you know, a lot of experience, you may have a lot of experience, but you really, it’s fine, you can you can explain that to them in, in your interview, and in your resume. You know, if you get to that phone interview, you have all kinds of time to talk to him about that, but just show them some core pieces that really really showcase what your core strength and experience is at. And I think that’s, that’s always the best recipe. As far as different kinds of exposure, like sometimes, you know, it’s not, it’s not always just submitting portfolio and a resume many times, you know, we get, we get folks that just kind of come onto our radar in the industry by just being in the the mod community and building mods of existing products. And, you know, there’s no end to the talent and creativity out there that you know, as quote, unquote, like not working, you know, professionally for a big company. And sometimes the best ideas, you know, come out of those places, because they don’t have the overhead they don’t have, they don’t have the same level of risk. And they can have a core, you know, just a really strong core idea of something that they want to tackle and just go for it. And you can get some beautiful things that come out of that. So that that’s another avenue that people can often find themselves landing in to not only the game industry, but just you know, industries in general, if you if you’re already just doing the same disciplines on your own, and you have the ability to, you know, you’re staying home, we’re all staying home a lot these days, but you have the ability to be you know, working at home and creating this stuff and posting it on the web, and then you will get noticed if you’re doing cool stuff, because people are out there looking. So it’s not always about you know, having to know what no, someone having to, you know, live in King County and Washington. You can you can make your own way many times through just multiple avenues, but it always comes down to you know, inspiration and core talent and just hard work visit definitely those those avenues of doing it on your own and just building you know, your own facet of a product, sort of in your spare time in in the public space and not under the corporate space. I mean that that’s a big commitment. But there are many people who have done quite well landing in the industry from those methods.
39:24 David Earnhardt
Yeah, no, I like to like the idea of showing the showing the organization that you want to work for, that you like them so much that you’re willing to change something that they did and be brave enough to say, you know what, you can animate this differently or you can make it more exaggerated or you could have you could have it do something cool that’s different. I think that that shows a lot of maybe brand awareness, but it also shows a lot of just understanding that this is a creative space and this is a creative environment where things change and things evolve. And you know if you can go out and mod something, you know, modify something that has already been done. It shows that you really understand that really understand that community and so I think that’s awesome. I like that.
40:01 Brandon Idol
Yeah, and a lot, a lot of times companies now provide a lot of tools with their products that, you know, give, give even, you know, it’s not just that, you know, they may make a new character model or modify an existing character model, but but me building entirely new scenarios for the game that have new locations, new maps that people are playing on, it’s quite astounding, what folks can put together when the correct tools, you know, can can land in their lap. So, more and more, there are companies that you know, really enjoy and believe in that aspect of having the community you know, come in and, you know, add to or tweak existing scenarios in the game, and it’s just really exciting. So anytime someone can come in from that, that angle, it’s, it’s very cool.
40:50 David Earnhardt
Yeah, they start off kind of ahead. I like that. Yeah. So, you know, as we’re getting close to wrapping it up here, I just want you to know, I always like asking this question for folks who are on my podcast, who’s somebody that you think has a cool job? And why?
41:03 Brandon Idol
Oh, astronaut, no doubt. I can’t think of a cooler, I can’t think of a cooler job than that. I probably don’t even need to tell you why.
41:16 David Earnhardt
It’s the ice cream, isn’t it? It?
41:20 Brandon Idol
It’s all about that freeze dried ice cream. Yeah, I mean, what what could be cooler than, you know, getting to, you know, leave the terrestrial surface that we’re all adhere to, you know, 24 seven, and just get this broad picture of the world and and just see the, see the truth, you know, the scale of, you know, this is this is us like this is that we’re all on the same rock flying around. And to just have that, that perspective, and to see something from an angle where so few people get to see the world that they live on. I can’t imagine a cooler thing to just to go up and live in the ISS for a couple of months, I’m sure I’m sure it has its taxing moments. But man, what a What an amazing thing I would note of love to have had that opportunity. Who knows? I mean, with private space travel, like charging ahead as fast as it can. I mean, we might get there before I’m too old to enjoy it.
42:18 David Earnhardt
I was going to ask if you’ve booked your flight on virgin, Virgin Galactic, or any of the other, you should probably start saving.
42:32 Brandon Idol
Yeah, probably start saving up now. The kids don’t need a college fund, right? You can go to space.
42:40 David Earnhardt
Hey, well, thank you so much for being a part of the podcast and for sharing your expertise with us. I always like asking, you know, how, how our listeners can find out more about Valve?
43:27 Brandon Idol
Well, you can just go to ValveSoftware.com and we have all kinds of info there about the company and about the people that work there. And about, you know, what kinds of positions and and like we well, we don’t really hire for positions. But we look for disciplines. And what we call sort of T shaped people where people that have a very broad skill set level and interest level, but they go they can go really deep on one or two things. So they might dabble in coding and some animation, but they’re really going to go deep on, you know, modeling or texturing? or what have you art design. So you can go there and find out about the company and about what kinds of creative positions that we look for in technical positions that we look for, and are looking for actively. And we’re always looking for people like we don’t really hire specifically for a position we just hire creative talent. And that creativity can come in very technical ways, very artistic ways. But we’re always interested in talent. So yeah, check it out.
43:56 David Earnhardt
Well, thank you so much for being a part of the cool jobs podcast, hopefully going to be really great for our listeners. And you know, thanks for sharing your time and your expertise and your cool job. We’d really appreciate it. All right.
44:12 Brandon Idol
Well, thanks so much for having me on.
44:14 David Earnhardt
Thanks for listening to the cool jobs podcast, a service of the Career Center at UNC Asheville. Like what you heard, give us a like, share with your friends and subscribe. Next time we’ll be talking to Alex Mendez, certified dental technician, so be sure to check it out. See you next time.
My thoughts for the week Please consider sharing this link with students you know, for the North Carolina Covid Response Corps. These are Summer Internships with governmental and nonprofit agencies all over the state started in response to the sudden change in agency need as a result of the pandemic. As of now there are more than 60 opportunities for students to apply, and if selected, these experiences would be seen favorably to governmental/nonprofit agencies in the future should the student choose to participate.
Please also encourage students and community members to participate in NextFest: Pitch Edition this Thursday from 12-1pm. We have more than 20 local and regional organizations actively looking to hire! The event is super simple, employer sites pitch for 1 minute about their opportunities to those attending, then open up break-out rooms folks can join to learn more about applying. Pre-registration is required, and we hope to see a great crowd on Thursday!
Image Description Social Media Accessibility: Plain Language represented by a speech bubble, CamelCase Hashtags represented by a hashtag symbol, Image Descriptions represented by an icon of three people in a frame, Captioning & Audio represented by closed captioning & audio description icons, and Link Shorteners represented by the WWW abbreviation. | Mindy Johnson @min_d_j CC-BY-NC-ND
Acronyms and abbreviations are everywhere in education. For less character-sensitive social media, consider spelling out acronyms and abbreviations where possible. It’s also important to avoid jargon, academese, and insensitive language. This not only increases the cognitive accessibility of your posts, but creates a more welcoming and inclusive tone for your followers.
CamelCase (or PascalCase) is the practice of capitalizing the first letters of words in multiple-word hashtags. This not only helps screen readers distinguish the separate words in a hashtag, but also increases legibility for sighted people.
For example: #CamelCase or #TheMoreYouKnow rather than #notcamelcase or #themoreyouknow
Did you know? The official hashtag for accessibility is the numeronym #a11y! That’s because there are 11 characters between the A and the Y in the word “accessibility.”
Twitter mobile and web applications allow you to add descriptions to your images before you post them. So do Instagram and LinkedIn. Facebook and Instagram allow you to edit image descriptions after you post. When you can’t describe using alt text, include the image description in the post itself. Remember, text in images can’t be read by a screen reader!
Make sure the videos you’re linking to are captioned. If you’re creating your own videos, make sure to caption them before posting. It’s super easy! And if you really want to go the extra mile for accessibility, include audio descriptions for your video. Or better yet, when you create your video, make sure there are no elements in the video that require visual-only input. For example, read aloud any text in your video. Planning ahead is always better than retrofitting.
Link shortening services not only save you characters in your posts, but they help limit the raw characters a screen-reader has to read aloud. Customizing your short links can also help sighted followers remember the links you post. Putting URLs at the end of your posts is also good practice.
Social media tools and apps change daily. We can’t always keep up with each individual platform, but general accessibility guidance and awareness can help us make our posts (wherever we post) more accessible for our followers.