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Kylee Peña Alumni Spotlight

Kylee Peña (MAS, 2009) has accomplished a great deal in the field of Media Arts and Sciences in the short time since her graduation. She is the Coordinator of the Creative Technologies team at Netflix in Los Angeles, California, and co-President of the non-profit organization Blue Collar Post Collective. Peña generously spent time telling us of her career path to Netflix, her important work supporting emerging talent in the post production field, and the path that brought her to SoIC.

“I was interested in computers as early as I can remember,” says Peña. “I used to ride my bike to a library to use the internet and check out books on HTML! We got our first home computer in 1998, and I immediately went to work digging into the technical side to fuel creative projects. A year or so later, my parents gave me a video camera. And I had been a Drama Club nerd since birth, too. All these things converged into a love of video production: acting out stories and trying to make them work creatively and technically – long before easy streaming export presets and platforms like YouTube existed!” This convergence ended up leading her to the Human-Centered Computing program at SoIC. “IUPUI appealed to me because of the location and the combination of video and computing. I knew I would need to do internships to be successful in the industry, and staying in my small town wasn’t an option because there weren’t any production companies. Going to a school in Indianapolis offered me a lot of options for interning, working my way through school (at the Indianapolis Zoo, an amazing workplace for a student), and living in different neighborhoods. It seemed to me like a strong technical background was going to be important for creating a strong career baseline, so the School of Informatics’ curriculum stood out to me.”

Her training, hard work and ambition eventually landed her at Netflix. Peña remembers: “I came to work for Netflix like I got every other opportunity in the industry: networking, preparation, and good timing. I’m very involved in the community and attend or participate in industry events whenever possible. The not-so-secret to success: these events aren’t just for adding LinkedIn connections, they’re for developing real relationships. People are people, not commodities, and they want to hire people they like who are also incredibly good at their jobs.” Her current position is Coordinator of the Creative Technologies team. “The Creative Technologies team advocates for best practices and high production standards, evolves the tools and craft of motion picture production, and ensures that Netflix Originals achieve the optimal viewing experience and greatest longevity possible. In short, if it’s a technology that is used by creatives – on set, in post, in the machine room, anywhere – we work with it, including researching, evaluating, educating, and developing best practices and standards relating to all this technology,” Peña explains. “I help to project manage the team and bring cohesion to all these projects all happening simultaneously.”

Peña is passionate about providing support to new talent emerging in her field, and one of the ways she provides this support is through her role as co-President of the Blue Collar Post Collective. “Blue Collar Post Collective is a grassroots non-profit organization that seeks to support emerging talent in post production. It’s the only non-profit that works for this underserved group, which consists of a far more diverse body of individuals than are generally seen in more traditionally visible positions. That’s because underrepresented people are less likely to be able to do a lot of unpaid work or less likely to benefit from casual mentorship from people who look like them. They work swing shift and overnights, so they can’t take advantage of workshops that happen during evenings through the week – if they can even afford them, since they’re paid less, too! So they struggle through early-to-mid career and tend to leave the industry in much greater numbers. BCPC breaks all these barriers and tries to open the door wider for everyone through regular meet-ups in several cities, lots of online activity especially on Facebook, and free educational events. We also have a charitable program called the Professional Development Accessibility Program, which sends lower income professionals to important industry events where they belong.” Peña has not only helped lead this organization for the past several years, she has overseen its tremendous growth as well, with membership numbers rising from 4,000 to over 12,000 members during her tenure as co-President. “I helped to bring the organization to Los Angeles from its roots in New York and grew it to London and Adelaide, Australia… Working with emerging talent is important to me because my “emerging” years were especially hard. I was underpaid, overworked, and often directionless. Being from the midwest and from a blue collar upbringing, I didn’t have connections in the industry or a clear path. And I had a tremendous amount of privilege to leverage.”

Peña’s work with BCPC illustrates her excitement about the students and recent graduates who make up the future workforce in Media Technology. “Earlier this year, I participated in a career day event with SMPTE (Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers) and got a chance to hang out with graduating seniors across Southern California,” Peña remembers. “I was amazed at the kinds of questions they were asking me about media and technology because they were looking at angles I had never considered. They demonstrated an interest and empathy in people and the environment that is not common in the industry. They acknowledged the social responsibility of storytellers and those who enable them – because stories can unite us and expose us to so many perspectives and change the world. For like a hundred years, the majority of people in control of above AND below-the-line jobs have all looked the same and thought the same. This hasn’t been changing quickly enough, but we’re beginning to see a potential tipping point. The world is better for it.” She also shared one final piece of advice for our students: “Remember: a college education is only one part of a successful career. You’ve got lots more to do, and you won’t accomplish it alone. Find your team and get to work.”