Alumni Update: Rob Rubinoff ’94, Interactive Director at Mad Genius
Posted on September 2, 2011
Rob Rubinoff ’94, Interactive Director at Mad Genius (Jackson, MS) talks about how Anthropology influenced his life and work in the field of advertising, media, and technology, and why he has a commitment to bridging the digital divide.
Why do you think you majored in anthropology at Wheaton?
At first it was the subject matter. I grew up in Miami, FL which during my lifetime had transformed from a mainly Anglo town to an amazingly heterogeneous mix of Latin and Caribbean peoples. In addition, I had always enjoyed learning about non-western civilizations, societies, kingdoms, tribes, clans and the like. When I found out there was a whole niche of the academic world devoted to studying what makes people from different corners of the world unique AND alike, I jumped in with both feet.
As my studies progressed, my brain started firing when I focused on the cool cultural practices that come about when cultures collide. As a double major (Anthropology & Religion) I had a wonderful opportunity to take a peek at how one expression of culture, religion, often demonstrates what are often called syncretisms. Santeria and the Shetani religious expressions were some of the most intriguing subjects for me.
Where did that major lead you after graduation?
Soon after graduation from Wheaton, I found myself fulfilling a life long dream to live overseas. It just so happened I was able to live and work in an area of the work I had studied about extensively - Tanzania. I hooked up with an NGO out of Washington D.C. that helped volunteers secure housing and work in Moshi, Tanzania where I spent the next two years of my life. I can’t tell you how cool it was for me personally to put into practice all the tools and methodologies I had learned at Wheaton. It took me about 3 months to even begin to know what the heck was going on (I told a Tea room full of people “I want Tea, I don’t have lactating breasts”), but I settled in and was able to help work on an important project for the Cooperatives that aimed at helping them become more competitive in a rapidly globalized economy. During my second year, I was hired to author a report that investigated the effects of coffee market liberalization on the small scale coffee farmers of Kilimanjaro Region. It was an exciting, challenging and tremendously rewarding period of my life. Anthropology helped point me in that direction.
Why did you go into the field you work in now?
I currently am the Interactive Director at a wonderful Advertising & Branding Agency in Jackson, MS. I started to become interested in technology with the rise of the Internet age in the latter part of the 90’s. While completing an M.A. in International Studies at the University of Miami, I started investigating the intersection of Technology and Globalization - especially as it pertained to LDC’s, and Sub Saharan Africa in particular. I started teaching myself some web design and web development skills on my own time and before long was building websites for friends and family. My real break came when I was hired as an Information Architect by a web consulting firm focused on helping US firms take advantage of Latin American opportunities afforded them by the Web.
What do you like about your work?
The landscape upon which I ply my trade is ever advancing and changing. For someone who loves to learn, I have ample opportunities to push myself intellectually each and every day. I especially enjoy looking at business and marketing problems and developing innovative and creative solutions. I also love that in my world, I advocate for the people that use the things I make.
Do you think you bring an "anthropological eye" to the way you help a firm conceptualize a website or make use of software?
Oh most definitely! It’s actually a hidden Ace of Spades I’m able to bring to the table in the business world. At a basic level, I routinely utilize the rational thinking and methodological frameworks I learned about as an Anthropology major. On a more specific level, a lot of the activities I lead during projects are focused on organizing information and functionality in such a way that enables sometimes very different audiences to fulfill needs and reach goals on a website in as few clicks as possible.
What about the future?
I’m really excited about all the innovation that’s occurring on the technology and mobile fronts when it comes to the developing world, especially East Africa. Kenya in particular has been a key development center in mobile banking and the crowd-sourcing of real-time reporting and data sharing during critical events via inexpensive technology (mobile phones). You can checkout an example created to deal with the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti.
The Web enables interested people like me to engage with and contribute towards projects without having to get an updated Yellow Fever vaccine. Although I can’t tell the future, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if I was engaged in the mobile and web technology front for the developing world in some shape or fashion in the years to come.