Avi Swerdlow (Class of 2006)
What are you doing now? How did you get here?
I'm currently a product manager at Google. My path here hasn't been the most typical one. While most product managers come from a business or engineering background, I started my career on the creative side of the film industry. While those two paths might seem disconnected, I think they are linked for me in the following way: I enjoy pulling talented teams of people together to build things that could make a difference.
In high school, that manifested in me teaming up with friends to make short films, which continued throughout college, where I ended up running Brandeis' television station. I enjoyed doing this so much that I decided to head out to LA one summer to do an internship in the film industry. I learned while I was out there about film and television producers, and that more or less lined up with what I had been doing on these creative projects up until this point. After college, I applied and was accepted into the University of California School of Cinematic Arts Peter Stark Producing Program, which catapulted me into the world of creative development in Hollywood.
I found the creative aspect of film and television, especially the pursuit to find new ideas, to be thrilling. But as time went on, I found myself even more fascinated by companies like Netflix, Amazon, and Google who were creating amazing experiences for the audience by positioning themselves at the intersection of technology and storytelling.
After a bit of soul searching, I realized that I had become more interested in innovation than storytelling; in other words, I was more interested in changing the way stories are told rather than simply telling stories. I was able to find a really neat role on a Research & Development team at the Walt Disney Company working on disrupting innovation in storytelling, distribution and creative production. My producing skill-set served me well in the R&D world, which, like a film set, is often filled with a lot of ambiguity and requires a lot of creativity and vision.
The further I got into the world of tech, the more I enjoyed it. A couple of months ago, I decided to venture outside of entertainment and see if I would enjoy life at a big tech company. So far, I'm really enjoying it.
How did Weber help set you on your path?
I think there are two ways of answering this question. On a very practical level, Weber stoked my passion for film-making at a critical time in my life. Dr. Chalmers, who used to run the technology education department, recognized my interest in storytelling, and went out of his way to empower me to learn everything I could about it. He spent more of his budget than he should have on buying cameras, and editing equipment for me and a group of friends to make some (admittedly terrible) short films. I'll always be really grateful for that.
Weber also instilled in me a sense of curiosity, which I think drives a lot of my decision making. I think this was instilled into me by the faculty, administration and my peers.
What was special about Weber?
The culture is certainly very special. After speaking to my friends (who attended other schools), they hated high school. I realize now that my high school was a unique experience. The people and their personalities were really special. Ms. Vann, Rabbi Baker, and Sim truly cared, were passionate and were willing to foster these interests that all of us had.
How did Weber inform your Jewish Life today?
Just as Weber gave me the confidence to be curious, it also gave me the confidence to be Jewish and be proud of being Jewish. I transferred to Weber after going to public school. Weber cemented my feelings about being Jewish, that I liked being Jewish, and it was okay to ask questions about Judaism and be in an environment that allowed for different opinions.
What were your favorite Weber moments?
I loved Shabbaton at Ramah. Another special moment was being at our teachers' wedding at Ramah. Ellie Klein and Dan Finkel invited all of the students, which is not something that happens at other schools. This is really unique and underscored what a community was for me.
As an alum, what advice would you give to recent Weber graduates?
Learn to listen to what you are passionate about. Be confident in following what you are curious about. It will lead to good places.