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Don Marinelli on Driving Technology in the Entertainment Industry

Don Marinelli has always been fascinated by the imaginary worlds created in entertainment, from theme parks to video games. Merging his interests in entertainment and technology, he cofounded the Carnegie Mellon Entertainment Technology Center, which he led for 31 years until his retirement in 2012.

Marinelli couldn’t stay retired for long, however, and his expertise led him to Columbia University where currently he is a lecturer, mentor, and Associate Director for the Executive Master of Science in Technology Management program’s Entertainment Technology Management area of focus. He spoke with us about his unique background, how the Technology Management program prepares students for a changing industry and the “experience economy.”

Can you tell me a little bit about the Entertainment Technology Management area of focus?

The Entertainment Technology Management area of focus encompasses the technological innovation in software and hardware affecting all manner of entertainment, edutainment, social media, and interdisciplinary initiatives. We live in an age where ‘experience’ has become a commodity, something sought and paid for by consumers in the same way they used to pay for traditional goods and services. Speaking specifically, Entertainment Technology Management looks at the various dimensions of existence made available by technology. These include virtual worlds, augmented reality, alternative reality, and the physical world of themed and location-based entertainment.

Tell me about your background in Entertainment Technology. What kind of real-world experience are you bringing to the curriculum?

For me personally, the route into entertainment technology was rather linear. I started as an actor. That was what I wanted to be my entire youth. I loved becoming other people experiencing situations and challenges I would most likely never encounter in my natural world. This expanded into theme park experiences fueled by a love of travel and visits to historical sites. In the mid-1990s I became interested in video games and the imaginary worlds they brought to life. This led to my crossing over from the Carnegie Mellon School of Drama to the School of Computer Science. While there I met and befriended Randy Pausch, author of the famous Last Lecture. He and I went on to establish the Carnegie Mellon Entertainment Technology Center (ETC). The ETC became a leader in this new field of entertainment technology. After I retired from Carnegie Mellon after a 31-year career, Columbia ‘made me an offer I couldn't refuse.’ I am excited now to focus on the managerial aspects of this now established industry.

How does the Entertainment Technology Management area of focus fit into the Technology Management graduate program overall?

Entertainment Technology Management is a natural extension of Technology Management in that the software and hardware developments that have made this a new discipline have application in practically all other areas of commerce and industry. Furthermore, in a world highlighted by the desire for an Experience Economy and the rise of creative classes, entertainment applications of technology have become ubiquitous and often indicate a visionary approach to problem solving for traditional industry.

How is the Entertainment Technology Management area of focus curriculum different from an M.B.A. or other comparable graduate programs?

The Entertainment Technology Management area of focus is rather unique. Most other academic programs in this field are for entry-level aspirants seeking to learn game programming, storytelling, animation skills, post-production, or other specific skill sets. Very few of these programs focus on how to manage these individuals, how to synergize them, and how to take advantage of advancements in the entertainment industry to further existing business. This degree also continues the Technology Management focus on an individually tailored program, one that focuses on the student’s specific area of interest and desires. And, icing on the cake, all while continuing the student’s current employment.

Anything else you'd like to add?

The program’s mentor component includes myriad individuals who have established careers in the entertainment and interactive digital media industries. Between my teaching colleague, Joe Pine, myself, the breadth of Tech Management instructors, and the Columbia mentor network, the student in Entertainment Technology Management is guaranteed a first-class, relevant education.