Beyond the Parquet | Bill Ramos
Bill Ramos - Director, Digital Development & InnovationInterview with McKenzie Pezze
Hometown: Blackstone, MA
What made you get into digital media? Is that something you wanted to do from the start?
I grew up on the computer. My dad was a programmer and owned a software company when I was growing up. The first time I ever did any "programming" - if you can call it that - was when I was in elementary school. There was an old game called Lemmings on Microsoft DOS that we had on 3.5" floppy disks. I ended up messing around with the game's files and somehow opened the code of the game and changed some letters and numbers, which led me to learn how to change the colors of the game. For Christmas that year I changed the colors of the game to Christmas colors and gave the disk to my dad. Throughout my time at college (Quinnipiac University) where I earned degree in video production, I needed to make a few bucks on the side. I worked as the student webmaster for the Athletic department. It was a mix of programming and video production that helped foster my skills early in my career.
It sounds like you took a liking to a few different parts of the digital area, what parts of the job excite you?
Mostly everything I know is self-taught. I am a huge nerd who writes code for a living. I know there is a way to do pretty much anything with technology. The best projects are the ones where someone comes to me with an idea, and though I know it's possible, I don't know exactly how to execute it yet. The coolest part of my job is not knowing how to do something and learning how to do it as I build toward an end goal. I mess up and break things along the way, but adding new skills to my toolkit from project to project makes all the mess ups add up to a well-rounded technical toolkit.
Your first job with the Celtics was an Interactive Production Assistant - what did that entail & how did you land that first job?
My job at first was simply to click a button and approve fans' comments in our GameTime Live chat during games. For that whole first season I clicked that button and clicked that button and clicked that button some more. I kept asking my boss at the time, Peter Stringer, what more I could do to help the team out. Peter threw me a few things to code and my responsibilities grew from there.
I got that first job by being persistent. I went to a pre-season game with my grandfather and sat all the way up in the Rafters. I had just graduated from Quinnipiac with my video production degree. I saw someone walking around with a camera and walked up to him to figure out how he got his job. He mentioned he started as an intern with Kara Keena. From there I started to call the Celtics daily and introduce myself to everyone I could. I hit Kara with probably 100 different communications, and she finally connected me with my former boss who had an open role.
Was it always sports for you? Did you have another industry you worked or wanted to work in?
My mom grew up as a huge Celtics fan, having grown up in Boston. She and her family would watch Bird, Parish & McHale in the 70s & 80s. She grew up during a time where everybody watched the Celtics day-in and day-out. She is the one who made me a huge fan.
After that pre-season game with my grandfather, my mind was set on working for the Celtics. I saw the opportunity at that game and just went for it, even though the open positions weren't necessarily in video. I saw that digital position and knew I could find a way to make my skills fit the role.
Your career had a few different twists and turns before sticking with the Celtics long term, what was that like?
I started as a junior editor at a production company right next to the Citgo sign in Kenmore Square. I cut footage into smaller clips for the tenured producers/editors above me to make professional videos and commercials. Some of the clips I cut made their way into commercials for Dunkin Donuts and the Mystic Aquarium.
Then came my part-time gig as the Interactive Production Assistant with the Celtics. At the end of that season, though, the NBA headed into a lockout and there weren't any open full-time positions to be had. My boss Peter put in a call to the Phoenix Suns where they were hiring for a Digital Creative Specialist. I got that job and worked for Jeramie McPeek in their Digital department. After a year in the Valley of the Sun I got a call from my former boss about a job opening up at the Celtics. Peter asked if I wanted to come back full-time. Of course I wanted to come back!
Spending time with those other organizations really made me appreciate the familial and supportive culture the Celtics have. That was something I didn't realize until I wasn't in it.
Would you do it all again?
Oh yeah, absolutely. I say that because I learned some valuable things at each stop that help me now. When I was working more with content, I was able to use the skills I learned as a video producer/student to help produce videos, run cable for live events, etc. I can still edit pieces and create video assets for our livestreams even though it isn't my primary focus. Freelance stuff helped me learn best practices for editing and exporting video. I know the jargon for the content, creative and video world so when someone needs something specific, I know what I'm talking about.
Another invaluable piece of information I learned throughout my experience is to foster positive office relationships and understand why they matter so much. Taking the time to understand the learning styles, communication methods and motivations of your colleagues can really help you build meaningful personal and professional connections. I find that the more you connect, it becomes easier and easier to work as a team and meet business objectives together.
So, what exactly does your title mean?
My title - Director of Digital Development & Innovation can be split into two core (and obvious) pieces. First is Digital Development.
Digital development is the nitty gritty of what I do day-in and day-out. It includes programming, setting up infrastructure on our digital platforms (website and app) and deploying code to live environments.
The second piece, Innovation, has me focusing on ways to use those digital assets to solve business needs in a unique way while providing data to our internal stakeholders and external partners such as our corporate partners.
What is your best off-court memory and on-court memory?
Off-court: Every year I help to put together the pitch website/app that we send out to free agent prospects. I am completely behind the scenes during this process, but it's very cool to be on the inside. Helping in just that small way makes me feel like I'm part of the process that brought in guys in like Gordon Hayward and Kemba Walker. I know it's not really true, but I can say to myself, "They came here because of something I helped do!" I'm a fan first and foremost, so experiences like that are really awesome.
On-court: Isaiah Thomas' 53-point game in the 2016-17 Playoffs was probably the coolest moment that I experienced live. For that night, the city had totally embraced him, and he turned out for the city. The Garden was electric.
What does it mean to you to work for the Boston Celtics?
The cool thing is, I truly feel like I am part of the Celtics - like, a part of the team. I know it's really the guys on the basketball roster, sure. But as an organization I feel like the Celtics do an excellent job of making everyone feel like they are a part of that team.
I'm a programmer, but I never lose sight of the fact that I'm working in sports. Every day is different, and all my projects aren't typical programming stuff; they're centered on things I care about. My job makes me feel like I make a difference and it helps support the business.
Do you have any tips of advice for those just getting used to working from home?
Starting off is tough. Building and reinforcing the self-discipline to be effective is tough. I would try to have the same routine every morning. Get dressed as if you were going to the office to help make that part of the day feel different from your home life. Taking time to get up and walk around is big. It is easy to get sucked into the screen and it's important to get away from that. I go say hi to my son, Lincoln, hang out with him for a bit then get back to my screen.
Figuring out my schedule with my wife, Coe, is another piece of the puzzle. We have to figure out how to watch Lincoln and work at the same time since she's also now working from home. Having a schedule and sticking to it is important. Being able to disconnect and be done to separate business and home life is huge, you have to keep that divided.
In closing, as a Celtics fan yourself, how have you been channeling your inner fan during the unprecedented time we are currently facing?
Highlight clips are life. I haven't watched any full games yet but I go on YouTube and check out player highlights from time to time. Watching highlights of Jayson and Jaylen's breakout seasons has been great. Marcus Smart defense-only compilations are surprisingly rewarding (especially that game in December 2017 where he drew those two offensive fouls on James Harden to steal the game in the final seconds).
Reliving moments from the past helps - Big 3 highlights, IT highlights, etc. For younger fans there are some awesome recent history moments to go back and watch. With so much history here, there is so much to go back to and learn about. It's really sweet being a C's fan.