An interview with Andrew Cross, President of Global Research and Development at Vizrt Group (USA).
— When and where were you born, and who were your parents?
I was born in the UK, in Guilford. It is just west of London. When I was six months old, I moved to Luxembourg because my father worked for the European Commission. I actually only lived in England for the first six months of my life.
— Where did you go to school?
They had an international school in Luxembourg for the children of people who worked for the EC institutions. I graduated in Luxembourg, and then I went to study physics in the UK. I also did a Ph.D. at the University of York.
— Why did you choose this subject?
My first degree was in computational physics. I chose it because my passion has always been computers and how to use them to do “real things”. Computational physics allowed me to study physics but also apply computing to it. For my Ph.D., I researched Computer Vision and Artificial Intelligence. Obviously, my love for graphics and computers is what drove this, and it has become the cornerstone of what I do today.
— What was your first job?
This is an interesting story. I have always loved 3D and computer graphics, so I would work on my individual projects every evening while doing my Ph.D. I started selling some of these online in the very early days of the internet. I gave away the first one for free but said, “if you like it, send me $10 in the mail.” For years, I was getting sent $10 through the mail in different currencies from all around the world. I did this for two or three years while I was doing my Ph.D. I would take them to the bank each weekend and put them in my account. Given that I would go in with $10 in all sorts of different currencies from all around the world, I am sure they probably thought I had to be doing some kind of illegal business!
— Where did you work after you got your Ph.D.?
After my Ph.D., I was looking for a job. Purely by luck, I met the founder of NewTek, Tim Jenison, while I was in California. This is how I got my first real job. And I am still there! I still work for the very first company I went to work for. That is very rare.
— What was your first position in this company?
I started as a software engineer. One thing led to another, and here I am over twenty years later.
— Where do you live now?
I live in San Antonio, Texas, where the NewTek headquarters are.
— Was moving to Texas a shock for you? Was it very different?
The weather was a huge difference. But when we have sun for over 200 days a year, it is hard to miss English weather. This is a beautiful city, very international and multicultural. It is a great place, and I like it very much. I am sure that most people’s view of “what Texas is” does not match San Antonio.
— How did your career in this company develop?
I took up leadership on a few of the first projects we were working on. I believe I was promoted to VP of engineering. Then, I became the CTO. For a long time, the owner and the CEO asked me to step up and take a bigger role, but I chose not to. I chose to stay in technology. After they tried to persuade me for about five years, I decided I would help them run the whole of NewTek. I became the President and ran the whole company until we were acquired by Vizrt a couple of years ago. Here, I am very lucky to be running a brilliant R&D organization that spans three continents.
— What is the environment and culture like in your company?
At NewTek, even when we grew, we always thought of ourselves as a startup. We were founded by an engineer. So, we always believed that engineers were the key to our work. Creating great innovation, new ideas, and trying new and exciting things has always been part of our culture.
From the beginning of NewTek, we always saw our goal as something more than just making the next version of products. We see our role to innovate and move the market forward for everybody. That has driven us from the beginning and still exists today. What’s great about Vizrt Group as a whole is that the same attitude and desire to create and innovate run through all our companies. I am very proud of this culture, and I think it makes us a great place to work.
— What have been the main achievements in your career?
I am proud of what we did to create the TriCaster at NewTek. It is easy to look at TriCaster today and think of similar products. But if you go back 15 years when we started this product, there was no such thing as web streaming, using a single computer to create and mix video. Our vision with TriCaster was to make the production of live video easy for everybody. 15 years ago, this was not the norm. I think we created something that changed the industry in a way that maybe not everyone sees today. A huge part of the live video revolution goes back to what we pushed for 15 years ago. I feel very proud of that.
I think we played a big role in increasing accessibility for anyone who wants to create live content. When you look at live content on YouTube, Facebook, and others, this exists because the tools to do it were made accessible – something that I think we helped drive. Indeed, we had the very first prototype of video streaming on a computer network 20 years ago. There was no CDN or even web-players in browsers; this drive helped shape the way video is used today.
— What do you like to do outside of work?
This might be embarrassing, but I love my work and what I do. I love making products that make it easier for people to work in video. What’s better than this? I am lucky to work in one of the coolest areas one can work in and I have one of the best jobs in it. I also like doing things with my kids, and I love swimming, walking, and hiking. But the reality is, I love what I do. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t still be doing it.
— Where did you meet your wife?
I met my wife while I was doing my degree, who was an exchange student from France! Today she works as a translator.
— How many children do you have?
I’ve got two beautiful daughters that are the best thing that’s ever happened to me.