Greg Dotson: Engineering the Digital Classroom


Curious who’s hanging out behind the scenes at CreativeLive? Every week, in addition to profiling our incredible students, we also feature one of our brilliant co-workers in our staff profile series. From producers to editors to product engineers we are going to introduce you to the hardworking team that makes CreativeLive’s clock tick.

CreativeLive runs on a simple idea: get world-class talent in a studio, give them a microphone and broadcast it live for all of the Internet to see. The back-end engineering to make that idea come to life is anything but simple. Enter Greg Dotson. Greg is a Silicon Valley staple, having held engineering positions at start-ups including Unicru, Guru and Most recently he was CTO at Blurb, where he led their growth from startup phase into a global self-publishing platform, shipping over 2M books and eBooks annually to over 70 countries. Here’s a bit more about Greg.

What do you do at CreativeLive?

I’m the VP Engineering at CreativeLive. I’m responsible for driving the technology direction of the CreativeLive platform and recruiting our awesome technical staff of software and development operations engineers.

What inspired you to go into engineering?

My first hardcore programming class in Assembly really got me hooked on the nuances of what makes engineering such an interesting and challenging field. Software has always been a mixture of both technical know-how and creative problem solving that I love. I also like that you get to learn a lot about different fields of expertise in order to build applications for a particular space.

Why is your job hard? Why is your job rewarding?

Being at a fast-paced startup means you have to multi-task and prioritize constantly. Being a leader means you always have to look for what motivates individuals to do their best, give them the tools and resources to be successful, and then get out of the way.

The reward comes from the inspiring stories our students share about how our platform has changed their lives, and when I see people on our product teams stretch themselves to build great things.

What did you study in school?

Computer Science and Mathematics at Huntingdon College.

What was your first job and where else did you work before cL?

My first real job was at a BBQ restaurant when I was in high school. I learned a lot from that experience – the importance of customer service, doing things quickly, working on a team and most importantly, how to really smoke a pork shoulder to the right desired tenderness. I’ve designed and written applications for everything from helping civil engineers design dams to teaching medical students anatomy. I’ve worked more recently at early stage startups helping to build out the teams and platforms at places like Guru and Blurb.

Do you have creative hobbies?

I love to put my old school BBQ skills to use on my Big Green Egg. It’s always fun to try new recipes for smoked meats, pizza and even things like naan. I’m also a decent juggler.

Who or what inspires you in your creative endeavors?

My mother has always been very creative. She’s a prolific baker, seamstress and crafter. On the professional side, I’m consistently inspired by the great minds of Silicon Valley and the ability to invent new business models and disrupt old ones. That’s a big reason I’m here at CreativeLive.

Who is your favorite CreativeLive teacher and why?

Wow that’s a tough one because so many of our instructors are inspiring, but I would have to say John Greengo. His courses are so hands-on and packed with information, and he’s the hardest working person in photography education, which I really admire.

If you were a CreativeLive instructor, what would you teach?

Probably either pie baking or HiveQL.

What’s the strangest/most awesome thing you’ve ever done in a job?

When I first move to San Francisco 15 years ago, I wrote a custom parser to convert a CD-ROM medical encyclopedia in to HTML that enabled a new business model in content syndication for my company. It’s still in use today, which is pretty cool to stumble across every now and then.

Where do you see education going in the future?

Education is a life-long journey. I always tell people that your skill set is your best job security, and platforms like CreativeLive make that a reality. Education is becoming increasingly self-taught, not just for those wanting to shift careers but for those wanting to deepen their knowledge in their chosen field. Our approach to making quality instruction accessible and engaging is going to continue to evolve as the continuing shifts in technology drive change, making it even more mobile and connected.


What’s your favorite family tradition?

Every year my wife and our two daughters shop for a holiday tree on my birthday. I love it because it is something we started when our oldest was really young, and it is the perfect way to end a birthday.

Most life-changing (non-CreativeLive) class you’ve ever taken?

I took a class on public speaking that was incredibly instructive in getting me to focus on the most important things your audience needs to know when addressing them. It really helped me prepare for speaking events going forward and have the confidence to become a better presenter and communicator.

What do you do with CL’ers outside the office?

We usually spend our down time enjoying the wonderful food and spirits in San Francisco and Seattle – two of the most awesome food towns on the planet. And occasionally bowling.

Topher Kelly FOLLOW >

Topher Kelly is a San Francisco-based freelance writer and editor at CreativeLive. Follow Topher on Twitter@Topher_LIVE.