This month’s Alumni Spotlight features young alumnus Alex Kent ’10. Alex joined New Hampton School in the Fall 2005 as a freshman day student. Four years later he graduated Class of 2010 Valedictorian, and headed to Hobart College. While he currently works and lives in New York City, distance has failed to diminish his connection to Husky Nation as he serves as a Class Connector, is an enthusiastic Reunion Volunteer, met with current students during their visit to NYC during Project Week 2017, skyped with them during Project Week 2018, and much more.
Alex is passionate about his NHS experiences and how they helped to shape his adult life and, more specifically, his career path. As a successful young professional with 24/7 Wall St., a small financial and economic media company, he runs the analytics team, collaborating with writers to publish data-driven articles, as well as using data to inform the company’s business decisions.
We caught up with Alex to check in with him and ask a few questions about his mindful drive to remain connected with his school.
How did NHS prepare you for college and for life after college?
I was looking for a different educational opportunity for high school, and after visiting New Hampton School, it just felt right for me.
As a student at NHS, with teachers like Darren Redman and Jennifer Berry, I first began to understand what it means to think critically, to think creatively, to consider all possible approaches to solving a problem, and to use research to support my positions. I’ve always considered my mind to be my best asset, and New Hampton is where that asset started to mature. That said, thinking critically is only one piece of the puzzle. You also have to be able to explain your reasoning, both in writing and in conversations. My NHS experience was invaluable in that regard, and I believe it led to not only my success at Hobart, but in my career as well. I was extremely well prepared to leave NHS.
Talk about your journey to your current career choice and what you are doing in NYC?
I have been with 24/7 Wall St. since June 2014—just a couple weeks after I graduated. Initially I was writing articles, then I moved to support the editorial team’s data needs full-time, and now I work primarily on the business side. First and foremost, we’re a website; we make money when people come to our site to read our content and view ads. The ads they see are the result of an auction that takes place in an ad server. The way we structure that auction, who we allow to participate, what we know about the user, the subject of the article they’re reading—these are all the kinds of things that can impact the auction’s winning bid. That’s a lot of data to keep track of, particularly considering we track everything hourly. When you have that much data, you have to be able to store it and retrieve it quickly when you want to do analysis. The trouble was that none of the companies that do this kind thing got us what we wanted. So we set out to build what we wanted. Two years later, we have five pretty big clients and are about to roll out version 3 of the platform. We’re hoping this is just the start; our dreams are pretty big.
What are greatest challenges or obstacles in the work you are doing right now?
Time management is a big one. There’s always a long list of things I have to get out to clients or a co-worker, and those things take time. But we’re still a new company and spend a lot of time thinking creatively about new systems or new features we want to build. Those conversations always take more time and intellectual horsepower than you think. Working on a team can be hard, managing different skillsets and negotiating personalities. These are all challenges that NHS started preparing me for, but it can take a little while to develop effective strategies for dealing with them.
As much as I’d love to bury my head in a spreadsheet all day, there is a big interpersonal component to what I do, and building relationships has always been challenging for me. At NHS, everyone in the community had a base level of commonality—we were all Huskies—so that made it easier to make friends and build those connections. New York is a big city, and it’s often hard to find commonality between strangers, even if we work in the same industry.
Along those same lines, I’m regularly the youngest person in the meetings I walk into. That may not seem like a challenge, but it has a big effect on me mentally. People across the table from me sometimes have 10, 15, 20 years of experience in this industry to draw from, and may not want to listen to a 25-year old who claims to know something about data. That said, one of the nice things about this industry is that it changes so quickly; what was a fad 4 years ago was replaced with something new 2 years ago and will likely be outshined by something else tomorrow. So just because you’ve been in the industry for 20 years doesn’t mean you know more about what’s going on today than the kid you’re forced to meet with. That, at least, gives me some confidence.
What do you do in your “down” time?
I play a lot of pool, something I have done from an early age and also while I was a student at NHS. I play competitively four nights a week and sometimes travel to tournaments on the weekends. Pool’s a focus-intensive sport but it uses a different part of the brain than what I’m doing at work so I find it to be very relaxing. Many of the friends I’ve made in NYC are from playing pool. I mentioned that being social can be a challenge for me, pool has certainly helped in that regard, making a small town New Hampshire boy feel that the city is a bit smaller than it really is!
If I knew then what I know now…as it relates to current NHS students.
I think about this a lot. I always come back to the idea that each of us needs to create our own standards for what our “best” work is. We grow up in an educational system where the standards for success are often outside our control. For example, when a teacher gives you a set of requirements for some assignment, we know we did well if we get an “A”, and that we maybe didn’t live up to expectations if we get a lower grade. The evaluation of our efforts is out of our control. Once you are outside of school, that structure disappears. So I think it’s really valuable to take time to develop your own standards and seek your own validation that what you are doing meets those standards. As a consequence, that may mean that just getting A’s in school doesn’t define your best work. That’s something I wish I understood earlier.
Why is it important for you to stay connected to NHS? To fellow NHS alumni?
When I think about the places that shaped me intellectually, New Hampton School is that place. NHS is really where the ball moved the farthest down the field for me; I really value that. And I think that the School is doing a lot of really cool things in anticipation of future educational trends, and starting to be recognized nationally and internationally. Selfishly, it’s motivating for me to feel connected to those efforts. And my NHS classmates are still some of my closest friends, so it’s easy to stay in touch!
Why are you interested in being a resource and possibly mentor to young alumni and current students?
It’s something I never took advantage of as a younger student because I simply was not comfortable talking to people. I have recently begun some mentoring conversations with Hobart students. It’s great to see them excited about what they are learning and what they are doing with that knowledge. I get a lot out of these conversations as well.
I wish I had taken advantage of talking with alumni as an NHS student, to help me figure out what I wanted to do when I was younger. Now that I’m doing this ‘real-life thing’ and am coming from a place where I was extremely shy, I would love to be a resource for current students, to possibly help pull them out of their shell which certainly helps me as well. And it is another opportunity to give back to Husky Nation!