By Katy Nally

Meet Brandon, our very own Picasso of PowerPoint

Image by Guangyi Li

What do Hawaii, Gears of War, and PowerPoint all have in common? They’ve shaped Brandon Conboy into the designer he is today.

Though he’s a Seattle native, Brandon grew up with close ties to both Hawaii and Guam. As a kid, he flew to Oahu several times each year to visit his grandparents. It’s where he learned to keep a mellow head— as his dad calls it—and the value of being calm and collected. That cool, island attitude would come in handy as Brandon carved out his fast-paced, multi-faceted design career.

At Washington State University, Brandon earned his first bachelor’s degree, this one in fine arts, allowing him to continue dabbling in all things design—from photography to illustration. When he graduated, Brandon landed a dream gig doing quality control for the Xbox game Gears of War. As a game tester, he honed his eye for graphical issues like incorrect textures in backgrounds. While the job satisfied his love of video games, it didn’t push his design skills as much as he had hoped.

Brandon made the courageous move to return to WSU for a second bachelor’s degree—this time in digital technology and culture. He even asked the dean to overload his schedule so he could graduate faster. After graduation, Brandon landed at Silver Fox and got his first glimpse into the world of corporate presentations.

When his colleague—who went on to design Satya Nadella’s presentations—showed him the possibilities of PowerPoint, “it was like watching someone play piano,” he said. In no time, his own PowerPoint skills went from zero to 60, as he provided round-the-clock design support at Microsoft conferences. Brandon loved the life of an event-bound designer, traveling once a month to work on-site and cashing in on perks like front-row seats to see Macklemore.

By the time he reached 2A, Brandon was a PowerPoint pro with a sharp eye for design and the ability to stay cool while juggling multiple projects. When asked what are his favorite kinds of assets to work on, Brandon reflects, “I enjoy projects that allow me to create custom graphics, such as key art and cover images; decks and blog posts give me a chance to create something interesting.”

These days, you can find Brandon lending his creative eye to projects ranging from everything to social cards and eBooks as well as PowerPoint and blog posts. Looking for a design experience that brings calm to the chaotic, look no further than Brandon Conboy!

By Forsyth Alexander

Image of Ryan with a mountain and cruise ship in the background

Image by Brandon Conboy

“I didn’t want to get complacent.”

Ryan Walsh was working as a client services analyst for a financial firm in 2014. He enjoyed asset management and helping customers, his earnings statements were solid, and he had plenty of time off. Many financial analysts in his position would have cruised along, enjoying the good life. But not Ryan. It was time to change things up before complacency set in.

And that’s how he and his wife ended up in Seattle, he as an MBA student and she in the speech pathology program, all part of a new adventure that would eventually lead him to 2A.

Choose your own adventure

Ryan comes by this sense of adventure naturally. When he was young, his mother struck out on a new path with her own medical transcription company, and Ryan learned a lot from her. His love of new and daring experiences plays out in every aspect of his life. It includes enjoying video games full of quests and excursions, and not only trying the different foods available in Seattle with his wife, but also introducing some of it to his two-year-old son. He and his family also take walks all around Seattle just to see what’s out there. Then, there’s his excitement over cutting-edge technology like IoT, digital twinning, and augmented reality (AR).

But his interest in technology is focused on how it can help people and customers. For example, he recently told me, “IoT is an incredibly exciting field – the use cases I’ve seen in my short time here have been incredibly varied, seemingly limitless, and have the potential to solve so many problems and improve people’s health, experiences, and lives.”

“Don’t just stand there, say nice things to me”

This quote from “Push,” by Matchbox Twenty, one of Ryan’s favorite bands, sums up how Ryan took his innate ability to relate to customers and their problems and applied it to his career. With MBA in hand, he embarked on a great adventure with a cruise line. He helped with the launches of the line’s iOS and Android mobile apps, co-branded credit card, gift card program, flight sales tool, and immersive cruises. He also designed and implemented organization-wide customer feedback management capabilities, including improving a web feedback program so that they could research and adjust ways of working based on customer expectations and needs.

When COVID-19 hit in 2020, Ryan led a cross-functional voice of the customer (VoC) team to understand how COVID-19 affected customer behavior and sentiment. This included researching booking, purchase behavior and willingness to travel. He also examined pain points, trends, opportunities, and potential business drivers. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic eventually became too much for the cruise industry.

Welcome aboard, Ryan!

You can’t keep an adventure seeker like Ryan down. In June 2020, he said bon voyage to the cruise line and joined 2A as an embedded consultant, serving as the business manager for two different sales teams in the Microsoft IoT organization. He’s thriving in this role. “I’m assisting the field with reporting and insights, helping drive process and organizational transformation, documenting and communicating best practices so we can better serve our partners, and identifying compelling ways to tell our IoT story. Most of the time, we’re working on 20 different things, and I have to ruthlessly prioritize. I get to identify what’s most impactful and work on that.”

At 2A, we’re glad to have our modern-day Indiana Jones aboard as he designs great adventures for his IoT teams at Microsoft.

By Forsyth Alexander

Back to the future, Part Lin

Image by Rachel Sacks

2A embedded consultant Lin Martinez’s three favorite movies are Back to the Future, Parts 1, 2, and 3. How she ended up at 2A has an intriguingly similar storyline. Lin came to the U.S. from Colombia when she was 27. In 2008, she started working for a Microsoft vendor, happily collaborating with clients on clear scopes of work and then focusing on projects. In an interesting twist of fate, she met Renato Agrella, future 2A founder and partner. They bonded over their shared Latin American connection and established a friendly, professional relationship because they kept bumping into each other at events.

During this time, she also met Laura Templeton. Laura is now an ace 2A consultant, but in those days, she was a Microsoft consultant. Laura hired Lin for her contracts, and Lin switched projects. Little did Renato, Lin, or Laura know at the time what this would mean for Lin’s future.

Time for dancing in the streets—or the YMCA

Lin loves music, especially Juanes, Shakira, and Carlos Diva, and she also loves dancing. In a recent conversation, she told me about how, in Colombia, every holiday is celebrated with dancing and music. “In Colombia, we start the party in the day, and before long, everyone is dancing—sometimes in the street—and it doesn’t stop until very early in the next morning, after people run out of energy,” she told me.

So, when a move to California offered an opportunity to use her love of music and dancing in her career, she grabbed it. As a wellness coach in Redwood City, she learned Zumba, became an instructor, threw her heart and soul into healthy living, and began teaching senior fitness classes. This path led her to a role at the YMCA of Silicon Valley, which took her right back to Washington. There she became the Healthy Living supervisor in 2017 and the Director of Health and Wellness at the Greater Seattle YMCA in August 2020. Then, COVID-19 hit.

Making her way back to you, 2A

Running a health and wellness program during a pandemic became pretty much impossible, and the YMCA cut back on staff. But nothing keeps Lin down for long. Throughout her career changes, she had kept in touch with Renato. When he learned she was in the job market again, he offered her a position at 2A. That’s how she ended up back with Laura and back at Microsoft, helping its Dynamics 365 partner team tell stories through customer successes.

“It was amazing. I didn’t meet anyone in person, and I still haven’t, but we get things done anyway,” she says.

Her positive attitude: Es más fuerte, es más fuerte

In Juanes’s hit, Me Enamora, he sings, “Es más fuerte, es más fuerte,” which translates as “it’s much stronger, it’s much stronger.” This describes Lin’s positive attitude perfectly. When the pandemic kept her from her usual health and wellness routine, she found new joy in walking her dogs, Pinky and Hannah, on a trail near her house. Pinky and Hannah are never far from her side—sometimes you can see them in conference calls—and they keep her grounded and smiling.

“You never know what the future might hold. But if you work hard, help people, and enjoy what you do, something good will always be waiting around the corner,” Lin says. 2A couldn’t agree more—it was great that Lin was waiting around the corner to come “back to the future” and join us right when we needed her.

By Kelly Schermer

A rallying cry for case studies

Image by Brandon Conboy

At my house, pillow talk includes the future of driver-less cars and basic income,” says Tracey Whitten. In one quote, 2A’s program manager in charge of customer stories pretty well sums up her passion for technology and her activist approach to storytelling. It’s a rare combination that’s a serious boon for our clients when it comes to crafting the best story for case studies of all sizes and shapes. (And, trust us, each case study is its own special snowflake.)

Tracey’s got an unquenchable thirst for stories that started long ago. Even before joining 2A, she used interviews to broaden her understanding of those around her and the process of writing to sharpen and share her own ideas. From a journal to a blog, from classwork to her everyday job, Tracey relies on the basic tenets of storytelling to learn what makes others take action socially, politically, and financially—which is exactly what we need to get to the heart of every case study.

In college, Tracey earned a degree in organizational communications and a minor in legal studies. The plan at the time was to pursue employer law to help improve poor working conditions for underrepresented employees. But who needs law school to affect change when you’re as creative and engaged as Tracey?

In the years since she graduated, Tracey has built up communities and expanded her resume through positions that speak to her multifaceted talents. From organizing labor unions and communities for social change, to helping a tech startup get off the ground, to launching a civic engagement technology platform, there doesn’t seem to be a challenge Tracey can’t tackle. And through it all, she weaves her passion for understanding, honoring, and telling the stories of those around her. 

In her new role at 2A, Tracey heads up our case study practice. Considering the number of client requests for these stories keeps doubling, we couldn’t be more excited to have her join us! With her dogged commitment to ensuring all voices are heard and her technical drive to plan, organize, and execute against a deadline, Tracey’s our ace in the hole for turning out high-quality case studies that satisfy partners, customers, and solution providers alike.

Wondering who has the breadth, depth, and drive to get the most out of your story? Meet Tracey!

By Katy Nally

Image of Mike in a neon blue and yellow suit next to a license play that says

Image by Thad Allen

I always feel a certain kinship with a fellow East Coaster. And beyond that, Mike Lahoda and I both arrived in Seattle—sight unseen—after cultivating an appreciation for the West Coast mostly through pop culture and 90s TV shows. So, in the spirit of our childhood understanding of the sunnier side of the country, I bring you this employee spotlight about Mike, our newest consultant, entirely based off the theme song to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. (Many thanks to Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff for this 1992 track.)

Now this is a story, all about how
Mike came to Seattle and made us say “wow”
I’d like to take a minute, so sit right there
I’ll tell you how he became a marketing ace—it’s rare!

In southern New Jersey, born and raised
In the suburbs is where he spent most of his days
Chillin out, biking, walkin to school
While chasin his friends, and actin real cool
When he got an idea, “Let’s do some good”
He started planning ways to help his neighborhood
He studied philosophy and got his bike in gear
Then he moved to Seattle to start tutoring for City Year

The mountains were calling, and when they came near
Mike was ready to climb—he had no fear
If anything they proved he could take on a dare
And he thought, “What’s next—nonprofits? You got it, I’m there”

Mike climbed up through the ranks at a homebuilding biz
His MBA classes made him a marketing whiz
But he still wanted more—to grow with a team
So he joined 2A
now he’s living the dream

By Katy Nally

The entrepreneurial force is strong in Joe Belcher

Joe likes to get in at ground zero. He likes facing limitless possibilities and the ability to shape what’s yet to come—even if it means getting his hands dirty. His entrepreneurial streak has led him from marketing kids’ bunkbeds, to building a craft-brewing curriculum, to carving out a market for Tombolo Institute.

“I love coming in at the ground level—the spirit, the hope, the opportunity—there’s this energy where people are so willing to work together to achieve a broader goal.” —Joe Belcher

The spirit

Joe got his first taste of marketing straight out of college at Walt Disney in Los Angeles. But the organization didn’t deliver the startup pace of change that Joe’s entrepreneurial spirit craved, so he started looking around. At the time, Hollywood Video was in its infancy with huge potential to take off. Joe jumped right in, accumulated as many hats as they’d let him wear, and finally left his marketing position after the chain had established 3,000 stores nationwide.

The hope

By 2014, Joe had founded his own company, Joe Belcher Marketing, helping companies stand out with targeted marketing strategies and assets. When his professor friends in Portland reached out about a new venture to enable the craft beer scene, Joe couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Crafting A Strategy brought hope to the little guys—the ones driven by their passion for hops and obsession with the perfect pour—to compete against mass-production labels. With all the craft breweries popping up, the three founders saw the chance to educate brewers on the business side of things through an online curriculum. Joe helped launch the new company and led the brand and website creation.

The opportunity

Steeped in continuing education, Joe made his next move to join 2A as an embedded consultant for Bellevue College. 2A had led the brand development for the school’s tech-focused spin-off, Tombolo Institute, and Joe was ready to add some meat to its bare-bones framework. The marketing plan, the reporting, the outreach, the assets—Joe tackled it all. And then, the pandemic. While many industries made cutbacks, tech seemed to be immune. For those who were out of work, the opportunity through Tombolo presented new meaning. And Joe dove right in to energize his team for a new pivot.

By Kelly Schermer

Emily Maryatt—webinar maestro extraordinaire!

In the best of times, writing up a spotlight blog means grabbing a drink with a colleague to dish on work. Seeing as we’re still reeling from 2020, let’s just pretend I’m sitting down with Emily Maryatt at her favorite hangout. Emily’s been with 2A for over a year working as an embedded consultant for Microsoft. She runs the MSFT research webinar series doing everything from branding, pitching, recording, hosting, and reporting. She calls it a marketing-PM-producer role all in one. While most of the presenters are engineers, scientists, and/or researchers under Microsoft Research, they often have guests join from other universities who are working on the same project.

Join me in my imaginary social outing. The scene opens on a small café table where a woman (Emily) sits alone sipping a drink, while a second mug waits in front of an empty seat across from her. Another woman (Kelly) enters and inaudible pleasantries are exchanged. As Kelly sits and unwraps her scarf, the interview begins (okay, this next part is all real).

Kelly: Hearing about your role gave me serious job envy! You must learn a ton of cool stuff! What’s been the most interesting project so far?

Emily: Oh gosh it’s endless. There have been so many topics from improving accessibility in image search, securing election fraud, importance of quantum cryptography, drones, and how you can manipulate data to tell almost any story you want. I think the data visualization webinar was my favorite because it was so applicable beyond our typical researcher audience. It felt like something almost anyone could watch. Then, we had just one last week on how an avatar’s virtual reality environment changes user behavior. 

Kelly: Wait! What does it mean? Is my avatar controlling me?

Emily: It means people tend to make decisions differently based on how much an avatar looks like a real person and what the field of view shows in VR. The less life like, the less they take it seriously. Also when it comes to pain, if a person feels connected to the avatar they are less likely to take risks or more afraid of someone hurting them, say stabbing them in the hand in the VR experience.

Kelly: Oh, that’s very cool, so there’s like a threshold of VR that triggers empathy?

Emily: Haha, I’m no expert, but it seems to imply that people have a different decision path depending on how they connect to the experience.

Kelly: I see that you’re a serious photographer too. How does your experience behind a camera help with your role on the webinar team?

​​Emily: I think having a creative eye always helps in marketing, especially branding. Since I have a lot of freedom in this job, it’s allowed me to choose the design aesthetic, and work with our graphic designer closely. I’m sure he really appreciates all my feedback. lol

Also, I deal with a lot of new clients in photography and am always working with them to achieve their goals and bond with them to make them feel comfortable. I take that same approach when I reach out to new researchers pitching webinars. Once they sign on, I walk them through the process and show them what they can expect while always trying to make it painless and fun. 

Kelly: I love that! You sound like a real asset to the webinar team!! Last question, if we could meet for a drink, where would we meet and what would you order and why?  

Emily: hmm let me think. Pre-COVID I’d probably say Percy’s in Ballard. They have a drink called the awaken one, and it’s the best dang drink around. It’s also just good music and a fun vibe.

Kelly: Let’s plan it for next time! Thanks so much for meeting up with me today. It’s been super interesting to learn about your work.

Emily: Of course! Thanks for the interview. Back to real life, I guess. haha

By Katy Nally

Rachel’s hot designs thaw the Seattle freeze

She might not wear flannel (all the time) and has more warm than freeze, but Rachel is firmly rooted in her adoptive city of Seattle. In a classic, Meg-Ryan plot twist, Rachel gave up her fast-paced, New-York-City job as design director at Pearhead to move across the country for love. But just because she’s made a new home in the Emerald City, doesn’t mean she’s abandoned all that she learned in the Big Apple.

From intern to director

As soon as Rachel graduated from the University of Miami—where she double majored in creative advertising and graphic design—she set her sights on New York City. Something about the hustle of the Big Apple pulled her in. Against her mom’s apprehension, she answered a job listing on Craigslist for a design internship, then traded in her sandy beaches for skyscrapers. The small startup gave her lots of room to grow. Within six years she was directing a team of product designers and visiting manufacturers in China to talk shop.

She became that high-rise creative

The career she envisioned for herself had come true. She was leading a creative team, exercising her design skills, and breathing in the artistry of the city. From Pearhead’s office in Brooklyn, she developed her love of typography and print, finding inspiration from Pentagram’s Paula Scher and discovering new ways to use words as design elements.

When she decided to leave New York, Rachel was ready to give up the fast-paced hustle of the city. But she still held on to her vision of working at a creative agency. At 2A, she found her New-York-City equivalent, happily trading in her view of the East River for a peek at the Puget Sound. Rachel was excited to dig in to design for the tech industry, and work with big-name clients like AWS and Microsoft. As a senior designer, she’s brought invaluable efficiencies to the creative process and redefined 2A’s approach to ebooks.  

Soaking up all Seattle has to offer

Rachel’s inner flower child fit in perfectly with the Seattle backdrop of farmers’ markets, weekend water floats, and free-for-all blackberries. Even she acknowledges how she’s “leaned in” to Seattle-themed hobbies, from fawning over fresh-cut dahlias to paddle boarding on Lake Union. At this rate, she’s probably hunting for a Tom-Hanks-style houseboat.

By Katy Nally

Meet 2A, greener than Oz

There’s always a chance of disappointment when you reveal the face behind the curtain. For Dorothy, the Great and Powerful Oz turned out to be a green hologram operated by a stout, bald guy. So you might think that glimpsing behind the scenes at 2A would be a letdown—but when filtered through the demiurgic mind of our graphic designer Li, everything is a bit more glittery.

Let’s take a walk through the world of 2A according to Li.

First stop, the consultants. They’re always ready to take your call—happy to wheel and deal over landline, cell phone, Teams, or Owl. The footstool-supported power stance helps promote the body’s natural flow of creative juices so they can build the world’s greatest keynote presentations.

Now, the designers are a little more relaxed. They like their databases like they like their LaCroix, cold and bubbly. They’re the brains behind our shapes, handling all the triangles, squares, and circles we’re known for. Go ahead, see if there’s a shape they’ve never heard of, impossible!

How about our developers? Diligent as always, jamming to their own tunes, and working too hard to take their empty coffee cups to the sink (but not working so hard that they can’t get more coffee—it’s called a dev’s paradox). They handle our pest control (hah! Bug joke) and our beautiful websites.

Next up, our storytellers. They’re up to their elbows in ideas, so one draft is never good enough. It’s just a matter of sifting through every word for that perfect sentence. But don’t feel bad about their cluttered desks, the number of books they have is directly correlated to their intelligence…

And finally, the Coonis mesmerizers, our operations team. They’re ready to go Law and Order on that job posting to help us find our next, favorite 2A-er. Don’t be fooled by their feet-up attitude, they mean business. They keep this place running! And they make sure our snacks still surprise us.

We hope you enjoyed your tour through 2A! We’re certainly more exciting than a green talking head…and the shy showman behind the curtain. Come see for yourself! Swing by if you’re in the neighborhood.

By Annie Wegrich

Li Spotlight

Ahh, high school. The years when we knew everything and were gracious enough to share our insurmountable knowledge with anyone, without prompt. Guangyi Li, or Li, was a typical high schooler in many ways. He knew everything, doodled the day away, and loved a good video game.

Temporary introvert

However, unlike the teen you probably were, Li kept his knowledge to himself. In fact, he kept almost entirely to himself. As a recent immigrant from China, Li didn’t share a common language with his midwestern classmates. Although wise beyond his years, he barely spoke outside of his family until he went to college, lived in the dorms, and met a roommate worth talking to.

Rewarded risker

That reserved high schooler is not the Li we now know at 2A. The Li we know taught himself how to tackle big challenges, like learning English in college, and how to take on big risks, like moving to Seattle without a job or a place to live.

Marketing asset

The Li we know is brilliantly artistic and laugh-out-loud funny. We’re so glad he sought 2A to advance his skills by working across industries and media, because really, we were seeking Li. With a design aesthetic that balances the playful with the professional and comedic timing that charms every meeting, Li elevates our team.

Role model-modeler

Li’s dynamic commitment to design enables him to quickly shift gears and tackle projects with precision—like overhauling 20 PowerPoint decks in less than a week or diving deep to refine every element and effect on a robust website. But at home, Li prefers the still and small, zooming in to create tiny scale models with impeccable detail. We’re talking a 7-inch greenhouse with teeny-tiny, climate-appropriate plants and a coffee house with a detailed espresso machine that screams $5 12oz. Big or small, Li applies the same methodical approach and commitment to each pixel, PowerPoint, and plant.