By Mollie Hawkins

Image features Matt deWolf in the center surrounded by a collage including records, a music poster, coffee beans, and chat boxes.

Image by Brandon Conboy

2A Embedded Consultants (ECs) are highly skilled, experienced professionals who function as contracted members of our clients’ teams. For the past two years, 2A EC Matt deWolf has been using his graphic designer talents at Microsoft Research (MSR). In this Q&A, Matt shares how he got here, what he’s doing, and why he loves it so dang much. 

Mollie: What do you do at Microsoft Research? 

Matt: So, the classic designer joke is that I “make things pretty,” right? Well, it’s more than just making things look nice, especially at MSR. Because of the global inflection point we’re at in technology, design is also about ensuring our visual language clearly communicates the message that we’re explicitly trying to send. An example of this is making sure our communications around AI visually align with our intentions. When we discuss AI, it’s important to ensure that our audience doesn’t get brought into a scene that inaccurately depicts what we want to say. The words in any asset tell one part of the story, but the imagery, color, and composition play a key role in reinforcing that textual direction. 

Mollie: That’s a fun challenge! What’s the most interesting part of working at MSR? 

Matt: It’s great getting to work with cutting-edge researchers who are wholly devoted to our mission statement: “Advancing science and technology to benefit humanity.” Something special about MSR is the non-product-related approach; not every development or mission immediately ties into something commercialized. I get to see new developments in AI research that range from determining the accuracy of image generation against a description to applications in healthcare. The breadth of work is truly impressive. 

Mollie: Can you tell me about a cool project you’ve been working on? 

Matt: MSR is piloting an episodic approach to our previous annual Research Summit called Microsoft Research Forum. This forum shares the latest findings with the global research community in real time. The event is considered a “tier 1” event for Microsoft, and it allows us to work with many vendors to develop the visual identity, web platform, and production for it. Not only is it the inaugural forum, but also we’re working collaboratively to build something great together. 

Mollie: How have you grown in your role over the past two years? 

Matt: The Research Forum project gave me opportunities to act as an art director, coordinating between design vendors, animators, developers, and internal production teams. This was a much more direct opportunity to explore these skillsets compared to some of my previous roles. I have definitely grown personally, learning to deliver constructive feedback and communicate clearly to multiple stakeholders, getting us closer to the outcomes we want. I hope to continue developing design leadership skills that support my team’s ability to do their jobs. 

Mollie: Where were you before Microsoft, and what about Microsoft makes your heart sing? 

Matt: Before MSR, I worked as a package designer at Hasbro. Yes, the Hasbro that makes Star Wars figures, Nerf Blasters, and Monopoly! But at MSR, I feel much more interested in the work. I enjoy technical things—bridging the gap between abstract concepts and visuals. Perhaps some of this comes from an adjacent design interest, web development. Let’s just say that when I write a JavaScript function and it doesn’t throw any errors, I basically feel like an MSR computer scientist. (LOL) 

Mollie: So, what else do you bring to the table? 

Matt: I think of myself as the Swiss Army knife of designers because of the different ways I’ve applied my knowledge. I have designed for print the old school way, on presses, and have designed for digital mediums. I know how to design and animate motion, as well as develop for the web, and I’m always growing and refining my leadership skills. 

Mollie: Now that we’ve talked business, let’s get down to the fun stuff. What do you do when you’re not designing? 

Matt: Outside of work, I’m an avid consumer of music and coffee. To me, music is something sacred and goes beyond listening to the radio. I love understanding the period from which the music originated, learning more about the artists, and seeing where it takes me. Layering this on top of my foundational understanding of music theory gives me a profound sense of pride when I uncover something new or view a piece of music from a new angle. And, of course, without overthinking it or applying any of that background, as humans, we all know when we like something. 

The coffee part is perhaps two-sided—not only do I appreciate coffee itself, but also I love the exploration and adventure in finding new cafes where I can enjoy music. 

Interested in becoming an EC? Check out our open roles or submit a general job inquiry if you don’t find exactly what you’re looking for.  

Want to hire an Embedded Consultant? Learn more here. 

By Andrea Swangard

Image features Ashley JoEtta at the center of the image on top of a background with a collage that includes a flute, a game controller and a classroom.

Image by Julianne Medenblik

How did music, Japan, and videogames lead our new storyteller, Ashley, to 2A? We’ll begin that answer with another question: How do you know you’re good at playing the flute? When you land a scholarship because of your mad skills! This set the stage for Ashley’s college experience, where she double majored in music performance and English. When she advanced to graduate school, Ashley came across the TESOL program (teaching English as a second language) and discovered a passion for the art of teaching. That led to an internship in Japan teaching English to folks ranging from five-year-olds to senior citizens, igniting Ashley’s love for linguistics and inspiring the right learning approach for a specific audience. It also honed Ashley’s language abilities—in addition to Japanese, she speaks Spanish and Arabic. 

Doctor Who? Finding a path for a lover of language patterns 

While pursuing a PhD in Applied Linguistics with a focus in Second Language Writing and Rhetoric and Composition (with a prestigious fellowship from Purdue), Ashley taught a writing class for engineers. She discovered a gap in teaching methods for academic writing versus industry writing, and researched ways to create customized curriculums for her students. (Ashley also won a dissertation fellowship from the American Association of University Women, but we’re not here to brag…) A professorship brought her to the Pacific Northwest, where Ashley balanced her time teaching with keeping her brain tickled by puzzles and digital games. One of these—the online battle-royale game Apex Legends—brought her to 2A. 

Squad goals: From virtual comrades to real-life coworkers 

Ashley met 2A’s designer extraordinaire, Brandon Conboy, while playing Apex Legends. Their shared love for strategy, teamwork, and being gracious winners fostered an immediate connection. Brandon learned about Ashley’s talent for writing and invited her to explore opportunities at 2A. After a freelance gig where Ashley got to indulge her passion for research and delve deeper into the technology industry, she realized she’d found her true calling. 2A snapped her up full time, and the rest is history! Ashley’s love of language and her teaching experiences (and, let’s be honest, that creative and brilliant mind) bring a dynamic approach to finding the right words to engage a client’s audience. Case in point, a piece she penned about United Airlines is one of the most read AWS case studies of 2023! 

Ashley’s passion for the power of stories keeps 2A’s ebooks fresh and its case studies cutting edge. Whether she’s practicing a new musical piece to perfection or collaborating with other gamers to navigate tricky situations, Ashley loves a challenge. And her research continues to be top notch: Whether it’s finding the winning formula for compelling copy or tracking down the choicest donut in Seattle, Ashley always brings her A-game. 

By Richa Dubey

Emily looks beyond the obvious to craft designs that captivate

Image by Suzanne Calkins

Visual storytelling is where Emily thrives. It’s her chance to dig into an idea, push through the surface, and pull together a design that’s fresh and captivating. As you can imagine, she likes it here at our storytelling agency.  

Emily’s story is, in some ways, the classic one for artists who’ve always been drawn to their work. As the artsy kid in school, she would fulfill requests for art or help friends with their illustrations, whether for school projects or fun. While growing up, she contained it to a hobby because “I was worried that doing anything artistic professionally would kill my love for it.” But some things are meant to be. 

“At every single internship or club that I joined in college, I realized that people always wanted me to do design work anyway—and I eventually realized that I would miss it if I didn’t do something creative.” So, she undertook a host of design-based internships and part-time jobs, including an art teaching assistant post in college. 

After these, being Emily, she put her family first during the COVID pandemic, helping out at her family restaurant. Then 2A caught her attention. Why?   

“Stories! The job description included the word ‘storytelling,’ which was one of my search keywords. I loved how it sounded, and when I looked at the 2A website, I thought, “This is the most fun group of people I have seen in a long time, and I love how they tell stories.” 

Visual stories are where it’s at for Emily— bringing art, illustration, and design together in service of a narrative (take this complex and fun illustration for Microsoft). With quiet courage and commitment, Emily unpacks the concepts until she arrives at the eureka moments when a design clicks into place. “When I can look beyond the obvious and pull the right pieces together in a design that works, it is so exhilarating.”   

If Emily had a theme song, it would probably be beyond the obvious—not only because of her approach to design, but also because it rings true for her life outside 2A. You probably wouldn’t guess this, but Emily will always commit to the bit in improv comedy. She boulders (“because I’m a little scared of it”), reads children’s books, and watches bad movies (“everyone watches the good ones, and I enjoy being a hater for a while”).  

Whatever Emily does, she brings her whole self to it.  

By Jane Dornemann

decorative image of Carolyn as a superhero with the word

Image by Rachel Adams

Meet Carolyn, marketing writer turned marketing consultant…turned marketing writer. It makes sense—writers are curious by nature, a trait that 2A is happy to accommodate.  

Carolyn studied medieval literature, earned a master’s in English, and taught at the college level before embarking on her B2B marketing quest in earnest. Her eagerness to learn about all corners of the world has been the driving force behind her varied career, during which she created compelling content for just about every industry you can think of. Her stellar work landed her opportunities to craft copy for all kinds of companies, from tech to healthcare to HVAC and plumbing. 

After all that, she went on to perfect her marketing chops through agencies, where she wrote content for a world of different products and services. Her demonstrated ability to market just about anything—and her experience as both a consultant and a writer—is what makes her such a superhero of an addition here at 2A. 

While Carolyn’s outside-the-box ideas led to director positions in B2B and big tech marketing, she found herself on a quest for a more stimulating work culture. That’s what drew Carolyn to 2A, where she first employed her diverse skillset as a consultant before moving over to a storyteller role. 

Carolyn thrives in 2A’s collaborative environment, where she’s focused on helping clients find more effective and innovative ways to resonate with their audiences through stories. There’s no kryptonite here—the more complex or unusual a marketing challenge is, the more Carolyn is inspired. Approaching each project with the dexterity and improvisation she’s accrued over the years is her M.O.  

Perhaps that panache for the complicated has been bolstered by her literary leanings, from publishing her poetry in literary magazines to doing The New York Times’ crossword daily.  

“Doing puzzles is a lot like content marketing,” she said. “It can be a fun challenge to communicate ideas in a certain number of words or decide how text and design can best work together.” 

In her personal life, Carolyn is committed to service. Thanks to the Be the Match registry, she was able to help save the life of a patient with leukemia through peripheral blood stem cell donation (PBSC), a method of retrieving blood-forming cells for bone marrow transplants. 

The curiosity continues. From roller-skating to embroidery, Carolyn’s sense of adventure extends beyond her (new) role at the office. Whether she’s saving lives or solving the scrappiest of marketing puzzles, Carolyn is the kind of storytelling superhero our clients need and want on their team. 

By Richa Dubey

decorative headshot of Kate

Image by Rachel Adams

The first meeting with Kate leaves you with the sense that she is not just deliberate in her choice of words, but secretly polishes each one to a high shine. She holds it up to the light, and only then, with the satisfied, tiny nod of a true expert, does she slot it into its proper place.  

As a language expert, Kate is 2A’s own lexical chef. With a master’s in linguistics, Kate has developed (and trained actors on) an authentic Dust Bowl accent for a play based on Steinbeck’s novel, Of Mice and Men; taught English as a second language in both Japan and the US at the university level; worked in academia; and simplified complex scientific and technical research into a comprehensible read for the layperson. All of this, of course, is in addition to excelling at 2A as an in-house storyteller on the agency side and an embedded consultant for Microsoft. As a former employee of both Microsoft and Amazon Web Services (AWS), she continues to dive into technology and produce stellar copy.    

Braiding stories from different threads 

When it comes to storytelling, Kate pulls three key threads to weave a tale. First, is connection. She knows how to string the right words together to make a good story great. She can connect directly with the reader, so the message makes a place in their mind and heart. And while the message may be interpreted a little differently by each reader, Kate searches hard for the nugget that strikes relevance.

Another strand in the craft of Kate’s storytelling is precision. “How can you use a word so there is no room for ambiguity?” she asks. “Different people use words and concepts differently, so I work to make sure that we’re on the same page with respect to what they’re trying to say, and I’m focused on using direct language.”  

The last strand is Kate’s imagination. “I think of things that might not have been considered with respect to the story,” she says. Drawing on the rich diversity of her expertise, she pulls disparate elements together, coaxing them to play nicely, and finally, buffing them to produce a finished product like this piece on AI and mixed reality for Microsoft.   

From tech to the deep sea  

When she’s not creating marketing content, Kate is kayaking, volunteering for the arts, or walking dogs at the Seattle Animal Shelter. Lately, she’s been settling into her new role as pet parent to her adorable three-year-old Havapoo, Charlie, a rescue who accompanies her on her adventures.  

By Richa Dubey

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Image by Suzanne Calkins

Equal parts passionate and intentional, Felip centers everything he does around building community and cultivating a shared understanding. “When I think about my profession, I don’t really think in terms of content or interactions with clients. It’s more about how I can use the skills and experience I have to align with their goals. This helps me better support their organizations and initiatives.” 

And it’s easy to find something to relate to when you’ve had such eclectic experiences. While still in school, Felip cared for dying Benedictine monks in Bavaria. He also co-started a tech education nonprofit for kids of color in Seattle.  

As a trade unionist, his father advocated for worker rights, and that helped inform Felip’s career trajectory. Working in economic development for the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan, Felip focused on diversification and training local startups in technology and entrepreneurship. “I see the results of that effort in the culture there today, and I am grateful to have played a small part in developing it.” 

From there, his next step was helping to navigate change at Microsoft. Felip worked with Microsoft 365 to review product changes with security and communication teams before rolling them out to millions of users. It was challenging, but it was core to the person that Felip feels he has grown into. “It’s a big part of who I am now. It taught me how to bridge cultures, navigate differences, and build empathy. That mindset is crucial for creating plans and roadmaps to move projects forward.” 

That emphasis on empathy and diversity anchored one of the biggest wins of Felip’s professional life: co-leading strategy at Purple Group. At this multicultural marketing agency, Felip and his team collaborated with multiple stakeholders to execute a five-year communication and outreach plan for the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA). At over $2 billion, the Red and Purple Modernization (RPM) Phase One Project is the largest capital project in CTA history.

Whether working with the community or within the technology industry, Felip excels at finding a common ground across peers and stakeholders. It’s no surprise we love having him at 2A, and the feeling is mutual. “I love the people here. Everyone is very capable, and that pushes me to be better. And it’s beautiful to see that capability buttressed by empathy and collaboration.” 

By Kate Forster

Headshot of Suzanne with orange flowers, a record, and a blue car.

Image by Emily Zheng

Community building with a creative bent 

Suzanne Calkins, a senior designer at 2A, always knew she wanted to follow a creative path. After earning her degree in studio art, she first worked as a studio assistant to professional artists. But something was missing. “I was drawn to educational environments and the community-building aspects of art,” she says. This landed her in the role of junior designer at a music and performing arts school.  

Driven by the desire to contribute, Suzanne also took a part-time job at a community arts nonprofit, which required her to commute hours from her home in Los Angeles to Joshua Tree and other small towns in California. She fell in love with those small desert and mountain towns and eventually left the city to settle in one of them. “I wanted to feel connected to the work I was doing and the effect it was having in the community,” she adds. “I can feel this impact much better in small towns. I ended up in a town where I could experiment and try a lot of different things when it comes to community building and the arts.”  

After a detour in environmental education, Suzanne found her way back to art as a freelance graphic designer. Eventually, she found 2A, whose community-centered values reflect her own. A natural collaborator, Suzanne was drawn to 2A’s culture. “I was impressed by how well everyone worked together,” she notes.   

A collaborative approach to design 

Suzanne enjoys the camaraderie of the creative brainstorming process. She also appreciates 2A’s approach to design projects. “Coming into a team with good processes in place and great communication has allowed me to fall back in love with graphic design,” she explains.  

A great listener, she delights in engaging with her clients, learning their vision, and understanding the emotional impact they want to make. “I love this phase because it allows me to pull in the storytelling element,” she says. She also has a knack for seeing the big picture while also managing the details—a skillset she honed as a freelance designer. 

Suzanne draws on her community-building skills when feeling out the aesthetic direction her clients want to go in—innovative and experimental, stylized, techie, human-centered, or something else—even if they don’t initially know. “Sometimes clients have a hard time verbalizing exactly what they want, so my role is to guide the conversation in a way that pulls out the core of what they’re trying to say,” she says. She then collaborates with fellow 2A designers to bring those ideas to life—whether it’s an infographic or ebook, or a full-blown visual identity.

Finding inspiration everywhere  

Outside of work, Suzanne finds inspiration in the natural environment that surrounds her home near the Sierra Nevada foothills. She also enjoys volunteering at her local radio station, where she hosts a show that spotlights talented, lesser-known artists. “I love nerding out about music—going to live shows and finding new artists to listen to. DJing is a nice way to stay involved in my community and share the things that creatively inspire me,” she says. 

Though Suzanne’s background is eclectic, collaborative storytelling and the arts are common themes. As she puts it, “I aspire to live a creatively fulfilling life, and working at 2A is a big part of that.” 

By Kate Forster

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Image by Julianne Medenblik

Telling stories about robotics and artificial intelligence in an engaging and attention-grabbing manner is a rare talent. Chris Stetkiewicz, 2A Embedded Consultant (EC), has been applying this talent for the past two years as a writer and editor at Microsoft Research—one of only a few computer science research centers outside academia.

2A’s ECs are highly skilled and experienced professionals who function as contracted members of our clients’ teams, and Chris is one of our most accomplished. He and I recently sat down to talk about writing contests, robotics, and dog parks. Here’s a snippet from our conversation.

Kate: With all the groundbreaking work going on, Microsoft Research sounds like an incredible place to work.

Chris: It really is. I feel lucky to get to work with some of the most accomplished people in technology and science. I learn from them every day, and it makes my job interesting. I also work alongside some very talented writers and content creators, and I learn a lot from them too.

Kate: Working with some of the most renowned computer scientists in the world must be exciting, and slightly intimidating I imagine. How do you see your role?

Chris: I find it inspiring. For my part, I bring an external perspective and an appreciation for how people think about technology outside the company, which the researchers don’t always have. I help them understand what they’re doing in the larger context.

Sometimes I craft a story that isn’t exactly the story we were initially setting out to tell, but it’s an effective story to tell for our audience.

Kate: Can you share an interesting story you’ve worked on?

Chris: I recently completed a story on robotics. It’s about a technology called MoCapAct, which is a dataset intended to make it easier for robots to physically move the way people do.

There’s an existing database called MoCap, which stands for motion capture, in which technology is used to track and record people’s physical motions. It’s used to create animated films or computer-generated imagery (CGI). But it’s a lot harder to get robots to move in precisely the same way that people do. MoCapAct—motion capture in action—solves this problem.

Kate: You’ve been writing and reporting in some form or another over your entire career. What first drew you to writing?

Chris: Oh, I’ve been writing since I was a little kid, and I always enjoyed it. In elementary school, I would enter every writing contest and always win. When I took a high school journalism class, I had a letter to the editor published by a local newspaper. After that I was hooked! I knew I wanted to be a journalist. I would read three of our local newspapers every day, cover to cover.

Kate: Seems like news and writing are in your DNA. I understand you started your career as a journalist for news organizations. Now you’re writing for a tech company. What connections do you see between the two?

Chris: A good story is a good story, no matter who’s telling it. The only difference is how the content is delivered. At Microsoft Research, the biggest part of my job entails writing and editing blog posts and social media content, but I’ve also written video scripts, built newsletters, and launched new content programs.

Kate: Sounds like you need to be pretty versatile. On a different note, I know you‘re a dog owner. In fact, your dog has made some cameos in video meetings we’ve both been in.

Chris: Heh. It’s as if he arrives on cue. He knows when it’s a bad time to come and interrupt me, and there he is.

Kate: Ha ha. As a new dog owner, I can relate. Do you have any recommendations for good dog parks in the area?

Chris: I recommend the dog park at Marymoor Park in Redmond. It’s near the Microsoft campus, and it’s got great swimming options. There are multiple spots where you can go on down to the Sammamish River and let your dog take a dunk or get a drink.

Kate: Hmm. I’ve yet to discover if my dog likes the water. Sounds like there’s a good opportunity to find out. Thanks.

Chris: You’re welcome. This park has a way of turning unsuspecting canines into water-loving dogs. Watch out.

Interested in becoming an EC? Check out our open roles, or submit a General Job Inquiry if you don’t see exactly what you’re looking for.

Want to hire an Embedded Consultant? Learn more here.

By BB Bickel

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Image by Thad Allen

When asked what he does, our motion designer Brian Dionisi very simply says, “I make videos of complicated concepts and use shapes and colors to make them understandable and easy to follow.” That is Brian’s approach in a nutshell. He gets to the very essence of a topic so anyone can understand it. 

But this isn’t surprising from someone who has two degrees and a storied career. Brian is well versed in picking up new skills and applying them to his day-to-day work. After earning a Bachelor of Arts in Drawing and Printmaking from the University of Central Florida, he went on to teach English as a second language in Italy. Then he came back to the U.S. to teach Italian and later graduated from the University of Washington with a Master of Arts in Italian studies. All mixed in were his stints as a customer service representative, a quality rater for Google, and a translator for a startup. 

Having drawn all his life, Brian became a freelance illustrator. He got into the Seattle arts scene by participating in a comics collective where a group of cartoonists self-published and distributed a quarterly anthology around the Pacific Northwest. It was then he decided he wanted a career in illustration, design, and animation, where he could develop characters for TV shows. So he went back to school for digital media-animation at Otis College of Art and Design in California. But his love of moving from one adventure to the next led him to a new opportunity—a design internship at an aerospace company. 

When Brian saw 2A’s job posting for a motion designer, his eyes lit up. Here was a creative agency that was neither a startup nor a big, faceless corporation. His hunch was validated during the interview process, where it was clear that 2A’s welcoming atmosphere meant he could be a vital part of the team. 

Outside of work, Brian draws fantastical and whimsical characters and environments, influenced greatly by 70s French sci-fi cartoonists. He’s singularly drawn to the aesthetic shape of the egg because of its fluid curves, and this shape informs his endless fussing over home décor decisions. Brian is also extremely meticulous and detailed, a trait that bodes well for developing tricky motion videos. 

When asked what he’d like to be known for the most, he replied, “I want to be that approachable person you can easily talk to about anything while also putting a smile on your face.” Having already won the hearts of 2A clients—and staff—we think his hopes have already been set in motion. 

By BB Bickel

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Image by Emily Zheng

Being an anthropologist makes for a great consultant. What’s that again? Yes, when it comes to Olivia Witt, 2A consultant extraordinaire, her years spent learning why people are the way they are now helps her wow 2A clients. Adding to her expertise on the science of humanity, her previous tenure at boutique marketing and advertising agencies revealed her love for producing content that best reflects a brand’s vision.

While studying anthropology, Olivia became a real coffee nerd. During college she helped the Husky Grind, the school’s only student-led specialty coffee shop. For three years she worked with farmers and roasters all over the world to learn about the roasting process, ordered coffees for the shop, and attended cuppings (coffee tastings). Ask her what a double espresso with three ounces of seltzer water—a drink known as espressoda—tastes like, and she’ll swoon!

Olivia is also a photography buff, a passion that stemmed from an anthropology course taught by a National Geographic photographer. She got the picture-taking bug so intensely that when she traveled to India for her honors thesis, half of the 90-page paper featured her ethnographic photos, which captured the textile industry in South India. During her senior year in college, Olivia served as a photography intern at the Seattle Met, honing her skills on depicting people in their everyday lives. Because Olivia finds snapping shots of people in their own element fascinating, she always wears her Nikon camera around her neck when she is out and about—she never knows when she’ll see the perfect human tableau.

One thing that likely no one else but Olivia can say is that they have 16 pets, which includes two dogs, a bearded dragon, and a giant green iguana. Yes, they all live inside and yes, she loves them all equally.

Olivia, who firmly believes that 2A is the unicorn of all companies, adds to its uniqueness with her ability to be a welcoming resource from coffee to copy—and we know clients will appreciate her distinct perspective on every project.