FCHS grad keeping your eyes on YouTube

Jenna Bilotta, a 1997 graduate of Fayette County High School, knew she wanted to go to art school for college. She had met her math and English requirements by the end of her junior year of high school and ended up taking four art classes as a senior, running the senior art show and winning a $500 scholarship at the Old County Courthouse Art Show. That dedication to art and a curiosity about the burgeoning field of digital media led her to the Atlanta College of Art and Design, then grad school at Georgia Tech and eventually to Google and YouTube. She now leads the design and user experience for the watch page (the page with the video on it) on YouTube.

“I do a lot of work with engineers, fixing the problems that we see users are having,” Bilotta said. These problems are either found via metrics or anecdotally as people report them on the site or through feedback on sites like Twitter. While problems may not arise every day, the site is always being adapted and tweaked to make for a better user experience.

“If YouTube works as expected, if the changes we make are seamless, then I consider what I did a success,” Bilotta said.

The road to Google and then YouTube was not overnight. Bilotta, like all first year students at the Atlanta College of Art and Design had to start with drawing, design and typography. In her second year, the video labs were changing over from analog to digital and when her professor in a class called Net Cultures saw how interested she was in the field, he nudged her to consider grad school. In 2000, she started working towards a master’s degree in Information Design and Technology, while working in the interactive media technology center and focusing on usability and accessability. After graduating from Georgia Tech, Bilotta began working with a usability firm in Atlanta, running their design department.

“Eventually, I got a call from a friend who had gone to work at Google and the rest was history,” Bilotta said. “I hadn’t considered moving but I was convinced to interview and so I set up several other interviews as well, but Google was so far and above the others that when I got the offer, I took it.”

Bilotta, who had lived in Fayetteville since she was seven, then moved to San Francisco. She has had to fly her mother out a few times to make fried chicken and biscuits for her friends and tries to make it a point to come back for a visit each year. She has been with Google since 2006 and YouTube for a year and a half.

Working with sites that are so immensely popular and nearly integral to the lives of millions of people doesn’t seem daunting to Bilotta. If anything, it seems like fun. She talked at length about the amazing working atmosphere and how employees are often encouraged to think outside the box and try things. One example she cited was how trying to wrap her brain around a particular problem caused her to create the bones of a project called Cosmic Panda, which is a new experience for watching videos and playlists.

“If you don’t change and evolve and grow, you’re left behind,” Bilotta said, explaining how fast things change in the web industry and why Google and YouTube pride themselves on innovation.

With the Google+ social network launching recently and with YouTube continuing to serve as the place to watch and find videos, things are buzzing for the company. One thing that Bilotta and her colleagues talked about was Hangouts, which will allow friends to watch the same videos live.

“I like to trick people in and make them watch Justin Bieber videos,” Bilotta joked.

An artist craves an audience to see and appreciate his or her work and today millions of people put their eyes on what Bilotta and her colleagues do every day without even knowing it. In the end, that’s the way they like it.