Emerging Tech and Innovation on USA TODAY NETWORK’s Product and Technology Team

At USA TODAY NETWORK our product and technology team is dedicated to being innovative in their thinking, as well as transforming our brand with the latest technologies.

Since 2014, Ray Soto has been one of those innovative thinkers we are lucky to have at the NETWORK. Ray is currently the Director of Emerging Technology and plays a key role in our Product and Technology Department. For Ray, what excites him the most about technology is the unknown, “I want to get my hands on new tech, break it, and learn. Through this process, innovation is born.”

We sat down with Ray to talk about how the NETWORK, the technology he gets to work with every day, how he innovates, leads collaboratively and explores his passions every day.

How did you come to join the NETWORK?

“I had not intended to get out of the video games industry to work in journalism, but that changed due to a phone call from someone at GANNETT inviting me to chat about an opportunity to create a virtual reality experience. I was initially confused as I had not applied for a job. It turned out a colleague from a previous job had given this individual my phone number stating that I was someone that knows how to develop VR content. Humbled and intrigued I decided to drop in for a chat.

Upon arriving, I quickly realized that the opportunity was to develop an interactive news story as part of USA TODAY. The conversation during my visit was inspiring as we exchanged thoughts on the future of storytelling and how we could create never-before-seen VR experiences. I never looked back.”

What type of technology do you get to work with?

“I like to think we have a toolbox of different technologies available to us to create immersive experiences for both AR and VR. We primarily use game development tools to create the interactive experiences: Unity, 3ds Max, and Adobe Creative Suite. At times we leverage audio and video capture solutions to incorporate spatial assets into our projects. We are fortunate to have access to the new technologies before they are available to the market to test and apply into our workflow.”

Could you share some of the VR/AR project highlights from this year, and what consumers can expect in the future?

“Our most recent AR project, 321 LAUNCH, was an unexpected and overwhelming success. We had spent months researching AR tools and experience types through the development of prototypes. Through the process, we quickly identified an opportunity to create an AR rocket app through a collaboration with our space experts at FLORIDA TODAY. 321 is an AR experience giving users the opportunity to launch a Falcon 9 rocket and tune in to a live AR broadcast of a rocket launching from Kennedy Space Center. From downloads to in-app time, we exceeded all project goals.

The success of 321 has opened many doors for the team and I to create new interactive programs. Consumers can expect more robust storytelling experiences beyond what they’ve already seen from the industry. We’ve only just started.”

This year, the product team spoke at a few major industry conferences – what were the name of some of those conferences and what advice would you share with other industry leaders?

“We were fortunate to have had the opportunity to speak at various industry conferences over the years – a couple of highlights are SXSW and ONA. My advice for leaders creating interactive experiences would be to think big and challenge your assumptions. I would also say, don’t ever settle for what you know can work but instead take yourself beyond your comfort zone; Easy is boring.”

Explain how the product/technology team is allowed to use their voice in regards to researching and presenting new ideas or technology to the team?

“I wouldn’t use the word “allowed” but rather “encouraged.” Everyone that works here, regardless of title, is here for a reason. New ideas are born through collaboration, and each individual is encouraged to apply their experience and skills to everything we do at the NETWORK.”

How do you incorporate new methodologies into your workflow?

“Like tech, I must be open to learning new methodologies. What might have worked in the past may not work in the future; teams change, consumers change. I want to make sure our production and projects stay current, so I must adapt as needed.”

If you are passionate and innovative like Ray, apply at USA TODAY NETWORK to begin your journey on the product and technology team.

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