Working with TED in New York: 'A curiosity carnival for adults'

Anna Phelan handles the launch and marketing of TED podcasts from the media organisation’s headquarters

Anna Phelan at TED headquarters in New York

Anna Phelan at TED headquarters in New York

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Working Abroad Q&A: Each week, Irish Times Abroad meets an Irish person working in an interesting job overseas. This week, Anna Phelan, from Kilkenny, tells us about her job working on TED Talks and TED Radio Hour.

When did you leave Ireland?

I originally left to do the graduate J-1 programme. I had finished college the year before, had itchy feet, and really wanted to broaden my experience in a new culture. I thought I’d come back after a year. I came with my boyfriend at the time, and we knew a few others who were also doing the J-1.

I did the summer J-1 in San Francisco a few years ago, and also spent an idyllic three months living by the sea in Nice on Erasmus.

What took you to New York?

I’ve always loved the sense of invisibility you get in big cities. I’d romanticised New York from watching shows like Friends and Sex & The City when I was growing up. I knew it would be crowded, and too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer, and it is those things. It’s often overwhelmingly loud and fast-paced, and can smell truly terrible. But I do think it’s a magical place. My experience here is certainly more realistically represented in modern shows like Broad City or Master of None, but I still feel that sparkle evoked by those older shows.

What are you working at in New York and how did you get the job?

I studied English and French in Trinity before working at Vermillion Design and Associated Editions, sister design and publishing companies in Dublin. I was originally interested in pursuing publishing in New York, but then I saw an internship advertised on TED.com. TED is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks. 

I did three Skype interviews before I came over, and started the job two days after I arrived. After 12 months, they offered me a permanent position, and got me a visa.

What does your job involve?

I oversee the launch and marketing of our original podcasts: managing all the moving parts like creating visual assets for social media, connecting with producers on other podcasts to cross-promote, giving feedback on rough cuts, and thinking of other ways we can get people to check out our shows.

I’m really excited about a new podcast of ours called WorkLife with Adam Grant, which comes out February 28th. I’ve also been working on TED Radio Hour for a year or two now.

Have you met inspiring people in the course of your work?

The people I work with are incredible – there’s a flat culture where everybody speaks their mind, and a cross-discipline passion reflected in everything we do, including the people we hire. I’m constantly learning from the people I’m surrounded by.

Does the job involve a lot of travel?

I attended TED2017 in Vancouver last year and was just blown away. You see the talks online and it would be easy to think that’s all it is, but the ecosystem of the conference is so much larger than that. Within the space of two hours you can be in a BMW on a quick networking date driving around the city, and next plugged into a VR simulation experiencing what it’s like to grow from seed to towering tree. It’s like a swirling curiosity carnival for adults.

Are there any particular challenges you face in your work?

My main challenge is probably how busy I am – but that’s also because I don’t know how to say no to something I’m excited about, and I’m excited about most things around here.

Do you think working abroad has offered you greater opportunities?

Definitely. There are so few media, podcasting or publishing jobs at home. Even though tech is booming, the opportunities in the creative spaces are more limited.

What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a career in a similar field?

Be a hustler. It’s a word a colleague of mine uses a lot to describe people who can get stuff done; someone who can pivot, adapt, and jump in many directions at once with energy and thoughtfulness.

What is it like living in New York in terms of accommodation, transport, social life and so on?

I live in Brooklyn. It’s nice to be out of the high rise jungle at the weekends. I love the pretentious but interesting combinations of things to do: a yoga class in an art gallery, or a mini classical music concert in a stranger’s apartment. It’s easy to parody as painfully hipster, or riddled with notions, but once you leave cynicism at the door, it’s fun. My commute is great, I cycle for 45 minutes, so I’m rarely jammed in on the subway, nestled in someone else’s armpit.

Where do you see your future?

It’s a bit up in the air. I don’t see myself living here forever, but right now it feels like a second home. I think that comes when you get to a point where you realise you have true ties and friends who can see you at your worst. I used to keep setting limits on how long I’d stay, mainly because it’s the question everyone asks you at home, “When are you moving back?” But recently I decided I’d stop asking myself that and just stay until it doesn’t make me happy anymore.

Is there anything you miss about living and working in Ireland?

Lots of little things (if Boojum opened a NY branch that would be great) – but my family mostly. My sister is having a baby soon, so that will be hard. I hate missing those major milestones. My friends are mostly scattered across the globe so they’re not in Ireland now anyway, and I’m relatively good at keeping in contact. I send a lot of voice notes on WhatsApp which makes me feel like I see my closest friends all the time.

If you work in an interesting job overseas and would like to share your experience, email abroad@irishtimes.com with a little information about you and what you do.

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