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iZotope's Lisa Ferrante-Walsh on Nurturing Innovation

As the senior director of engineering at iZotope, it’s Lisa Ferrante-Walsh’s job to set up the perfect conditions that enable free-flowing creativity. With the pandemic running rampant on best practices and processes across the board, Headliner spoke to Ferrante-Walsh to find out how she continues to nurture innovation at the company, and ultimately help creatives tell stories through music.

Coming from a musical background, Ferrante-Walsh rounded out her studies by completing a masters in computer science, eventually falling in love with the scene in Boston. Her most relevant job pre-iZotope was actually at Avid, where she worked within its broadcast news division.

“I transitioned from being a software developer to a manager at that point, and found that I was always gravitating toward these roles,” she recalls. “A friend of mine who used to be on my team at Avid happened to be working at iZotope, and I was ready to make a change. I saw an open position, reached out to him, and the rest is history.”

While she accepts that she’s not an expert in audio engineering per say, Ferrante-Walsh’s focus at iZotope is an equally important people-centric one, fostering technical innovation and extracting that from its teams.

The other side of the job, she explains, is more around the engineering processes and practices; looking at how the company develops and releases products, manages its code base, and implements quality control.

“One of my favourite quotes is from the movie Hidden Figures,” Ferrante-Walsh shares. “There’s a manager who basically describes his job as being: ‘finding the genius in the geniuses’. That’s exactly how I see my job; I set up the right conditions so people can feel the most motivated and be as innovative as they possibly can. In turn, I’m helping people make products that enable creativity, and helping people tell stories through music.”

ONE OF THE DEVELOPERS ON MY TEAM EARLY ON DESCRIBED IT AS A KIND OF EXOSKELETON THAT WE’RE BUILDING AROUND THE DAW.

So how exactly has the pandemic affected the company? And how smooth a transition has it been adapting to this ‘new normal’?

“I think we were all pretty surprised at how easily we pivoted into this mode without missing a beat,” admits Ferrante-Walsh. “I really want to give credit to Mark Ethier [iZotope CEO and co-founder] for that. He really believes strongly in this idea of self-determination theory, whereby people are motivated by autonomy, mastery and purpose. I think the fact that we already had a pretty cohesive and very transparent culture made it easy to transition.

“We’re building more of a relationship with the customer, so it’s not just transactional anymore. In addition to product content, there’s opportunities to add other types of content to this membership, whether that be educational, third party, or presets for our products.”

From an engineering perspective, it’s really about transitioning from a mode of working on very large projects, to working much more incrementally, embracing the concept of what the company calls ‘test, measure, learn’.

“The idea is, instead of locking in a whole bunch of content and working on it for six to nine months to then release it into the world, we’re now going to work on smaller releases, which might be a new feature on one of our existing products for example,” she adds. “We have usage analytics built into all of our products, and we’re trying to lean more into being much more data driven; seeing how things resonate and then adapting accordingly.

“A plugin is very constrained, and I think breaking out of those constraints is a big opportunity. In our case, IPC means Inter Plugin Communication. This means we still work within the process space of the DAW, but it allows two different instances of our plugin that are sitting in your session to talk to each other and share information. One of the developers on my team early on described it as a kind of exoskeleton that we’re building around the DAW.”

The cloud is another more obvious example of an area that iZotope is currently exploring:

“Right now we’re desktop software mostly, but wouldn’t it be awesome if the plugins could talk to a machine learning algorithm running in the cloud which is just getting smarter and smarter because we’re feeding it more and more data in real time?” Ferrante-Walsh ponders as the conversation comes to a close. “You don’t have to go through that process of updating your product and reinstalling; we’re trying to remove as much of that friction as we can.”

Ultimately, it’s all about being nimble and being able to adapt to change, she suggests: “I think that’s something that we’re very good at; migrating to the remote world is just one of many incarnations of having to adapt in this way. Keep an eye on the space - there’s a lot of fun stuff to come…”