About this series: Lighting the Way With … is a periodic series in which we shine a light on Lawrence alumni. Today we catch up with Kir-Sey Fam ’19, a software engineer with Disney+.
Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications
Kir-Sey Fam ’19 has been a Lawrence University alumnus for all of eight months. But he already has stories to tell.
It’s not often that you step from the stage at Commencement and immediately land in the midst of one of the most talked about media developments in the world.
Welcome to Fam’s life since graduating in June — a bachelor of arts degree with majors in mathematics, computer science, and Russian studies. Before leaving Lawrence, he was hired as a software engineer with Disney+ in New York, meaning he was jumping into the fire as Disney prepared to roll out its much-anticipated streaming service on Nov. 12.
It reportedly had 10 million sign-ups the first day, a number that has grown to nearly 29 million in the three months since. Along the way, it’s introduced the world to Baby Yoda, put the Marvel, Star Wars, and Pixar libraries at subscribers’ fingertips, and reshaped the high-stakes battleground for streaming services in ways we haven’t yet wrapped our eyes around.
As a kicker, a Disney+ original show is in the works that will be set in, yes, Appleton, Wisconsin. Kristin Chenoweth will take the lead in “The Biggest Star in Appleton,” playing a mom and waitress who gets her kicks as the star of local community theater.
Fam took some time to share what life has been like in the midst of all that wonderful chaos.
On his role at Disney+:
I’m currently working as a software engineer on the Growth Engineering team. What that means on a high level is that we examine each stage of the user experience, from when someone first lands on the Disney+ page, through to when they’re watching a show or interacting with other parts of Disney+. We then work to figure out what points of friction the user faces and experiment with changes to improve the user experience and increase retention.
The methods for accomplishing these goals are varied; the project I’m working on now involves using machine learning to improve how we handle billing for each user.
Going in, I didn’t really know what to expect as I hadn’t done any prior internships in larger companies before working at Disney. I would say that though they’re put together differently, taking classes at Lawrence engaged me with a lot of the elements that I now use in my work.
On being part of the Disney+ launch:
As you may know, we experienced some launch-day issues related in part to the huge demand for Disney+. So, there was a bit of firefighting going on in different areas during launch. Thankfully, the services my team developed didn’t face any issues despite the huge throughput. That was a bit of a relief since my team had been on a tight deadline leading up to the launch for developing a service integral to the super bundle combining Disney+, ESPN+, and HULU subscriptions, which saw a lot of usage.
Following the launch, you could hear people talking about Disney+ on the subway, waiting in line at stores, just everywhere. And that really gave me a sense of accomplishment and excitement to hear so many people feeling enthusiastic about something that I had worked on.
On seeing a Disney+ show being developed that’s based in Appleton (no, he’s not a consultant … yet):
Yes, I’m excited to see what they do with the show. Unfortunately, as I’m on the engineering side of things, I don’t have much to do with direct content creation.
On how his Lawrence experience, including the growth in computer science and data science during his time here, prepared him for the Disney+ job:
I would say that the classes I found most helpful were the algorithms courses I took with Professor (Joseph) Gregg, and particularly relevant now in my current project, the machine learning courses I took with Professor (Andrew) Sage.
Technology changes rapidly, and I think that the fundamentals I learned in the math/computer science department have helped ensure that I can quickly pick up any languages and frameworks that I need to use in projects.
Aside from that, although music and Russian literature are seemingly disparate subjects from computer science, I see a deep interconnectedness in my experience and knowledge from these fields that helps bring fresh perspectives to whatever I’m working on.
Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org