Master’s Alumni Profile: Justin Maccagnan G’22

Justin Maccagnan G’22

Newhouse Master’s Program: Television, Radio and Film
Current Position: Production Support Engineer at NBCUniversal and CNBC Business Channel

How did you obtain your current position?

This position, weirdly enough, came through a LinkedIn recruiter. My profile was suggested to her as I had a large technical background working as an engineer for trucks, stadiums and universities. I’ll be honest, I thought it was spam, so I ignored it, but after looking her up, I decided to talk to her. We had two interviews and here we are. It has been nothing short of spectacular since. 

What’s an average day like for you on the job?

As a production support engineer, I support all technical equipment for CNBC business channel and NBCUniversal, specifically the New York offices at the NASDAQ. This includes camera equipment, graphics operation systems, INews software, transmission technology and control room operations (any equipment breaks, I am fixing it). Aside from this, our shop has also merged with the IT department. So, I am also tasked with making new employee work accounts, troubleshooting computer programming issues, internet software updates, fixing PC routers and dealing with any issues that may be IT related. 

Any given day can be vastly different, which is why I love this job so much. We are a call support shop, so we respond to whoever calls with an issue, meaning one day I could be working on an INews issue and the next I am working on a camera problem in one of the main studios. On a regular day, I am also working on major projects that the network needs done. These projects come in spurts, but they are very exciting, and I love knowing that I am working on the future studios/equipment of CNBC.  

How do you feel Newhouse prepared you for your current position?

Classes in sports and TV production were what helped prepare me the most for my current position. With professors like Olivia Stomski and Andy Robinson, I was able to obtain base knowledge of how to work in sports production and operate cameras as well as learn technical aspects of production. Specifically with Robinson’s class, the greatest part was staying after our show tapings and studying the technical aspects that went into operating the graphics system as well as the TD switchboard. I never thought staring at wires would be so enjoyable but after seeing how every wire contributed to the broadcast, I was hooked. Without Robinson’s class, I don’t know if I would have gone in the direction I did. 

All of the hard skills I learned were from being an engineer intern for the ACC Network and Syracuse Athletics. I did this job for the entire time I was in Syracuse. Things I learned included how to make ethernet cables, hardwiring cameras, setting up audio consoles, troubleshooting video signal issues and cleaning fiber cables. I developed a very close friendship with the chief engineer of Syracuse Athletics, and that friendship both led to my current job and is a friendship I will have for the rest of my life. In truth, Newhouse as well as Syracuse Athletics helped guide me to what my true-life passion was. 

Did Newhouse open your eyes to new professions or aspects of your field you may have not considered when applying? 

Through Newhouse, I was introduced to the ACC Network and Syracuse Athletics. At first, my objective was to just get in the door and work live sporting events. Scott Hecht, the then director of ACC Network, appreciated my enthusiasm and asked if I wanted to be an engineer intern. I had no clue what engineers do, but to me, it was an opportunity, so I jumped at it. That one leap of faith was what led me to where I am now. 

The greatest thing that happened to me while at Syracuse was working for Tom White, the chief engineer for Syracuse athletics. Up until I met Tom, I had never known what an engineer does. Tom took every chance he had to teach me something new. As an engineer, your main task is knowing every single piece of equipment, wire and cable that goes into a specific broadcast. You are the line of defense if something falls apart and all eyes look to you to fix said problem, so you are always learning something new. With Tom, we dealt with lots of issues, and I began to realize this is the career path I wanted to pursue. Very few people want to become broadcast engineers, so this helps the field as there are usually job openings for these positions. I saw this as not only an exciting growth opportunity, but one that I could make a full career out of.

What unique features of your graduate program drew you to it? 

One of the key features of my program was that I was brought on as an instructional associate. As someone who aspires to be a college professor one day, I saw this as a wonderful opportunity to get some teaching practice. I worked with first year and sophomore production courses and loved every minute of it. 

The television, radio and film program is arguably the most unique program at Syracuse. It is an amazing program in that the objective of both the professors and the curriculum is to allow the student to grow their mind as well as tap into their creative potential. The program’s objective is to help you find your creative voice and run with it. Aside from that, this program also uniquely combines all facets of the film and entertainment industry into the coursework, including screenwriting, pitching films, business models of the film industry, production and law practices that all networks/film houses follow, giving a well-rounded knowledge of the entertainment world. 

Lastly, if you join the program and you feel you may not be bonding with the film material as much, Michael Schoonmaker, the television, radio and film department chair, is more than willing to help find you electives that are in the other programs of Newhouse. I had several graduate friends take courses outside the normal TRF curriculum and they couldn’t have been happier.

Did the Newhouse Career Development Center aid you?  

The Newhouse Career Development Center did help me, both with my resume as well as job leads. Bridget Lichtinger was crucial to my success at Syracuse and my resume looked a lot better once we went over it a couple of times. She is a true asset to the school. 

What are some obstacles or misconceptions about your field?

A lot of young students that get into the broadcast engineering field may think they just set up the equipment and then leave it for the people to operate. Unfortunately, this is anything but true. As an engineer, your job is to know where everything goes for a broadcast. And when I mean everything, I mean EVERYTHING.  

I’ll use an example: Say you are using a Sony camera. As an operator you just need to know which buttons on the camera do what, how to shoot and what to shoot. As an engineer, you need to know button functions, where do the wires that are connected to the camera go, what signal goes to those said wires, what is the lens type of the camera, what unit powers the camera and what signal sends to the operator so they can see what they are shooting. When you think about this, most people’s minds explode and you’re not expected to know all this right out of the gate- but when you work many years in the field, you are expected to eventually know all the information pertaining to those systems spoken about. 

What moments in your career have been most exciting or defining thus far? 

There have been many, so I’ll name a couple:

The engineer job with CNBC and NBCUniversal: This is a position most people don’t get until they are in their 30s due to the level of knowledge required. By a stroke of luck, I was brought on with an expectation they would train me on equipment for the long term, so I am always appreciative that I got such a unique and amazing opportunity. 

Phillies corporate event: This was the first major corporate event I had worked for the Phillies and due to a callout, I was left to man the event by myself. I set up everything, operated all consoles and broke down everything afterward. It was a big moment for me as it increased my confidence that I could do these events by myself.

What advice do you have for current or incoming students?

One of the greatest assets of Newhouse is the main control room for Syracuse Athletics and ACC Network out of Syracuse. Go inside, look around and talk to the people that run operations there- they are always looking for dedicated students that can work events and want to learn. Whether you are someone that wants to be an on-air talent, producer, replay operator, or even engineer, they always have spots available for people to get involved. 

Even if you don’t enjoy it as much as I did, I promise you the most successful producers and on-air talents are the ones that know about the technical aspects of a TV broadcast. It can only help you in the long run. 

The classes I recommend are any production classes with Olivia Stomski and I also recommend any courses with Kelly Leahy, Robert Thompson and Shaina Holmes. Three of the best professors I had while at Syracuse.