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Social Impact Tech: Ross Young of Linewize On How Their Technology Will Make An Important Positive…

Social Impact Tech: Ross Young of Linewize On How Their Technology Will Make An Important Positive Impact

An Interview With Jilea Hemmings

We have technology that gets right to the source of however a child is accessing the internet. With an issued school device, we’re breaking SSL, looking at encrypted traffic and using AI to identify any early indicators of self-harm, school violence, depression and suicide. On a school district device that kids are using anywhere from eight to 10 hours a day, we’re protecting those devices and can share data with parents so there’s full transparency on which websites their children are accessing. We also provide resources for parents to get advice from therapists that are focused on digital wellness on what to do about potentially harmful internet searches. So, we’re working with the schools to have visibility to what kids are doing online. And then we’re also working with the parents to help educate them on how kids use the internet and how to have better conversations with their children before handing them a device.

In recent years, Big Tech has gotten a bad rep. But of course many tech companies are doing important work making monumental positive changes to society, health, and the environment. To highlight these, we started a new interview series about “Technology Making An Important Positive Social Impact”. We are interviewing leaders of tech companies who are creating or have created a tech product that is helping to make a positive change in people’s lives or the environment. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ross Young.

Ross Young is the North American Senior Vice President and General Manager at Linewize where he helps K-12 school districts meet the challenges of today’s connected learning environment by leading product strategy, sales and customer experience. With more than 15 years of relevant experience, Young has deep expertise in the EdTech and cybersecurity industries, a passion for technology and its ability to drive social impact, and a strong understanding of how to effectively integrate classroom management tools into school districts. An experienced SaaS veteran, Young was instrumental in the successful launch of Linewize in the U.S. market and has spent the past three years aiding in the strategic growth and development of the company.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory and how you grew up?

My father is a retired military pilot, so I moved around quite a bit as a child. But where I really grew up was in the East Bay, which is part of the San Francisco Bay Area. My parents split when I was very young, so I grew up with a single mom, which was a struggle as she was raising four boys. I played a lot of sports growing up too because my mom was working a lot.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

The story of my career is interesting because I thought there’d be no opportunity without a college degree. I wanted to go to college, however I realized there were a lot of time-consuming projects when I could be out there making money, so I dropped out of college for a career in sales. One of the most ironic things is that I’m hiring people with PhDs and dual master’s degrees, and I don’t have a degree. I believe you can make it through via an alternative path as long as you’re focused on where you want to be.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. So is there a particular person that you are grateful towards who helped you get to where you are and can you share a story about that?

Yes, and he probably doesn’t even know it. There was a leader that I worked with at a previous tech company called iBoss, and he saw me as an individual contributor. He pulled me aside and said, “I see a lot more in you and I think you’re going to be a really strong leader”, which really inspired me to just go for it. So, I would say that he was very critical to my success in getting where I’m at today.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Hard work meets talent when talent fails to work hard.” It’s relevant because I can even relate it back to sports. For example, there are the very gifted athletes that are just naturally good at the beginning of the season and then there are the athletes that really put their head down and put in the work, and towards the end of the season, those are the ones that end up as the starters. Putting your head down, thinking about the process and being relentless within that process will make you more successful.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Perseverance is the number one. I know that’s really cliché, but it’s just so accurate and so true. You’re going to face adversity, but adversity can be an opportunity, and failure is also an opportunity to become more successful if you use that as motivation and learn from adversity. That will ultimately make you more successful in general as you navigate those particular areas. Originally when I started here, nobody wanted to work with us right out of the gate because we didn’t have any customers. I actually got on a jet and flew out to a potential customer, took them out to dinner and really worked with them and put my name and reputation behind our ability to execute. This ultimately led to us replacing the market share leader in the Pascagoula public school district. That was really our first customer in the states, and they were previously still in a contract with the number one competitor in our space. The other is having a strong vision of where you want to go, which is incredibly important. You have to be able to see yourself in that place if you want to actually get there. And then the last thing I’d say is faith. I think that having a personal faith and having a relationship within your particular religion or set of beliefs helps to guide you through relationships and execute on promises made.

OK super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the tech tools that you are helping to create that can make a positive social impact on our society. To begin, what problems are you aiming to solve?

We’re looking to keep kids safe throughout their digital journey, whether that’s on a device provided by a parent, a device issued by the school, or even when kids are accessing content at a friend’s house. We’re really looking to protect every child’s digital journey, regardless of the modality in which they’re connecting to the internet.

How do you think your technology can address this?

We have technology that gets right to the source of however a child is accessing the internet. With an issued school device, we’re breaking SSL, looking at encrypted traffic and using AI to identify any early indicators of self-harm, school violence, depression and suicide. On a school district device that kids are using anywhere from eight to 10 hours a day, we’re protecting those devices and can share data with parents so there’s full transparency on which websites their children are accessing. We also provide resources for parents to get advice from therapists that are focused on digital wellness on what to do about potentially harmful internet searches. So, we’re working with the schools to have visibility to what kids are doing online. And then we’re also working with the parents to help educate them on how kids use the internet and how to have better conversations with their children before handing them a device.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

I have a very personal story that made me passionate about digital safety. When my12-year-olddaughter was seven, she wanted to speak with Justin Bieber online. She was on a laptop in her room searching for how to speak to Justin Bieber. A link came up that said if you want to speak to Justin Bieber to ‘click here.’ When she clicked on it, it downloaded Skype. Skype opened to a stranger on to her screen, and he said, “Only five more people can speak to Justin Bieber, you need to pass the test to speak with him.” It was a live chat and started with simple things like “send me a picture of your face,” and then “send me a picture of you standing up all the way and of your whole body,” and “now I want you to pose and act like a cat and show me a picture of your best cat impression.” There were also things like “how close are your parents? Can you go into your closet? Are you alone in your room? ”My daughter eventually ran out and said, “Mommy, I only have two more tests to pass before I get to speak with Justin Bieber.” My wife went into the room, looked at the laptop, and noticed that all of the questions and that she had actually sent some pictures. We then realized that there was a predator in my daughter’s room trying to take advantage of her. The police ended up catching this guy about four months later, and they caught him with all sorts of child pornography. That experience was really eye opening to me. I realized that even if parents are technically savvy themselves, they can still be totally unaware of how their kids use the internet. I’m passionate about helping educate parents on how to “digitally parent” better and keep kids safe.

How do you think this might change the world?

Right now, we are in the middle of a mental health pandemic. Suicides are the number two cause of death between children of 13 and 19. And ultimately, we’re intervening in suicides every day because of the AI that we’re using and the quick alert notifications we provide. In the last three years, we’ve grown from 150,000 students protected to 9.6 million students protected globally across four different countries. We’re already making an impact on the world. And as our technologies continue to improve, we’re going to affect millions and millions and more.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

This technology must be in the right hands. It’s necessary to educate folks on how to use the data right. Data can be used for good, or it can be used for bad. We’re providing data and guidance on how to use it, but it’s ultimately the parents and the school’s decision on what they do with it. There can be some unintended privacy issues, but the good outweighs the bad in the sense that the people who have access to the data have a fiduciary responsibility to keep children safe. That’s what they’ve sworn to do. So, they’re typically using it within the right context.

Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, can you please share “Five things you need to know to successfully create technology that can make a positive social impact”?

I think I can share three things. First of all, you need to understand the social impact. This is necessary so you don’t lose sight of your vision and mission. That’s really a key component to protecting every student’s digital journey. Regardless of how they use technology, it’s important to define what protecting a student’s digital experience looks like to execute on your mission. The next is outside validation and what that looks like on the social impact. What kind of feedback have you received that validates what you’re doing? For protecting students’ digital journey, when we have a parent or a school district reach out saying they were able to intervene in a suicide or self-harm that week because of Linewize, it validates our social impact. The third is establishing a strong company culture and ensuring that every person you hire has a deep passion behind what they’re doing.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

Life is about more than just making money. Knowing that the world’s a lot bigger than you really humbles you. The happiest people are the ones that are giving back. Making a social impact in your work will keep you driven beyond money. It’s ok to be money driven, but ultimately, if you have the opportunity to give back, you’re really able to reap what you sow.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Honestly, I don’t really have one.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can go to my LinkedIn profile.

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success in your important work.


Social Impact Tech: Ross Young of Linewize On How Their Technology Will Make An Important Positive… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.