Man in the Middle

NAME: Jun Ying

TITLE: Global I.T. Director, Web Development

COMPANY: The Coca-Cola Company

CAREER: Architects cool internet projects

Jun ying hired on with the Coca-Cola Company in late 2005 to help launch a virtual environment called Coke Studios, a sort of branded precursor to the now-popular Second Life site. The project was a huge hit, amassing 8 million registered users. It cemented Ying’s status as an architect of large-scale projects at the leading edge of Internet cool, and vaulted him into the job of director of global Web development for the beverage behemoth.

These days, says Ying, Coke Studios “is starting to show its age.” And, he adds, he knows the feeling. “Every day that goes by, I find another reason to think I’m not so young anymore,” says the 31-year-old. Successive waves of new programmers look ever more youthful. “We have a lot of young talent here, and they may think of me as the old guy.” There are signs in his personal life, too: He spends less time than he used to playing video games, and more time playing golf.

But Ying’s mixture of youth and experience is part of the value he brings to the job. He’s a man in the middle, mentored and mentor, able to communicate as effectively with his boss, Coke North America CIO Ed Steinike, as with his own network of peers. And he is equally comfortable with a rising generation of sharp young technologists who just happen to be close in age to Coca-Cola’s target demographic.

Ying previously worked with Steinike at General Electric Co., where Steinike served as CIO for corporate operations and various divisions, and Ying was a long-term consultant. He originally started his career at Delta Air Lines doing Web development, then worked at a pair of Silicon Valley startups before starting his own consulting firm, which worked on Web sites and e-commerce for large companies, including GE. “I had experience in scaling real-time environments, and some business experience and understanding of what people are looking for on Internet, so it was a good fit,” he says.

The relationship with Steinike, two decades his senior, has remained strong. “There is no big generation gap between us in terms of our understanding of technology,” says Ying, who converses with his boss mostly via instant messenger, although they work one only floor apart. The two also connect on the subject of college basketball; Steinike is a big fan, and Ying—who grew up in Shanghai until the age of 15—graduated from Georgia Tech, a frequent contender in the powerful Atlantic Coast Conference.

Coke’s senior management needs no tutorials on the value of the Web, says Ying, but Ying say he’s able to bring them ideas about what’s hot and what comes next. “I have a network of peers around the country, and I spend time on sites like Slashdot and Ars Technica where information breaks, places that top management may not go,” he says. “So there is an educational process at work.” He often plays a similar role in conversations with younger workers, which are less about specific technologies than about the constants of business and marketing. “I swap stories with them about the patterns I see repeating over time,” he says. “It’s not the technology per se; whether it’s Java or Cobol, similar things happen again and again.” He sees the rising generation of technologists as business savvy and entrepreneurial, “not focused on the computer itself, but more in tune with external environments.”

Ying’s pet project, Coke Studios, may no longer occupy the cutting edge of culture or technology, but it served its purpose by attracting teens and young adults and then convincing them to spend hours online in Coke’s branded environment. And it paved the way for the innovative online marketing platform, The Coke Show, which relies on a slick Web site full of user-created content to keep the venerable brand relevant in a fickle marketplace.

What’s next? “The Internet space is here to stay, even if the details remain to be determined,” Ying says. “My focus is on principles behind interactive media and the consumer experience, on the platform behind the specific application, so we can launch our next thing successfully, whatever it is and whenever it comes along. I see myself continuing to be at the forefront of trying to simplify technology and making it relevant to everyday activities.”

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