Meet Our Magic Makers

Did you know that we have a team of top-notch data scientists working to make sure that kids have the best chance of falling in love with a book? For this week’s employee spotlight, we’re highlighting Dave Kale. Dave came to us from Netflix, where he was working to deliver those perfect TV and film suggestions you see on your home screen. Now, he’s doing that for kids and books! We are so happy is on our team.

Q: Can you tell us what a data scientist does, and why it’s important? 
A: We combine data with mathematics and computation to generate insights, to make predictions about the future, and to build automation in areas where uncertainty prevails and alternative approaches are infeasible or will not scale. That last point is especially important: data science is at its most useful when it unlocks either new capabilities or the ability to scale a process as the business grows.

Q: What does an average day look like?
A: We begin with brainstorming and data exploration, aimed at unearthing patterns or generating hypotheses. We may then set up a “contrived” experiment (using historical data) that enables us to prototype and evaluate potential solutions. We frequently spend a lot of time in this stage, as many of our ideas fail. Once we have a promising solution, we will prepare our solution for production deployment and roll it out, often as a part of an A/B test. Finally, there is a lot of retrospective analysis and communication of our results.

Q: Can you tell us how data science is utilized at Literati?
A: At Literati, we use data science to recommend the best books for kids. Our goal is to build algorithms to leverage what we know about readers to better understand their book preferences. This goes beyond just asking for their preferences, and then sending books that match. Instead, we look for implicit signals of their tastes, in the same way that well-known recommendation engines (like Netflix!) do. Broadly we look for patterns of the form, “readers who kept the books you kept also kept these other books.

Q: What advice would you give to someone just starting out in a similar field? 
A: For students, beware of graduate school, unless you think you might want to do research or teach. If you’re determined to go into industry, the opportunity cost of spending 2+ years out of the market is high! For everyone else, there is a wealth of free learning material available—take advantage of it, whether to learn something new or continue your professional growth.

Q: Where can we find you on a Saturday morning?
A: Once upon time, my Saturdays were for sleeping in and running. Nowadays, the weekends revolve around our children, Wally and Matilda. We try to get out of the house to visit parks and museums, go on hikes, or swim, and organized sports and activities are slowly coming to dominate our free time. I’m hoping at least one of the kids discovers a love of running so I can start living vicariously through them!

At Literati, we believe that veterans bring a special skillset to our culture, and we would like to highlight Rod Billingsley, Area Manager of our Austin fulfillment center and a veteran. Thank you for everything you do for Literati, but more importantly – thank you for your service!

Branch of Service: Army Signal Corps

Q: Describe your role at Literati in one sentence? 
A: At Literati, I oversee the day to day of Fulfillment and Operations here in Austin, TX.

Q: What motivates you to come to work?
A: The love I have for my team, my peers, and our mission to help kids become successful readers. 

Q: Do you think your service impacts how you lead a team? 
A: The military taught me what it truly means to be a part of a team and to be able to confidently make decisions. I am laser-focused and disciplined to achieve a mission, and this one just happens to be helping kids fall in love with reading. 

Q: What was the most rewarding part of your service experience?
A: The connections I made with my fellow soldiers, and the education and training I received. 

Q: What does Veterans Day mean to you? 
A: Veteran’s day is an opportunity for our country to unite and show great admiration and appreciation for the women and men who choose to put their lives on the line in the name of service to others and freedom for all.

 Akeem has been a leader on our engineering team for 2+ years and is based in Austin.

Q: Describe your role at Literati in one sentence. 
A: I work on the apps and websites that our customers use to interact with our book clubs for kids. 

Q: What is it about you that people may not know? 
A: I was born in Jamaica. I came to the US with my parents when I was 5 years old. We first moved to New York, but then ended up in Atlanta, which is where I grew up.  

Q: What inspired you to pursue a career as an engineer? 
A: When I was in high school, I was using a platform where I could create my own video game. After a while, I wanted to make changes. Instead of using the software the game provided to make these changes, I decided it would be more efficient (and better) if I just did them myself. I learned how to code, and I was hooked from there. 

Q: If you could switch your job with anyone else within Literati, whose job would you want?
A: Our social media associate—Dana Scholten. I have zero experience with social media, but watching her be creative and think of new ideas and fun ways to showcase our product and customers seems fun (and challenging). 

Q: What makes working on the engineering team at Literati so special? 
A: I believe working for a mission-driven company brings a certain passion that I haven’t felt before. We’re building a product that helps kids become successful readers and love to read. 

Julie is head of sales for Literati Book Fairs. We expanded into book fairs last spring to reach even more kids and currently host fairs around the country. You can learn more about book fairs here.

Q: Can you describe your role at Literati in one sentence?
A: As the director of sales, I lead, motivate, and clear all roadblocks to ensure the sales and events team has what they need to achieve our goals.

Q: What makes Literati Book Fairs special? 
A: The attention and care that goes into every detail to build our book fairs, from sales to operations execution, truly makes what we have to offer special. We ensure schools have what they need to deliver the magic of a book fair to kids. Building successful readers starts with the right books.

Q: What advice would you give to people in roles similar to yours?
A: Allow your team the autonomy to manage their role, listen, provide feedback, and lead by example. Think through before you do.

Q: What motivates you to wake up and go to work?
A: My team and our mission. I live and love to help our team grow and be successful. The end users of our book fair products are our future! I love being able to play a role in igniting a love of learning and life through books.

“Live Your Own Story” – In Box Artwork, May 2022

Creativity is at the core of everything we do at Literati, and behind so much of that magic is Kat Yao. Kat plays a huge role in making sure our designs are nothing short of magical. She has even illustrated some of our in-box artwork herself! We are so lucky to have her on our team.

Q: Describe your role at Literati in one sentence. 
A: I create graphic designs and illustrations for our kids book clubs, from the art extras in the boxes to digital work. Visual designers piece together text and images in a beautiful and impactful way to convey a message that connects with people who see it.

Q: In addition to being a designer, you are also a very talented illustrator. Do the two go hand-in-hand? 
A: Design and illustration are very complementary, especially in the kids realm. Illustration can enhance and make a design fun and dynamic, while design provides a structure that connects the viewer with a clear message or story. (A dynamic duo!)

Q: What software do you use to create your designs?  
A: I mainly use [Adobe] Illustrator, InDesign, and Photoshop for design work and Procreate (or paper and pencil) for any illustration work.

Q: When did you realize that you had the skills and passion for art?  
A: I was fascinated by cartoons and comics and started drawing pretty early on. I loved how art was a way of creating whatever was in your imagination, and wanted to bring what was in my mind to paper. This continued to grow in university when I was exposed to a variety of arts—including design—and was surrounded by lots of other creative, passionate people.

Q: What makes working on the creative team at Literati so special? 
A: Each person on this team is truly amazing at what they do and continually creates beautiful and impactful work for kids. I learn something from their empathy and creativity every day!

Q: What do you do for fun outside of work? 
A: Right now, I like watching films, going to craft fairs and museums, and punch-needling.