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From the Drawing Board to the Esports Arena

Breaking a long family tradition, Jom Thaipejr left civil engineering behind for a career in esports.

His father and grandfather both notable civil engineers, Jom Thaipejr had a plan for his life mapped out from an early age. It was always assumed that he would follow their footsteps and carry on the family tradition.

Jom never really questioned it. He graduated from Cal Baptist University, and then launched his professional career at AECOM, a global giant in infrastructure design. His work ethic and determination positioned him for a successful career there, until one day Jom realized he had to make a change. Engineering wasn't sparking his passion for work.

Three Generations of Civil Engineers

“It was just understood that I'd become a civil engineer,” Jom said. “For example, my dad would take me to construction sites when I was a kid and say things like, ‘Someday you'll be building a bridge just like that one.’ I never questioned it. But every morning I'd have to push myself to do the work, and I wanted to work on something that excited me.”

So on the advice of a friend, he enrolled in the Division of Continuing Education's Esports Management specialized studies program. Soon after, he landed a position with iBUYPOWER, a leading custom gaming-computer company, where he works as a marketing content specialist, event planner, and on partnership activations. One of his duties is to organize large esports events — something he loves every minute of.

“It stems from when I was in high school and took a multimedia class,” he said. “That was right about when YouTube started getting really popular. My teacher saw potential in me, and it was something that I liked and was passionate about. That's how I wanted to feel about my career.”

Armed with his DCE education, Jom found an exciting new life in esports, but he's still close with his old crew at AECOM. In fact, on a day he set aside to visit former coworkers, Jom found time to chat with us about his journey, and the family tradition that was so hard to break.

Having been groomed to carry on a family tradition must have made your career change especially tough. How did your parents take it?

Well, I put off telling them as long as I could, but I had already been hired at my new company and I knew I had to break the news. I waited until after we had dinner, and somehow my mother knew something was up. She was mostly okay with it, but my father was livid. After all the schooling and studying, he couldn't understand why I'd leave engineering, something that I was clearly good at, for a job in esports.

What sort of work were you doing at AECOM?

A lot of my work involved aviation and airport design — Oakland International, John Wayne, San Diego International and others — mostly around civil and electrical design for runways and taxiways. It was a great job. AECOM is the very best, like the Google in its field, and it's almost impossible to break into. People couldn't understand why I'd leave, but every day I woke up mentally exhausted.

Was there a turning point or moment's revelation that made you realize you needed a change?

It was mostly all the retirement parties I attended, seeing these engineers who were so passionate about their career and able to work in the company for over 20 years. I wanted to be that passionate too, but I didn't see engineering to be that field for me.

What made you decide to get into the esports business?

I discovered multimedia and filmmaking when I was in high school. I didn't realize it would be something I'd like, or had talent for, but I had to take an art class to fulfill a graduation requirement. When I decided to find a career that I was excited about, I knew it had to be something along those lines. At first, I thought of applying to work at YouTube, but that company is so impacted it's impossible to find an opening. Then a friend of mine at UCI mentioned their esports courses, and I thought, ‘Is that really a thing?’ (laughs) But I found out it's this massive industry that has so many opportunities in so many different areas.

Tell me about the Esports Management program. How did it help open doors for you?

One of the things that impressed me most is that the instructors are all professionals from big tech companies like Twitch, Activision and Blizzard. They provide great insight into all the aspects of esports, which is a huge, fast-growing industry. They're very helpful even when the program is over, and they have so many networking connections. One of my classmates found out I wanted a job at iBUYPOWER, and they offered to help push my resume through their network. Thanks to them, I finally got a call for an interview after waiting months.

How did the interview go?

Well, I almost blew it. (laughs) The manager called and asked when I'd be available and I blurted out Tuesday, meaning Tuesday the following week. I totally forgot this was Monday, so he said, ‘Great, see you tomorrow.’ I was so nervous I was sweating. I walked in and there sat the department manager and the VP. The VP looks at my resume and says, ‘You've only had experience as a civil engineer?’ Well, yeah. So I asked, ‘You need me to build anything?’ (laughs)

Was it a tough transition from engineering?

Actually, my engineering skills give me an advantage. It takes a lot of planning and organizing to produce something large or small, whether that's a college tournament or a meet-and-greet with professional esports athletes at an event like TwitchCon in San Diego. So it's similar to designing a runway lighting system or any engineering project, in a way. My background illustrated that if I was passionate enough about something and determined to do whatever it took to make it work, that I could go ahead and take the leap! You never know how your old skill sets might help you succeed. I'm proof of that.

How does your father feel about your career now?

He's fine with it and happy that I found a job I'm passionate about. I took my parents to a recent iBUYPOWER event and he was really impressed. He told me how proud he was. That meant a lot to me.

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