Maybe I should have persued a career in radio…

July 7th, 2008 by Jeff | 6 Core Dumps

I’ve picked up an interesting new job function to add to my résumé: voice-over narrator. Nobody could be more surprised about this than I am.

The primary project I work on at my day job is a series of interactive, computer-based training initiatives for the U.S. Navy Reserve. Until recently, my work has mostly been software development, building a Web-based learning management system through which reservists can take CBTs online and receive the appropriate credit. My time has since been split among several other projects, such as a custom content management system for our digital artists, but it’s largely been in the programming arena. That is, after all, what that fancy paper that hangs on the wall in my office says I’m good at.

As hinted at above, we also have a full digital creative team filled with artists, animators, and specialists in instructional design. While my team builds the nuts-and-bolts front end to serve the training content and keep track of the results, our creative folks actually build the training content itself. This can range from the individual diagrams and 3D models used in illustrations to complex animation sequences and all the way up to the final Flash-based instructional GUI. We’ve got some incredibly talented folks who work here, and I’m pretty proud of some of the things I’ve seen each of them do.

Lately, I’ve found myself crossing the line between coder and creative type. My managers took note with great interest during my initial interview that I’m both an artist and a programmer. My first year or so here, though, I’ve spent most of my time in front of Microsoft Visual Studio, bashing out C# code. Recently, however, I’ve found myself being pulled into more creative endeavors on our team, such as writing the storyboard for a promotional video that will be shown at a major defense contracting conference in December.

The biggest surprise came several months ago when my boss pulled me into a meeting that I normally don’t attend. During that meeting—in which I spent most of my time doodling in a notebook because nothing seemed to apply to me—my ears perked up when it was announced that I would be doing the narration for our interactive security scenario builder demo to be released at that year’s conference. I was a bewildered to say the least.

Later, my boss recounted how my name came up in a previous meeting between several people involved with that project. You see, one minor problem we tend to have here is that the overwhelming majority of us at this site are natives to the region. Well, that’s not exactly a problem from the “mining the local talent pool and supporting the local economy” standpoint. It is a problem when the vast majority of us have noticeable West Virginiahillbilly” accents. As much as I hate stereotypes, this was is pretty darn close to true. Almost everyone here has a noticeable accent, some so far to the point that they sound like caricatures. It’s almost laughable, really.

During this meeting, the team was musing over this problem. They didn’t exactly want a backwoods hick accent talking about how to report potential corporate security violations. It was then when my boss proffered: “Have you ever heard Jeff Darlington’s voice mail message?” I was apparently out of the office at the time because he called my desk and played my outgoing message over the speakerphone. The consensus was undoubtedly unanimous.

And that’s where I am now. In addition to the aforementioned security scenario demo, I’ve recorded narrations for multiple training sessions surrounding shipboard computer administration within the Navy. I can’t really say much more about those lessons, largely because I don’t know how sensitive the material is. It’s not top secret by any means as I don’t have the necessary clearance. Still, it’s probably sensitive enough that I can’t share any samples. However, below you’ll find a link to an early draft of the security scenario builder demo. We’ve reworked it multiple times so the final outcome sounds much better than this one. Nonetheless, it allows you to hear my melodious tones. Enjoy.

Sample Interactive Learning Narration (MP3, 277k, 23 seconds)

I still find it bizarre to be doing this. It’s not something I’ve foreseen myself doing. I’ve been told that I don’t really have an accent, although I can hear it in my own voice especially when I’m tired or when I’m around others with more pronounced accents. My biggest concern right now is for our poor test team, who has to listen to my voice over and over again for hours while debugging the lessons.

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