I’m Jake Volcsko.
It’s kind of a boring name. When I was born my grandfather said it was a dog’s name when I was born.
I’m told he wanted me to be named after him, Boyd Merle.
My real first name is Randall, after my father. They gave me the middle name Jacob because … I’m not actually sure why actually. Based on everything I’ve found, not one person in my family was named Jacob. I assume it was a Bible thing.
My parents started calling me Jacob instead of Randall because my dad went by Randy – which, I know, makes no sense.
I went by Jacob until kindergarten. Then I started school and there were two Jacobs.
I became Jake.
There’s also a whole thing about my last name; it was Volocko when I was born, but should have been Volcsko (or Volscko), and now it is Volcsko. Then I discovered my family’s real last name is Volčko, which is Slovakian and is roughly translated to ‘little/small wolf,’ or ‘wolfie.’
It’s a whole thing. But it is a cute story how my spouse and I made the official change.
Speaking of my spouse, I am married to the most wonderful person, Angela. She’s the best. We met late on our respective college careers, just before she graduated in 2000. We were married in August 2002. I wrote about our 17th wedding anniversary.
We have two sons, Elijah and Charlie. Elijah was born in 2004 and Charlie in 2006.
While we currently have two dogs and two cats, and we’ve owned no less that 374 animals. I’m exaggerating, but it is true that we got a dog before we even moved in together. You can see where our priorities are.
I’m a Yinzer
Born and raised in western Pennsylvania, I’m a native Yinzer. Johnstown to be specific. Angela and I have moved to several other areas of the mid-west, south and mid-Atlantic since graduating from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, but I’ll always be a Yinzer.
If you’ve ever met anyone from western PA you’ll have guessed this already, but I’m proud of where I grew up. I don’t know if it’s the blue-collar background, the connections to our ancestors that immigrated in the early 1900s, or something else, but there is something about being from the Rust Belt that makes you want to let everyone know it.
The grit that formed the Rust Belt is part of why I am who I am today.
Another personal tidbit about me is that I grew up working in a cemetery.
No, I’ve never seen a ghost.
After the collapse of the steel industry, my father because the caretaker at St. Stephens Cemetery, located on hill in Johnstown, PA. This meant that I was an employee at the Cemetery.
I spent a lot of time here in my formative years cutting grass, putting in footers, and digging graves. And we didn’t dig with a backhoe – my dad thought the backhoe ruined the grass and created a less than optimal experience for the family.
We used picks, shovels and a digging bar – a digging bar that I still use to this day.
The holes were dug to the following specs:
- Four feet wide – the height of the pick;
- Eight feet long – the height of the digging bar;
- Five feet deep – the height of the shovel.
Yes, it was five feet, not six, because the weight of the casket and vault would push it down another foot or so as the ground settled.
I’ve been a high school football referee since 2003, love Pittsburgh sports, am deeply passionate about art (and continue to draw), like to work on a jigsaw puzzle at the end of a workday, enjoy getting lost in the world of a video game, and love nothing more than spending time with my wife and kids.
What do I do to earn my keep?
Professionally, the thing that most of us become known for, I’m a problem solver, someone who figures out how to get things done, which usually puts me in operations. A few years ago, when it became clear that my professional alignment would be in operations, a colleague of mine asked, “Do you really want your best day to consist of shit not falling completely apart?”
It’s a fair question. But, yes, I’m perfectly fine with it.
I love a good puzzle – there is always a jigsaw puzzle being worked on in my home – and I see operations as a puzzle. Like a jigsaw puzzle, sometimes a piece doesn’t fit just right, but you know the right piece exists, you just have to work to find it.
Unlike a jigsaw puzzle, the outcomes around an operations role affects more than just me. There are real consequences to almost everything I do. Every decision that is made changes the calculus of a department, an organization, an audience, a consumer, etc.
That’s really what drives me, pushes me to try and be better each and every day.
My career has been spent primarily in local media: newspapers, TV, radio. Since 2012 the roles I’ve held are in the area of digital operations and audience development. I’ve worked in Public Media, as the Cheif Digital Officer with Connecticut Public, a duel licensee NPR and PBS station. Currently I oversee content strategy and operations for DealNews.
The subset of media I enjoy most, and have built a real passion for, is audience development. Not that this has always been my passion.
Mark Cuban has a great quote about passion.
One of the great lies of life is ‘follow your passions’ … The things I found myself being really good at are the things I put a lot of effort into … Don’t follow your passion, follow your effort.
The lesson was something I learned early in my career.
After graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in Applied Media Arts (graphic design), I started my career as a graphic designer.
Why a graphic designer?
I got my degree and pursued a career in something art-related because art is my passion. I thought that’s what I was supposed to do because that’s the advice we all receive.
Follow your passion.
I quickly realized that I did not enjoy my passion as my career. There were three reasons this was the case:
didn’t enjoyhated being told what to create. I viewed what I was creating as art and didn’t want to be told what to do.
- If I’m being honest, I wasn’t as good at design as I thought. I wasn’t bad, just not as good as I thought.
- Most importantly, I wasn’t interested in putting in the time to get as good as I wanted to be. The rewards just didn’t seem to be there.
Without realizing it I actually fell into operations through my design work. Part of my role was preparing jobs for printing, an operations role that I needed to learn. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I got really good at recognizing flaws in the system, and developing ways to address the flaws and optimize the system.
I fell into audience development and realized that it was something I was good at, and it was something I enjoyed. I put in the effort to learn audience development, eventually taking a job in a circulation department at a local newspaper – which doubles as audience development and marketing in that world.
I fell back into operations, because that’s the nature of work in a circulation department, and I hated it at first. It was frustrating and I wanted to run.
However, I also wanted to get good at what I was doing. So I put in the time and effort to become good at it. And you know what?
I got good at it.
I got really good at it.
Then I got really good at extending what I learned in one area to other areas of the operation and understanding how an organization functions.
And, as Cuban says in the video above:
Nobody quits anything they’re good at. Because it’s fun to be good. It’s fun to be one of the best.
To clarify, I don’t think I’m one of the best, but it is fun to be good at something. So while I don’t think I am one of the best, I am really good at what I do, and each and every day I strive to be better.