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Ryan Coleman

It’s difficult to describe the rabbit hole-like nature of my talk with Ryan Coleman. It’s better if you see for yourself. 

Here is an excerpt:

“You went to Coachella by yourself?”

“Yeah, I know. It’s weird. I like doing that kind of thing.”

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t know. Travel by myself. I went to Australia by myself.”

“You did?”

“Well, I met up with my sister there. She was on her way back from Antarctica.”

“You mean…”

“The south pole, yeah.”

“What was your sister doing in Antarctica? Is she a research scientist?”

“No. She was washing dishes.”

“I just want to get this straight. You traveled to the other side of the world—alone. You met your sister there who was on her way back from Antarctica where she was a dishwasher.”

“That’s correct.”

Our entire conversation went like that. 

LEFT: Photographic proof of Ryan's Australian escapade. RIGHT: Ryan soaking up waves on the Australian coast.

I would ask a relatively open-ended question, anticipating any number of varied responses. Ryan would answer, obliterating every single one of my expectations.

It’s not as if Ryan comes off as predictable, it’s just that his idiosyncrasies are so profound. At 22 years old, he’s not only the youngest member of our dev team, he’s also the youngest Paradowski employee. I tried to bait him into revealing some insight about how his youth defines his role at the agency but he shrugged me off. Other than our wholly different pop culture references, there’s nothing that indicates his age. He displays neither immaturity or lack of experience. Ryan, guileless and zen-like, seems more comfortable in his own skin than most veterans of this business.

His gregariousness is sincere without being suffocating and he moves around the office with a dancer’s grace. The latter can be attributed to his time as a competitive cheerleader. The former requires a little more unpacking.

Ryan's time as a competitive cheerleader and dancer

Like most card-carrying members of The Zolom's Children, Ryan Coleman grew up around technology. There was a second-hand computer in his bedroom, which he much preferred over the TV. At four years old he remembers watching Teletubbies, getting bored, and then sneaking off to his room to mess around on the computer. What’s different about Ryan is that he didn’t see it as a video game console or some kind of escape. Even as a toddler, he saw it as an instrument. 

“I don’t think people realize the creative demands of coding,” Ryan explains. “It’s very much a creative process. When my friends ask me what I do, I want to show them not just what I made, but how I made it. I want to show them the trouble I ran into and how I solved it. You can't get that across by sending someone a link to a webpage you built.”

At his mother’s insistence, Ryan took classical piano lessons for the majority of his childhood and adolescence. 

There’s a parallel between his musicianship and his coding skills.

For Ryan, both require a similar discipline to master the fundamentals. There are rules and standards, but if you can recognize the patterns and understand it as a language, you can transform a recitation into a creative expression. 

It’s the kind of contradiction Ryan appears to almost go out of his way to embrace. For example, he’s an audiophile that insists any song must be heard within the context of an album. He even prefers vinyl. However, when pressed to name his favorite artist, he says Owl City without a trace of irony or sheepishness. That’s right—Owl City. 

“Justify Owl City to me,” I demanded.

“I know you are rolling your eyes out of your head, but there's something about how layered the music is,” Ryan instructed. “Don't get me wrong, it's still very whimsical, but it’s also thematic. Most people have only heard the fireflies song and write it off as not being very deep. But for me, it's music for headphones. You can hear the central melody, but also the more obscure elements and just let it wash over you.”

The thing is, he’s right. Listening later that night, I understood what was so compelling about Owl City for Ryan. It still sounded like music tailor-made for someone ten years my junior, but I could see what inspired his ardour.

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Ryan and his dog, Briëlle, at a friend's wedding reception, which he also officiated. Ryan is an ordained minister for the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

The ability to intercede and act as translator comes natural for Ryan. It’s a skill that exposes another of his contradictions. In addition to his solo travel to Australia, Ryan has collected an impressive array of passport stamps.

Unlike obnoxiously photogenic snake people who espouse a love for traveling but really just want a selfie in front of the Taj Mahal, Ryan Coleman is in sincere pursuit of experience.

Take his trip to Scandinavia. He went alone, he didn’t speak the language, and he loved every minute of it.

“I love traveling on my own because sometimes I'll want to meet people, but then other times I just want to evaporate and observe,” Ryan admitted. “I know traveling abroad alone terrifies some people, but there’s just something invigorating about being completely helpless.”

I needed an example and Ryan obliged me.

“I was in Norway and I speak very little Norwegian. I had a phrasebook, but that was basically it. I went to a coffee shop and ordered in Norwegian, feeling pretty proud of myself. Then the lady started asking questions back. That's the one thing you don't want to happen when you're in a country where you don't speak the language. But she was patient with me and I started to understand her. We had a short conversation in a language I don’t speak. It was empowering.”

Ryan and his grandpa enjoying his last time visiting his home country, Germany.

LEFT: A necessary "I went to Coachella" selfie. RIGHT: Another shameless selfie at a rooftop patio in Munich, Germany.

In a lot of ways, Ryan embodies my favorite thing about Paradowski—this idea that there is no typical employee.

We don’t hire a certain type. It’s an extension of our belief that creativity is not the sole property of art directors and copywriters. Ryan is a case study of why this belief is so foundational to our culture.

Occupying the center of several intersecting circles, Ryan’s presence manages to be both soulful and buoyant. A self-described introvert. An experienced world traveler. Trilingual. A sensitive artist’s heart and web developer ingenue.

Where others would feel helpless, Ryan is empowered.

Talking about him with my fellow 30-somethings, specifically about his young age, someone joked, “The future is no longer ours.” I laughed at the time, but it’s true. I, for one, can’t imagine a better standard bearer for who we are and who we could be.