Amy Heigaard-Barbee Intern Interview

Amy was Visual Terrain’s intern for Summer/Fall 2022. She was the first intern we had employed since the pre-pandemic year of 2019, and the first-ever intern to work remotely. Amy worked with us from the offices of Visual Terrain’s strategic partner, Bandit Lites, in Knoxville, Tennessee, where she had the benefit of being embedded with lighting designer Christina Martin, as well as Bandit’s team of system integration specialists. Here is Amy’s intern interview:

Q. How was this experience different from your previous work experience?

My prior work experiences were far less in tune with my needs as an employee. Overall, there was much more communication between the senior team members and newer employees such as myself at VTI. The open communication made it easier to both voice my needs as well as making me aware when another team member needed me to assist them. It was great to collaborate with everyone and I truly felt like I was part of a cohesive team. Lisa and David often checked in with the project leads and other team members to ensure they had the help and resources they needed to effectively meet deadlines, and I think that cooperative mentality is what makes us efficient. VTI was fundamentally different from any of my previous jobs, so getting used to my first 9-5 desk job was certainly an adjustment. But the overall friendliness of everyone and the fast-paced environment made it surprisingly easy to get into a rhythm with my work.

Q. What was your favorite part about Visual Terrain, Inc?

I greatly enjoyed the opportunities to learn new software skills, which I wouldn’t have gotten from many other companies outside of VTI. I was able to learn/experiment with programs I was unaccustomed to, such as Revit, but I was also able to expand my knowledge and skill set with more familiar programs like AutoCAD. All my coworkers were ready and willing to jump in and explain things to me if I was ever confused, or to simply share tips and tricks that had made it easier for them to learn when they were new in the industry. I’m extremely grateful to have had so many knowledgeable designers and programmers available to answer questions, and I think they made the learning process smoother. Everyone I worked with was very welcoming and I was always invited to sit in on meetings or to jump into a project to help so I was able to see many different aspects of the work that VTI does, and I was then encouraged to follow up with tasks that aligned with my interests which was always enjoyable.

Q. What did you hope to learn most from your time at VTI?

Primarily, I wanted to learn more about the fundamentals of design as well as the process of executing an architectural lighting design rather than a theatrical one. I didn’t get the education I had hoped for while I was in school for a Bachelor of Fine Arts, so I felt like I was lacking the skills to help on an actual project, let alone to even begin designing anything. While I certainly didn’t become a fully-fledged lighting designer in three months of this internship I was, however, exposed to more of the “behind the scenes” parts of design than I ever had before. These new experiences helped me get an idea of where a designer may start but it also highlighted how the process truly differs from designer to designer and even project by project. I was lucky enough to get a look into several different projects and clients during my three months and I think the variety enhanced what I took away from my time at VTI.

Q. Did your time with Visual Terrain affect your career or academic plans in any way?

It definitely did! Before my internship with VTI I was unsure whether or not I wanted to continue pursuinglighting. I was enrolled in some beginning lighting design classes in my first year of college but the onset of Covid-19 made learning anything extremely difficult for me and a lot of other students. I’m definitely more of a practical learner, so trying to learn something so synergetic and hands-on such as theatrical design via Zoom was daunting to say the least. Now that I have more knowledge about the real-world factors that go into a design and the building that it will go into, I have a better idea of the kind of program I would want to enroll in so that I would get the most out of a typically very expensive education. I also received a lot of advice/recommendations from VTI staff on different programs across the U.S. that would provide the skills that I’ll need for architectural lighting.

Q. How much was the work you did/experience you had at Visual Terrain different from what you expected before you started?

I think the most surprising thing to me were the timeframes for different projects, more specifically, how much longer they took than what I was used to. Theatrical lighting is such a fast-paced environment, and I’ve attended at least one program where we would have a new show just about every month. However, at Visual Terrain some projects would take a few months at the least, whereas others could be caught in development for years for a whole host of potential reasons. It definitely emphasized the flexibility and patience that the team needed to succeed on different projects. That’s also partly what makes a career at VTI so appealing to me. The day-to-day office work is hardly ever the exact same thing and there’s usually opportunities within projects to learn a new skill or gain a new insight, and really the most exciting part of any job for me is the knowledge I’ll gain either from the project itself or the people guiding me on the project.

Q. Any other comments?

I’d like to sincerely thank Lisa and David and also everyone else I worked with at VTI for their patience, kindness, and immense knowledge that they shared with me. Things were pretty hectic in a lot of ways while I was interning, but it truly showed that VTI is a group of problem- solvers and overall compassionate people ready to tackle projects while also teaching others and learning themselves. It was not only a wonderful learning experience, but it was also genuinely fun, which can’t be said for a lot of jobs, and it was very refreshing to see a company that was focused on the health and happiness of their employee,s in addition to the focus on getting a job or project done. Work-life balance is definitely important in any line of work, but so many times the entertainment industry has an even larger emphasis on getting it done at all costs, and because of that it’s very easy for people to burn out.

So, when you encourage that balance you retain amazing designers, programmers, and others who may have otherwise never continued in the industry due to that. Lisa and David are amazing role models for someone who is new to lighting, they’re so kind and savvy and they foster an environment for people to do their best work. Thank you again for the opportunity and again I appreciate everyone I interacted with at VTI for being so ready to teach and explain.