UCLA’s Joe Way: AV Living Legends #37

Joe Way of UCLA joins the Commercial Integrator #AVLivingLegends ranks for his contributions to AV, higher education and mentorship.

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UCLA’s Joe Way: AV Living Legends #37

Photo courtesy of Joe Way.

If you are a member of the commercial AV industry and #avtweeps family, you almost definitely know Joe Way. Way, who possesses both a PhD and a CTS, is a man of many titles and equally many accomplishments. His day job is executive director, digital spaces, at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). However, Way also busies himself serving as cofounder and chair of the Higher Education Technology Managers Alliance (HETMA), in addition to serving as editor-in-chief of Higher Ed AV. Moreover, he’s a frequent keynote speaker and a firm fixture at industry events, including InfoComm, ISE and countless higher-education roadshows.

Thus, it’s no surprise that Commercial Integrator would seek to induct Way among the #AVLivingLegends ranks. Our 37th inductee, he lives out his passion for AV, education, mentorship and DEI every day. We at Commercial Integrator are delighted to celebrate his contributions today.

Read on to learn how Way found his path into commercial AV, as well as how indispensable his mentors were in guiding his steps. Moreover, he reflects on his greatest accomplishments and why he has no regrets. Plus, Way shares words of wisdom that he continues to live by.

And if you’d like to read even more coverage relating to our #AVLivingLegends, like UCLA’s Joe Way, check out our hub page. It includes direct links to every living legend!

Commercial Integrator: What motivated you to join the commercial AV industry?

Joe Way: The move into commercial AV was honestly very unexpected. I spent most of my career on the live events side of the audiovisual industry. I started as a rock ‘n’ roll guitar-playing kid who went to school at USC for recording engineering. I found myself producing campus events and just never left event support (no matter how many times I tried!). After 20 years of live audio, video and broadcast, I found myself working in the house-of-worship market as a technical director, allowing me to work on my PhD and work in AV with a true purpose. Three years later, when California Baptist University came knocking, I thought it would be a fun challenge to help them standardize their classroom technology across the enterprise. Little did I know at that time that I would be entering a whole new world….

I quickly fell in love with higher education and the commercial side of the industry. And now, eight years later, here I am, an executive director at UCLA and chair of HETMA, leading my now-third campus standardization and digital transformation, while also helping other schools and industry partners become successful in their own right.

Commercial Integrator: What has kept you motivated and engaged in the decades that followed?

Joe Way: It’s the impact that keeps me motivated. While I really did love the adrenaline rush of live events, the ability to impact a greater cause is what makes it worth it to me now. When I walk across campus and see students excited about this stage of life — and knowing that what they learn in class will be foundational to their lifelong success — it makes me proud to play even a little part in it by providing state-of-the-art, best-in-class learning environments for them. And if you add that to the lightning in a bottle that is HETMA and Higher Ed AV, as well as being allowed even the littlest ability to be a positive influence in the success of my higher-ed colleagues, my AV life has been just humbling. I never sought to be one of our higher-ed figureheads, but the ability to use my success in order to open doors for others is rewarding beyond belief.

Commercial Integrator: Reflect on your role as both a mentee early in your career and as a mentor later in your career. Who helped shape the trajectory of your professional life? How have you tried to help shape others’ careers?

Joe Way: There is no doubt: I am successful today only because of those who invested in me early in my career. To this day, years later, I still blurt their catchphrases like I just heard them 30 minutes ago: “All of life is sales”; “darn near perfect”; “if you’re not going to do it right, don’t do it all”; “don’t focus on the task, focus on the goal”; “every minute you’re not working to be the best, your competition is”; “no one will know your purpose until you do”; “the answer is always yes — even when it’s no, it’s yes”; “work like what you do truly matters, because it does.”

I have been blessed to have had mentors who believed in me and invested in me at each stage of my career — and even still do so today. No matter how much I mentor others, it will never match the investment that my mentors made in me. It’s because of them that I feel I have a duty to mentor and invest in the next generation. Since reaching management levels in my career, I have found my greatest joy is watching others become successful in their own careers.

I still remember the first time that I had an employee who got her start with me come to my office to say she was quitting. And when I asked why, she said it was because she was ready to go start her own company. I don’t know if I ever felt prouder than I was at that moment.

Commercial Integrator: What’s the most memorable story/anecdote of your career in commercial AV?

Joe Way: I will never forget standing onstage at InfoComm 2021 in Orlando, Fla., at the HETMA Banquet, announcing the formation of the HETMA Prism Scholarship. HETMA offers 10 scholarships each year to underrepresented professionals who work in higher education, providing CTS training, a HETMA mentor, the CTS exam and a trip to experience InfoComm in person. It is special not just because it’s an incredibly impactful initiative but also because it came out of a recognition that our industry needed to change. Rarely in our careers are we able to create something that can and will live beyond ourselves and allow new voices to emerge and thrive.

Now, as I see the cohorts of recipients become leaders in HETMA, get new jobs and opportunities, become trailblazers in the AV industry and impact the next generation themselves, it leaves me speechless. When I finally do step away from the industry, I will do so knowing that I helped make a real difference. It’s an investment that will pay dividends in the lives of so many deserving people for decades to come.

Commercial Integrator: What has been your greatest professional accomplishment to date?

Joe Way: Wow…that’s an interesting one. There are so many things that I’m proud of. I think I would normally jump to one of the various awards or recognitions, such as my AV Professional of the Year, Project of the Year, Service Team of the Year or Businessman of the Year. Or maybe I’d point to having a company acquired, hosting the top-rated Higher Ed AV podcast or writing my book/PhD, Producing Worship. But I have to say the cofounding of HETMA is my greatest professional accomplishment.

When I see the true impact that it’s having on people’s lives and careers, it’s amazing. It’s jaw dropping! I also know that it will continue to drive change in the higher-ed vertical, as well as the greater AV industry, for generations by platforming new leaders and voices that never would have had the opportunity without the organization. Every day, I am shocked at the new stories from our members about how HETMA has been foundational to their success.

Commercial Integrator: What has been your biggest professional regret to date?

Joe Way: I don’t have any regrets. I have made mistakes. But mistakes turn into lessons. Lessons are how we grow. And growth is the secret to long-term success.

Commercial Integrator: What’s the best advice or pearl of wisdom you either received during your career or came to realize on your own?

Joe Way: I have come to learn that fear of failure is our worst enemy. Although we all suffer from Imposter Syndrome to some degree, we ourselves — not the obstacles we face — are often the reason we don’t achieve our goals. We can talk ourselves into believing the negative voices in our heads; we can see all the reasons something won’t work; and we can allow excuses to pile up. But we can never know the true satisfaction of reaching our goals until we step out of our comfort zone and try. I would rather fail miserably than live with “what if?” regret.


Would you also like to nominate a peer or colleague — or perhaps yourself!  in this #AVLivingLegends series just like UCLA’s Joe Way was? If so, just email Dan Ferrisi, group editor, commercial and security, Emerald, at [email protected].

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