A Conversation with Raj Tut ’06

Raj Tut graduated from LMU with a major in mechanical engineering from the Frank R. Seaver College of Science and Engineering. Today he is director of product for Disney Interactive Media Group in Palo Alto, Calif., a position he took in 2008 when Disney acquired Togetherville, a social networking website for kids that he co-founded. We spoke to Tut about children’s social networking sites and his engineering education. He was interviewed by Fred Puza Jr.

What led you to create a social networking site for kids?
My other co-founder has three kids. He was the one who really saw the opportunity. We wanted to leverage the wonderful technology of the Internet in relation to learning, creativity and fun in the context of children. No one else was doing it.

Shouldn’t we encourage our kids to play outside with other kids instead of spending time on the computer?
I completely agree. At Togetherville, we took the approach that there has to be a healthy balance between play online and play outside. It’s something we tried to address by defining the project in relation to kids and the grown-ups in their lives.

What are some tips for parents who are looking for safe online environments for their kids?
Parents should be willing to talk with their kids about what being online responsibly means. Educating kids on the do’s and don’ts is really important. Parents should be vigilant and watch what their kids are doing. They should be a part of their children’s online experience. If their child asks them to join a new site, they should do their due diligence: look at reviews of the site and check out how appropriate it is.

As a student at LMU, did you expect a career working on networking sites?
No. After graduation, I went to Stanford for grad school in mechanical engineering. I ended up taking a class that taught students how to build Facebook applications, and I got bit by the consumer web product bug.

How does your mechanical engineering background influence your work?
Engineering teaches you how to solve problems. In college, we learned to identify the problems, the assumptions and the approach. Eventually, you drive a solution. I’m very used to following the pattern of tearing the problems down and working on them.

What excites you most about social media and networking?
There’s a lot of opportunity. The first phase of social media was forming connections. The next phase is going to be about leveraging the value of those connections to make our lives better. A lot of data is being collected about what’s happening online and how people interact. I’m looking forward to using that data to make experiences more fun, compelling and personalized.