Four Questions with Katherine De Leon '06

by Maria Christina Karas

How many times, during your studies at USF, have you been asked,‘What in the world are you going to do with your philosophy degree after you graduate?’ Once? Twice? A dozen times? And would you probably sit there vacantly staring, silently cursing at that person’s boldness to criticize that one subject you’ve fallen madly in love with?

Katherine de León’s presentation, “Life After a Philosophy Degree” (September 2012), gave many a clear answer to this question. De León, former 2006 USF graduate and valedictorian, described the philosophical and ethical questions that she faced while working at Linden Lab, Sony, and while founding her own business. Linden Lab is known for the creation of the online virtual world Second Life, Sony is the maker of PlayStation. Her own creation was co-founding CullTV - a 24/7 music service that highlights indie artists. During the presentation her main point was that throughout all of these positions, her philosophy degree helped her answer the sometimes tormenting ethical dilemmas associated with each job.

I interviewed her on behalf of the Philosophy Department Newsletter to get further details and insights on problems she has faced in her life after a philosophy degree. During the interview she offers her thoughts on topics such as philosophy, voting, military service, education, and the business world.

MCK: Was there a particular professor at USF that supremely challenged your way of thinking that would be later instrumental in a decision you recently had to make?

KDL: I learned so much from all of my professors. I took a lot of classes with Professor Paris, Professor Taylor, Professor Den- nehey, and Professor Sundstrom. I took a class with Sundstrom and Rousseau. I was, in general, interested with the Enlighten- ment philosophies. Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau...

I’m behind the curve and I just started watching Lost and most of the main characters or archetypes are based off philosophers. So I had this moment of, ‘Huh, I wonder if Professor Sundstrom knows this?’ He probably wouldn’t care. Maybe, a real world example would be trying to make sense of the role of ideal theory in my life. I spent a lot of years not voting.

There was a lot of conversation about the role of ideal theory, and there are a lot of suspicions among feminist philosophers and philosophers who write on race and class, and for me this really hit home on when I was trying to figure out whether or not I should be voting on presidential elec- tions. I do not feel there is a party that represents my political views and so the question for me was,“Do I decide to bite the bullet and vote for someone who values wedge issues or do I abstain from voting entirely as a way of dissenting?” I have oscillated between those two positions a lot when I was in school and since I graduated, and I actually haven’t voted in a general election since I was 18 when I was in the military. Ideal theory was a constant topic of conversation because, ultimately, philosophy is supposed to help you to figure out your life and make decisions.There is this real conflict between the role of ideal theory, especially for people who are not part of the “ruling class,” (wealthy, white males). So it’s a really complex issue, I have to say and I still don’t feel really good about the question of whether or not I should be voting in the absence of a candidate that represents my views. I often think back to the conversations that I had with each of my professors who were all focused on different areas but touching this problem. In Ethics, we would talk about quandary ethics. [Christopher] Peterson is a great example, constantly referenced as support- ing impartiality, whereas the feminist ethicists argue impartiality is neglecting the realities of our time, and partiality is the ethi- cally responsible position. Apart from ethics, there are all these political implications for ideal theory.

MCK:You mentioned a little bit about your military service - I did some research from your LinkedIn. Could you talk about your service in the Marine Corps and how it might have affected you in your experiences so far?

KDL:That’s actually kind of ironic because the Marine Corps was where I was first introduced to philosophy. I had sort of this wild youth and at a certain point I figured that needed to get my life back on track, and so I joined the military. I think that’s why a lot of middle class kids join the military.The poor kids that I served with had no economic opportunities. Actually, I had a couple of commanding officers that were re- ally interested in just war theory and had studied philosophy; one of them had a masters in philosophy, and the other did his undergrad in philosophy.They were role models for me be- cause they were officers in the military who were constantly thinking about their role and their position of power and what it meant for them to be serving during a time of war. I was in the military during the Bush years - the one people think of as entirely evil. I was a liberal in the military and found out there were a lot of liberals in the military; in fact, there were a lot of people who might be described as socialists. In the Marine Corps, I was surrounded by the Intelligentsia; these were people that had philosophical educations that were publishing papers on war theories and were operating at very high commands. So, that was where I got my introduction to philosophy.

MCK: I wanted to talk a little bit about Sony. I noticed that you were both a producer and a senior producer at Sony. Can you describe what those two titles entailed, and if you could talk about your experience with Sony before leaving?

KDL: The difference between a senior producer and a producer was that I was promoted. Producers come in all shapes and sizes: they start out as assistant producers, then get promoted to associate producers, then producers, then senior producers and finally to executive producers. So while I was [at Sony] I was promoted and started out working with PlayStation Network, when it was still pretty early. Susan Panico was running PlayStation Network at the time and Sony’s premium platform, PlayStation Home, was in “closed beta”, which means a very small amount of people have access to it. So I was like employee number two on that team. My boss, Jack Buser, who’s now Senior Director at PlayStation, was a director who was recently hired, and I was his first hire. So the role of producers can be very different depending on where you work. Sometimes a producer is responsible for only scheduling a budget. Producers are always responsible for quality control, but sometimes producers are actually operating at a high level of the business, meaning they are responsible for the overall success of the product they are building. In my case, I was directing product management, project management, and production. Anything that was a noun fell under my umbrella. Produc- ers are the vision holders for the content they make.They are responsible for budgets and schedules, but they are also responsible for quality control; making sure you’re building the right product that resonates with your audience. Basically, you’re the one that gets fired.

Video game consoles are slowly approaching monopoly status; they’re not quite there yet because the most beneficial economic outcome for a monopoly is to be lazy.There are three consoles that are competing against each other, so they can’t be totally lazy.They’re operating in a very closed system because it’s very expensive to develop video games for consoles. So there are only a few major publishers that can do that. EA is one and Activision is another.What winds up happening is these become very closed off, walled gardens, if you will, with only the very wealthy businesses that are able to bring content to those huge audiences. More people subscribe to Xbox than receive a newspaper in this country.These are huge, massive audiences.Triple-A titles cost anywhere between $60-100 million to produce, so this is a major business. Is there any room for the little guys? Historically, there hasn’t been. So, that was what I was trying to do over there, to make a space for the little guys and to give a way for small independent game developers to publish their content on the PlayStation platform. And we had a tremendous amount of success, actually.

MCK: One of the topics you talked about during your presentation was free open source education.This particularly, radically changed my opinion on education and its accessibility. Could you offer some small ideas of how students, like me, can change the price for education into education that is more affordable?

KDL:The online education movement is happening right now and it’s so interesting. MIT and Stanford are kind of at war for who can be the most progressive institution. MIT is offering free courses that can be accredited. Stanford is kind of doing that same thing and everybody is using a tool called Coursera. There are about two hundred institutions