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Meet an Alum - Justin Redman

SPIA Alum, Justin Redman ’19, has had an interesting and diverse professional and academic journey after graduating Virginia Tech in 2019. After finishing his undergraduate studies with SPIA, he embarked on a master’s program at the Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon. Although he achieved academic success within the program, he realized he was not engaged in his studies at heart. The experiences that year reset his course, deciding to leave graduate school and apply for jobs as a writer and journalist. Now a writer at Wirecutter living in NYC, we sat down with Justin to explore, discuss, and reminisce about his years at Virginia Tech and his exciting new career as a young writer and journalist. 

If you could give your undergrad self some advice, what would it be?
When I was in school, I didn’t take many “fun” classes—not that my classes weren’t fun, but I didn’t stray too far from my requirements. I guess my attitude was: If I just want to have fun doing something, why would I take a class on it and make it work? I do regret not taking more electives, signing up for classes purely for the sake of expanding my horizons. Would I give up graduating early (and saving a lot of money) for those classes? I’m not so sure, but I do think I could’ve gotten a bit more out of my experience if my course load was more diverse.

Although you enrolled in a graduate program at Carnegie Mellon, you decided in your first year it was not for you; how did you reach that conclusion? What helped you realize you wanted something different? What advice would give to young graduates going through a similar situation?
The draw to be a writer was always there, but some things that happened that year made me take a hard look in the mirror, and think about what—and who—I wanted to be. I remember in my AP Chemistry class in high school, my teacher told us that on exams, your first instinct is going to be right around 75% of the time, so don’t go back and change any of your answers unless you’re positive it’s wrong. On a deeper level, I took that to mean that you should go with your gut, unless you’re positive your gut is leading you in a bad direction—we usually know what’s best for ourselves, deep down. I went with my gut, and I’m happy where it has taken me. 

How has your PUA degree and time at Virginia Tech helped you through your professional journey?
I think that studying urban policy and planning just makes you a better thinker and learner, because it teaches you to analyze large systems and how they interact. Being able to synthesize big ideas and see how complex ideas and structures connect is helpful no matter what field you go into. 

At only 22, you are already an Associate Staff Writer at Wirecutter, a product review website owned by the New York Times; at what point did you decide writing and journalism was for you?
I always liked writing, but when I became an editor for the Collegiate Times at VT, I really fell in love with it. It was my creative outlet in college, and being a part of the student paper was a highlight of my time at VT. It took me time to gain the confidence I needed to pursue it professionally, but after my time at grad school, I realized writing was the thing that made me tick.

You began your job at Wirecutter in March 2020, almost days before the city shut down due to the pandemic, can you share your experience about what that was like? 
I started my job remotely in March 2020, which was maybe the craziest month in recent memory. I don’t think anyone really knew what to expect back then, and most thought this would be relatively temporary (obviously it didn’t turn out that way). It definitely wasn’t an ideal onboarding situation, but I figured everything out eventually and settled into a routine. I had actually signed an apartment lease in March, but delayed moving to the city until July, when cases were at their lowest point since the pandemic began. Being in such a crowded, densely populated place during COVID has definitely provided some nervous moments (the Avenue A on a Friday night is WAY too crowded), but I’ve enjoyed it here.

What do you miss about your time at Virginia Tech as an undergraduate with SPIA?
I miss how simple my life was in Blacksburg. Whenever I meet people who went to school in the city, I have no idea how they did it. Living in New York is exciting, but it’s complicated too. I miss how quiet and peaceful those early morning walks to the Architecture Annex were. I miss studying at D2 for four hours and get two meals for the price of one. I miss getting in my car, leaving town, and driving around the valley. Being at Tech gave me the space and time for a lot of self-reflection, and I think I grew and matured a lot because of it.