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Joe Cincotta’s career has taken him from advertising to the frenetic pace of digital start-ups, to working with Facebook, to banks and insurance, to medicine and now helping zoos around the world care for their animals.
His diverse experience and unique skill set have seen him collaborate with some of the world’s biggest companies in some of the globe’s most glittering capital cities. Still, the University of Wollongong (UOW) graduate says he is most at home finding ways that he can make a difference for the world by giving something back.
It’s the work he’s now doing with the Taronga Conservation Society that he says he finds most satisfying.
“I’m working on projects with Taronga that are focused on animal welfare and conservation. Most recently in animal welfare using computer vision to infer animal behaviour,” he says.
The work is also part of a PhD that he called the “Final run of my career,” about observing animal behaviour in a wholistic continuous way to provide better data on the welfare of animals in captivity.
“If we can monitor individual animal behaviour, we can understand if there’s something wrong, and intervene early.
“The work will benefit zoos with exotic animals by providing better outcomes for the animals in their care. I would like to see that all animals are treated with the awe and respect they deserve,” he says.
His current work is a far cry from the early days of his career following his graduation from UOW with a double degree in computer science and creative arts.
After starting a Bachelor of Computer Science in 1992, Cincotta switched to a double degree, adding a Bachelor of Creative Arts (Graphic Design) to his study load – the first student at the University to complete a creative arts and informatics double degree.
“I had started in the computer science degree, had some credit points for an elective and tried a visual arts subject – and I really enjoyed it.
“Creative arts degrees at the time were not heavily computer focused so while I majored in graphic design, my work was looking at human-computer interaction with interactive computer graphics. It let me combine both the creative as well as technical side of computing and was a good precursor to my career,” he says.
In 1997, Cincotta landed a job in the newly emerging field of digital advertising at the start of the dotcom revolution and was working for a global advertising agency across Asia Pacific and the United States.
“I had a chance to do everything you could imagine; we invented new digital advertising techniques for huge companies like Intel.
“I travelled the world and managed teams of developers. It was an incredible learning experience,” he says.
In 2003 he started his own business – Thinking.Studio – and outsourced his expertise for start-up companies in Australia and the USA.
“After working on start-ups for five years, in 2008 I met up with some guys from the US who worked for this new company called Facebook and they ended up using my team to work on digital marketing projects to integrate big brands into their ‘social graph’ platform.
“No one else was doing it at the time, and we cornered the market. We did campaigns such as ‘Best job in the world’ run by Tourism Australia, that ran across Facebook globally.
“We ended up doing hundreds of these Facebook campaigns, from tiny to monstrous ones,” he says.
Over the next five years, he grew a team of software engineers, designers and project managers to provide innovation capability for corporate clients such as Intel, Sony Computer Entertainment, P&G and Fairfax Media.
Around 2014, Cincotta says as Facebook was changing their platforms, he and his team decided to leave digital marketing to work in the financial sector with banks and insurance companies to design user-friendly digital platforms.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, he was ready for a change.
He got the opportunity to work as a technical specialist for a research lab at Sydney University on neuro and cardiac imaging.
“I went into academia without knowing anything about it, taking all of my experience in start-ups, design and commercial software development and applying it to learning about MRI physics and academic research.
“I was doing brain analysis with super-computers and working with academics to build out experiments – writing the code to integrate the experimental processes. I embraced learning everything I possibly could,” he says.
This led him to his research project with Taronga Zoo.
“I had the opportunity to help the team at the Taronga Conservation Society on a research project that focused my efforts on animal behaviour and conservation, applying medicine to ecology.
“I needed to feel like I was helping solve some of the challenges we face rather than just extracting. My choices regarding work are now based on that core value,” he says.
Cincotta is also working for NSW Health on projects that use machine learning to better understand where problems are emerging in the system, analysing the vast amounts of data collected and using them to improve outcomes.
He says he was fortunate that his time at UOW gave him the skills and opportunities for a varied career path.
“I had many opportunities presented to me even before graduating.
"While at UOW, I was set up for success with flexibility as my degree progressed, a positive learning environment, and academic and teaching staff that supported me.”
Bachelor of Creative Arts / Bachelor of Computer Science