Women is...: Shelley Day, Kids' Software Wizard

Shelley Day, Kids' Software Wizard

profession: President and CEO of Humongous Entertainment, makers of the popular "Freddi Fish," "Putt-Putt" and "Pajama Sam" CD-ROM titles for kids.

the basic story: Day's brainchild, a purple cartoon car named Putt-Putt, was born of the bedtime stories she told her toddler back in 1992. That was the year that she founded the Woodinville, Wash.-based Humongous, which makes clever, animated CD-ROM titles.

Humongous -- which Newsweek has called "the Disney of children's software" -- now surpasses Broderbund, Living Books, Microsoft and Edmark in its share of the fiercely competitive children's software market. Acquired by GT Interactive Software in July of 1996, Humongous inked a deal in spring 1997 with Lancit Media Entertainment to create TV programs, movies and videos based on Putt-Putt and friends.

her reach: Three million of her CDs have been sold around the world.

born: August 13, 1960.

education: BA, radio and TV broadcasting, minor in psychology, San Francisco State University, 1982.

the way up: Post-college, went to work for a multimedia company, Electronic Arts, where she worked as an assistant producer on early CD-ROM titles like "Deluxe Paint" and "World Tour Golf." She moved thereafter to Accolade, a multimedia development company in San Jose, Calif., where she produced half a dozen sports-related titles.

then what: Went to LucasFilm as a producer. "My first day on the job, I had lunch in the cafeteria," she recalls. "I ended up standing in line behind George Lucas. He asked how I liked my work, and I said, 'I've only been here three hours, but it's fine so far.' That was my big meeting with George. I never saw him after that."

smartest career move: "Going from radio and TV into electronic games. I loved Electronic Arts' games, so I followed my heart and went to work there."

on Humongous' characters: One popular character, Freddi Fish, was the result of a decision to create a strong female in an arena where such figures were nearly nonexistent: Only 28 of 344 "edutainment" titles reviewed in 1994 by the Children's Software Revue featured an active female lead. "We wanted Freddi to be a girl without looking Barbie-ish, with the long eyelashes and so on," she recalls. "But it's very hard not to rely on those stereotypes. That battle we're still fighting. I work one day a week in my son's classroom to help the kids on computers, and it's obvious that girls are more hesitant. We still have a long way to go there."

on women getting ahead: Day doesn't see much of a glass ceiling in the kids' corner of high technology, but perhaps that's because she's always been neutral about the issue herself. "The first time I became aware of sexism was in college, when I was talking to some guy about something I wanted to do. He said, 'You can't do that; you're a girl.' I didn't know what he meant. Sure, there are men out there who don't want women around, but you see less and less of that. And in business, you have to get over the fact that you're female."
on the acquisition by GT Interactive: Day insists that her small, independent multimedia company hasn't been swallowed by a big, greedy fish; rather, as a wholly owned subsidiary, Humongous has gained valuable distribution channels and deeper pockets without having to sacrifice integrity. "GT Interactive is actually younger than we are," she explains. "Running their own business keeps them busy, so they don't want to fiddle around running the companies they acquire."

her biz philosophy: When Day co-founded Humongous with creative director Ron Gilbert, they focused intently on the quality of their products, "rather than on the money we would make." Boatloads of awards are testament to the wisdom of that judgment.

her hiring philosophy: Day's a stickler for working with the right people. "You've got to find the best people you can for every position in the company, even if you have to wait to hire them," she says. "I'd rather hire someone I have to rein in than having to push them forward. And if something's not right, you have to walk away from it, even if it's at the last minute."

coming attractions: Look for an online multi-player game for kids in fall 1997, courtesy of the Humongous web site.