Throughout history, alumni of BBYO across the globe have blazed trails and become leaders in politics, public service, education, entrepreneurship, and the Jewish community. As we approach our upcoming Centennial celebration in 2024, we’re highlighting members of our alumni community whose accomplishments exemplify the values and leadership skills that thousands of members have cultivated through BBYO in the past century. Below is an interview with AZA alum Sam Glassenberg, CEO of Level Ex.
CEO, Level Ex
Haganah AZA #2379, Great Midwest Region
Sam is the founder and CEO of Level Ex, a company that creates revolutionary video games for doctors to understand the challenges of practicing medicine. Before Level Ex, he was the CEO of the leading independent game publisher for Hollywood movies, FTX Games (acquired by PTEC in 2016), releasing blockbuster titles like Hunger Games and Mission: Impossible. Sam also led the DirectX team at Microsoft. His career began at LucasArts creating Star Wars games.
What was your involvement in BBYO as a teen, and how has that experience shaped you as an adult?
I was Chapter President and Council Shaliach. As an adult, I've managed hundreds of employees and regularly speak in front of audiences of hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of video game developers, doctors, and other professionals. BBYO was my first major opportunity to start honing my skills in public speaking, leadership, meeting management, event coordination. It also offered a unique outlet for creative skills that would eventually set the stage for my career in video games.
What are some of the top learnings you took away from your time in BBYO that you still use today?
Our council invitational served as an early opportunity for me to explore my interest in 3D computer animation. Today, almost anyone can make high-end computer animation on their home computer. This wasn't the case 25 years ago. Toy Story 1, the first full-length computer-animated feature, had only come out my freshman year of high school - so making computer animated videos for a BBYO competition was unheard of. I made a Toy Story parody my junior year, featuring members of my chapter as the toys. Jon Kite, our Chapter Gadol, did the voice of 'Woody'. Today, Jon is a successful Hollywood actor.
My senior year I created a computer-animated rendition of the 'Golem' tale for the same competition. It was featured on CBS News in Chicago. This work set the stage for a successful career in computer graphics, starting with my first job as an animator at LucasArts a few years later.
What advice would you give your teenage self? What might you tell teens today?
Myself? Don't worry so much. It'll be fine.
Teens today? We live in a world today where you have the tools at your fingertips to create anything your mind can envision. The software is free. The hardware/materials are cheap. The same tools we use to create AAA video games and feature films are available for free to students. If you have an idea for any object/toy/tool/widget, you don't need a blowtorch and years of experience and a factory anymore - you can 3d model it on your iPad. You can't depend on your school to introduce this world to you. You have to explore it yourself, under your own motivation.
You have the time to do it, even though it might not feel like you do. Don't waste your time watching too much TV, it'll all be there when you're old and retired and you can catch up on all the shows you missed. Right now is your chance to discover what you enjoy creating and start honing your skills and interests.
What are you proud of that you are working on today?
I am the founder and CEO of a company called Level Ex. We make video games for doctors - using the technology and design of video games to advance the practice of medicine and help doctors develop and hone their skills. Millions of people play our games - games that enable doctors to practice everything from difficult surgical scenarios to challenging diagnoses. We make games that train dermatologists to recognize disease on skin of color, and how to manage the cardiac complications of long COVID. We use cloud gaming technology to enable surgeons to practice surgery together over Zoom from thousands of miles apart. We are also working with NASA to use this technology to train astronauts how to deal with medical emergencies on deep space missions.
Our medical director, who is also a pediatric ENT surgeon, was also in Haganah AZA with me. BBYO empowered me to develop the leadership skills I use today and inspired me to pursue my passions.