John Penn II’s career path from computer scientist to hero

Adobe senior solutions architect John Penn.

by Adobe Life Team

Posted on 05-23-2018

I don’t hesitate when I call John Penn II a hero. But when you ask him, he says it takes a group effort to do what he does—to save missing and exploited children with Adobe’s technology.

Having been with Adobe for 20 years, John first joined Adobe as a senior computer scientist on the Photoshop team. At the time, this was his dream job, having admired and respected Adobe’s products for a long time. But then his life and career changed drastically.

“A colleague of mine on the Adobe Philanthropy Council asked if I’d be interested in attending the Silicon Valley Internet Crimes Against Children conference. One of the sessions was hosted by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), and was about identifying the victims of child exploitation,” John said.

“That one day turned into the beginning of everything. I walked away at the end of that session thinking about how Adobe could help. I asked for more information and was invited to NCMEC’s headquarters in Washington D.C. to learn more. I ended up spending my first and second sabbaticals working with them.”

An unimaginable career path

From there, John understood that helping NCMEC and law enforcement was his true career calling. He drafted a proposal to Adobe’s CEO, Shantanu Narayen, on why his new focus would be an impactful position to have. After it was approved, John officially became a Senior Solutions Architect for Law Enforcement Technologies.

In this role, John works directly with NCMEC and law enforcement agencies to develop new technologies to help with the challenges that law enforcement faces in keeping communities and children safe. He also develops specialized techniques and training around technology and speaks and teaches globally, particularly on the topics of industry and government use of technology.

“I never imagined I’d be working on something like this. It’s hard to fathom the transition. I started off as an engineer and now I’m part of the Worldwide Field Operations organization, where I’m given the best resources to make a difference and connect directly with the government and law enforcement sector.”

In addition to supporting NCMEC with digital image processing in Photoshop—like providing unreleased or developing technologies to help them solve cases—John is currently in the process of providing them digital experience resources from the Adobe Experience Cloud.

An example of how Photoshop can be used to help law enforcement locate missing children when there’s minimal surveillance. A license plate is enlarged in Photoshop to identify a crime.An example of how Photoshop can be used to help law enforcement locate missing children when there’s minimal surveillance.

“I’m proud to say that is now powered by the Adobe Experience Cloud. With it, NCMEC has been able to streamline a lot of their processes. They can publish updates to the site immediately, and since launching the new site, people are spending more time on it. Our next goal is to take advantage of targeting technologies to make the site more reactive. If a user offers their location, we can then allow them to be served targeted content, such as showing them missing children who were last seen in their area,” said John.

No place like Adobe

After speaking with John more about his role, I couldn’t help but ask him what’s kept him at Adobe all these years, and not working directly at a law enforcement or government agency. His answer was clear though.

“At Adobe, I can make a big difference in the world. With our technologies and services, resources and amazing colleagues, I can’t think of another place where I can make the same amount of impact. Just recently at Adobe Summit, I got to hold a session about Missing and Exploited Children and the technology we have to solve real-world problems. I talked to other Adobe engineers and they’re all ready to come onboard and help find solutions. We all have a shared goal—to build and use something more than its intended purpose to help bring a child home.”

Not only that, as a recent Founders’ Award winner, John reveals there’s a lot to be proud of. He explained, “Of my long career here, Adobe’s offered me multiple things to be proud of. As a computer scientist, I couldn’t be prouder of my work on the Photoshop team. In my current role, the impact I get to make is immeasurable. I’m proud of my whole career and super proud of the executive team because of all the support and opportunities they’ve provided me to help missing and exploited children.”

If John’s work at Adobe doesn’t qualify him as being a hero, I don’t know what will.

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Topics: Adobe Life, Employee Impact, Adobe Culture, Brand