Mark has been a trailblazer in the software development industry for three decades, impacting how we are entertained and connected. In 1984, he played a key role in creating Maya, the groundbreaking 3D animation software that redefined the animation industry. Fast forward to 2003, and Mark's innovative spirit was at it again as he and his team developed a patented matching algorithm, which was used at the TED Conference to connect like-minded individuals worldwide. Today, he continues to inspire and spark meaningful conversations as the host of "Making Waves: Conversations with Influencers and Disruptors" as part of the TEDxSantaBarbara Salon series.

We asked Mark Sylvester to reveal some fun facts about himself—he obliged:


🍽 I’d invite Mark Twain to dinner. I have been a fan of his writing and opinions since I was young. I’d relish having him as a guest for a dinner party for two, as I wouldn’t want to be distracted by other amazing guests at the party.


True story: In 1999, destiny brought Douglas Adams and me together at a dinner party. As our host introduced us, we both had a feeling of recognition, realizing we were fans of each other’s work—me being enamored with Douglas’ writing and Douglas admiring my animation software. The two of us hit it off instantly, spending the entire evening in deep conversation on the porch. Our connection was so strong that it led to a series of dream lunches until Douglas passed suddenly in 2001. However, that chance meeting on a porch sparked a friendship that had a lasting impact on us.


🌳 If I were a tree…? I’d self-identify as a hometree on the planet Pandora. I embody the essence of strength and steadfastness. Like the towering behemoths from the movie Avatar, I am massive, rooted firmly in the earth, and immovable. I am the pillar of support for the community life of the Na’vi, a symbol of stability and reliability for generations to come. The winds may rage, and the storms may come, but I stand tall and stalwart, offering shelter, sustenance, and a sense of community to all who seek refuge within my branches.


I am the hometree, a symbol of resilience and unwavering support.


🎧In 2018, I listened to the song “My Shot” from the musical Hamilton on repeat as I walked outside into the crisp summer air, ready to deliver my TEDxFargo talk, “See What You Think: A Recipe for Problem-Solving.” With the opportunity to speak to 4,000 people, I saw this moment as my chance to share my story with the world. So this song remains at the start of all my playlists.


📚 Books on my must read list would include:

  • “How to Think like Leonardo DaVinci” by Michael Gelb
  • “The War of Art” and “Turning Pro” by Stephen Pressfield
  • “Culture Code” by Daniel Coyle
  • “Man Uncivilized” by Traver Boehm
  • “The Death of Competition” by James Moore
  • “How NASA Builds Teams” by Charles Pellerin
  • “The Way of the Superior Man” by David Deida
  • “The Complete Sherlock Holmes” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle


🔥 Three self-care practices I have adopted to treat myself well are:

  1. Two thousand six hundred fifty-five days ago, I embarked on a journey of self-discovery through meditation. Little did I know, this simple practice would uncover hidden depths within me and teach me how to navigate life’s challenges with ease.
  2. My connection to my core was strengthened through deep breathing, a technique I learned on my way to earning my black belt in Hapkido. Fire-breathing not only calms me but also energizes me, making it the perfect tool for decisive moments. In addition, a single deep breath engages my parasympathetic nervous system, sharpening my decision-making skills.
  3. Sleep is the cornerstone of self-care. Our bodies need ample rest to function at their best. It’s too easy to fall into the trap of sacrificing sleep for productivity. Studies show that depriving ourselves of sleep does more harm than good. By prioritizing rest, you’re giving your body the fuel it needs to power through life with ease.
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