Alumni spotlight: Rob Knook, civil engineer turned visual engineer

Meet Rob Knook, HST alum and visual engineer. He transitioned from building physical bridges to building figurative ones—connecting customers with solutions through storytelling. This is how he changed careers.

Growing up in the Netherlands, Rob Knook developed a love for movies at an early age. He had an appreciation of how these stories can make an emotional impact on a person, altering their outlook on the world. But that love fell to the wayside when he chose to pursue a career in civil engineering. This job allowed him to see the world and live in places like Australia, Curaçao, and Papua New Guinea. But while he enjoyed managing projects and dealing with different stakeholders, he couldn’t find pride or passion in the output. 

However, after taking some time to self-reflect, Rob rediscovered his passion for movies and chose to pursue the Master in Visual & Digital Media at IE School of Human Sciences & Technology. This was a step towards transitioning into a creative industry. 

Rob was able to channel his love for cinema into the professional advertising world. While it isn’t the same as making movies, it has a lot of overlap: “[Advertising] is an art, a way to create a story where you need to inspire a person to act with just one minute of time.”

rob knook ie

Experience in the master

Rob hit the ground running in the master, learning Adobe Premiere before classes started, so that during his studies he could focus on really understanding the theory.

Back when Rob was a project engineer, he developed project management skills and the ability to work with different stakeholders of a project. This skill proved useful in the program. “Always listen to what the professors want. It sounds silly, but that’s where people went wrong,” Rob shared. 

His engineering background also helped him tackle problems and meet objectives in a systematic way. This skill is crucial in the creative world, because each client has a specific need and it’s crucial to channel your creativity into fulfilling that need—and all in an organized way. 

“In the end, management is management. Whether you’re building a bridge or creating a commercial, the output is different, but the process is the same.” 

Just like in construction, the production world involves logistics and coordination. In the same way a project engineer speaks to a carpenter, a «visual engineer» (or creative director) coordinates with a photographer. 

But similarities aside, what Rob wanted—and achieved—from the program was a big change. He shared, “I really used the master to change careers… Now I’m doing what I love.”

The freelance life

What’s your average day like as a freelancer?

“No day is the same, and that’s actually the most fun part of being a freelancer,” Rob answered.

One day can be spent jumping from meeting to meeting, another day might involve conceptualizing a project, another might be spent on research, and on occasion, waking up early for shoots.

Rob focuses on the process of strategy, ideation, and delivery, so he spends a significant amount of his time meeting with clients. From his experience, Rob reiterated the importance of creating something that solves an issue for the client. “Making cool stuff can help the client and can be part of the solution, but don’t just do it to be cool.” When working on a creative project, the first step is to make sure you’re designing the right thing. The second step is to design things right. “Focus on what the product does on an emotional level with a person.” In advertising, it’s important to communicate the why rather than the what. An example that Rob shared was an ad by Volvo that focuses on a child’s life that was spared because of the car’s automatic break feature. Just like in cinema, ads must tell a powerful story if they want to be remembered.

Advice to the aspiring visual engineer

Rob stressed the importance of learning to listen. As straightforward as it is, many creatives go wrong in this aspect. Actively listening is crucial if you hope to truly understand the client’s pain point.

“It’s a waste of your and the client’s time to create something that doesn’t end up solving their problem,” he shared.

Rob advises students to focus on what you want to get out of the program and keep that in mind. The program equips students with different tools to become well-rounded creatives, from project management and brand strategy, to more technical skills like photo and video production or graphic design.

“Don’t be too afraid of not knowing how to use the tools. You will learn along the way,” he shared. Even if you don’t have the basic skills for a certain topic (video editing, photography, etc.), there are a lot of opportunities to step up especially in group tasks. “Do what you want to get out of it, because that’s how you learn.”

His last piece of wisdom?

“Go crazy. The most fun moments were the times that we went over the top with our projects. Have some fun while you’re at it.” 


Recently, Rob Knook has been pitching some exciting new projects with partners that he has met at IE University. You can catch him riding around Madrid on his bicycle or enjoying a good cup of coffee in the city. Check out his portfolio at


Black and white JudithWith proud roots in the Philippines, Judith San Juan is a digital marketing professional pursuing her Master in Visual & Digital Media at IE School of Human Sciences & Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys a good cup of coffee, playing with her dog, and creating videos of her travels. She proudly serves as Audiovisual Guru at Rewire Mag. Reach out to her at

Photos by Julia Trang Nguyen (IG: @julia_t_nguyen)