Event: UX Camp 2017, New York City

On June 24th, I attended a one-day unconference, called UX Camp. I heard about this through Meetup/email. I’m not sure what I expected, but I did hope for more hands-on workshops.

Sessions Attended:

Dance as cultural exchange

Using Dance for Cultural Exchange: This was presented by Ana Milena Aguilar-Hauke. I thought it was really smart and innovative, but only 2 people showed up to learn about this which is a shame. We could use more cross-cultural exchange these days. Her idea came from her experience living in Germany and the United States from the perspective of someone of Colombian descent. Her idea was to use salsa, which is a fun, easy to learn dance, to might help people interact with each other.

You can read more about this project on her website.

Kanban discussion list

Independent UX (More of a pow-wow/thought exchange): Helpful, especially for people who are managing their own work as an independent or seeking to. We used voting and Kanban boards, which I hadn’t heard of before, to go through ideas. I got that recruiters really take away your ability to earn more money because they’re skimming off the top. And, I learned that other UX professionals are experiencing the same portfolio headaches that I am.

I’ve since become interested in learning more about Lean and Kanban, which I’ll talk about in an upcoming post.

Some of the work we were doing for the design sprint workshop.

Tips on Design Sprints: I kind of wish I’d skipped this because, apparently, a really great talk that confirmed many of my job hunting suspicions was going on that I missed and probably would have enjoyed. But on the other hand, it was a hands-on activity like I wanted and it gave me new ideas to think about.

Agile to Tri-Track: This was presented by Dave Malouf. To be 100% honest, as soon as I walked into this one, I wanted to walk out. Unfortunately, I was sitting at the front of the room and had walked in a few minutes late. I didn’t understand what he was going for with this talk, or what anyone other than the speaker would get out of it, or even, really, what the speaker would get out of it. But, my biggest disappointment with this talk was that the speaker didn’t seem willing to accept new ideas when challenged with alternative approaches.

Systems Thinking: I went because I wanted to learn about systems thinking. It started off OK. But I noticed that there was one specific moment where he lost me and several other people. One person left, I mentally felt myself check out; another guy started checking his email. And, although he asked for feedback, I felt rude about providing this criticism in a public setting. It just needed to be shorter and get to the point faster.

Portfolio Discussion: This was helpful and vindicated some of the concepts I’ve been thinking and writing about when it comes to what UX managers look for (or don’t look for) when reviewing portfolios. My strategy now is to include information about an unexpected challenge I experienced and what I learned on the job.

 


All Photos

Event: The Art of VR at Sotheby’s

On June 23rd, I attended The Art of VR event, held at Sotheby’s. It was billed as “A 2 day curated VR exhibition featuring: Studio premieres, theatrical & brand case studies, studio exhibitions, hands-on demonstrations.” I signed up through Eventbrite.

Virtual reality has certainly advanced from Second Life. Now there are headsets and immersive devices. The tickets were somewhat expensive but I went to the event, anyway, because I didn’t have that much experience with virtual reality; I thought it would be a good way to jump in. I spent time trying out VR at the different booths, then spent time listening to the talks, which were pretty good.

VR Booths and Hands-On Demonstrations

Many works were commercial, intended to demonstrate the graphics capabilities of a type of computer, to promote a film, or for some other commercial purpose. In my opinion, VR for entertainment purposes automatically comes across as a bit insincere, unless the provenance of the work — where it comes from, how it was produced, who produced it and why — is known because it can help the audience get over their skepticism.


Photos from the Galleries

There were also a number of artworks, and so far I think it works best for art experiences. The mechanics of the experience are incredibly intimate, yet it remains very public – which describes how art is experienced, as well. But, trying VR can be an intimidating activity. You have to get over feeling embarrassed for looking stupid with these giant geeky goggles on your face while other people are watching. And, as a panelist later mentioned, VR can be clunky and clumsy, even in an artistic setting.

Despite my initial embarrassment, I participated as much as I could. I enjoyed the experience and learning about VR.


Discussion Panels

I’ll admit that I initially wasn’t compelled to visit the floor where the discussion panels were being held. But once, I did I was very impressed. The president of the VR Society led at least 2 panels I listened to; he’s a very good moderator. The two discussions that impressed me most were a discussion on medical uses of VR and a discussion about a cinematic experience, called “Lincoln in the Bardo”.

Photos from the panel discussions

Discussion: Medical Uses of VR

On the far right (partially off-camera), is the surgeon moderating the discussion and presenting his use of VR in surgery. The man to the right of center is the psychiatrist.

One of the discussion panels was about medical uses of VR. Overall, this was the most impressive topic discussed or demonstrated for me.

  • Surgery: First, a neurosurgeon described how he used virtual reality to help him remove difficult tumors in the middle of a patient’s head. He showed how, due to the tumor’s location, historically the surgery left people disfigured and possibly blind or deaf. (The images were not attractive.) With VR, he showed, he’s able to more accurately and precisely navigate around major arteries and nerves, to minimize the intrusiveness of the surgery using orthoscopic surgical tools to minimize long-term damage and scarring.
  • Mental Health: Next, a psychiatrist described how he used VR to simulate settings for PTSD patients, to help them overcome their disorder in a controlled setting. For example, he can simulate Iraq for war veterans. He also showed how VR can be used to help patients manage pain, specifically burn patients. Pain, he explained, requires attention. If you can distract patients from their pain, they will experience pain relief. His example was showing a burn patient experiencing an ice world.
  • Medical Education: Finally, a medical artist showed how he used VR drawing tools to augment his work. I don’t entirely remember everything about his discussion, but his work sounded very interesting. And it seems like a type of art that is completely overlooked.

Anyway, the medical talk was very innovative and I’m glad to see this new technology being used in such important ways.


Discussion: Lincoln In the Bardo

“Lincoln in the Bardo”. The director is on the far left. The NYT VR director is 2nd from left. The VR Society president is on the far right.
Another impressive talk was a discussion about Lincoln in the Bardo, VR experience. This experience was a collaboration with the NY Times. It sounds like it was a pretty intensive project, so although I didn’t see it or write about it that much, don’t underestimate it, especially if you’re into cinematic VR experiences.
Lincoln in the Bardo

In this immersive narrative short, President Lincoln pays a nighttime visit to the haunted cemetery in which his beloved son has just been laid to rest. Based on “Lincoln in the Bardo,” the new novel by George Saunders.

You can possibly view it in 360-video on nytimes.com if your browser supports 360-video. I also found a link on YouTube if it doesn’t. It’s produced for a VR headset, so it won’t be the same if you don’t have a headset (I don’t).


Sotheby’s Art Gallery: BUNKER

Somewhat related to the VR event, Sotheby’s also had a pop-up gallery, called BUNKER, “which since 2014 has featured artists who collaborate with technology to create code-driven sculpture, augmented reality and virtual installation”. I took some time to check it out. There weren’t that many projects, but here are few projects I especially liked.

One that was really clever used the cassette frames and an audio output. Since it was using headphones, a video would have only caught half of it. So, I didn’t capture it at all.

The installation will be at Sotheby’s until July 20, 2017.

Event: Advancing The Careers of Technical Women (ACT-W), Details

Speakers and Notes from “Advancing The Careers of Technical Women (ACT-W)” New York 2017 Conference

Following up from my previous post about the very inspiring ACT-W NY conference with a write-up of my notes.

Unfortunately, I could not attend all of the presentations, but they were all interesting an inspiring. Below are notes from just a few of the speakers I heard.


Presentation One: Advice about promoting yourself, by Natasha Awasthi

Her advice came in two parts, due to being a speaker in two presentations at the conference. I liked what she had to say in the first one, I went to the second.

  1. It’s not bragging to talk about your accomplishments. You’re earning trust:
    • I can completely relate with the idea of feeling like I’m bragging when talking about past accomplishments. So much so that I might avoid talking about what I’ve done in the past, even though it would be very relevant. Now that I can frame my past as a credential to build trust, I will be “bragging” about my past accomplishments as much as possible
  2. Don’t network. Build a community:
    • As an introverted person, the idea walking up to people and introducing myself for the sake of “business connections” or “networking” is almost like a 4-letter word. It sounds so fake and manufactured; like you’re “using” people. But when framed as “community building”, that is a concept I can get behind. It’s not so scary. I can definitely do that.
  3. Don’t get mad. Get what you want. (Create an action plan.)

 


Presentation 2: A story about diversity, by YZ Chin

Her advice was about diversity and the importance of being yourself. There were two main take-aways:

One: Diversity is important because if everyone is the same, it means they can all fail the same way. She went on to give an example about how, as a new member of the engineering team, she solved a critical error that all the other experienced team members failed to recognize. Her value to the team was her knowledge about their customers, not her skill as a software engineer.

Two: It’s important to be honest. In her example, she recognized that you’re not an impostor if you say you’re 2nd best. She again related a story where her manage told her that he didn’t hire her to be the best engineer. He hired her for her customer expertise.

 


Presentation 3: What she did well / What she wishes she done better, by Natasha Awasthi 

In Natasha’s second talk, she presented a list of career aphorisms based on what she had done well vs things she wishes she could have done better. I think the first list mostly speaks for itself. But I’ll explain the second a little more, because I think it’s interesting and helpful.

What she wishes she had done better
  1. Show don’t tell.
  2. Seek to clarify before you criticize.
  3. Find a kernel of truth.
  4. Ask for help.
  5. Have a board of people as advisors (not friends or family):
    • This is a group of professional contacts, that will give you difficult but critical feedback on your ideas, projects, career, etc. I thought this tied in really well with the point from her earlier presentation, about building community. People like this would be a great addition.
  6. Working together means going slower.
What she did well
  1. Act on little knowledge & lot of imagination.
  2. Ask for help, twice:
    • What she means is, instead of getting angry and assume people have simply ignored your request for help, just ask again.
  3. Declare your ignorance:
    • This is sort of like getting lost. Sometimes you just continue on the same path, thinking you’re going the right way and then realize you’re way off path. It would be better to just admit you’re lost and find out where you are and where you need to go, than to just start walking. Same here: rather than pretend you know the answer, admit you don’t and find someone who can help.
  4. Make it easy to have hard conversations:
    • I’m actually quite bad at this, probably because of my desire to separate my professional and personal life. In her example, if you never talk to a colleague about anything, good or bad, that one time you’ve got to have a conversation it’s clearly probably about something terrible. So, take the time to get to know your colleague on a more personal basis and build up a congenial rapport.
  5. Focus on what you want.
  6. Follow your obsessions:
    • She mentioned that she was a writer, who wrote articles for Fast Company. She said she also taught classes at General Assembly.

 


Presentation 3: How to Tell Your Story / Personal Brand, by General Assembly

This talk was given by two people from General Assembly. I think their job was to help students find jobs, or help them find support. (Another example of working in tech, but not being technical.)

At first, I was really annoyed when this talk started. I thought it would be about building a personal brand, which is an area where I felt I could use help. Instead the dual presenters gave somewhat detailed stories about their backgrounds, which I was kind of annoyed by. However, they helped make it useful by talking about how to use your story to convey to employers how you can help them.

The Q&A and Summary section really clarified a few points from them, about what employers are looking for when it comes to the non-technical qualities of an employment candidate:

  1. Employers want to know you have leadership qualities, which they described as seeking personal growth. I personally am not sure what leadership means to me, but I do know that I am growth-minded in that I am always looking to learn and expand my skillset. I want to know what I don’t know.
  2. Employers want to know that you take criticism well. I suppose I always knew this, but it’s good to hear it spelled out like this. For me, trying to apply the improv “Yes, and…” technique might be a good way to accept criticism when I don’t want to accept it. “Yes, I see your critique…and X-Y-Z.”
  3. Coming up with a story can be hard. So they suggested asking friends or acquaintances, maybe that board of advisors, to send 3 characteristics that they would use to describe you. And using that list to help guide your story.

In addition, in combination with YZ Chin’s story above, I came away with the idea that I should think of my story into tech as unique to me – and I shouldn’t feel ashamed or embarrassed to talk about how I didn’t go to design school or study engineering. I’m not being an impostor by admitting that my path into the tech industry was a straight line. Some employers might find that meandering experience valuable.

 


Final Talk of the Day

My last talk of the day, I actually cannot remember what it was called. But it was about finding peace at work and learning to cope with difficult situations.

In this story, the presenter talked about how she created her own job, at her current company, after running into resistance and unhappiness in her previous role.

A quote:

If you think it, you will say it. If you say it, you will do it.

They attributed that to Confucius but many people have said something similar.

A few more:
  • Move towards vs move away
  • Bearing down. (Sometimes you just have to work through difficult times, rather than run away.)
  • Crowd source advice from toughest critics. (Sound familiar? This theme is common, I guess.)