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Samsung? Why are you at Samsung?

May 10, 2012

With my job change showing up in LinkedIn and Facebook I’ve been getting a bunch of folks congratulations me on the new position (thanks y’all!). Since a number of folks have asked why I made the move, I thought I’d share a little of my thinking.

First, while IBM Research is definitely a good place to work and there are a lot of great people there, at the end of the day IBM just doesn’t place a high priority on the user experience. Yes, it’s been getting better, and the new CEO seems like she’s going to value good design. But the derivative doesn’t give me a great deal of confidence things are going to get better quickly, and there are so many interesting things happening in mobile right now that I didn’t want to wait any longer.

Second, I wanted to move a bit away from academic research and toward applied research. That’s a continuation of a trend I’ve been following for awhile, first moving from academia (faculty at Georgia Tech) to industrial research (IBM Research), and now further into applied research (the UX Innovations Lab). There are a bunch of factors involved, and it’d be a separate post to explore in detail why I’m less and less enamored of academic research. But after thinking about the bumpersticker version of those reasons for awhile, I’ve come up with this: I’d rather work on things that are useful than things that are novel. Academics value novelty largely independent of utility (yes, they’re arguably not supposed to, but they do). And while I like novelty, I’m more excited by working on things that matter.

And finally, I was looking for a chance to work on products that people buy rather than coming up with new ways to package and sell people as products. A recent article in The Atlantic expressed my opinion fairly well; I’m tired of products and services that look like this:

There will be ratings and photos and a network of friends imported, borrowed, or stolen from one of the big social networks. There will be an emphasis on connections between people, things, and places. That is to say, the software you run on your phone will try to get you to help it understand what and who you care about out there in the world. Because all that stuff can be transmuted into valuable information for advertisers.

I’d like to slap the next person who talks about building and selling a 360 degree view of people. I’m sorry, I don’t want companies building 360 degree views of me so that they can target ads to me to try to convince me to buy more stuff. I want companies to build awesome products. Stop trying to gather information about parts of my life that are irrelevant to you and worry about that.

So why Samsung? At the UX Innovations Lab, I have to chance to work with folks who care a lot about the user experience. And the UX Center as a whole has been growing by leaps and bounds as Samsung places more focus on UX. I get to look ahead, but I also have a chance to drive ideas into new products and services. Impact is measured by changing the world, rather than worrying about paper counts. And Samsung sells products, so I get to help make those products awesome.

Plus so far no one has said “360 degree view of people”, which is already awesome.

From → Fun, Mobile, Musings, Research

4 Comments
  1. johnregehr permalink

    I’m not totally sure what academics value but “novelty” doesn’t really hit the mark. What I mean is that if novelty was the main thing, we should be seeing more work that is novel, rather than probably less than 10% of papers at top-tier conferences containing ideas of significant novelty. On the other hand, here are some things that are highly valued by academics:

    – cleverness and also its close cousin: too much cleverness

    – the ability to generalize an existing result that people already like and understand

    – the ability to elegantly frame a problem or a solution, even if not novel, and especially if it is given a good name

    Once a problem is framed properly (which usually requires filing off plenty of rough edges) it can be parceled out to any number of doctoral students.

    Conferences where I publish tend to have a significant minority of utilitarians, of which I am one. There are basically two strategies for publishing utilitarian papers. First, by adding a few equations and passing it off as the other kind of paper. Second, by writing a nice solid utilitarian paper and hoping to get a like-minded champion or two on the PC.

    My point is just the drawing a novelty vs. utilitarian distinction is oversimplifying a complicated situation.

    Have fun at the new job!

    • Jeff permalink

      Well, yeah, it was a simplification. But it was intended more as a shorter “why I’m switching jobs” post, rather than a longer “why I think academic research is borked” post. Which I may write at some point. But since I don’t particularly care about fixing it anymore, maybe not. =)

      • johnregehr permalink

        I don’t find fixing academic publishing to be very interesting either. It’s just an incentive problem…

      • Jeff permalink

        My take (which will play into a longer post if I ever bother to write it), is that academic publishing is broken because it’s trying to fulfill two goals that are too frequently incompatible. First, it’s trying to disseminate valid research results. Second, it’s a career advancement mechanism for academics.

        In the age of the Internet the first goal is arguably no longer necessary. When anyone can start a blog, why do we need academic publications (which all too frequently aren’t open access) to share results? And the second goal leads to people focusing on the wrong questions: what can I publish, versus what’s useful?

        If I still cared, I’d try to convince industrial researchers to abandon more traditional publication venues and to start freely sharing their research results (including discussion, contributions of code, prototypes) on the Internet. Academic publishing is propped up by industry, and if the industrial participants go away the conferences will likely collapse. But that’s only if I still cared.

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