HOW TO BE SUCCESSFUL INDUSTRY RESEARCHER – A journey from NUS-HCI Lab to Adobe – Part II

HOW TO BE SUCCESSFUL INDUSTRY RESEARCHER – A journey from NUS-HCI Lab to Adobe – Part I
December 26, 2017
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January 16, 2018

HOW TO BE SUCCESSFUL INDUSTRY RESEARCHER – A journey from NUS-HCI Lab to Adobe – Part II

Rubaiat Habib is currently working at Adobe Research.  We got the opportunity to share his success story starting at a research lab and living is dream of working at Adobe.

What kind of skillset is required to be successful in the industry?

The ability to identify important problems and have a unique perspective to approach those problems.

You will know that you’re on the right path when you pitch your idea to someone, he/she replies, “Okay! Tell me more.” You need a great story that motivates and excites others.

I can give you one more example. In case of Draco you know initially our story was – “it’s a tool for animators to bring animated difference to their drawings”. But the story was not too strong. I mean everybody is like, “OK that sounds cool but it’s not relevant to me.” Most of the people are not animators or artist, right? But when we deployed it into our beta form, we found that 90% of the people are designers, teachers, engineers, architects, children…. We realize: “OK, this is not just valuable to artists and animators. It’s a bit powerful communication tool because teachers are using that in the classroom. And then instructors are using it for their presentations; architects are using to pitch their ideas and children are using it, which is a big market.” so the story changes. The whole story of the product is that SketchBook Motion is such a great communication tool to rapidly express your ideas using dynamic medium. This is a much more exciting story and that will solve our idea not only to the product teams but also to the market. I think that’s why all that works.

Getting the new story right is really important.

There is new kind, new wave of technologies that keep you on the edge. You always have to learn.

So I think in the industry you always need to evolve and adapt because it is always changing the needs.

When I joined Autodesk, they had a particular type of domain they’re interested in. And it’s just four years, those things are gone. They have a new sets of interests in just four years. They need new type of skill sets to address these new, emerging problems (i.e., AI, AR/VR, Generative Design etc.).

Another really important thing I found is communication.

Communication means that to have an impact in the company, you need to influence people; you need to influence product teams; you need to influence the press teams, senior leaders, and even clients.

What are the different types of industrial roles for researchers?

The role in industry research can vary a lot. There are almost 50+ researchers at Autodesk. HCI group is very academic. We publish a in top tier conferences, supervise research interns, and collaborate with universities. Whereas, other groups (such as DreamCatcher) are focused more on advanced prototyping, but less on academic publishing. While, some other groups are focusing more on strategic roadmap. Some groups are collaborating with high-end customers like air bus, BMW and other big companies on advanced manufacturing and design problems. Bill Buxton, principle scientist in Microsoft, advocates design thinking culture within the company. In summary, your role in industry research varies a lot. It depends on you and what you want to do. If you want to publish, you can publish. If you don’t want to publish, you don’t have to do it. It can be quite flexible.

What kind of experience is required for a career in industry? How internships during academics impact this career?

I think that getting your dream job is more important than finishing Ph.D. in four years. In that sense, I strongly recommend that try to have one or two internships during your Ph.D. If you are interested in the industry, just consider doing one or two internships in the industry.

Internships are not just getting a paper or networking. They provide valuable learning experience on variety of things.

I had three internships. One with Takeo Igarashi. I learned a lot, but mostly working with Takeo as an individual. I learned how to think and approach technical problems. In industrial research internships, you’re not only learning about your own project, but also learn about hundreds of different projects and approaches. The interns that come to Autodesk they learn about what are the problems that the teams are working on. And that’s really interesting since most of the groups do not publish heavily. You don’t know about these problems and projects externally.

The most invaluable experience is to learn about the type of problems that industry is interested in. First of all, you can see the effort from the learning experience. You also see an opportunity. You can see how you can develop for that type of industry because you know what are the problems that they’re looking at and what type of skill sets are needed.

Secondly, one of my biggest takeaway from Microsoft internship is networking and knowing all the other interns. (Microsoft research typically has 300 interns during the summer).  And whenever I go to a conference like we study CHI. I see 30 to 40 people who overlapped with me in Microsoft.

It’s a really great networking opportunity with your peers, not just senior people or recruiters but your future peers who will work in the same community and potential collaborate with you.

And Shen had been very supportive about internships and collaborating with external people. So I encourage you to take this opportunity.

How does your work benefit from your Ph.D.?

Work on problems that excite people, have a unique strong prospective.

Now if you look at a particular research group, you will see that there are a lot of great researchers with unique types of skill sets. When you want to join a particular group, your goal should be to bring something new.

When a team wants to hire you, they want to bring a new type of thinking, a new skill set, a unique perspective which is not existing in the team right now, but you will bring that type of thinking to the company.

How to make most out of the internship opportunities?

Learn about important problems; learn how to approach towards those problems. And learn how to be a team player.

It’s important to be a team-player, and being able to bring a diverse range of skills to solve a problem. There are so many great minds in a company. So if you do not share what you’re doing, people cannot help you. I think it’s really important to develop these types of qualities like teamwork and collaboration. Learn to help people and let other people help you.

And another important thing in internship is recommendation letters.

You know when you apply anywhere in the future, that recommendation letter is probably the most important one. Your recruiter will try to see what kind of impression you left in real working environment. I think that recommendation letter carries a lot of weight. You should also keep in touch with the mentors, collaborators, and your peer interns.

How is academic different from corporate world?

I’d say academic is more applied, less theoretical.

Technology is so ubiquitous and widespread. Now, industrial research is becoming more and more diverse. You can be a social scientist; you can be a psychologist; you can be a cognitive scientist; you can be a tech person, you can be an HCI person. And there is room for all these types of people in the industry.

Think about autonomous cars. I talked with the researchers that they are studying how these autonomous cars will interact with the predestination. These are really interesting, next generation problems. When you are thinking about the problem; think about the next generation problems. It’s not what the high community is working on now, but what would be the most important problems in a few years. Think about emerging topics. Social science, urban design, autonomous vehicles, AI, shape changing interfaces are some of the emerging topics.

What should we do to go back to the academic from R&D?

If you want to keep your doors open for academia, continue publishing in conferences.,

You need to be connected with the academic community through publishing, mentoring students, reviewing and keep relationship with the academic community by participating in the program committee etc.

I think these are the things you need to maintain. But again, the industry research has grown so much over the last three years. You will see a lot of people going from academia to industry and vice versa.

Thank you for your time. This surely would be great learning for aspiring students and other readers.

Dear Readers,
Hope this interview was helpful for you. If you have any further questions from Rubaiat, let us know in the comments section below.  

TAKEAWAY # 1

Find out what you really want to do and how you can be best at it.

TAKEAWAY # 2

Have a great story. Learn what problems you want to solve, why it is important, how you are going to solve it and with whom you can collaborate to solve it.

TAKEAWAY # 3

In research, there are six ways in evaluating you at the end of the year, they call it the five fine Ps— people, peers, press, papers, product.

 

This interview has been lightly edited.

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