Google's Daydream Team Talks Ambition and Inclusion at 2018 WEST Fest
Annual Women in Engineering, Science, and Technology (WEST) Fest Provides a Glimpse at Potential Career Paths
“What’s most exciting about VR is finding the application for it,” Jennifer Holland, program manager for Google’s Daydream project, told an eager crowd of high school and college students. Gathered for the 4th Annual WEST (Women in Engineering, Science, and Technology) Fest hosted by the NYU Tandon Office of Undergraduate Enrollment Management, the students had the unprecedented opportunity to hear from Google Daydream team members Holland, Cappie Regalado, France-Lee Griggs, and Brittany Mennuti, who shared their experiences working on virtual and augmented reality technology. “What we’re focusing on is making it a toothbrush product: something that people use every day,” Holland explained.
Daydream, a Google VR venture announced in 2016, includes a Google-made headset (called the “Daydream View”) and accompanying software that can be accessed on specific Daydream-enabled Android phones. In the past year, Google has opened up the platform to developers who are curious about creating their own VR experiences and seeking to broaden the potential applications of VR and AR in everyday life. The Daydream team detailed their work developing and testing Virtual Reality software and hardware, and also discussed their disparate experiences pursuing careers in technology.
“Just hearing what Google’s working on, and what technology they have available to assist future researchers and startups is always interesting,” Kelli Brush, a rising senior at NYU Tandon studying biomolecular engineering, said. She mentioned that she had been invited to another Google event last year to check out the company’s TensorFlow machine learning software and its application for small businesses. Brush is part of the We are the New Farmers, a NYU Tandon-based startup looking to make contained farming as efficient as possible, and interested in new technology that makes obtaining fresh produce easier and more sustainable.
Olivia, a high school student, echoed Brush’s enthusiasm for emerging technology. “I’m planning on majoring in computer science, and [attending] NYU Tandon is really my goal,” she said.
Planning for the future was an overarching theme of the event. In addition to talking about developing new uses for VR technology, the Daydream team offered advice to students who were curious about a variety of issues, from staying in unsatisfying jobs, making VR more accessible, encouraging younger people to enter the STEM fields, and why emerging technology needs a woman’s perspective.
“The headset’s a big one,” mentioned panelist Cappie Regalado, pointing out that if VR headsets are implemented in the workplace, they could disrupt workplace appearance standards for women. “We also consider personal space. When there’s no physical boundary, it can feel like you’re in a multiplayer game, like people are invading your space. How do we design for that?”
“This one [about headset design] pertains not just to women, but people of varying heights,” added Brittany Mennuti. “When you put on the headset, you want to make sure the height you’re at is actually visible. If you’re supposed to be standing on a floor, you shouldn’t be slightly above it, or ten feet below it. You have to be really conscious of the defaults for software that you’re developing for VR.”
“The more diverse and inclusive we are, the better products we build,” Holland said. “We’re really proud of the breakdown of men and women on our team.”
The Daydream team made a point of talking about their own unique backgrounds. Of the four panelists, only one had a traditional STEM background. Responding to a question about career prospects for people without STEM degrees, Holland emphasized passion and hard work: “We’re three people who didn’t have degrees in STEM. Find out what you’re passionate about, and get your hands dirty with it.”
NYU Tandon School of Engineering
Master of Science in Integrated Digital Media, Class of 2019