By Ariana Chae '15
I had a chance to chat with Drew Harry ('06) about his projects and more specifically about his experience at the MIT Media Lab. Drew completed his Masters and his Ph.D. at the Lab, graduated in the fall of 2012, and will be returning to campus on Halloween night to discuss what life at the Media Lab was like.
The MIT Media Lab has a research-oriented academic program. It is an interdisciplinary environment where everyone is affiliated with a specific group. There are about thirty groups, and their projects range from brain interfaces, prosthetic limbs, new musical instruments, materials science projects, creativity tools for kids, tools to help kids learn how to program and more. What is unique about the MIT Media Lab is that when they hire their faculty, they look for someone who does something no one else does: they care less about depth and more about breadth in that they want only one person who does each thing to cover a broad space. This leads to a creative and collaborative environment.
"I came out of Olin really interested in design and technology and really wanting to explore that more, and felt that the lab was a great place to have a certain amount of creative control, "Drew explained. "On day one my advisor said, 'What are you going to do?' It's hard to get that confidence that you can come up with something and figure out if it's good, and if it's going to work or if it's going to be interesting. The Media Lab is one of the very few places where you can really dig in on that sort of problem."
Drew was a part of two groups: he worked with sociable media, where he was interested in visualization and creating new interactive experiences between people, and he worked with speech and mobility, where he did work around mobile devices - creating new forms of real-time communication to support discussions, learning, and productivity.
One cool large-scale chat project that Drew worked on involved the creation of a back-channel system where people watching a live event together can have a conversation about that shared experience in real-time, even in very large audiences.
You can view that project here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ky9U1v38zsk
Drew was able to leave Olin with enough confidence in his ability to think about users and think about the design process and how to solve the 'what-to-build' problem. Pairing that with enough technical background helped him succeed at the Media Lab. Olin gives students the ability to produce what they are thinking about -- as Drew describes it, all the pieces of "doing the vision stuff and doing the coding and the testing and the users and the data analysis and writing the paper..." are all crucial steps that Olin trains students to take.
Drew's Next Adventure
Drew is currently working on new technologies to help students and recent graduates explore potential career paths by watching authentic video interviews with people like them, talking about what they do for a career. You can check it out here: http://www.sixquestions.co/
Drew is in the process of looking for Olin alumni who are interested in being interviewed for the Six Questions website. If you're interested in helping people learn about your career, it only takes about ten minutes, and you can do it from your laptop: http://www.sixquestions.co/record/olin
Advice from Drew
What words of advice can Drew give current students? He says:
- Contact me, about the Media Lab in particular!
- Generally, focus on doing stuff. Build the confidence to go after the things you're excited about. Even the small things, if you can make it and try it, it'll show your ability to execute and accomplish things you're excited about. Actually making the thing teaches you a lot about what it is and what it should be.
- Think big, make something small, and use what you made to help tell the larger story.