My job explained - Min Xin from SMART

What do you do and why it is of value in your organisation?

Currently, I work as a Software Developer in SMART Labs, where we research ideas and technologies to provide insight and guidance on the future direction of the company. My work is specifically focused on envisioning the next generation classroom, by understanding evolving needs in education and developing technologies to help students achieve better learning outcomes.

What do you like most about your job?

The opportunity it gives me to take on a diverse range of responsibilities and challenges beyond programming. I frequently help patent inventions, present new ideas to managers and customers, or study educational theory to better understand customer needs. I’m also very fortunate to be working with, and learning from, great colleagues who really excel in their specific fields of expertise. This diverse environment allows me to fully utilize and nurture my creativity. For example, I’m very artistic and enjoy applying my visual communication skills to create presentations and videos that effectively communicate my ideas to others.

What are the bad bits?

The title Software Developer doesn’t really reflect the diversity of activities involved in my work. Some of my family members think of me just as the “IT guy” and ask me to help them fix their computers.

The job can also be a bit of a health hazard if I’m not careful. Sometimes, I sit most of the day in front of multiple monitors, so I try not to take the elevator and walk up stairs when possible. Like many software developers, I wear glasses, but my eyes aren’t too bad yet. Also, with many active wireless access points on the floor and a few running at my desk, the electromagnetic radiation is probably a bit high.

What does a typical day look like?

When I arrive at work in the morning, I usually read a few of my favourite technology blogs like Engadget and Gizmodo in order to keep up with current trends and be inspired. Our group also has a one-hour meeting every day to collaboratively brainstorm about our work. At lunch time, I generally try to chat with colleagues about non-work related things. For the rest I cover different responsibilities like programming, preparing for presentations, and documenting ideas.

How did you get this job?

I was already very familiar with SMART when I applied for a job, as I completed my Master’s degree in the Interactions Lab, which is generously supported by SMART with various interactive technologies like touch-sensitive boards and tables.

In the year I completed my degree, I was able to impress SMART managers with my thesis research at an industry day event, where usually students work is showcased.

What qualifications do you have and what qualifications are essential for this role?

I have a Bachelor of Science Honours degree and a Master of Science degree, both from the University of Calgary and both in the area of computer science.

My BSc helped me to establish good technical programming skills that are essential for my work, but I feel my MSc was even more important in teaching me how to think creatively, solve problems resourcefully, and communicate my ideas effectively.

One of my specializations in computer science is Human-Computer Interaction (HCI). Having experience in this field is essential in helping to connect the raw bits and bytes of computer science to the human aspects of how technology is actually used.

What qualities do you think are needed for this role?

The most important quality to have is the ability to quickly learn and apply new skills. I really love the diversity in my work, and the variety of problems every day that require me to learn new things: from picking up a new programming language, to applying psychology concepts in designing user interactions, or to learning how to edit videos to communicate ideas.

In a context often ambiguous and rapidly changing like mine, being self-directed and open minded are also important qualities to have.

Do you help others and the world?

I certainly hope so. It always motivates me to think about the potential impact of our work on teachers and students around the world. It’s such a great feeling to see or hear about how our technologies are being used and the difference that they are making to students’ education.

What is the most exciting thing you’ve done in this role?

The coolest thing I have done so far is working on the Mixed Reality project, a project I co-initiated serving as technical lead. I’m most proud of being able to introduce 3D content and 3D interaction to Notebook and allow students to learn about important concepts in 3D.

How geeky is your job?

I don’t consider my job to be too geeky, although my cubicle probably doesn’t reflect that. I currently have two laptops, two desktop PCs, and three monitors at my desk, and I must say that I’m not a super programmer that can code in parallel on all of those machines. I guess I’m geeky in the sense that I’m excited by technology and want to experience it myself so that I can incorporate it in my work.

What’s your work-life balance like?

I think my work-life balance is pretty good. My wife and I frequently go to concerts, movies, and festivals, and I like to play squash with friends and ride my bike around the city. Because I live close to SMART HQ, I try to bike or walk to work every day.

I feel it is extremely important to have this balance not just for personal health but also for work. I try to expose myself to a variety of experiences in order to feed my creativity. Sometimes it’s easy to narrow the field of view and become too focused on something at work, but the solution to the problem can often be revealed if you just step back and look at the bigger picture. I firmly believe that good scientists should be well rounded in multiple aspects of life not just in the areas they specialize in.