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Ashwin Vijayakumar talks working with startups at Intel

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Ashwin Vijayakumar is the Lead applications architect at Intel Corporation, and works to directly with startups during their development to get them to market faster. On Tuesday October 25th, he talked to Femtech about his latest projects and his advice for prospective entrepreneurs.

At Intel, Vijayakumar aims to help startups attain a faster path to production. He does this by working to create technology that will help startups through the design process, so that they can get to market as quickly as possible. An example of one such project is Intel ® Real Sense™. This product features three cameras – a 1080p HD camera, an infrared camera, and an infrared laser projector. Together, it can serve a variety of uses for a startup working on product design because it enables the user to actually scan objects in 3D!

“What is perception? How do we perceive our environment?” Vijayakumar asks his audience at FemTech Talk last Tuesday. He revealed that the idea of perception was key in the design of sensors in the revolutionary technology behind Intel ® Real Sense™. The technology, Vijayakumar explained, is much like the human eye. Perceptual computing is implemented – which is how we give machines the sensors and intelligence to perceive its environment like we can. Doing this is complex: we must be able to give the robot instructions via some kind of software so that it is capable of object recognition.

The sensors themselves are very advanced. The product actually features two types of depth infrared sensors, one for time of flight and the other for structured flight. Time of flight sends the beam of light to the object and estimates how long it takes for the beam to come back. Structured light on the other hand casts a beam of light and creates a set of features. Together, these depth sensors allow continuous movement to accompanied by continuous depth perception by the machine.  Ultimately, the processor can sense depth and track motion, allowing the machine to sense objects in three dimensions!

Vijayakumar first became interested in the topics he would later work on at Intel back in college, when he wrote his master thesis on automotive electronics. Talking about the ideas with professors and fellow students helped grow his understanding and interest in the field.

And what’s it really like working for Intel? “Intel is home. It gives me the freedom to do what I want to do…Intel has a diverse culture and helps people grow from a social perspective as well”, Vijayakumar describes. The company, he notes, is quite large but still feels like a startup because of the smaller groups it is broken up into. Intel is also very committed to fostering a diverse workforce, Vijayakumar says. From his experience, a gender balanced team is extremely beneficial because it brings diversified thought: “Men solve things differently than women…Gender brings different points of view”. And these ideas align well with Intel’s, he adds.

Finally, Vijayakumar was able to offer some valuable advice to future entrepreneurs – or anyone interested in creating a startup. He reveals that hands down the most important thing is to work hard. Secondly, don’t worry too much about whether someone else will sue or steal your idea – simply “solve a problem that’s existing”. There are so many ideas being patented, he says, but not being executed. Execute on the idea!

 Written by Michelle Verghese

Intern Insider: UX/UI design At Tesla

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Being a design intern at Tesla isn’t what you might think.

“I wasn’t working on the car,” said Michelle Chan, a Summer User Interface and User Experience design intern at the Palo Alto-based company. “I think that’s what a lot of people think when they think of Tesla, but there are a lot of things beyond the car that people can work on.”

Instead, Michelle worked on internal and enterprise tools, including a wire harness for car seats. (Details on projects were kept hush-hush.)

A Cognitive Science major at UC Berkeley, Michelle is a self-taught UX/UI designer with full stack coding capabilities. As she continues her internship into the Fall semester, Michelle muses on work-life balance, having fun on the job and self-driving cars.

What’s it like interning at Tesla? What’s the culture like?

I actually love working for Tesla. It was the first time in my life that I was actually excited to wake up in the morning to go to work. At first, I had a hard time adjusting to the pace, because they do move really quickly, and they do work long hours. But after immersing myself in the work and really loving what I was doing the long hours didn’t seem long after all. Also, the vibe in the company, everyone is extremely motivated to do what they do. That also inspires and encourages me to keep moving forward with the work.

What did you learn?

My design skills shot up exponentially just being around amazing designers. I also learned how to better balance work and life. A lot of people, especially in Silicon Valley, all they do is work work work. I actually felt pretty horrible in the beginning when I didn’t have a good balance. But after realizing that, I was significantly happier.

How did your CogSci major help you in the internship?

It didn’t really help, to be honest. Unless you’re going to a design school, it’s difficult to learn what design is without doing it. There was one other design intern, and she went to school strictly for art or design related things. As someone who wasn’t, there’s more of a learning curve since you don’t have a teacher. You’re not learning from a particular someone, you’re learning it with yourself.

How did your coding experience help you?

It definitely helped me after I was done designing something. I actually got to work with a developer. It definitely helped sort of knowing a language, it helped to communicate to [the developer] about how to bring the idea to life. I could speak more technically with him.

What do you recommend for someone trying to intern?

Besides actually learning to do design, I think one of the most important things is socializing with other people, networking. I think meeting new people will go a long way for you. I think that’s how most people land jobs. Socializing organically, not necessarily assertively networking.

Have fun, don’t take it too seriously. Don’t be afraid to ask questions while you’re interning. A lot of people when they’re first-time interning […] they may be afraid to ask questions and think that [their mentor or manager] is so busy, but in reality their humans as well, they really don’t mind if you ask a question. That would probably help work a lot faster.

Finally, what’s your opinion on self-driving cars?

I think it’s the future. Either the future is in the long run completely [but] at least in the short run it’ll be a hybrid of self-driving.

Melisa Lin, founder and CEO of Nommery, talks to FEM Tech

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Melisa Lin, founder and CEO of restaurant meet-up site Nommery, chatted with FEM Tech earlier this month about her journey from Berkeley student to owner of one of the most promising start-ups in the industry. 

Nommery has its roots in SF Foodies, the other meet-up community Lin started years ago, back when she worked at Veritable Vegetable, the country’s oldest organic produce distributor.

“There was a point when I was thinking, should I be trying to advance my career in the food industry and progress further there, or can I build something out of this community that is exploding,” Lin said. The group was holding 100 events a month, and filled entire restaurants on some nights.

But before Veritable and SF Foodies, Lin was a student at Berkeley studying mostly, well, food: besides selling her own, homemade granola, leading organic gardening at People’s Park and basically majoring in food (B.S. In Conservation and Resource Studies with a focus on Sustainable Food Business), she also helped found the Student Food Collective, the vegan food-haven located on Bancroft.

A veritable violinist (she’s performed on tour in Europe with the Stanford symphony and at the Davis Symphony Hall in San Francisco) Lin says her love of music taught her the discipline needed to get Nommery off the ground.

“As a performer, you learn how to present yourself in front of a large audience, learn how to command, learn how to project your voice.” This skill has invariably helped in talking to big names, like, for instance, the CTO of Coffee Meets Bagel, a user of and mentor to Nommery.

People First, Company Last

Nommery sprouted in a backwards way, launching with a consumer base already established, with little question as to its viability.

“Having a community first, and understanding what they want and building it for them makes it worth it, because you’re saving time, you’re saving money on developing. It just seems like a no brainer to me.”

Lin says there are three things to have established before looking for funding: the minimal viable product (your website), sales and marketing. Sales will prove the viability of your product, which will particularly capture venture capitalists’ interest.

Logging onto Nommery, there are a handful of restaurant meet-ups created by different hosts at different price points. The cheapest meal is a non-inclusive RSVP of $5; the higher priced reservations can climb up to $300, but that includes everything from appetizers to the tip.

She describes the mood at restaurant meet-ups as “warm, open, excited.” The meet-ups have attracted many food business executives from companies like CISCO, Walmart and OpenTable.

“I’m just kind of awestruck, still,” Lin says. “To go to an event and dine with someone, and not have them mention who they are, and then go on LinkedIn later and see that they’re the VP of eCommerce at Walmart, is kind of mindboggling. It’s amazing how down to earth they all are and how humble they all are.”

Nommery has plans to expand into Chicago, New York and Los Angeles as well as overseas in late 2016.

Kanda’s Calling: UX and web designer Michi Kanda talks career with FEM Tech

Michi KandaWalking into Cafe Milano on a Tuesday evening in November, Michi Kanda, a user experience and web developer for Tokyo-based startup Progate, a sort of Codeacademy of the East, wears a sweater advertising her company, a skirt that defies the cold weather settling into Berkeley, and black oxford platforms, a nod to her home country’s eclectic style. She’s with a friend, and as soon as I introduce myself, she walks off to buy a coffee.

Once we settle into our seats, I ask her how Berkeley has been in the first 30 minute she’s spent here since getting off BART. She arrived from San Jose, where she participated as a finalist in Battlehack, a hackathon run by Paypal. She and her teammates won first place in Tokyo in June for talk’n’pick, a video summarization app that processes out less important footage. The prize included free round-trip airfare and a hotel stay in San Jose, plus an ax that glows with blue light (the theme of the competition was Tron). “So far so good,” she says.

Kanda, 25, started coding only two years ago while interning at Life is Tech, an organization that teaches high school kids how to code in Japan. There she learned HTML and Ruby on Rails among other languages. Up until now, her roles have included co-founding two start-ups and landing her current job as a designer at Progate, a website that teaches the public to code and program.

“The best part is that I get to work with the people I admire and also [do the] things that I care about,” Kanda says. “Like helping people who want to code.”

Generally, there are a lot of tasks a UX designer could specialize in. For Kanda, day to day consists of site traffic analysis and making user interfaces, or UI, for new products. Kanda found her interest in coding alone; in school, she wasn’t encouraged by her parents or teachers to pursue a STEM major.

“I wish my parents or a teacher had encouraged me to explore a STEM field, but they never did,” she says. “From elementary school, there are classes for girls. You have to know how to cook, how to make clothes. But I think boys don’t really have to do that.”

She says that girls studying Computer Science at universities in Japan aren’t interested in engineering degrees; they are mostly concerned with becoming “good” wives. Through Progate, she hopes to encourage women towards careers in technology.

Kanda advises to start small when coding for the first time, learning HTML, CSS and the basics of website development. Then move on to harder languages like JavaScript.

“I think when you first start programming, it’s good to have things you actually want to build before. It can be a simple one page website. It’s very important to start small.”

We can all take a cue from Kanda’s book–start small, dream big.

Michi Kanda presented to FEM Tech in November about her career.