Team Project for Google Offers Important Lessons

November 13, 2013

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This fall, at least one student team at the Silicon Valley campus learned a great deal about usability, teamwork, and taking pride in their work. Information Networking Institute (INI) students Dooyum Malu, Hans Reichenbach and Swati Singh undertook a team project for their Master of Science in Information Technology (MSIT) programs that explored the use of interactivity in exhibit spaces, such as museums and visitor centers.

Unlike most course projects, they're working for a real client: Google. Their client just so happens to be a company well known for products that elevate the user experience in eye-opening new ways. Google tasked the team with creating new interactive exhibit features that would improve spaces at Google office locations.

"Google has a few interactive experience centers in various office locations," explained Malu. "Called 'Museums,' these experience centers exhibit various innovative technologies that utilize their existing products, such as YouTube, Google Maps, and Search. In these Museums, visitors can interact with the exhibited technology in various ways."

The goal of the project was to get users excited about an exhibit through new technology features. And so, the team rose to the challenge by creating applications and demonstrating new methods of user interaction.

The team used Google's Interactive Spaces API and a technology called Spartacus, which was developed at Carnegie Mellon by a team led by Pei Zhang, associate research professor for INI, CyLab and ECE. Zhang is the faculty advisor on the practicum team.

The team was also advised by their client representative Trevor Pering at Google, who encouraged the students to be innovative and creative.  At the same time, they worked within a process that emphasized testing and use case scenarios to ensure user-friendly results.

"Our client at Google comes from the research side of things, which means he has a very different perspective on the challenges we've been tackling than I'm used to. In your typical college project class you are given a clear task and told to tackle it as quickly and efficiently as possible," explained Reichenbach. "Trevor, on the other hand, has a much more holistic view of problems and favors analyzing as many use cases as possible of a technology before developing something that can cover as many of those as possible in a scalable manner."

Teammate Singh enjoyed the team's interactions with the client. She felt that she could take ownership in the work, saying: "The team vibe was not of manager/employee but more of equal contributing members. Our inputs were encouraged and well appreciated, which was refreshing to see."

The project presented several challenges. The team learned that creating new applications is a unique frontier that lacks supporting documentation or online forums to provide assistance. Fortunately, they could each offer diverse talents. They relied on each other to overcome the roadblocks that arose while working with new technologies.

"We were faced with the task of learning and implementing most of our work from scratch," said Malu. "The divide and conquer approach served us well over the course of the practicum."

The team's successful progress on the project attracted the attention of faculty, staff and others. They were invited to present their project in Pittsburgh.

The Google practicum team will attend the Campus-wide Celebration of the inaugural events for President Subra Suresh this week. Attendees can stop by University Center to talk with the team members and hear about their project on November 14, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Pictured above, left to right: Swati Singh, Hans Reichenbach and Dooyum Malu