Geek of the Week

Geek of the Week: In tech’s large image, Google Clips UX researcher Eva Snee focuses on the person

Eva Snee
A Google Clips image of Eva Snee at home with her son. (Eva Snee Photo)

Eva Snee works on a gadget that many folks may not even be aware of yet. The important thing, for those who eventually put hands on it, is that Snee’s interest is in better understanding how to make the device easy to use.

Snee is a user experience researcher for Google in Seattle and she works on Google Clips, the small camera designed to capture more spontaneous images in people’s lives. She’s GeekWire’s latest Geek of the Week.

“Originally, I’m from rural Ohio where I grew up playing in the woods behind my house and didn’t use a computer at home until high school,” Snee said. “It was when I finally got that home computer that I started to get really interested in tech.”

Snee attended James Madison University in Virginia for her undergrad, originally as a computer science major. But she soon soon changed majors to technical communication.

“I realized I was more interested in making technology easy to understand for different types of people than I was in coding,” she said.

She moved to Seattle for grad school, where she studied Human-Centered Design and Engineering at the University of Washington.

“It was in my graduate work that I focused on user experience research and design. Ever since grad school, I never left Seattle, and have worked for a few different tech companies along the way.”

Learn more about this weeks Geek of the Week, Eva Snee:

What do you do, and why do you do it? “I am the UX (User Experience) lead for Google Clips, a small, lightweight camera that uses Google technology to automatically capture spontaneous moments with the people and pets who matter most to you. My top responsibility is to ensure we are listening to the voice of the user throughout the process of building this product, and to help guide our decision-making to focus on user needs and desires. I love my job because I’m able to work directly with engineers to help them understand and learn about who they are building for. It’s always an inspiring experience because we all learn something new when we talk to the end users.”

What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? “Often times, when an engineering team hasn’t worked with UX before, they worry UX will be another step in the process that will ultimately slow down their momentum to launching products. However, once they’ve had a chance to sit in a usability study, attend a field visit, or whiteboard with a designer, they quickly see that UX can actually help them move faster because they can identify issues in the user experience before they’ve completely implemented it. Ultimately, having a deep understanding of who they are building for always makes their job easier.”

Where do you find your inspiration? “In the people who use our products. In over a decade of conducting research, I’ve never talked to a user and not learned something new. The people who use our products always have insight to share that will make us better at our jobs, and improve the products we design and build. For example, when building Google Clips, we asked families all over the country to use an early prototype of the product for three months so we could understand how the camera could be used in the real world. They allowed us to visit their homes periodically and we got to see them use the camera in real-world situations. It was inspiring to see the different ways they used the product that we hadn’t expected, along with the types of memories they were able to capture with Clips that they couldn’t get with their existing cameras. One of my favorite memories was watching a father and son play soccer together while Clips was attached to the soccer net. Before this visit, we’d never seen anyone use the product this way, and the content they captured was incredible because of the unique vantage point from the soccer net and its ability to capture his son’s face right when he made a goal. It was these observations from our field research that taught us that when people get more playful with how and where they use the camera with their families, the more compelling content they end up getting.”

What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? “Aside from Google Clips, you mean? It would have to be my phone. It’s the tool I use to communicate with friends and family far and wide, to get work done on the go, and access all of my pictures and memories.”

Google office
A communal space at the Google offices in Seattle. (Photo courtesy of Eva Snee)

What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? “Physically speaking, we have an open workspace that encourages collaboration and openness that I’ve really thrived in. I’ve worked at other places where I’ve had my own office, and I find that the physical barrier makes it harder to quickly chat through problems with colleagues. I work in the Google Seattle office, which is right along the bike trail and the canal. It’s a beautiful view with a great commute for someone living in the city! But ultimately, my favorite part about my workspace are the people I work alongside. They challenge me, teach me, make me laugh, and keep me pushing harder on what we can accomplish as a team.”

Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) “I’m a working mother with another kid on the way. Work-life balance has always been important to me, but it became more important when I became a mom. I’ve always had the mantra of: I work to live, I don’t live to work. My work is fulfilling, fun, and challenging–but ultimately, the thing I’ll look back on in life and be most proud of is the person I was to my children, family, and friends. It’s also what made Google Clips a fun product to work on because I know firsthand how important it is to capture memories of your growing family, and how challenging it can be to capture the candid and spontaneous moments of your children that are difficult to get with traditional cameras. This product allowed me to build something that helps people like me who want to preserve these fleeting memories with their children.”

Mac, Windows or Linux? “None of the above. ChromeOS on my Pixelbook, of course.”

Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? “Picard. He has it all: he inspires, he gets things done, he plays a mean flute. Picard all day.”

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? “Transporter, preferably operated by Chief O’Brien under Picard’s leadership.”

If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … “First ask the right people to start it with me. I’ve found that it’s the people you work with who make the product what it is. If I have the right people by my side, I’m confident we’d build something innovative and valuable.”

I once waited in line for … “I rarely wait in lines because I’m impatient. If there is something I want, but there is a line for it, it’s never worth it to wait.”

Your role models: “My role models aren’t famous people. They are the people I have worked alongside in my career who have shown me how to carry myself in my day-to-day with integrity, boldness, and humility. It’s the people I’ve gotten to learn from in challenging times when they think no one else is looking, and they still do the right thing for the product and the team. It’s people who I’ve seen make hard decisions that not everyone agrees with, but they have to own and move forward with.

“Also, Captain Jean Luc Picard of the USS Enterprise.”

Greatest game in history: “This one is hard. My friends and I will book weekends away to play games, and we play so many! If I had to choose just one, I think it would be Settlers of Catan. It’s a classic game that is easy to teach others, full of strategy, and can always be expanded for more complexity.”

Best gadget ever: “This is difficult to narrow down to just one, but I do see Clips as a gadget that can change the way we think about photography. Practically speaking, I’ve been able to capture more moments with my son that I couldn’t get with any other camera I’ve used before, and I’m spending less time behind a camera and more time living life. Beyond the user experience, it changes the conversation on how machine learning can help us capture and preserve different moments of our lives while giving users full control over the content. Like a traditional camera, none of your Clips leave the device until you until you decide what to do with it, but we’ve broken from tradition in the type of content it can capture. But if I had to choose something not so close to home, I’d say my wireless headphones because they are always with me.”

First computer: “No idea. I just know it was 1998, and I could get on the internet, finally.”

Current phone: “Pixel 2!”

Favorite app: “The running app I use, Runkeeper, because it’s got a history of all the runs I’ve done in the past seven years. I like having that historical data and seeing how I’ve progressed over time.”

Favorite cause: “I started volunteering my time at a young age. I waited tables at the local seniors’ center when I was 12 years old, and did that regularly until I graduated high school. Throughout my adult life, I have tried to find ways to help causes at both the local and global scale. If I had to choose one that has been important to me recently, it’s a local organization called PEPS, which strives to provide support and resources to new parents in the Seattle area.”

Most important technology of 2016: “Machine learning and how it’s showing up in people’s lives. Its applications continue to expand, and people encounter machine learning technology many times throughout their day whether they realize it or not.”

Most important technology of 2018: “I see machine learning showing up in more places, and people having higher expectations for what it can do and how it should fit into their lives.”

Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: “When in doubt, listen to your user.”

Twitter: @evasnee

LinkedIn: Eva Snee

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