“When people ask me what I do, I get to say ‘I study selfies!'”

By Casey Dugan, an engineer in the Cognitive User Experience Group at IBM Research in Cambridge, MA.

Lately, when people ask me what I do, I get to say “I study selfies!” My latest project, the #selfiestation began as a kiosk for IBMers and visitors to take photos of themselves at an IBM office in Cambridge. It has since grown to over 11 kiosks at IBM offices around the world (such as Dublin, Shanghai, and Kenya), been opened up to all IBMers on their personal devices, and been used externally at IBM conferences. We’ve collected over 5,000 photos and over 10,000 faces. This data allows us to study things like identity and recognition “in the wild,” as well as other usage and social behavior. For example, we’ve found the photos to be incredibly social, with over 70% of users posing with others atleast once and over 50% only posing with others. We’ve even found that people who pose with others take four times as many photos on average.

Selfie Station

I’m lucky to work in a place that allows me to study the latest technology trends, including selfies! Since joining IBM Research  I’ve had the opportunity to work on many of these kinds of projects.

I’ve built a tool that recommends blog entries IBMers should write. I’ve built a system to crowdsource which IBMers are on Twitter.

I’ve studied gamification mechanisms and their effects.

I was even part of building and studying IBM’s first internal social networking site, Beehive, that was used by over 50,000 IBMers!

For me, each of these projects represents the freedom to propose new ideas and work on projects you come up with. For each I’ve also been challenged to learn new technical skills. When I first joined, I was creating desktop applications using Java, but now I almost exclusively create web-based applications. Keeping up to date on the latest open source javascript frameworks requires constant vigilance! But I’ve also branched out from a front-end to a full-stack developer, so I’m just as likely to be writing SQL these days.

I’m often asked by those applying for jobs in our group what it is like to work for IBM Research. As an engineer in Research, those days can include designing and coding new features, devising new user experiments, analyzing data, or writing papers for conferences.

Patenting is also a major part of my work. As IBM Research is working at the forefront of new technologies, it is very important for us to protect the intellectual property we develop so it can someday earn money as part of IBM products or be licensed to others. IBM has also has an internal system to evaluate and nurture others’ patent applications (there is a reason IBM is a leading patenter in the U.S.!) which I’m proud to be a part of. IBM even recognized me as one of their Master Inventors for my efforts in these areas. My days include all of these things, and each day being so different makes work exciting!

Just like the work changes on a daily basis, projects tend to have a rhythm. I love that the projects tend to change every couple years while the people stay consistent. This gives you enough time to make a significant impact on something while keeping an eye towards ever-changing technologies and new trends. And you can work on those new things with the colleagues you’ve already learned to work so well with!

To me, this is what makes working in IBM Research so fantastic!

To hear more from Casey, follow her on Twitter @casey_dugan

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What will you make with IBM? ibm.com/jobs

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