Pratik is currently working as an Experience Designer with the Global Print Design team.
Pratik, please share your story with us. How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and interesting career?
I am a 24-year-old guy originally from India. I had a passion for technology and computers from a very young age which led me to pursue Computer Science for my undergraduate degree at VIT (Vellore Institute of Technology). I spent four years (and some years before) getting myself familiar with how technology works and how I can manipulate it to achieve what I want. I worked in India as a mobile app developer for around 18 months where I used the knowledge I gained to solve problems for my clients. In all these experiences I still had to learn and understand the role humans play in the building and spread of technology. Once I realized this I decided to pursue Masters in Human Computer Interaction which brought me to Tech and Atlanta. I have spent the better part of the last 18 months learning about the how users think, how tech can intimately affect the lives of people. Once here, the great expanse of resources and easy access to phenomenally brilliant individuals allowed me to quickly realize that I was more interested in research and building the next generation of products for people to use. I want to make technology more invisible and move it away from screens and into the environment so people don’t miss out on things when immersed in their phone. I also love storytelling and it is a hobby of mine to think of ways new tech can improve current media for storytelling.
Has it been a smooth road?
Leaving home was a big challenge for me. Being an introvert it has always been difficult for me to perform well in social situations and it was especially stressful when I had to leave my comfort zone. Both my college experiences initially began with a ton of apprehension and anxiety about my place in a new environment and whether or not I would be able to connect with like-minded people, however somehow through sheer luck in both situations I have managed to find myself an excellent set of friends and they are the ones who I rely on to get me through stressful situations.
So, what should we be on the lookout for, what’s next in store for you?
I plan to pursue a career in research. I am highly interested in making technology invisible so that it doesn’t come in the way of human connection. Another area of interest for me is technology for story-telling, i.e. ways in which current and future technology can augment narrative experiences like movies, theater, and even journalism. I have always been passionate about good stories and if given the choice I would always pick a good movie over anything else. Although I am not currently planning to pursue a Ph.D., that might easily change depending on my experience in the field of R&D
Let’s explore some of the challenges you’ve faced along the way. What was the most difficult part of your career so far?
The hardest time was when I was working as a development intern at a big corporation. I had spent the better part of three years learning about Computers and technology and was ready to apply everything I had learned into products that would change people’s lives. However, at the internship, I realized that I was not satisfied with a 9 to 5 programming job and even though the product I was working on was the Company’s flagship product and I had the opportunity to work on significant issues for the next iteration of the product, I wasn’t completely satisfied with the experience. I realized that I could not be tied to one project and thus I would not fit well within a corporate environment where there is rarely enough scope to shift focus and projects. I had a full-time offer after the internship waiting for me but I decided that I could not accept it. I left that company and decided to join a startup which in itself was scary as it came with its own insecurities especially in a developing country like India. However, it was a blessing as the next one year was one of best experiences I have had. I learned a great deal from my colleagues and had tremendous fun along the way. This experience strengthened my belief that for me to have a satisfactory career I need a place that allows me to work on different things while giving me the freedom to learn and grow. Later in the year, I again started feeling that I was missing something crucial but couldn’t figure out what it was. I tried getting myself into new projects but that didn’t help. Finally one day I was assigned the task of designing a small notification logo for an app I was developing since the designer was busy with other things. Once I started that task I quickly realized that I loved it. So I tried a few other designing tasks and it didn’t take long to realize that this was the next step for me. However, I didn’t have a firm instruction in design or design thinking. For this, I needed to get back to school. However, I didn’t want to break away from technology. Fortunately, I knew about the discipline of Human Computer Interaction which primarily involves the design of technologies for the consumers of that technology. I knew this would be a right fit and therefore applied for a masters degree in Human Computer Interaction at multiple institutes around the world. Georgia Tech being one of the world leaders in HCI research and education I was ecstatic when I received an admit and heartily accepted to enroll in their program.
Are there days when you feel like you’ve done everything you wanted to, careerwise – the “I’ve made it” kind of moments?
In my first semester at Georgia Tech, I had worked with a team of very smart people on a project called MusiSkate. It was a class project but everyone on the team had a different perspective. We wanted to solve a problem and get a very good product out of it. From the very beginning, the measure of any good technology has been its coolness factor. If your users use the product and say “This is cool” then you know you did a stellar job. We spent over three months researching, designing and prototyping the product and then came the day of showcase/testing. None of us on the team were skateboarders, so we hadn’t really tested our system in the wild. When our first user tested the product not only did it work to our utter surprise the first thing he said was “This is so cool. Only at tech”, meaning that you could see such things only at Georgia Tech. That was the very first moment when I thought to myself, “I want to do this for the rest of my life”