Over decades, input devices in the video game industry have evolved from simple joysticks to sophisticated controllers that emit haptic feedback. But with Enabled Play, a new piece of assistive tech created by self-taught developer Alex Dunn, users are embracing a different kind of input: facial expressions.
While companies like Microsoft have sought to expand accessibility through adaptive controllers and accessories, Dunn’s new device takes those efforts even further, translating users’ head movements, facial expressions, real-time speech and other nontraditional input methods into mouse clicks, key strokes and thumbstick movements. The device has users raising eyebrows — quite literally.
“Enabled Play is a device that learns to work with you — not a device you have to learn to work with,” Dunn, who lives in Boston, said via Zoom.
Dunn, 26, created Enabled Play so that everyone — including his younger brother with a disability — can interface with technology in a natural and intuitive way. At the beginning of the pandemic, the only thing he and his New Hampshire-based brother could do together, while approximately 70 miles apart, was game.
“And that’s when I started to see firsthand some of the challenges that he had and the limitations that games had for people with really any type of disability,” he added.
At 17, Dunn dropped out of Worcester Polytechnic Institute to become a full-time software engineer. He began researching and developing Enabled Play two and a half years ago, which initially proved challenging, as most speech-recognition programs lagged in response time.
“I built some prototypes with voice commands, and then I started talking to people who were deaf and had a range of disabilities, and I found that voice commands didn’t cut it,” Dunn said.
That’s when he started thinking outside the box.
Having already built Suave Keys, a voice-powered program for gamers with disabilities, Dunn created Snap Keys — an extension that turns a user’s Snapchat lens into a controller when playing games like Call of Duty, “Fall Guys,” and “Dark Souls.” In 2020, he won two awards for his work at Snap Inc.’s Snap Kit Developer Challenge, a competition among third-party app creators to innovate Snapchat’s developer tool kit.
With Enabled Play, Dunn takes accessibility to the next level. With a wider variety of inputs, users can connect the assistive device — equipped with a robust CPU and 8 GB of RAM — to a computer, game console or other device to play games in whatever way works best for them.
Dunn also spent time making sure Enabled Play was accessible to people who are deaf, as well as people who want to use nonverbal audio input, like “ooh” or “aah,” to perform an action. Enabled Play’s vowel sound detection model is based on “The Vocal Joystick,” which engineers and linguistics experts at the University of Washington developed in 2006.
“Essentially, it looks to predict the word you are going to say based on what is in the profile, rather than trying to assume it could be any word in the dictionary,” Dunn said. “This helps cut through machine learning bias by learning more about how the individual speaks and applies it to their desired commands.”
Dunn’s AI-enabled controller takes into account a person’s natural tendencies. If a gamer wants to set up a jump command every time they open their mouth, Enabled Play would identify that person’s individual resting mouth position and set that as the baseline.
In January, Enabled Play officially launched in six countries — its user base extending from the U.S. to the U.K., Ghana and Austria. For Dunn, one of his primary goals was to fill a gap in accessibility and pricing compared to other assistive gaming devices.
“There are things like the Xbox Adaptive Controller. There are things like the HORI Flex [for Nintendo Switch]. There are things like Tobii, which does eye-tracking and stuff like that. But it still seemed like it wasn’t enough,” he said.
Compared to some devices that are only compatible with one gaming system or computer at a time, Dunn’s AI-enabled controller — priced at $249.99 — supports a combination of inputs and outputs. Speech therapists say that compared to augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices, which are medically essential for some with disabilities, Dunn’s device offers simplicity.
“This is just the start,” said Julia Franklin, a speech language pathologist at Community School of Davidson in Davidson, N.C. Franklin introduced students to Enabled Play this summer and feels it’s a better alternative to other AAC devices on the market that are often “expensive, bulky and limited” in usability. Many sophisticated AAC systems can range from $6,000 to $11,500 for high-tech devices, with low-end eye-trackers running in the thousands. A person may also download AAC apps on their mobile devices, which range from $49.99 to $299.99 for the app alone.
“For many people who have physical and cognitive differences, they often exhaust themselves to learn a complex AAC system that has limits,” she said. “The Enabled Play device allows individuals to leverage their strengths and movements that are already present.”
Internet users have applauded Dunn for his work, noting that asking for accessibility should not equate to asking for an “easy mode” — a misconception often cited by critics of making games more accessible.
“This is how you make gaming accessible,” one Reddit user wrote about Enabled Play. “Not by dumbing it down, but by creating mechanical solutions that allow users to have the same experience and accomplish the same feats as [people without disabilities].” Another user who said they regularly worked with young patients with cerebral palsy speculated that Enabled Play “would quite literally change their lives.”
Click here to read the full article on The Washington Post.
An interdisciplinary team of University of Minnesota Twin Cities scientists and engineers has developed a first-of-its-kind, plant-inspired extrusion process that enables synthetic material growth. The new approach will allow researchers to build better soft robots that can navigate hard-to-reach places, complicated terrain and potentially areas within the human body.
The paper is published in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America” (PNAS), a peer-reviewed, multidisciplinary, high-impact scientific journal.
“This is the first time these concepts have been fundamentally demonstrated,” said Chris Ellison, a lead author of the paper and professor in the University of Minnesota Twin Cities Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science. “Developing new ways of manufacturing are paramount for the competitiveness of our country and for bringing new products to people. On the robotic side, robots are being used more and more in dangerous, remote environments and these are the kinds of areas where this work could have an impact.”
Soft robotics is an emerging field where robots are made of soft, pliable materials as opposed to rigid ones. Soft growing robots can create new material and “grow” as they move. These machines could be used for operations in remote areas where humans can’t go, such as inspecting or installing tubes underground or navigating inside the human body for biomedical applications.
Current soft growing robots drag a trail of solid material behind them and can use heat and/or pressure to transform that material into a more permanent structure, much like how a 3D printer is fed solid filament to produce its shaped product. However, the trail of solid material gets more difficult to pull around bends and turns, making it hard for the robots to navigate terrain with obstacles or winding paths.
The University of Minnesota team solved this problem by developing a new means of extrusion, a process where material is pushed through an opening to create a specific shape. Using this new process allows the robot to create its synthetic material from a liquid instead of a solid.
“We were really inspired by how plants and fungi grow,” said Matthew Hausladen, first author of the paper and a PhD student in the University of Minnesota Twin Cities Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science. “We took the idea that plants and fungi add material at the end of their bodies, either at their root tips or at their new shoots and we translated that to an engineering system.”
Plants use water to transport the building blocks that get transformed into solid roots as the plant grows outward. The researchers were able to mimic this process with synthetic material using a technique called photopolymerization, which uses light to transform liquid monomers into a solid material. Using this technology, the soft robot can more easily navigate obstacles and winding paths without having to drag any solid material behind it.
This new process also has applications in manufacturing. Since the researchers’ technique only uses liquid and light, operations that use heat, pressure and expensive machinery to create and shape materials might not be needed.
“A very important part of this project is that we have material scientists, chemical engineers and robotic engineers all involved,” Ellison said. “By putting all of our different expertise together, we really brought something unique to this project and I’m confident that not one of us could have done this alone. This is a great example of how collaboration enables scientists to address really hard fundamental problems while also having a technological impact.”
The research was funded by the National Science Foundation.
Photo: University of Minnesota Twin Cities materials science graduate student Matthew Hausladen works with a soft growing robot in Professor Chris Ellison’s polymer lab. (Olivia Hultgren, Eureka Alert)
A “biocomputer” powered by human brain cells could be developed within our lifetime, according to Johns Hopkins University researchers who expect such technology to exponentially expand the capabilities of modern computing and create novel fields of study.
The team outlines their plan for “organoid intelligence” in the journal “Frontiers in Science.”
“Computing and artificial intelligence have been driving the technology revolution, but they are reaching a ceiling,” said Thomas Hartung, a professor of environmental health sciences at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Whiting School of Engineering who is spearheading the work. “Biocomputing is an enormous effort of compacting computational power and increasing its efficiency to push past our current technological limits.”
For nearly two decades, scientists have used tiny organoids, lab-grown tissue resembling fully grown organs, to experiment on kidneys, lungs and other organs without resorting to human or animal testing. More recently, Hartung and colleagues at Johns Hopkins have been working with brain organoids, orbs the size of a pen dot with neurons and other features that promise to sustain basic functions like learning and remembering.
“This opens up research on how the human brain works,” Hartung said. “Because you can start manipulating the system, doing things you cannot ethically do with human brains.”
Hartung began to grow and assemble brain cells into functional organoids in 2012 using cells from human skin samples reprogrammed into an embryonic stem cell-like state. Each organoid contains about 50,000 cells, about the size of a fruit fly’s nervous system. He now envisions building a futuristic computer with such brain organoids.
In the next decade, computers that run on this “biological hardware” could begin to alleviate energy-consumption demands of supercomputing that are becoming increasingly unsustainable, Hartung said. Even though computers process calculations involving numbers and data faster than humans, brains are much smarter in making complex logical decisions, like telling a dog from a cat.
“The brain is still unmatched by modern computers,” Hartung said. “Frontier, the latest supercomputer in Kentucky, is a $600 million, 6,800-square-foot installation. Only in June of last year, it exceeded for the first time the computational capacity of a single human brain—but using a million times more energy.”
It might take decades before organoid intelligence can power a system as smart as a mouse, Hartung said. But by scaling up the production of brain organoids and training them with artificial intelligence, he foresees a future where biocomputers support superior computing speed, processing power, data efficiency and storage capabilities.
“It will take decades before we achieve the goal of something comparable to any type of computer,” Hartung said. “But if we don’t start creating funding programs for this, it will be much more difficult.”
Organoid intelligence could also revolutionize drug testing research for neurodevelopmental disorders and neurodegeneration, said Lena Smirnova, a Johns Hopkins assistant professor of environmental health and engineering who co-leads the investigations.
“We want to compare brain organoids from typically developed donors versus brain organoids from donors with autism,” Smirnova said. “The tools we are developing toward biological computing are the same tools that will allow us to understand changes in neuronal networks specific for autism, without having to use animals or to access patients. So, we can understand the underlying mechanisms of why patients have these cognition issues and impairments.”
To assess the ethical implications of working with organoid intelligence, a diverse consortium of scientists, bioethicists and members of the public have been embedded within the team.
Diversity Alliance for Science (DA4S) is a leading life science organization focused on supplier diversity, bringing together like-minded corporations and suppliers to advance equity and inclusion in the life science/health care global supply chain.
The East Coast Conference, held May 2-4 in Newark, New Jersey, featured top-level pharmaceutical executives and CEOs of diverse scientific and clinical enterprises. Over the past 16 years, DA4S has been a wonderful opportunity to foster effective, mutually beneficial partnerships between diverse suppliers and big pharma, biotech, med device and health care companies.
DA4S events are designed to bring everyone together through educational programs, keynote and guest speakers, as well as ample networking opportunities. This year’s theme for the conference was “Resilient, Bold and Strong,” and keynote speakers brought the attendees amazing content on this theme.
On day one, motivational speaker Bruce Turkel inspired the audience with ways to uncover creative solutions and messaging strategies that can future-proof their brands in a world of constant disruptive upheaval, and how to turn the lens around and focus relentlessly on your customer. He brought the house down using his harmonica as a tool for emphasis—everyone enjoyed the fun. Day two brought us the incomparable Pauline Nguyen and her story of survival and resilience. Calling herself a “spiritual entrepreneur,” Nguyen, as the owner of the Red Lantern restaurant in Australia and author of several books, uplifted the audience to lead with their heart and mind.
The conference showcased the mentoring program standouts in a live pitch competition. The eight finalists pitched their innovative ideas to a panel of judges live on stage! The Elevate Black Showcase event included a special matchmaking session with corporate buyers for all BBE members in the program. The roundtable session brought corporate members and suppliers the opportunity to connect and engage. And the signature “Eight That Innovate” was again a unique opportunity for suppliers to demonstrate how they use novel ideas to drive value. These, along with many other opportunities for networking, gave members a chance to connect.
This year, DA4S launched a new supplier partnerships group called “SPIRAL” to a packed room of member suppliers for discussions on best practices for entrepreneurs, networking opportunities and educational sessions run by DA4S members.
Stay tuned for registration information for our West Coast Conference on Sept. 12-14 in Laguna Beach, California.
If you would like to hear more about DA4S corporate or supplier member benefits, please reach out to [email protected].
In a special Earth Day conversation, artist and music producer Post Malone spoke with NASA astronauts Steve Bowen and Woody Hoburg, who are currently living and working on the International Space Station.
Malone chatted with the astronauts about their favorite views from the orbiting laboratory, how their unique perspective changed how they see Earth, and what makes our home special.
The space station is an orbiting laboratory traveling at a speed of 17,500 mph (25,000 kph), completing one trip around Earth about every 90 minutes. Crew members carry out research and conduct thousands of experiments that have contributed to medical and social benefits on our home planet, allowing us to find new ways to combat disease and develop technologies to deliver clean water to remote communities in need.
Daleele Alison likes to help others stop wasting time doing tasks that don’t provide direct value to their clients. He is a technology professional, entrepreneur and the CEO and co-founder of RooksDM, a technology consulting group that helps alleviate pain points for small to midsize companies by using the right technology. Alison has worked as a consultant, business analyst and project manager for Fortune 500 companies to SMBs.
Diversity in STEAM Magazine (DISM) spoke with Alison about his company, the role diversity plays in tech and more on his participation in NMSDC’s Emerging Young Entrepreneurs cohort.
DISM: What have you seen businesses struggle with the most when it comes to their technology? How does RooksDM help them?
Daleele Alison: From our perspective, businesses are excited about adopting new technology. However, when businesses rapidly implement new technology to fix a singular problem, this often becomes a band-aid solution and can lead to a different set of challenges. Many businesses end up with a large number of tech tools that become overwhelming to manage and lead to low user adoption. It’s important for businesses to take a step back and be strategic. At RooksDM, we ask the right questions about technology and processes and dig deep into the core pain points. Rather than simply throwing technology at a problem, we take a holistic approach. Our goal is to implement technology that works together and sets a foundation for scalable growth.
DISM: Do you feel there is diversity within the IT/tech sectors? Why or why not?
Alison: We have seen progress in diversity within the tech industry. Organizations with targeted initiatives to increase diversity have definitely started to move the needle. It’s exciting to see a shift in the industry, however, there is still a long way to go. It continues to be a challenge for diverse vendors to break into large enterprise corporations. I’m hopeful that through tracking and monitoring vendor diversity, we will see even greater progress in supporting minorities in tech.
DISM:Why was it important for you to participate in NMSDC’s (National Minority Supplier Development Council) Emerging Young Entrepreneurs cohort? What have you learned thus far that is applicable to your own business?
Alison: The NMSDC’s Emerging Young Entrepreneurs has been an important way for us to learn and network. Through this initiative, we have been able to connect with like-minded colleagues, which has led to advice and potential business growth. The sessions have been invaluable and have expanded my thoughts around marketing, finance and strategy. We are truly grateful to be a part of this community and are looking forward to more opportunities in the future.
DISM: How has being MBE certified through NMSDC leveraged your business’s success?
Alison: Being MBE certified through NMSDC has given RooksDM access to a much larger community of like-minded businesses. We now have exposure to larger organizations to build our business. We have also built relationships with fellow minority-owned businesses. It has been so valuable to learn from each other and share stories and resources that support business growth. We are also proud to share our certification with current and prospective clients. This certification provides us with additional credibility that supports our conversations with potential clients.
DISM:What advice would you give another minority-owned entrepreneur or business owner just getting started?
Alison: My advice to fellow minority owners is to be intentional about how you spend your time. It’s easy to focus on initiatives that don’t matter or that won’t make an impact. It is critical to have the right people in your network to lean on so you can spend your time where it matters most. For us, spending time building relationships has been a game changer, not just in nurturing prospects but also in strengthening relationships within our industry. Leaning on others in the industry for support and expertise has not only led to referrals but been helpful to our overall growth.
Implementing clean energy is far from just a phase, it’s a necessity. Given the growing concern with the climate crisis; scientists and innovators from across the country are working together to power our daily lives through environmentally friendly means. By joining a career in clean energy, you could not only aid in these efforts, but do so while securing a stable, growing career.
Here are five reasons why you should consider the clean energy workforce:
It’s a Growing Field in Every Way
We all know that clean energy is popular on a societal standpoint, but even economically the field is thriving. In late 2021, President Biden passed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which among other things invested $65 billion in support for clean energy infrastructure, research, jobs and much more. More recently, the CHIPS and Science Act, as well as the new Inflation Reduction Act, have added billions in investments for clean energy jobs and technologies. This makes the salaries of those in Renewable energy higher than average.
Along with being incredibly well funded and well equipped for hiring, the industry also has a lot of opportunities for advancement. Since the industry is relatively new, many clean energy sectors look to promote within their current employees.
The Job Types are Endless
When we think of jobs in renewable energy, we tend to think of scientists, engineers and even construction workers. While all of these areas of expertise are looking for jobs, you don’t have to wear a lab coat or a hardhat to join the field. In fact, you can come from just about any background and find a career in energy that will work for you. For example, the Department of Energy hires for positions in an extensive list of positions including:
It is never too late or too difficult to join the clean energy workforce, and there are so many different ways in which you can apply your skills.
The Work Environment
As an often well-funded and new career industry, the clean energy sector tends to do a better job at keeping up with current business trends and creating a thriving work culture. This allows for many of the employees in the field to be positive and passionate about their work. Benefits of the work environment of the clean energy sector can include:
Fantastic diversity and inclusion initiatives in every sector
Health care benefits
Working with passionate, like-minded coworkers
Opportunities to work in-office or from home
Opportunities for creativity, innovation and collaboration
You’re Making a Difference
There are many reasons to work toward a clean energy future. Whether it’s to protect the environment, promote energy justice, secure national energy independence, make scientific advancements or lower energy costs, there are many moral reasons you may have for wanting to join the field. In some industries, it can be difficult to see how any of the work you’re doing is making a difference in the world, but the clean energy industry does the exact opposite. In clean energy, no matter what your part is, your field is working to literally change the world every day by fighting climate change and promoting a healthier world for generations to come.
In late September, Space-X Crew, the fifth crewed operational NASA Commercial Crew flight of a Crew Dragon spacecraft, and the eighth overall crewed orbital flight launched into the cosmos and traveled to the space station. But unlike any other space mission in history, this one was led by mission commander Nicole Aunapu Mann, a colonel for the U.S. Marines, the first woman commander of a NASA Commercial Crew Program launch, and the first Native American woman in space.
Before ever setting foot in NASA territory, Mann attended the U.S. Naval Academy for her undergraduate degree and Stanford University for her graduate degree, both of which were in mechanical engineering. Mann was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps in 1999, completed flight training at The Basic School in Quantico in 2001, and began her operational flying career with her wings of gold as Naval Aviator by 2004. During this assignment, she deployed twice with CVW-1 aboard the USS Enterprise and flew combat missions in support of Operations IRAQI FREEDOM and ENDURING FREEDOM.
Upon return from her second deployment, Mann reported to the United States Naval Test Pilot School, Class 135, at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland where she began her Developmental Test tour at Air Test and Evaluation Squadron TWO THREE (VX-23) as an F/A-18 Test Pilot/Project Officer. While at VX-23, Mann executed a variety of flight tests, including loads envelope expansion, flying qualities, carrier suitability and ordnance separation in the F/A-18A-F.
In the spring of 2011, Mann assumed duties as the VX-23 Operations Officer and was assigned to the PMA-281 as the Joint Mission Planning System — Expeditionary (JMPS-E) Integrated Product Team Lead just a year later. Before being selected as a NASA astronaut soon after, Mann’s military service accumulated more than 2,500 flight hours in 25 types of aircraft, 200 carrier arrestments and 47 combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Her service earned her two Air Medals, two Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals, two Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals, along with several other honors for her various academic, flight and military successes.
In 2013, Mann was selected as one of the eight members of NASA Astronaut Group 21 and completed her training two years later. She has since served as a T-38 Talon Safety and Training Officer and was the Assistant to the Chief of Exploration. She led the astronaut corps in the development of the Orion spacecraft, Space Launch System and Exploration Ground Systems. Her mission command to the International Space Station with Crew-5 was Mann’s first time traveling to space.
With Mann at mission command, Crew-5 additionally consisted of Navy Commander turned astronaut Josh Cassada, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Koichi Wakata and Roscosmos cosmonaut Anna Kikina. While on the space station, the team studied new biological technology advancements, such as the possibility of 3D printing human cells.
Mann is also confirmed to be a member of the Artemis program, the mission taking a group of astronauts back to the Moon for the first time since 1972. The Artemis program will launch in 2024 and cite one of the crew members as the first woman on the moon.
“It’s very exciting,” Mann told Indian Country Today upon first learning she would be the first Native American woman to officially be going to space, “I think it’s important we communicate this to our community, so that other Native kids, if they thought maybe that this was not a possibility or to realize that some of those barriers that used to be there are really starting to get broken down.”
Sources: NASA, Wikipedia, BBC, CBS, Indian Country Today
To create products that serve increasingly diverse customers and solve a wider range of social problems, technology companies need women engineers. However, only 25 percent of math and computer science jobs in the United States are filled by women, and one-third of women in the U.S. and China quit these jobs mid-career due to factors like social isolation, a lack of access to creative technical roles and difficulty advancing to leadership positions.
At Bloomberg, we’ve established a company culture that supports gender equality in a multitude of ways – from company-wide Diversity & Inclusion business plans to a newly expanded family leave policy. But we know that’s not enough. In recent years, we’ve adopted a system-wide approach to increasing the number of women in technical roles, taking steps to remove barriers to advancement both inside our organization and beyond Bloomberg, supporting female talent from middle school through mid-career.
While the number of women in technical jobs at Bloomberg is growing, we’re committed to making progress faster and completing all the steps needed to solve the equation. Here are some of the ways we’re tackling this important deficit – and making quantifiable change.
Bloomberg supports organizations that help increase women’s participation in STEM and financial technology, exposing students to various career options through Bloomberg Startup and encouraging our female engineers to engage with the next generation of talent.
Collaboration, creativity, and a love of problem-solving drew Chelsea Ohh to the field of engineering. Now she works at Bloomberg as a software engineer team lead, helping to provide critical information to financial decision makers across the globe.
Women engineers can sharpen their technical skills through open courses, on-site training sessions, and business hackathons held throughout the year. Bloomberg is committed to inspiring our female employees, eliminating barriers like impostor syndrome, and encouraging them to pursue opportunities in engineering.
Community & allies
To strengthen its network of female engineers, global BWIT (Bloomberg Women in Technology) chapters organize more than 150 events, mentoring sessions, and meet-ups a year. The community also engages male allies and advocates, sharing strategies to help them support their female colleagues.
Bloomberg Engineering’s culture champions innovation. This is made possible by the different perspectives of our 6,000+ software engineers around the globe, who come from diverse backgrounds and geographies and who possess a variety of technology specialties.
Meet four of Bloomberg’s software engineers – all of whom are active members of the Bloomberg Black in Tech Community across our New York, San Francisco and London engineering teams – and see how they’ve been empowered to impact our business globally.
Our conversations with them cover their paths to and work at Bloomberg, how they’ve grown professionally, their impact in technology, the importance of an inclusive workplace, and their efforts to attract more diversity to tech. Interviews were edited for length and clarity.
TITLE: Software Engineer BLOOMBERG OFFICE: New York
How did you get to Bloomberg? What do you work on now? I lived abroad for 5 years, during which time I taught English in South Korea for 3½ years. I then served in the U.S. Navy for 4 years, after which I felt the urge to embrace my technical talents. This career change turned out to be one of the best decisions I have ever made.
While finishing my MBA, I decided to apply to the Grace Hopper Program at Fullstack Academy, one of the country’s top-ranked coding bootcamps. This decision was the beginning of my path to Bloomberg, which I was drawn to for its philanthropic programs, the eclectic and dynamic nature of the Bloomberg Terminal, and the opportunity to be immersed in a culture of strong, talented software engineers.
I’m currently in the training program for new engineers. Prior to starting my training, I had the privilege of pre-training on the Commodities team, where I worked on building a map UI in React and Node.js and integrating it with a remote procedure call framework. I really enjoyed the learning process in discovering how to merge open source technologies with proprietary technologies.
Did you have any mentors or influential managers to guide your career along the way? One of my mentors is Erik Anderson, the software engineer who helped created MAPS<GO> and many of Bloomberg’s chart functions. Erik has helped me a great deal in building my confidence to tackle things outside my comfort zone. He really has helped me see that I was capable of more than I thought and encouraged me along the way, which really made me more driven to put in the long hours of practice and study that it takes to get to Bloomberg.
What do you love most about working in tech? I really enjoy the way it has evolved over the years and how it continues to change so rapidly. Working in technology forces me to continue learning and embrace my status as a ‘forever’ student. The moment we get too comfortable in this industry is the moment we are in danger of falling behind. There are so many advances and new technologies that, even after just one year, the older versions are quickly out-of-date. What I love most is that it is an industry that never gets too comfortable; it is about constantly improving the product and making applications faster and more efficient. The associated mental challenges and continuous learning excite me the most!
What are some of the unique challenges that people of color face getting into tech / within the tech industry? Entering a male-dominated industry doesn’t come without trepidation. Knowing that people come equipped with certain biases that they themselves may not even be aware of plays a role; it is just the way we have all been socially-programmed by the media, our parents, and our communities. The tech industry is challenging by itself and people of color may have to face a few additional challenges, dealing with variations of micro-inequities, and the burden of not contributing to certain stereotypes. However, what I enjoy the most are the raised awareness and open discussions seeking to address these imbalances. It really shows how we, as a human species, are evolving our consciousness around these issues.
In your opinion, why are diversity and inclusion important? How do you personally promote diversity and inclusion with your teams and/or in the community? Diversity and inclusion are crucial to the strength of any great organization. In order for technology to serve a wider range of users, understanding their needs and wants is very important. With the advent of globalization, this type of understanding can only be reached by increasing diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
I also enjoy sharing my experiences traveling and living abroad with my co-workers. It highlights the importance of travel as a way to break down barriers in understanding different cultures, which I believe is a pivotal step towards this objective. I am also a member of many different communities here at Bloomberg, so as not to limit the definition of myself to one particular ethnicity or background, but to expand my sense of self in order to represent the many different cultural experiences I’ve had and those I’ve adopted along the way.
TITLE: Senior Software Engineer BLOOMBERG OFFICE: New York
How did you get to Bloomberg? I was an industry hire out of a Bloomberg recruiting event in Seattle, where I met the engineers who would eventually be my managers. They were great and provided an amazing vision of the technical challenges and company culture at Bloomberg.
What do you work on now? I am presently working on designing and building out the underlying platform that supports Bloomberg’s Asset Investment Management (AIM) compliance workflows.
Did you have any mentors to guide your career along the way? Most definitely! I was fortunate to have an awesome mentor when I first started at Bloomberg. He was one of those engineers whose code nuances and expressiveness are like revelations. I learned a lot about my team and Bloomberg’s culture just by contributing to his code. I was also fortunate to have supportive managers who accommodated my desire to be challenged. They were able to provide interesting, tangible and business-critical projects to broaden my scope and contributions.
What do you love most about working in tech? It has been said that engineers are the gatekeepers for civilization. Being in tech is like a calling. The work one does has a direct impact on the well-being of others. It gets more interesting when your work pushes the boundaries of what is considered possible. When this happens, there is no greater feeling than creating something new. Then you realize that, in some small way, you’ve (hopefully) helped make the world just a bit better than before.
Are there any particular technologies that interest you? Machine learning, especially around the areas of natural language processing and understanding. The best technologies are those that feel so completely natural and intuitive that you may forget that you are interacting with a machine. Ironically, it is extremely difficult to create such a system. Applications of ML have the powerful potential to change the way we all interact with technology, if not the very nature of the machines we use.
What are some of the unique challenges that people of color face getting into tech / within the tech industry? There are very few of us in the tech industry. This truism begs us to ask why, as demographics don’t support this reality, as 10% of all college graduates and computer science majors are people of color. It’s sometimes hard not to feel excluded when there are very few people who look like you in the places that you are or want to be. There is often a significant effort required to go from ‘person of color,’ to ‘person,’ to ‘extremely capable person’ in the minds of others that people of other backgrounds do not face.
In your opinion, why are diversity and inclusion important? Antifragility is a term coined by bestselling author Nassim Nicholas Taleb that describes systems that thrive in the face of volatility, shock or adversity. It represents the next step beyond robustness and resilience. I believe that, by their very nature, antifragile systems are diverse. Events that could take down a monoculture are often integrated and used for the greater good by an antifragile system. Diversity and inclusion promote antifragility by fostering teams that are tolerant, supportive, engaging and dynamic.
How do you personally promote diversity and inclusion with your teams and/or in the community? I am one of the co-founders of the Bloomberg Black In Tech (BBIT) Community, which is composed of individuals in technology roles across Bloomberg – in engineering, product management, data science, etc. BBIT’s singular goal is to make Bloomberg the best place for minorities in tech across the industry. We host regular events to foster professional and personal development and create a fun, safe space. We work very hard to engage, support and empower the community at large through mentoring, recruiting, and outreach events on college campuses and at tech conferences with significant minority representation.
TITLE: BQuant Specialist, Desktop Build Group BLOOMBERG OFFICE: San Francisco
How did you get to Bloomberg? What do you work on now? I spent the first five years of my career at leading French banks where, among other things, I designed and implemented technology to automate processes on trading floors. Bloomberg found me on LinkedIn and recruited me to our London office in 2013. I’ve now worked in our San Francisco office for five years.
I’m currently a BQuant Specialist in our Desktop Build Group. In this role, I educate our clients’ quantitative financial researchers, analysts, and data scientists to leverage BQuant, our interactive data analysis and quantitative research platform and new Bloomberg Query Language (BQL). To do this, I first have to understand our clients’ workflows and determine how and where our quant research solutions can help them derive value. Often, we can help clients reduce the amount of time and manual labor spent reviewing financial statements. We can incorporate probability and statistics that help clients make faster and more accurate decisions on their financial strategies. Many times, I create the specifications, design a custom application for a team of about 20-50 users, test the app, and implement it at the client site. Finally, I help train users to program in Python in order to leverage BQuant.
Did you have any mentors or influential managers to guide your career along the way? It has been challenging finding a Black professional mentor. David Mitchell, a team leader for our market specialists, has been a huge inspiration for me. We both started our careers in finance and moved to tech, so I feel like we have much in common. I appreciate how he reaches out periodically to check in on me. I admire his leadership of Bloomberg’s Black Professional Community and am really impressed by his career trajectory and the network he has built. It’s really important to see a person of color in a senior position because it makes that rank seem attainable for the rest of us.
Sandra Lee, who works in Bloomberg’s Product Oversight Office, has also been an influential mentor since we first met in 2016. She’s been with Bloomberg for more than 20 years, and she has helped me understand Bloomberg’s culture and navigate internal networks. I often use her as a sounding board to help me articulate my vision and get a second opinion. On a personal level, she shows me the value of work-life balance.
What do you love most about working in tech? I love being in a position where I’m learning something. Technology is perpetually evolving, and you always need to be on your toes to remain competitive. I will often think about a complex engineering challenge that I am trying to solve, and will have a candid conversation with a colleague or I will read an article, and then a solution will emerge. I then implement it and it is so satisfying when it works. I also like that tech has tangible results.
Are there any particular technologies that interest you? I am really excited about artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). I love the idea that technology can show us patterns that humans cannot otherwise see because we cannot scrape through large volumes of data as quickly. From there, we can extract specific insights that influence our decision-making.
My interest in AI and ML led me to complete a graduate-level certificate program at the University of San Francisco. While I’m not using these skills in my current role, I’m excited that Bloomberg is doing cutting-edge work in natural language processing and other areas related to ML and AI. I’ve also joined Bloomberg’s Machine Learning Guild so I can stay connected to this technology; otherwise, it is hard to stay on top of it when you don’t apply it on a daily basis.
What are some of the unique challenges that people of color face getting into tech / within the tech industry? One word: R-E-P-R-E-S-E-N-T-A-T-I-O-N! We need to see peers and leaders who are people of color. When I don’t see people of color in leadership positions, I feel like it’s less possible to attain success. When I see Black leaders, I get a lot of motivation and affirmation that it could be me one day.
In my experience, people of color aren’t taken as seriously by their peers unless there are other people of color in leadership positions. I personally feel like I need to be better than anyone else in whatever I’m doing. I don’t want to give any opening for the quality of my work to be questioned. For that reason, I often spend extra time double-checking my work in order to make everything is perfect. No one asks me to do this, but I feel I must. This adds a dimension of extra stress because that workflow is not scalable or sustainable and can lead to burnout.
In your opinion, why are diversity and inclusion important? How do you personally promote diversity and inclusion with your teams and/or in the community? Life is so much more fulfilling when you can interact with people from different backgrounds and ways of life. At work, a diverse team can help prevent tunnel vision when solving challenges or meeting client needs. Everyone comes with baggage and biases that sometimes makes communication uncomfortable, but this ultimately leads to rich learning experiences.
I’m always trying to recruit and advocate for more underrepresented minority candidates, because we are only likely to stay at Bloomberg if we continue seeing more diversity on our teams.
Jonathan “JC” Charlery
TITLE: Senior Software Engineer BLOOMBERG OFFICE: London
How did you get to Bloomberg? I was on my way to interview with a different company during the career fair at Howard University, when I ran into Kerry Joseph, an engineer who was recruiting for Bloomberg. We got to chatting about the company and he invited me to an info session later that night. What struck me was how down-to-earth and genuine he was. He wasn’t trying to sell me anything; he just talked about his own experiences at the company and how the job allowed him to grow.
In talking about his own background, we discovered we were from neighbouring islands in the Caribbean so we shared a cultural background. Having that conversation, and seeing and hearing someone like me at Bloomberg who had such a positive experience is what really sold me on the company.
What do you work on now? I’m on the Local Development team in London, which is part of our Developer Experience (DevX) group. Our team creates and supports the tools and workflows that allow engineers to develop and test their applications locally on their laptops using whatever tools they prefer, instead of relying on a limited shared environment.
Did you have any mentors or influential managers to guide your career along the way? Zac Rider, who leads our Real-time Distribution Platform engineering team, and Becky Plummer, a software engineering team leader in DevX (and my current manager) are two of the most influential managers I’ve had during my tenure at Bloomberg. They’ve provided me with many opportunities for growth and helped me build up my confidence in my own abilities. They were instrumental in putting my career on its current trajectory.
Femi Popoola, a technical team lead in London, has also been an amazing mentor to me. We’ve spoken about many different topics related to personal and technical growth, like knowing which opportunities are right for you and how to manage them, to understanding when you’re ready to take on a new challenge (hint: you’re never going to be “ready,” but don’t let that stop you).
What do you love most about working in tech? I love the rate at which everything changes in the tech industry, and the ease of being able to get involved.
The tech industry evolves so quickly that you’ll miss it if you blink. In the last 20 years or so, we’ve gone from having one dedicated phone line per family and maybe having a computer for the household to us all having a computer in our pockets and everyone having a phone. All the information this puts at our fingertips has made it much easier for anyone to become involved and even to transfer into tech-related fields from any profession.
Are there any particular technologies that interest you? Docker and container technologies are particularly interesting to me. The ability to simulate an entire environment and have repeatable declarative processes have really changed the way we think about development, testing, and stability of our systems.
What are some of the unique challenges that people of color face getting into tech / within the tech industry? Without seeing other people who look like them or can stand as a role model for them, people of colour tend to get discouraged from entering the tech industry. It is hard to continue being self-motivated or to believe you can achieve something if all the stereotypical icons don’t represent you in any way. It’s why Kerry stood out to me so much. He was West Indian and able to succeed in the tech industry. This isn’t spoken about often, but it creates a real psychological barrier for many people. Being able to connect with someone who shares your heritage or cultural background, and being able to see yourself in that person, are some of the greatest motivating factors.
In your opinion, why are diversity and inclusion important? Diversity and inclusion are very important as they provide different perspectives. Having someone who can see something in a different manner and who brings their own background and experiences can help elicit a new style of thinking and new direction when it is needed the most. When all options have seemingly been exhausted, something which may seem intrinsically basic to someone can actually be just what is needed to get things moving again.
How do you personally promote diversity and inclusion with your teams and/or in the community? I’ve spoken at events aimed at promoting and highlighting diversity and inclusion, as well as been a representative, speaker and mentor at both internal and external events aimed at empowering underprivileged youth to encourage them to pursue careers in STEM and grow their networks. This includes serving as a mentor to both university students and secondary school students.
I have been an advocate for and given advice about different ways to recruit effectively at select Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs) across the U.S. I’ve also attended university career fairs where I directly engage with students, serving not only as a company point of contact for them, but also sharing my experiences with them. I talk to new hires about my career progression and serve as a mentor to help them navigate the company’s culture.
The United States is currently experiencing a massive demographic shift, led in large part by the nation’s Latinx population. This group is growing rapidly, quickly becoming the most culturally and economically influential community in the country.
According to the 2020 U.S. Census, the country’s Hispanic or Latinx population grew from 50.5 million in 2010 (16.3% of the U.S. population) to 62.1 million in 2020 (18.7%). That’s an increase of 23 percent. In fact, slightly more than half (51.1%) of the total U.S. population growth between 2010 and 2020 came from growth in the country’s Latinx population.
It is no surprise then, that Latinx people have a massive effect on the U.S. economy. Their buying power is expected to reach $1.9 trillion by 2023, according to a report from Nielsen. This is up from $213 billion in 1990, marking an over 200% growth rate, more than double the growth in buying power of non-Latinx consumers.
This community’s economic influence reaches all industries, and it is critical that businesses gain a deeper understanding of Latinx culture. Doing so will allow business leadership to both better support employees and more effectively appeal to customers.
Hypercultural Latinx people are often first-generation Americans who straddle both U.S. culture and their parents’ native Hispanic cultures. This group feels deeply connected to both aspects of their identities and has, in a sense, created their own blended, hybrid culture. As Ilse Calderon, an investor at OVO Fund, wrote on TechCrunch, a Hypercultural Latinx person is “100% Hispanic and 100% American.”
So, what do they want to buy? While Latinx people are clearly not a monolith, there are a few key trends across the community. According to research in the PwC Consumer
Intelligence Series, the Latinx population is especially enticed by new tech products. They are active on TikTok and exceedingly more likely to use WhatsApp and other social media platforms than other groups.
Nielsen also found that 45% of Latinx consumers buy from brands whose social values and causes align with theirs. This is 17% higher than the general population. Latinx people also share strong family values, as well as pride in their distinct cultural heritages. That is why organizations must engage the Latinx community and invite Latinx people to share their experiences.
It is pivotal that business leaders understand that “Latinx” is not a single streamlined culture. Rather, it is a diverse mix of traditions, nationalities, and values.
Embracing these cultural nuances is a key to understanding Latinx audiences. Organizations must consider methods to appeal to distinct Latinx groups, rather than marketing to the group as a whole.
Cultivating and advancing Latinx talent in the workplace
It isn’t only consumers that businesses should be thinking about. Latinx talent has also accounted for a massive 75% of U.S. labor force growth over the past six years, according to Nielsen. Nevertheless, only 3.8% of executive positions are held by Latinx men, and only 1.5% of are held by Latinx women.
Clearly, companies have a lot of work to do to attract and cultivate Latinx talent—and it all starts with recruitment. To ensure a diverse work force, companies must utilize culturally competent recruitment strategies that not only make new positions appealing to a variety of job seekers, but also give every applicant a fair chance.
According to an article in Hispanic Executive, understanding cultural differences can help recruiters create job descriptions that more effectively appeal to different communities. For example, the Latinx community feels a more communal sense of identity, compared to the more individualistic sense of identity in European-American culture. Recruiters should keep this in mind when thinking about what necessary skills they are highlighting for available roles.
Click here to read the complete article on Bloomberg.