Popping Bubbles

Blog Posts ,Random Musings
June 21, 2017

Fresh off of Viva Tech, I wanted to take a few minutes to jot down some thoughts that I’ve been having after being surrounded by a constant stream of innovation, experimentation, and thoughtful technologists. I’ve lived in Silicon Valley for almost 4 years now, and while I feel incredibly fortunate to be in a place that has spectacular technology as its lifeblood, during my time in Paris, I realized exactly how important it is to break out of routine generalization of thought and behavior patterns limited to a specific group of people with similar life experiences as you. I don’t know that I can stress how important it is to recognize when you’ve become so used to a way of thinking or lifestyle that you stop considering what it’s like for folks on the outside. It’s hard to live dynamically, but for people who want to work in emerging technology, and fundamentally be able to have real impact that matters, it’s critical.

Silicon Valley has a lot to offer enthusiastic techies, but it’s far from the only place where innovation happens, contrary to what I’ve often heard proclaimed by speakers in the region. Some of the benefits of the Bay Area, such as the ability to find rather large groups of people with similar interests in specific technologies, platforms, and languages, have their downsides, too. Such tightly knit (and easily found) in-groups can hinder cross-pollination of ideas, and rewards very specific patterns of relative success at the expense of rethinking what success truly is. On a personal level, I’ll go ahead and say it – it can be extraordinarily challenging to remove yourself from a bubble. I often don’t realize how long it’s been since I questioned some of my own fundamental truths until I’m far from my comfort zone and forced to confront them. We have access to an infinite library of information that is impossible to fully understand on every level, and within a specific field of technology, we can go as deep as we want to, never really touching the bottom of all that the well of information has to offer us.

One of the things that profoundly impacted me at Viva Tech was how the conference was themed around challenges that we face, rather than silo-ed off into different areas of specific solutions. There wasn’t a “developer track”, a “startup track”, an “investment track” – there were talks. There were booths. Innovation was everywhere – big data alongside machine learning demos and virtual reality alike. So often, we look at our own skill sets and expertise, and we stay there – in part, because it’s easy to find here in the Bay Area. When we have dozens of meetups to choose from in our area of interest, we can sometimes forget that cross-pollination of skills, languages, and platforms frequently result in some of the greatest solutions and innovations.

Culture, too, is another place that we can get too comfortable. Being in a foreign country is an excellent way to discover just how different you can truly feel, but you can also get this from walking through a different neighborhood in your city, or picking up a new skill and seeing a range of experts in that area work in their best environments. Some of my favorite aspects of being a part of the immersive technology industry is seeing how art, design, math, and hardware all come together – breaking out of their distinct groups to meld together into something technologically beautiful. It’s an opportunity to constantly be remembering how much we don’t know.

If you’re looking for opportunities to travel and break outside of your comfort zone, consider some of the following ideas to get you started:

  • Seek out and connect with international professionals who you admire. I cannot stress how influential it was to meet others from around the world at Viva Tech to hear their thoughts and perspectives on emerging technologies and how they were impacting their local communities. It was certainly eye-opening to be reminded again and again the different ways that other countries and continents use technology, and their concerns and considerations for the way that problems are solved using different solutions.
  • Consider bridging your expertise into an under-exposed area of a technology that relates to your work. I had very little JavaScript experience when I decided to pick up WebVR, and had the privilege to travel around the world throughout 2015 and 2016 to talk about virtual reality with the web community. Conferences are always looking for new speakers and ways to engage different audiences, and may pay for travel expenses. If you’re in a position to travel, and interested, I recommend learning about the process of applying to and speaking at events.
  • Look at any local meetup groups or virtual meetups that may be interested in including your expertise in one of their events. As the organizer of a meetup group, I can tell you that a) we generally love to hear and promote new speakers, b) it’s often much less stressful than speaking at a full-blown conference, but great practice, and c) speakers with interesting stories that tie in loosely to a topic, even if their focus is primarily in another technology or art field, are often some of the best.

What are your strategies for “popping bubbles”? Where do you find the most creative ways to apply your skill sets to new areas, and how do you avoid getting too far into your own experience? Share your thoughts and comments below – I’d love to know more about how you make a habit of expanding your horizons!

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