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Every Project Needs a Watson and Crick

Growing up as a twin, I knew how to be on a team since the womb. Having someone figuratively attached to your hip for what seems like your entire life, 24/7, is great practice for any situation in life where you might have to work with another person. That being said, conducting research with someone else can be a whole new ball game.

Chelsea and I during the campaign’s initial client interview. | Source: Andres Warren

At the start of this semester, I was named BrandJRNY’s research director alongside Chelsea Harper. Prior to the start of the campaign, I didn’t know anyone on the team. That being said, because Chelsea and I were both research directors (the only position held by two people), I knew we would get to know each other well as we would be working very closely. As the entire team quickly jumped into the project, Chelsea and I got straight to work, especially with phase one of our campaign being heavily research-focused.

It’s often hard for me to warm up to others but with BrandJRNY being such a fast-paced environment, there’s no time for the usual pleasantries you’d find among a group of new colleagues. Within the first two weeks of becoming research directors, Chelsea and I had already spent a handful of evenings together scouring the internet and library books for secondary research.

Fast forward four months, where we are today, and I’m so grateful I had the chance to work on the research aspect of this campaign with someone. Aside from the personal benefits like the addition of a new, life-long friend, I’ve also gained an entirely new perspective on conducting research in the social sciences.

I’ve previously conducted a study on engagement on social media platforms, specifically within the technology community, as well as assisted on a few other studies during my time as an undergraduate. Nonetheless, I’ve never worked one-on-one with another person like I did this past semester with Chelsea, and it truly showed me that the saying, “Two heads are better than one,” is a saying that’s too on the nail. Of course, we couldn’t have done the work we did without the support of Carly Smith, account coordinator, or Dr. Colistra, BrandJRNY founder and director.

While only one person usually will be awarded a Nobel Prize, the efforts toward this achievement is almost always a collaborative effort. Teamwork and collaboration bring new ideas and perspectives to the table, allowing a situation to be seen through different eyes or with a new mindset. The ability to talk through a problem with someone or bounce an idea off a partner is underrated.

James Watson and Francis Crick, winners of the 1962 Nobel Prize for the discovery of the double-stranded helix molecule of DNA are two of the most famous scientists in modern history for their work with genetics. The important thing to note here is that two people won the prestigious award, with the support of a team of fellow scientists that included Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins.

Chelsea and I at the Mothman Festival. | Source: Andres Warren

I’m thankful for the months I got to work with Chelsea as her fellow research director, as well as with the entire BrandJRNY team. Not only was I exposed to new experiences in the realms of research and academia, but I was also exposed to new parts of West Virginia, people, and so much more, thanks to a new friend. And what could be stronger than a friendship based on data?

Originally posted on brandjrny.com.

The Science Behind Surveys

Research is the backbone of any campaign, and the BrandJRNY team takes it just as seriously as programmer Ada Lovelace when she created the first algorithm for the modern computer. All of the research we conduct, collect and analyze lays the foundation for the rest of the work we do in our community branding plan. This research influences the creative portion of the campaign, including the creation of the logo and color schemes, as well as guides the strategies and tactics used to reach the campaign objectives.

Surveys can be a fantastic tool when conducting research that requires the opinions and insights of those who aren’t easily accessible. With various platforms in existence with the sole purpose of creating and distributing surveys online, like Qualtrics and SurveyMonkey, it’s easier than ever to reach these groups. That being said, there is so much more time and work that goes into creating a proper survey than one—including myself before starting this process—can imagine. Addressing these few steps are a great place to start if you’re new to the vast world of surveys:

1. What are you trying to get answered?

What is your study about? What are you seeking to learn about? Although this step sounds basic, it’s crucial to make sure your survey has a clear subject. Respondents of the survey will be thrown off if asked about more than one topic within a study and could even become frustrated by the confusion of it all.

2. Figure out your target audience.

Identifying who you want to participate in your survey is extremely important, as presenting it to everyone can skew your results or dilute the responses that you’re actually looking for. It’s more likely that you are only seeking a specific set of people’s thoughts and opinions on your research topic, which is why two steps need to be taken when reaching your target audience. The first step occurs while creating the survey. Setting up various display logic and respondent blocks will prevent certain people from completing the survey, depending on how they answer the initial questions. The second step is how the survey is promoted. Appropriate messaging is essential in social media posts, email blasts and all other forms of distribution to assure that the desired public is responding.

3. Craft your questions and their responses carefully.

There are many rules on how and how not to create the perfect survey, and each platform has its own list of how you should tackle it, like Qualtrics’ 10 Commandments which I highly recommend giving a read.

A few best practices when crafting the survey questions is to try and keep it as concise as possible, while still gathering as much information as possible. In longer surveys, you will see a drop off of respondents at some point in the survey due to the diminishing attention span of users.

4. The metadata is mega important.

You’ve probably heard the saying, “It’s all in the details,” and this time, it’s true. Metadata, or a set of data that gives information about other data, is crucial to the makeup of your survey. It determines aspects like how the survey will appear to users in their email inboxes and on social media platforms. The metadata also affects the more simpler things that most people wouldn’t even think of, such as the name shown in the tab at the top of the browser. These details might seem small, but it’ll go a long way to making your survey seem more thorough and professional.

5. Check, check and re-check. Then check again.

I cannot stress enough how important this step is. Even when you feel like you’ve reread and tested your survey so much that your eyes could roll out of your head, you should probably check it a few more times. Once that’s done, have someone else look it over. They’ll be more likely to catch a mistake that you missed because you’ve become so familiar with the content. There’s nothing worse than publishing your survey and then seeing all the mistakes you didn’t catch before people started taking it.

Another tip that wouldn’t hurt to try out would be to print off a copy of the survey and read aloud from the physical copy. Reading your work out loud will help you hear the flow of each question and response, making sure it all sounds natural and won’t confuse the reader.

6. Sit back and watch the data roll in.

Congratulations! Now that your survey is out in the world, you can finally breathe and relax as the responses start to come in. Watching your hard work come to life might be one of the best feelings if you’re a true data-loving nerd like many of us on the BrandJRNY team.

Originally posted on brandjrny.com.

Stepping Out of My Comfort Zone—And Into Mothman’s

Looking back at the Mothman Festival, a lot of it seems hard to remember. The few days we spent in town were just one huge whirlwind of awesome costumes, beautiful art, social media-worthy moments, surveys and so much more. That being said, it was one of the best experiences I’ve had to date, both professionally and personally. 

We spent one full day at the festival, and during that time our primary focus was to get as many surveys completed as possible. As one of our team’s two research directors, I felt an even greater sense of responsibility to achieve this goal. On top of that, I was also tasked with running the WVU Reed College of Media’s Instagram story. The purpose of this was to give a glimpse into what BrandJRNY is like as a capstone class and what we’re working on this year. Being an introvert, and the type of person to shy away from initiating conversation or being in front of the camera, this seemed like (and was) a monumental task that would require a lot of willpower and courage on my part. 

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Me, in costume, on Point Pleasant’s Main Street during the Mothman Festival. | Credit: Andrés Warren

Yet, walking through the streets of downtown Point Pleasant in a very elementary Mothman costume with a shirt that read, “Mothman is real and he’s my boyfriend,” I couldn’t help but begin to feel a sense of ease. The festival attendees gave me smiles and words of praise for my outfit, and that helped me to stand taller as I walked through the crowds with my clipboard in hand. People would stop and ask to take my picture and young children would wave to me from across the street, bringing a huge smile to my face every single time. With each small encounter, I grew more and more confident in my ability to approach people and ask them to take our survey. The survey was brief and asked respondents about their thoughts and opinions of the event they were currently at. Not surprisingly, many people were happy to do so.

Throughout the day, I grew bolder and bolder to the point where, by the end of the day, I was yelling to strangers from behind the BrandJRNY booth as I eagerly waved my aforementioned clipboard, attempting to attract festival-goers to stop by, take our surveys and learn more about the work our team does. At one point, my mother—a fellow WVU advertising alumna—texted me after seeing a video on Instagram of my antics to ask if I was alright because there was no way she could believe that I would act like that in my normal state of being.

I will definitely give credit to the power of a costume, as it’s been proven that what you wear can influence your confidence levels. That being said, I also have to give myself credit where credit is due. I put myself out there, pushing myself to do things I used to think I would never—and could never—do. When I’m passionate about a project, the way I am about BrandJRNY and the City of Point Pleasant (yes, already!), I do my best to set aside my anxieties and put all of my energy, excitement, and myself into my work.

I heard countless times throughout the day that attendees come back year after year because they felt accepted and welcomed by others at the festival and the Point Pleasant community. I understand that feeling, too, now.

This event was not only a colossal step for me personally, but also professionally. It showed me that I am capable of going outside of my comfort zone, even if it was hard in the past and even if it still seems intimidating at the moment.

Originally posted on brandjrny.com.

Silicon Valley, The Root Of Tech’s Diversity Problem: AI And Its Inadvertent Bias (Part 5)

Artificial Intelligence, or AI, is advancing rapidly with scientists finding new ways to incorporate it into our daily lives.

AI was defined by Andreas Kaplan and Michael Haenlein as, “a system’s ability to correctly interpret external data, to learn from such data, and to use those learnings to achieve specific goals and tasks through flexible adaptation,” in their study, Siri, Siri, in my hand: Who’s the fairest in the land? On the interpretations, illustrations, and implications of artificial intelligence

The origins of AI can be traced back to a Dartmouth workshop, but many of the advancements of the technology has been overseen in Silicon Valley. As great as the advancement of this new form of automation is, there is on problem: because Silicon Valley itself lacks diversity, how can we expect the intuitive tool to be created without its own biases?

With some calling bais AI’s achilles heel, others are questioning if it’s even possible to create an unbiased version of this technology, no matter the circumstances.

Still others are working together, fighting to eliminate the biases that are starting to emerge in electronics interwoven with AI.

It’s hard to imagine a world without technology, and it’s pointless to imagine one where we stop inventing, exploring and advancing. On the other hand, we shouldn’t keep creating things that only benefit a subset class of people, or is at least bias towards them.

 

 

Silicon Valley, The Root Of Tech’s Diversity Problem: The Impact Of #MeToo (Part 4)

Silicon Valley has always been a tough world for women to break into, with nonstop headlines of toxic culture and boy’s club overtaking major tech companies filling our news cycles.

The term “boys’ club” in the professional setting has been around for decades, and one of the best examples in media would be Mad Men. Since the #MeToo movement took off in November of 2017, the public as a whole has started to take a harder look at how women are treated in the workforce, from Hollywood to Capital Hill. One community that still seemed to lack attention that it desperately needed was making progress of it’s own, behind the scenes.

Although the campaign began back in 2006 by Tarana Burke, several stories shared on Twitter with the hashtag “#MeToo” led to one of the biggest social movements of the century.

The #MeToo movement made waves around the world, across several different labor markets and impacted countless lives. One of the industries it had the biggest influence on was the technology community, specifically those that are headquartered in Silicon Valley.

Serious allegations hit notable companies including Google and Uber, putting their office culture, employee misconduct practices and leadership teams under the microscope. However, this wouldn’t truly be like the other #MeToo movements that brought down hailed trailblazers of the industry, like Hollywood did to Harvey Weinstein.

Powerful names like Dave McClure, Justin Caldbeck and Chris Sacca, venture capitalists, alongside tech expert Robert Scoble all felt the heat from #MeToo.

But not all is lost—some women found strength in the movement that continues to show through to this day. Thankfully, tech companies in and outside of Silicon Valley have started making the long overdue changes to their organizations.

 

Silicon Valley, The Root Of Tech’s Diversity Problem: Sex, Drugs And Hot Tubs? (Part 3)

“About once a month, on a Friday or Saturday night, the Silicon Valley Technorati gather for a drug-heavy, sex-heavy party.”

Over the past year, it’s been exposed and then further investigated that it’s not uncommon at all for the leaders in the tech community of Silicon Valley to get together often for secretive (or so they thought) drug-fueled, sex parties.

Since these parties made their splash across headlines since the news first broke in early 2018, Silicon Valley’s toxic culture and male-dominated workforce has been under serious scrutiny, by people inside and outside the community.

A female investor in the San Fransisco area told Emily Chang, author of Brotopia: Breaking Up The Boys’ Club In Silicon Valley, in her Vanity Fair article, “Women are participating in this culture to improve their lives. They are an underclass in Silicon Valley.” Other allegations in the book include that many business deals are made outside of the office, usually in a bar or a private hot tub.

In a Medium article, Paul Biggar, an attendee to one of the parties that Chang depicted in her book, wrote a response denying many of the allegations she made, but did confirm that some details were correct and that the culture of Silicon Valley must be fixed. “I came to Silicon Valley to make things. And while it’s true that wherever there is money and power there are going to be people who abuse it, we need to step up and stop this shit from going on. It is never OK to abuse your power to exploit women or any underrepresented group, or to allow your power to be used by others to do so.”

For more on the prevalence of sex parties in Silicon Valley, check out the podcast, Recode Decode, as host Kara Swisher interviews Chang on “the quasi-corporate sex parties of the Bay Area” here.

Silicon Valley, The Root Of Tech’s Diversity Problem: Introducing Lena (Part 2)

JPEG, or Joint Photographic Experts Group (the organization that created the standard for the file type), was created and revolutionized by the image of one woman—Playboy centerfold feature, Lena Söderberg.

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Featured in the November 1972 edition of Playboy, the Swedish model appeared on the centerfold image under the name Lenna Sjööblom, and from then on, that same image would go onto revolutionize digital photography.

Now famously known as “Lenna,” a cropped version of the centerfold was used to illustrate the capabilities of image-processing algorithms in 1973 by a group of graduate students and professors at the University of Southern California. Since then, the scanned image of Lena has become one of the most used image in the history of the Internet and helped transform our computerized images. But has the image also aided in the hindrance of women in the technology industry?

The use of this image has seen its share of [rightful] criticism over the past few decades, with many calling it one of the original reasons that women have such a hard time being taken seriously in the tech community. In a 1999 essay, Dianne P. O’Leary, mathematician and computer scientist, wrote, “Suggestive pictures used in lectures on image processing…convey the message that the lecturer caters to the males only. For example, it is amazing that the “Lena” pin-up image is still used as an example in courses and published as a test image in journals today.” Many people are even starting to use other images in place of hers, despite the historical importance

A lot of controversy remains around the image: does the picture’s historical value surmount the fact that it’s still a picture of a nude woman? I say, for now, let’s leave the past in the past and use some more recent pictures—we have way better camera quality now anyway.

Silicon Valley, The Root Of Tech’s Diversity Problem: And Its Continuation (Part 1)

It’s no secret that Silicon Valley is the starting place for almost all things technological and innovative—but it’s also the birth place for technology’s diversity issues.

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Centered around the San Francisco area, “Silicon Valley” as a region and term was coined by Don Hoefler in early 1971, although the phrase didn’t gain popularity in the 1980s. The direction the area has gone towards has come out of the fact that many STEM based operations originated there, including many universities research facilities, numerous venture capitals and U.S. Department of Defense investigations. It’s also where the technology industry’s diversity issue is the most problematic.

In a report from Reveal News released in June of 2018, 10 large tech companies based in Silicon Valley did not pay a single black woman in 2016, while six others did not have a single female executive in the organization.

This issue that has persisted since last century has finally been put in the spotlight, with more and more women (and men) showing their dissatisfaction with the culture that has persisted in a place that is supposed to be one of the most forward-thinking and visionary places on Earth, currently. Emily Chang, journalist and anchor/executive producer for Bloomberg Television, has even written a book detailing the harmful sub-culture that has grown within Silicon Valley. (Great read, 5/5 stars.)

A few major companies have made steps to change their corporate behaviors—or claimed they have—but some are saying it’s still not enough. It would be a shame to see a place that’s meant to inspire and create our future fall to ruins; but having an insufferable environment where that place is being cultivated is much worse. We’ll just have to keep an eye on what’s to come and keep pushing for more change.

Is Taylor Swift Unknowingly An Icon For Female Coders?

Taylor Swift, 10-time Grammy award winner and one of the most well-known pop singers on the planet, quite possibly has the chance to claim stake at yet another title: Taylor Swift, female coders’ icon.

This might seem like a far-fetched claim, but there have been crazier ones made in the tech community (e.g. anytime Elon Musk tries to tweet anything slightly out of the box.)

SWIFT Code is the standard format for Bank Identifier Codes (BIC) and very different from any of the other thousands of programming languages. It consists of a combination of various letters and numbers that helps identify the branch codes of banks. Obviously this isn’t a common type of code and has a very specific use that most coders will never use, but some programmers have still found a way to attach the computer language to the 29 year old pop star.

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Taylor coding at a young age?

A 2017 study from Qualtrics shows that 76 percent of programmers would rather listen to music instead of podcasts or the news while they work, and Taylor Swift ranks highly on all kinds of engineers’ playlists. The same study also reports that 28 percent of respondents prefer pop music over other genres. John Brandon, contributing editor for Inc.com, has his own theories on Swift (not the code) being a coder’s musical preference and the social sciences behind it.

For further proof, check out Kathryn Hodge’s blog, BlondieBytes, where she dives into programming projects performed by herself and other women that were inspired by the one and only, Taylor Swift.

And yet, the best proof of this theory is the Twitter account, SwiftOnSecurity.

With over 265k followers, the users who runs this account claims to actually be Taylor Swift, while also being an expert on all things cybersecurity and industrial safety, among other related topics. From discussing their experience in IT to being a typical fan account for Swift, SwiftOnSecurity has made bold claims that she is the icon that female coders need.

Swift has yet to make a comment on any of these allegations, and I’m sure everyone is as curious as I am to hear her thoughts on the matter. Say what you will about this theory, but in the meantime, I’ll be Dancing With [my] Hands Tied. Alexa play Shake It Off.

Celebrating The 4th Annual International Day Of Women And Girls In Science

This past Monday, Feb. 11, the women and girls in the science trade, currently or whom have already conquered the field, were celebrated around the globe. This is the fourth annual International Day of Women and Girls in Science and theme for this year’s event was “Investment in Women and Girls in Science for Inclusive Green Growth.”

This globally recognized holiday, first celebrated in 2016 but concocted in April of 2015, is meant to shed light on the fact that less than 30 percent of our world’s researchers are women and just around 30 percent of higher education students in STEM-related fields are female. The United Nations said that one of the biggest pushes for this international day of observance was a study done by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, writing, “As in the real world, the world on screen reflects similar biases.” In the 2015 Gender Bias Without Borders report, only 12 percent of onscreen characters with identifiable STEM careers were women.

The hashtag “#WomenInScience” was trending on Twitter internationally as users were sharing gender stereotype-defying stories and messages of support to their fellow women in science.

A collaborative effort between various organizations, International Day of Women and Girls in Science has been a success from the start. United Nations Secretary-General addressed the public saying, “We must tackle misconceptions about girls’ abilities. We must promote access to learning opportunities for women and girls, particularly in rural areas. And we must do more to change workplace culture so that girls who dream of being scientists, engineers and mathematicians can enjoy fulfilling careers in these fields.”

In a time when the world can be cruel and unforgiving, especially to women, this is a necessary relief for all. It’s clear from the data that women and girls still have a lot of ground to cover when it comes to leveling the scientific playing field, but we can take solace in the fact that there are people (and lots of them) who are determined to help us do just that.