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Justin Grant: Graduate Student

Degree Program: Human Computer Interaction, M.S.

Undergraduate Institution: University of California, Los Angeles, Philosophy, B.A.

Department: Computational Media

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/justgrant5

“My goal is to build on my undergraduate philosophy degree to develop technology that is useful and accessible to everyone.”

Justin Grant is a member of the inaugural class of the Human Computer Interaction professional master’s degree program. He brings to the graduate program years of web development and leadership experience and a passion for building ethical and accessible technology. With a knack for product management and an eye for design, Grant hopes to join industry as a UX designer or product manager after graduation. 

Tell me about what you were doing prior to joining the HCI program and why you chose the Baskin School of Engineering?

I have industry experience; I worked in many different fields from an auto salvage yard in Wisconsin to inside sales management. A web development boot camp taught me how to build websites, which then got me into web design. I was a non-traditional student having started college later in life. I first went to Cabrillo College, where I earned two associate degrees, and then transferred to UCLA. Although I studied philosophy, I also took a lot of elective classes to explore different fields. I found an interest in ethics and morals and the relationship between ethics and technology. I took some visual design classes and user research and design courses to further my knowledge in that area, and from there, started exploring different options for graduate programs. I love Santa Cruz, having lived there for four years, and I always wanted to be a Banana Slug. I strongly believe in the university’s mission and its values of diversity, equity, and inclusion. So I applied, and here I am. My goal is to build on my undergraduate philosophy degree to develop technology that is useful and accessible to everyone.

What’s been your favorite course so far?

That’s a tough one. I’m enjoying each interaction that we’re having in the program. The introduction to HCI course really helped lay the foundation for understanding the history and growth of human computer interaction. It was rigorous but also fulfilling. Professor Kate Ringland’s class was another foundational course that focused on designing technology from an accessibility standpoint. Now we are in an advanced building class. If I had to choose, it would be the foundational course because of all the fulfilling opportunities that class presented. 

Tell me about the research you’re working on right now.

I am taking an independent research course currently with Kate Ringland. I’m helping her with an experimental project to encourage communities to produce alternative text for people using assistive technologies. The internet is filled with images that are missing descriptions. My role is to build a product roadmap and co-design it with my classmate, and then encourage online communities to participate by adding alternative text. I’ve done a research project in the past on accessibility and search engine optimization (SEO) and found a correlation between accessibility and an increase in SEO. This area of research and co-design is fascinating to manage and a win-win for everyone.

What’s the HCI cohort dynamic like?

We communicate a lot. We found early on that we need each other, regardless of the size of our cohort. We had about 10 weeks of building community before we had to shift to online learning. Everyone is supportive and actively participating. On day one, we had a friendly design competition, which got everyone involved and began our foundation for learning together. 

We have a really nice mix of people coming from different disciplines, such as psychology, cognitive science, game design, English, sociology, engineering, mathematics, and computer science. Some have professional experience and others came directly from their undergraduate degree programs. 

What would you like to accomplish from now until graduation?

I want to finish the project with Kate and communicate to people how they can get involved with accessibility. From here on, I’m hoping to learn more foundational skills. Next quarter, we will be working on a group capstone project, which will incorporate methods for gathering user information, co-designing, and building useful products. Then, we will have an independent capstone project at the end of the program. I’m leaning towards building trust in digital products and understanding methods to reduce misinformation. Overall, I want to learn the foundational skills and be able to present my work for future job prospects. 

What kind of career do you plan to pursue after you complete the program?

Most people in this program will probably get a position in either user experience design, front-end engineering, or graphic/web design. Other potential areas are research and product design. I know my strengths lie in being able to put together the user design foundation. My ultimate goal is to become a product or project manager. I’ve managed people in the past, and I really enjoy working with individuals and seeing the bigger picture. I’m also keen on a career in UX design with the aim of working my way up to  management. I’m actively applying for internships in both UX and project management.

What are some things you like to do for fun?

I recently ran the SF Marathon. I trained for that for the majority of 2021 in Santa Cruz. I couldn’t get enough of the forest of Nisene Marks. I also enjoy bird watching, observing nature, and hiking. Really anything that gets me outdoors and networking with people. I also like to play disc golf and would often play at the Delaveaga Disc Golf Course in Santa Cruz when I lived there. 

Interview Date: 1/25/2022

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