It’s not necessarily unique to wonder about human interaction and why people do the things they do, but for Danielle Ishak, her curiosity went a bit further than a day dream. Working in the area of Human Factors and Ergonomics, Danielle studies humans interacting with synthetic humans. Yep, she works with robots. Find out how Danielle discovered the industry, fell in love with it, and what advice she would give women looking into careers in STEM.
Twitter handle: Danielle Micolle
Location: San Jose, California
Occupation: Work at SAP as a Human-Factors Professional investigating software interfaces and Human-Robot Interaction
School: San Jose State University: Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering
Secretly Obsessed With: Goats!
On My Nightstand: Books about human interaction and printed out journal articles of human-robot trust models. (Super nerdy, I know). I also have some Sabon lavender hand lotion and a lamp
Last Thing You Read: Quantifying the User Experience by Jeff Sauro and James R Lewis
How did you get started?
My story follows that generic narrative of students in college getting inspired by their professors. In undergrad, I studied interactive media and one of my professors introduced us to the concept of the user experience when interacting with tangible things such as robots. I always knew that I was interested in humans and why they act or respond in certain ways, but I didn’t know how to apply this to a real occupation that was not pure psychology. I did some research and then came across the discipline of Human Factors and Ergonomics and realized that my interest was a field that was actually fairly high in demand in the economy. My interest grew tremendously when I realized I could investigate humans interacting with synthetic humans (aka humanoid robots). That concept simply blew my mind so I applied for a master's program shortly after my discovery. This process took me two whole years after college, so in the meantime, I gained some experience through working various marketing jobs. I think it was great to work in other environments to figure out not necessarily what I wanted to do, but more about what I didn't want to do.
Tell us about your daily routine!
I report to work and help build software interfaces that reduce the user’s cognitive load, increase productivity, and are simple to use. I use a software called Axure to prototype this interaction that then becomes an interface. As I am pursuing my masters in conjunction, I then (on some days) report to the HAIL lab at school where there I am implementing similar cognitive principles in software design into robotic interaction design. Our goal is to figure out how to build a robot in a way that humans will trust it. At this point in my life, as I am still developing myself, I prioritize work/studies above all. It takes a lot out of you, but the accomplishments are totally worth it.
What key elements played into your success?
A few things,
1) You need the mentality of “I can do anything” and just go for it.
2) Mentors! They help guide you and support you tremendously.
3) Location is key. If you are interested in technology on any level, Silicon Valley is the hub.
4) Network- this ties into point 3. You want to be in a location that has a strong network for you to be apart of and involved with.
5) Be open to all the opportunities that come your way (unless you think you would be spreading yourself too thin).
6) Don't be afraid to be your feminine self even in a more masculine-dominated space. There are not many of us out there in these fields, therefore you stick out. Make sure to use the exposure and distinction to your advantage- it's a strength!
What’s the best piece of advice you received?
Fake it until you make it. If you position yourself well and have an idea of what you are talking about, it goes a long way.
What challenges did you face getting to this point?
I am a woman who, due to my location and areas of interest, is surrounded by men all day long! I have noticed that when attending meetups the men don’t really come up to you to strike a conversation. This means that the ball is always in my court. I need to make all the first moves of conversation. That being said, back to key element #6, once I say something that they think is smart or interesting, the tables turn and they are more impressed with me than they would be if I were a man my age. For this reason I truly support efforts such as Mavenly & Co. that help empower women to make their dreams a reality despite challenges we all face.
Who was the biggest influence in your professional life?
I have mentors in different environments. In my opinion this gives me a more wholesome perspective of my projected career rather than following one individual’s path. I have academic advisers, I have professional ones and I also have personal ones. I truly believe that they are essential!
What accomplishment are you most proud of? When do you feel most successful?
As the career path I have selected is academic, the accomplishment that I am most proud of is my first publication in the proceedings Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (thanks to the assistance of my academic mentor). When I am actively researching and giving my research back to society for people to read and build off of is when I feel most successful.
What advice would you give to girls looking to enter your industry/space?
Just go for it! Human-Factors Professional is so novel, not many people are in the field! The best part about it is that you get to learn every single day and can apply your education in so many different ways. One piece of advice I strongly stand by is if you are interested in conducting user research/design related to software interfaces, Silicon Valley is where you need to be!