Meet Dr. France Jackson

By Awanto Margaret - February 06, 2019

Today, we bring you our very first podcasted interview with an amazing and dynamic lady, Dr. France Jackson recipient of the Roaring 10 Award for her academic and philanthropic contribution to society. Please find the audio file and a link to the podcast at the end of the blog post. For my dear readers, I summarized a transcript of the Interview between Dr. France and me, but I strongly encourage you to listen to the podcast, to hear Dr. France's story in her own words. We believe in the power of sharing our personal stories to impart change and to serve as motivation for others and there's nothing like hearing the uncut versionA big shout out to our sponsors of the day PDX BLACK UNICORN!

Can you tell us about yourself
Sure. I am Dr. France Jackson, it sounds kind of weird that I don’t really introduce myself like that very often, but that is who I am. I have an undergraduate and master’s degree in Industrial Engineering from Clemson University and a Ph.D. in Human-Centered Computing from the University of Florida. Currently, I do UX Research and Design at Intel.
What do you do at Intel? Can you tell us a little about what your day at Intel is like? Um... so no day is the same for me, I work on a customer innovation team that used to be in the software group of what we now call the core visual computing group. Before I started full time in January, I did 4 internships between 2012 and 2015 and each time I worked in a different group, doing something different. So I like to joke and say I was in my own rotational engineering program because I got to get a good feel of the company and I got to really expand my network and meet a lot of great people. So when it came time for me to start full time, it was a really smooth and easy transition and I really didn’t feel like a new employee, though I just started in January it's like I’ve been working at Intel for years. So now, I do UX and Design and on my team, most of my work is centered around how we can create innovative software experiences that can help differentiate Intel architecture. So my group works a lot with software enablement, and we build a lot of different concepts like when we have a new product coming up we partner a with a client computing group and they’ll say "we got these new PC's. Let’s figure out the type of software experiences we can enable that will help differentiate our product." So my job is to say "how can people use this new technology or this new PC in an interesting way?" and come up with new usages and then I go find software vendors to help us build a group of concepts which we test with users in different markets. So I travel a lot of places to test out new usages when and I go back and say hey this is what customers liked, this is what they didn’t like, let’s figure out how we can build actual software and then I hand it off or bring in what we call an account manager. So on one project there can be a lot of software enabling and on another I work more with hardware so I get to do like ethnographic studies where I go into people’s homes and interview them and watch and observe how they use certain technologies and that helps us design and build new stuff to improve their processes.
How did you get into tech, can you describe your journey?
So my journey with tech started out kind of straight and took some curves along the way. When I was younger, in elementary school, I was really interested in performing arts and so I thought I wanted to be an actress or some kind of performer. I liked to dance and things like that but then around middle school is when I started to think “Well you know, what if I don’t get my big break?” like I need a realistic goal that can produce more stable income (laughs). And so I had to think "what else do I like to do?" "What else am I good at?"  "What am I interested in?" and that’s when I realized I really like science and math, I really liked the whole idea of engineering. I was the type of kid who was interested in how things work and how they do together, so I went to science camps and my family really nurtured my interest in science and engineering back then when technology was not that big. Fast forward to going to Clemson for undergrad, they had this system where different Professors would come  talk to us about the different disciplines, the jobs that you could do in those areas, and I was really interested in something that the things the Industrial Engineer Prof was talking about; things like usability and making products better, it clicked with me, so I chose the path of Industrial engineering. How I got into tech is while presenting my undergrad project at a conference, there was a young black Prof there who was a keynote speaker, and he happened to be from my university but I'd never met him before. I really liked his talk, it was about user experience and human-computer interaction which I didn’t really know about. So I introduced myself to him after and he set a meeting with me, he invited me to his lab and we started talking about how I could apply my human factor knowledge to tech. So I decided to join his lab and make him my supervisor or rather, he made m his student and so that’s how got from engineering to tech.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out in tech?
Pearl and France if I were to give advice, the first thing I’d say is you have so much that we didn’t have. You have Google, you have Internet, you can find out about anything you want to know and so anything that you feel you might be interested in, start googling it. Think about anyone who's in that profession, maybe go to Linked In, or Indeed or any of these websites to find out what type of jobs are out there for people who have the skill set that you have. If you have an idea about what you want to major in, think about where it'd lead to. Maybe you know what you want to be, but you don’t know how to get there, google that and see. Look for job postings to see what the requirements are needed to get that job and then you can walk backward and say well this is the skill set I need to work on building. Or conversely, you can say these are the things that I want to do, how do I turn this into a job? And in 2018, you can turn anything you’re good at into a job. So I would say find something that you’re passionate about and then go down that path. Also, look for a mentor!

What does France do for fun?
I always laugh when people ask me what I do for fun because the last 7 years in grad school was so much work and there were times when school was fun because we got paid to travel an do lots of cool stuff so that became my idea of fun. But for now, I’m still trying to rediscover what France likes to do for fun now that I have no imminent deadlines hanging over my head, when there is no dissertation that needs to be submitted so now that I have a lot of free time, sometimes I honestly just find myself looking at the wall and just being so happy to not have that pressure. In general, I really do like to travel, get new experiences and just hang out with my friends. I love football, I love to eat, so that’s kind of what I do, trying to make new memories, however that comes.

Closing Remarks: You can be anything that you want to be and platforms like this are essential just to create exposure. It’s hard to grow up and want to be something that you’ve never seen anyone become and so I’m grateful to platforms like this that are helping to expose some less common things to everyone.

Big thank you to Dr. France for taking the time to interview with DMb. It was such a beautiful day and we had a lot of fun. As usual, I was super inspired by her story and might actually consider going back to grad school and becoming a Dr too someday😊. 

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