We've had several people from Facebook on Revision Path before, but this week's conversation with Dr. Quaneisha Penha is a special one. As a user experience researcher, her work spans many of the industries and disciplines that make up the Facebook experience.
Quaneisha walked me through her regular routine, which involves interviews, usability testing, and a lot of other methods. She also spoke about her time at Stanford, attending North Carolina A&T for her Masters and Ph.D., and we discussed inclusive design, autonomous vehicles, and juggling her workload with her duties as a new mom. I'm glad to know that researchers like Quaneisha are out there talking to people, analyzing the data, and helping others at Facebook make informed decisions!
Revision Path is a Glitch Media Network podcast, and is produced by Maurice Cherry and edited by Brittani Brown.
Maurice Cherry: All right, so tell us who you are and what you do.
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: My name is Quaneisha Penha. I am a UX researcher at Facebook for the ads measurement organization.
Maurice Cherry: Now, what does a UX researcher do, actually?
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: Talk with people. Talk with people. Try to understand what their motivations are, their goals are, when they come to a product or service. Service design is its own separate area, but UX research goes across so many different disciplines and different industries because there's always a user or a consumer of a product or service on the other side.
Maurice Cherry: And you said you're working in the ads measurements department of Facebook?
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: Yes.
Maurice Cherry: Okay. So what does a typical day sort of look like for you when you're working there?
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: Typical day for me, if it's earlier in the week, there'll be a lot of planning meetings, working with our product designers, our content strategists, engineers, product managers around the strategy for the product roadmaps. And if it's in the middle of the week, middle to towards the end of the week, I tend to be in research sessions. So those will be one-on-one. It could be usability testing for a new concept or usability testing on a current design, something that's already currently live and in the field. Or it could just be just a conversation to understand a certain business's organizational structure and policies around how they set up their marketing and advertising.
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: And specifically I try to focus on the analytics part. And that essentially is after the campaign or ad has been set up and it's run, I try to help the advertisers and marketers understand all the data that Facebook collects for them about their particular ad.
Maurice Cherry: Okay.
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: And from that information and try to let them, they make the decisions themselves, but try to empower them and give them more confidence in their own decisions as to say, "Hey, next week we're going to be running the same campaign, but we need to tweak this headline, or we need to tweak this image, or we should think about the targeting," whatever it may be. But they make the decisions. My job is just to try to help them understand the information that we provide them.
Maurice Cherry: And now, we've had quite a few Facebook people on the show before. We actually did a series of interviews out at Facebook in 2016. I'm curious what attracted you to work for Facebook?
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: For me, what drew me to this particular position at Facebook is that I thought that this would be the perfect opportunity for me to bring in my engineering and systems design and research skill and background and working with the community.
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: My previous job at Intel, which I loved everything that I did there and the different career opportunities I had there, however, I was working in hardware, so I was always one or two steps removed from any consumers. Whereas in this case, for this particular position, I get to work and talk with small, medium-size business owners themselves, persons who may be starting out. Or it may be somebody who's been doing this kind of work in their field or in their niche for 30 years, but maybe they're new to marketing, advertising and social media space. Or it could be, you know, I'm talking with someone who's an analyst who's in the weeds and down into the numbers of, again, whatever ad campaigns that they're running, at a much larger corporation. And for me that brings me closer to the community, to the people.
Maurice Cherry: What would you say has kind of been the biggest challenge so far with this work?
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: Oh, every person is different.
Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: Every thing is different, and then trying to translate that and to try and find patterns. So I may talk with, say, 15 people and get 15 different responses in regards to a concept that I may be testing with them. And I have to try and find patterns within those 15 comments that I get from them. Try and find those patterns and then translate what I find into insights for the engineers. The engineers are like, "Well, can we just build one thing for everybody that's going to work all the time for every person?" No.
Maurice Cherry: Yeah.
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: That's not how this works, because every person is different. They may have the same motivations and goals, but they will have different experiences. They will have different backgrounds. Hey, they may even have a different environment that day. They may have had a really horrible commute coming into work, and now all of a sudden that changed their entire mindset about how they think and how they interact with your tool or service that you're providing them.
Maurice Cherry: How do you approach new projects at Facebook? It sounds like you're doing lot of maybe surveys or interviews with people. That's what it sounds like. But how do you sort of approach new projects?
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: New projects, I initially ... I get a lot of requests. So research is one of those areas, is one of those disciplines that's there's not enough of us to go around. So when it comes to a new project, usually a new request will come in either from my product team that I support, or it may come in from another researcher in another part of the organization that's like, "Hey, I think you may be working on something similar or our products may cross paths in the future, so let's work together on this. Let's collaborate."
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: So it depends on if it's internal to my product or if it's external to the product itself. But if it's internal to the product, then I start talking with the product manager to understand, okay, what are your milestones that you're looking at? Because if you're going to be launching soon, then that's obviously going to impact what I can do, what I can actually get for you. So I need to understand the schedule. And then once I understand the schedule, then I go and I try to figure out what the problem space currently looks like.
Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: I need to understand, what do you already know about this problem space? And not just from a business standpoint, but what do you know about the users in this problem space? Because this problem that you're solving, it may not ... Who is it a problem for? Is it a problem for them all the time or is it a problem for them maybe once a quarter when they have to pull a particular type of report and talk to a stakeholder?
Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: So I have to understand who the users are as well. And this is all planning. This is all before I even talk to anybody.
Maurice Cherry: Yeah.
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: And then once I understand who the users in the space are, then I can start to think about recruitment. And the recruitment piece, that's where I actually feel inclusiveness starts there, in this overall process. Because the people that I bring into our research sessions, I try to, I have to do a lot of screening to make sure that I'm getting a good representation of who our users are. And sometimes engineers or the product managers, they may have a certain idea in their head already as to who the user is. And I have to be the one to break it to them to say, "Hey, according to data, that ideal user doesn't exist."
Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: "Or that ideal user you're thinking about is a small fraction of the actual user population." So the recruiting piece, there's a lot of science to it, but it's also a lot of art as well.
Maurice Cherry: So it sounds like you make sure not to make any sort of decisions at all until you really analyze the data. So there's a lot of strategy that goes into it.
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: Mm-hmm (affirmative). This is all, yeah, and a lot of strategy goes into it. This is all before I even talk to anyone.
Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative). So I want to go more into your career overall. I know we started off talking about Facebook, but how did you first get into this field? Like when did you first sort of get the spark to do UX research?
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: So I completed my undergrad in '07, 2007, from Stanford. And at that time I had dreamed that I was going to go to do a master's in product design or master's in industrial engineering, and then I was going to go on to do my JD. And I would have came out in 2012 at the height of the pad wars. So I was like, "Yeah, I'm going to be in a great position. I'm going to have this really great multidisciplinary background from Stanford. I'm going to have this product design. And then I'm going to have a law degree. And I would have came out at the height of that."
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: And somewhere along the lines when I was working on my master's degree at North Carolina A&T, I realized that, you know what? I like this. I like thinking about technology in this way. I like talking with folks. I like understanding what it is they're trying to do. And then also I like bridging the connections, bridging connections between things that people think didn't have anything to do with one another. And that's kind of where the spark came for me.
Maurice Cherry: So you started out at Stanford for your undergrad and then you went to North Carolina A&T to get your master's as well as your PhD. Is that right?
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: Yes, that's right.
Maurice Cherry: So I'm curious why or what, I should say, prompted the shift to go from a school like Stanford to North Carolina A&T. And we sort of talked about this a little bit before recording. You know, we've had people on the show who maybe have started at an HBCU and then went to a larger PWI, let's say, for continuing their education. But you kind of went the other route.
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, I actually get asked this question a lot. I describe it as going from the ivory tower to the ebony tower. I'm a make-your-own-path person.
Maurice Cherry: Okay.
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: I tend not to go straight from A to D. Sometimes I may make a left or make a U-turn and go to L and then come back to D.
Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: So I tend to be a make-my-own-path kind of person, what makes the most sense at that point in time for me. And I can tell you that after I ... My last year at Stanford, I actually applied to I think it was about seven different master's programs, including UPenn, not UPenn, Penn State, industrial engineering program. I applied to Georgia Tech. And I got into I think all the programs except for one.
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: And of the six programs that I got into, North Carolina A&T, they didn't offer me any money upfront. So I didn't have any kind of scholarship going in, because my GPA was okay. It was not amazing. It was not some stellar GPA. Even though I was at Stanford, most schools were like, "Well, that doesn't mean anything to us. The number is what we need. We need that raw number and your raw number is not there."
Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: But I actually didn't have any funding upfront.. So I didn't have any funding upfront, and I was going to have to take some background courses just to get up to speed. And what helped that decision is I actually went and visited. I talked with different professors and department. I dropped in on a few grad students who were in the labs late, and I talked with them. And I also have family. I have a ton of family in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: That also made the decision. The decision, that also factored in. It's like, "Okay, I'll have that. I'll be close to family. So if I need a home-cooked meal, I can get one. Because being in grad school, I'm probably not going to have any money, and I'm probably not going to have food and sustenance. So I will have family in the area that I can get to easily."
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: I also looked at my commuting options. I said, "Okay, well, how far of a walk would it be for me?" But I didn't have a car.
Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: So I didn't have a car in California. I didn't plan on buying a car in North Carolina either. I said, "So how far of a walk is it going to be? Do they have on-campus housing?"
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: So I looked at on-campus housing. I looked at finances. I looked at how close would I be to family. I looked at the professors. I looked at the curriculum. I also talked to a few alumni in different companies. And actually there were North Carolina A&T alumni who were in the Bay Area that I had talked to. And they're like, "Yeah, I went there for undergrad. It was amazing, was fantastic, all the parties, all this, all that." I'm like, "Okay, I don't really need the parties and stuff. Thank you for telling me all that." They're like, "You're going to love GHOE." I'm like, "What is a what? Who?"
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: So I looked at all these different factors, not just at North Carolina A&T. I also looked at Georgia Tech because Georgia Tech was in Atlanta. It's in Midtown. And my mother lived at the time in Douglasville, so I'd have been close to my mom. I have uncles and aunts there. But again, I looked at all these different factors. And what it came down to for me is I looked at all these different factors, did all my visits, did all my research, went to sleep and woke up the next morning and prayed on it very hard, and it just came to me and was like, "You're going to North Carolina." It's like, "It's going to be hot. It's going to be hot. It's going to be humid. But you're going to North Carolina."
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: And in addition, initially, I'm from New Jersey, so I have a ton of family as well in New Jersey. So being on the East Coast, being in North Carolina, that also made it easy for me to access other family, my dad and my sisters and brothers. I have seven sisters and brothers. So I was able to get to them when I wanted to for their different birthday parties, barbecues, et cetera. And that, having that family part, I knew was going to be ... That was going to be key for me to get through grad school.
Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: Because that was something that I saw a lot of. Because you're right. So a lot of the HBCU grads who came to Stanford that I met, they didn't have family in California. All their family was all back on the East Coast. And those students, they were amazing. They were brilliant. But so many of them struggled internally. And I thought about that when I made my decision. I was like, "All right, I need to, I want to have my family."
Maurice Cherry: No, I mean, I think certainly you weighed the options. I mean, I'm glad that you went into talking about doing all the sort of research and everything from that. And I didn't mean to, and I'm hoping for people that are listening, I'm not trying to set up this dichotomy between HBCUs and other schools. I mean, North Carolina A&T is a well-renowned research institution.
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Maurice Cherry: And clearly, I mean, they offer ... I don't know how many other HBCUs offer master's and PhD programs at the level that they do.
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: Yeah.
Maurice Cherry: So going to that school certainly is a deliberate decision just in terms of furthering your career.
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: Yeah, it definitely was. And like I said, I went and I talked with the professors. And I looked at their curriculum and I looked at the research they were doing. I looked at all of that.
Maurice Cherry: So what was your time like there overall? I mean, it was good that you had your family there to kind of have that moral support, that family support that I think certainly we need when going through times like that. But educationally, what was your time like there?
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: It was quiet. It was quiet for me. And I say it was quiet for me in that all of the, I guess like a lot of the social parts, that folks hear about or they think about when they're like, "Oh yeah, North Carolina A&T, HBCU." A lot of the social parts, I didn't take part in, just because I was so focused.
Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: Because I actually finished my PhD in three years. So I did the master's in two and then did the PhD in three.
Maurice Cherry: Wow.
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: So I was, yeah, I was on it. And every summer I had an internship at a different company. I worked at GE for one summer. I worked at IBM another summer. I worked for the NSF another summer. Who else? I worked for a consulting company in Marietta, Georgia for a summer. So I was in school and working all the way around.
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: So for me, I say it was quiet. I didn't do too much of the socializing and partying. But I will say that the work ethic of the graduate students and the industrial systems engineering department was phenomenal, because I would never be the only one in the lab at two o'clock in the morning trying to get some simulations to run. You're like, I can always look over and see that there will be like six or seven other students working on problem sets. And these grad students are like, "We got to get this stuff done." Or they're studying for their qualifying exams or for the preliminary exams, whatever it may be.
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: So, yeah, so it was a very quiet time. But the quietness allowed me to really focus and get the work done and get to the next step.
Maurice Cherry: And yeah, I figure by the time you're in graduate school, I mean, that's the time when you need to be focused and serious anyway. I mean, not to say that people don't go to grad school and party it up, but if you got there with a mission, I totally understand. I totally understand that.
Maurice Cherry: Aside from that, how was the experience, say, different from Stanford? I mean, aside from the obvious way of being an HBCU versus Stanford, but how was it different from your undergrad experience?
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: Let's see. So many different things. Oh, when I got there, one of the things that my mother, to this day, she still talks about, is the first day at A&T, they didn't have an electronic registration system yet.
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: A&T, they didn't have an electronic registration system yet, so registration was still in-person, and you had to stay on these huge long lines. And Stanford had electronic system several years early. So, I never stood in a line at Stanford to register for classes. And my mother, to this day, she still talks with... She's like, "I just don't believe it, how was that possible?" This is mostly an engineering powerhouse. I'm like, well, it is what it is.
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: So there were administration differences like that in some cases, yeah, it was irritating at the time. But it's like, you know what, this is just something that I may not only go through here and at North Carolina A&T, I may go through this in a future job or in a future setting. So, stand in line, let's go. Learn how to stand in line and be patient.
Maurice Cherry: That's something HBCUs definitely will teach you one way or another. There's going to be lines. You're just going to have to deal with it.
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: Exactly. So that's the thing. Think about it this way... TSA, all of the lines, we have to stay in it. [crosstalk 00:20:13]
Maurice Cherry: Hey, that's true. That is true. That is very true. You mentioned being from Jersey. What was it like growing up there? Were you kind of exposed to tech and design in this way at an early age?
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: No, actually I wasn't. I didn't get exposed to tech and design until I was well into my undergrad. So, no, in New Jersey it was public school all the way through. I'm from central Jersey, kind of towards the Jersey Shore, small town called Lakewood. My family's from Freehold. We have been there for well over a century in that area. So. Lots of family in that area.
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: But I excelled in math and science. I took AP classes when they were available. But a lot of things I did, I was always very self-sufficient in regards to researching my options. Because when I applied to college, I applied to, I think it was about 10 schools I applied to? And they were mostly East Coast. They were a combination of public - Rutgers and SUNY Albany. But then I also applied to Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, and then on the other side of the country, I applied to Stanford and to USC. And nobody in my family at that point in time had been west of the Mississippi.
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: So they're like, "Where is California? How far is this? Who do you know out there? We know no one out there." I was like, "Oh, like, I don't know." I said, "But I'm going to try it out. It's got palm trees. They don't have winter there. They don't have like eight feet of snow like we do in the winter."
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: So I was very self-sufficient in researching my options, and then also I was very active in a lot of different extracurricular activities, as well as I had a job every summer. So again, kind of that same, keeping myself busy and trying not to get sidetracked or distracted with some of my classmates or family members may have with other things. So I focused. So I did soccer, track, marching band, and I did musicals every year.
Maurice Cherry: What instrument did you play in the marching band?
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: Alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, and a little bit of clarinet if they needed it, but I was never too good at clarinet.
Maurice Cherry: Was your family supportive of you going across the country to Stanford? I mean, it sounds like there were a lot of roots put down there where you were in Jersey.
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: Yeah. Initially, no. Everyone was like, "Why are you trying to leave us?" But as we got closer to the time for me to go, the excitement grew. They were like, "Oh my God, this is going to be so cool. You're going to be in California, and you're going to be hanging out in Hollywood with celebrities." I'm like, "I'm not sure how close that is, but okay." They were like, "You're going to see celebrities, and you're going to a really great school, and we hear all these great things about this school on TV. We always see it on CNN." And so the excitement came later. I think initially the shock... And I think initially the shock kind of had to wear off on folks.
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: And then for some of the younger folks they were like, "Hey, you know, once you get settled out there, let me know so I can get a plane ticket and come out there and visit. You know, we'd be out there in the West Coast, we can hang out with E-40 and, you know, Snoop Dog and [crosstalk 00:20:58] Crip Walking like." I was like, "Again, I'm not sure if E-40 is going to be at Stanford, but, you know."
Maurice Cherry: That's funny. No, I remember when I was in high school. I applied to a bunch of different schools, too. And, I think I applied to Stanford, too. I got into several different schools, but my mom was very much like, "You're not going anywhere that I can't drive."
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: Yep.
Maurice Cherry: I was thinking... because I wanted to go to... I wanted to go to Stanford. I wanted to go to California. I just wanted to go mostly out into the Bay Area because this was right around the time that the Internet was really starting to take off. This was like 1999. And I had been experimenting with HTML and making webpages and stuff, and I was like, "I need to go out there where it's happening." And my mom was like, "Nope, I said I'm not getting on a plane. It's not happening." We ended up like kind of splitting the difference.
Maurice Cherry: I ended up going to Morehouse, which is just one state over in Georgia. But my first internship that I had was in California. It was at Ames Research Center out on the Moffett Field near Mountain View. And, oh, you want to talk about somebody who had a fit that I was going out to California? I mean like-
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: And you came back!
Maurice Cherry: I came back but it was very much like, "It's going to be your first time on a plane and, and I hear they have all kinds of drugs and gangs out there." And I'm like, "Yes." I was like, "I'm going to be on an army base, like, at NASA. Like, I seriously doubt those two worlds are going to cross." "You don't know that!" I was like, "And neither do you. So what's the problem?"
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: Yes, I am so familiar with all of that. There will be drugs and partying and this and that and... But one of the things that helped me make the decision to go to Stanford is I got a phone call. So, after I had got in, after I got all my acceptance letters and everything, I got a phone call from the black recruitment and orientation committee. They called me and the... In the phone call, they're like, "We're so glad that you got in that you... We hope you accept, is there... Are there any questions you have for us?" 'Cause I had missed the a... 'cause they have an admit weekend where they bring out all the people who've been admitted, all the prospective freshmen and stuff. And I had missed it because I went to Disney World with my marching band. I was like, I've been waiting four years for this trip. That's not, no.
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: But they called me and they said, "Do you have any questions at all for us? Like in fact, what can we tell you?" I was like, "What about my hair?" And they're like, "Okay, great. We got you on that. Like, you can go here. We actually have a lady that's on campus, she does straightening. But yeah, you're going to have to travel a bit further out, maybe an hour and change or so to Oakland sometimes and get your hair done, but you can get your hair done. But you can get your weaves and your braids and blah, blah blah." So I was like, "Okay, great. And then what about food? What... Do you guys have Jamaican food out there? Like, I love Caribbean food." And they're like, "We have sometimes, you know, there's a few places here, but you're going to have to travel a bit further out."
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: They were completely honest with me. But the fact that they had reached out and made that phone call, and then towards the end of it they're like, "Well what else can we do to help you with your decision?" And I was like, "Really? You really know what you can do?" They're like, "Yeah." I was like, "Call my mama." I still, to this day, still don't know what they said to her, but they did call her. 'Cause she told me, she was like, "Did you give them my number?" I was like, "Yes, I did." And they called her, and I don't know... It was, they must have had some kind of conversation because that was around the time when she started to soften to the idea. She was like, "Well, you're not going out there alone." And I think that was the only school that called me.
Maurice Cherry: Wow. No that's good that Stanford reached out in that way. 'Cause I can see a mom being sort of scared that you're going out there and you're not going to have, honestly, like these basic things that you're talking about like hair, food, other black people. Those are important things when you're going off into this stage of life as a black person. So, I'm glad that they were to call and that it sort of put you on the path to kind of where you are right now.
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: Yeah. Yeah. It was definitely a big moment for me, when I look back on that very, very, very warmly, and I hope they still do it.
Maurice Cherry: So, I want to kind of shift gears here a little bit and talk about inclusive design. So, I was looking and doing... Just sort of looking at some of the research that you've done. And then when you're in Intel, you did some really fascinating research around autonomous vehicles. Even the work that you're doing right now at Facebook with UX research, you're talking to so many different people, taking into account all of these sorts of viewpoints. How would you define inclusive design, and can you talk a little bit about sort of why that should be important for designers?
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: Inclusive design should be important, not just for designers, but for anybody who's involved with building a product or service. So, whether you're an engineer or whether you're the person in HR who recruits these persons, everybody should have inclusive design at the heart of whatever it is they're building and working on. Because at the center is a human. Each human is different. Now this means that with everybody being different, we need to draw on all of the different experiences that everyone brings to the table. So, in order to have inclusive design, you need to have an inclusive team. And by inclusive team, yes, that can mean... And I'm very cognizant of the fact that I sit at the intersection of many identities. I am black. I am a woman. I am sometimes the only Ph.D. in a room. And sometimes I'm the only mother sitting in a room. I'm a new mom. Ish. Newish mom.
Maurice Cherry: Congratulations.
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: Thank you. So sometimes I'm the only mom sitting in a room. So I'm very cognizant of that, of all those different identities and different experiences that I bring to the table. In addition, I also want to make sure that other people's voices are heard, as well, at the table. For example, I know for a fact that I'm not colorblind, and I don't have some of the different disabilities that different humans have. However, I want to make sure that their voices are heard at that table. So, how do we get those folks at the table? How do I find them? How do we get them to be in the conversation? Because we shouldn't just be designing for them. We should be designing with them.
Maurice Cherry: And with that sort of inclusive education, I want to say it starts in schools only 'cause we're talking education classrooms and such. But I know that companies like Facebook do a lot of outward recruiting to other communities to try and make sure that they're getting those viewpoints from people that might not necessarily be at the table when they're coming up with these decisions.
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: Well, I can't speak to the different activities that Facebook does just because I've only been there for... I guess it's been about nine months. And I'm still learning ropes. Sometimes I don't know where the bathroom is. So, basic stuff. So, I can't speak to the different outreach and community activities that Facebook does.
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: However, I can speak to the fact that I'm there. They recruited me. 'Cause how I got to Facebook, I wasn't looking for a job at Facebook. A recruiter reached out to me based on my credentials and a summary and some bio information that she had seen, and she reached out to me, and that's how that process started. So that, to me, indicates that they have persons in HR and in their recruiting who are thinking about, "Hey, how do we bring in these other persons? How do we find them beyond the traditional pipeline that we already have." So they're thinking about it. So, well, I'm an example. You can use me as an example. You could use me as a data point. However, you need to make the justification to your stakeholders and your colleagues about looking at nontraditional means of recruiting.
Maurice Cherry: Now, I know that a lot of companies try to go the route of almost putting it on their employees of color to be that recruitment arm in a way, which, I don't know. I see the utility in it, but also I don't think that's fair 'cause it's like an added burden in a way. And I'm not speaking to what you're talking about. But I have worked with companies before that have been like, "Oh, well, we can just ask our black employees if they know someone." And maybe they do, maybe they don't.
Maurice Cherry: I think what often can end up happening with that is because you're only looking from within the networks of your employees, there's still a bit of kind of a cloistered... I don't know. It's like a cloistered viewpoint as it relates to branching out from there because, of course, you want people to come and be a culture fit, and you think it makes sense, well, if you hire this person, then this person's friend should also be good. Right? Sort of? It's a weird kind of thing that I see a lot of companies kind of fall back on almost as like a crutch.
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: Maybe don't look for a cultural fit all the time. Let's start there. Maybe find a round peg instead of a square peg. Let's start there.
Maurice Cherry: Now see you shaking the table with that one because that's a lot of tech companies that are like, oh, when you say tech company, there's agencies that are like that too that are, I don't know, they want to be all about the culture fit, but then the culture is normally ended up shaped by a lot of very traditional, maybe sometimes archaic, ways.
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: And toxic.
Maurice Cherry: And toxic ways. Exactly. Like I know some agencies will only hire other people that have worked at other agencies. Well, what if you want to work for an agency but don't have agency experience? You may have the background, but because you haven't worked at an agency, all of a sudden that disqualifies you from working at an agency? It's a weird sort of thing.
Maurice Cherry: I know that Google does this... I don't know... Google and Apple are doing this thing now where they're not even looking at college degrees for applicants. So, they're looking more so at their experience and projects and things that they've done then seeing what school they went to... To I guess try to, I don't know, break that pipeline, which I think is a kind of an interesting method to take.
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: It's an interesting method to take, but you still need to be aware of the bias in that kind of a method. Because, for example, like I was saying about inclusive design starts with inclusive education. I didn't have a tech in science background when I was in high school, so I would have been... I wouldn't have had any experiences or projects that would've fit into what they're looking for. So. You got to be careful with that kind of method too.
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: And I think at the end of the day, the best method is to do like a systems design method and that you look at all the different pieces. Don't just go with one method to get to your goal. Find different paths to get to that milestone or get to that achievement you're trying to get to.
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: But don't just look at just, okay, we have to go from here to here. We can only do these two things. And I think what really restricts tech companies is that they... There's always this idea of, "Oh well there's not enough resources to go around to do all these different things and we have to prioritize. We can only do three." Like, "Oh, you know, these are 10 great ideas, but we can only do the three ideas that are going to have the biggest impact." And the other seven ideas just fall off by the wayside.
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: And I think that's where the reduction comes in. There's a reduction in innovation and in ideas that are generated. And, yeah, and like, "Oh, okay, well we can only go recruit at these five schools. Yeah. Because we don't have enough resources." You need to figure out a way to scale. You're in tech, figure out how to scale. That's what we're all... that's part of what we're all here for, right? We're all here to figure out how to scale, how to scale, how to scale. Well, how do we scale our methods for recruiting and for getting those diverse and inclusive voices at the table.
Maurice Cherry: And I know we're talking about companies here, too, but I would say that even also applies with education, too. I mean I've had so many students, educators, or even just alumni on the show that have talked about how they might've felt like they were the only one in their department or they don't feel like they're being heard because the topics or things that they're bringing up or want to discuss are just so different from what everyone else is talking about.
Maurice Cherry: So. I think about inclusive education. I don't know, my mind kind of initially goes there and to thinking like, well these sorts of design schools and design programs and such also need to get with the program, as well, as it relates to just listening to students' needs, maybe bringing in other speakers or something like that. A lot of them tend to follow really basic, kind of archaic, methods of sort of teaching their students.
Maurice Cherry: And one thing I've been hearing about it... I don't know if you've heard about this concept around decolonizing design. Have you heard about this? So, I don't know who initially came up with it, but I've heard Dori Tunstall talk about it. She's Dean at OCAD in Toronto. Who else have I heard talking about it? Amelie Lamont. They've both been on the show. But decolonizing design is around this concept of kind of de-centering design from this Eurocentric point of view and looking more at like design in the world. Like what's designed in Japan? Or throughout parts of Africa? Or South America, et cetera. And not looking at just Swiss or German or French...
Maurice Cherry: ... kind of Swiss or German or French design is the basis of what you should know in terms of being an adequate designer. Because then what ends up happening is even if you [inaudible 00:38:12] say have a diverse class, they've all kind of learned the same thing from the same rubric and they take that out there into the world where the companies that they work at and it just kind of, you know, it sort of perpetuates it. Where you may think that there is some level of diversity because you've got people with different ages and races, et cetera, but they've still all learned the same basic things. So it's like it's diverse but not inclusive in that kind of weird way.
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: Yeah. Like the curriculum itself, right?
Maurice Cherry: Yeah. Right. Like the curriculum itself.
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: And who's creating the curriculums?
Maurice Cherry: Hmm, see?
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: Exactly. That's why I say it's all a big system, right?
Maurice Cherry: Yeah.
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: Yeah. Who's creating the curriculum? You know, you're right. I've been a big advocate for always ... whenever I'm asked to talk on any kind of college panels, because sometimes I get asked to talk on Stanford alumni panels here and there, and I'm always a big advocate and big voice about, "Hey the stuff you learn in the books, those concepts and theories, that stuff doesn't change. That that's going to be there. What you need to be more concerned about is the stuff outside the classroom, the experiences you have."
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: And you're absolutely right. There should be, for those type of design career curricula, I think that they should all have real-world experiences attached to them as their capstone project or something. And by real-world experience, I mean go work with a nonprofit kind of thing. Go work with a nonprofit or go work in the education system or go work with rural farmers in South Africa. I don't know.
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: But yeah, they should. They should definitely expose their students to these different experiences because that's going to impact how they think and what they bring to the table as an inclusive voice when they get to the design table.
Maurice Cherry: Absolutely. I mentioned before you had done some research around autonomous vehicles when you were, I think you're working at Intel when you were doing that research?
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: Yeah, that's right.
Maurice Cherry: And something that we've been seeing a lot of I think from ride sharing companies and even from, I think just other companies trying to get into this space is the self-driving car. I think it's Uber that already has self-driving trucks like big, 18-wheeler rig trucks that go between a stretch. I think it's between California and Nevada or something like that.
Maurice Cherry: I'm curious to kind of get your take on where the autonomous vehicle market is right now. Where do you see it going with the research that you've done so far?
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: So the research that I did was more on the consumer side. The different personas and interviews and such that I was doing, it was on accessibility. We were looking at different types of riders, or ride share service, and it was interesting because the one thing that kept coming out of that research was, "I just don't trust it."
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: So trust ended up being this huge nebulous hairy, gnarly concept that we could never quite get ourselves around to figuring out. Trust in autonomous machines, it's not just vehicles but machines in general. But looking at how we can use autonomous vehicles for improving access to different communities and providing them the opportunity to move within their communities to other communities. However, we still need to be really concerned about the data that the cars are using to create their algorithms and to make their decisions because where is that data coming from?
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: Who was collecting that data? Again, if we don't have inclusive voices at that table and helping to shape the data that we're collecting, then all the data we're going to collect is going to be from the point of view of the ideal town or an ideal city setting.
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: And it's like, "Hey, is anybody collecting data from Bankhead?" Because you're from Atlanta, right?
Maurice Cherry: Yeah. No that's true.
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: Are they collecting driving data from Bankhead? Because if you're not collecting driving data from Bankhead then the type of decisions and the vehicle designs, et cetera, the decisions that the vehicles are going to make are not going to be inclusive of different types of riders.
Maurice Cherry: Oh wow. No, I was just thinking of-
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: Bankhead?
Maurice Cherry: No, no, no, no, no. Not of Bankhead. But so usually when I'm flying back to Atlanta I ... I mean, I love now that I can take Uber or Lyft from the airport to get home because whenever I would try to catch a cab ... so I live in the West End. Cabs wouldn't go to the West End.
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: Nope.
Maurice Cherry: They'll tell you, "Look, we'll take you downtown, which is past the West End, but we're not taking you to the West End." And this can be middle of the day, suns out, birds chirping, whatever. They're not going to the West End. I'm not talking about late at night. Like they won't even go in the middle of the day. And so I was glad that these ride sharing services are around because they'll take you where you need to go.
Maurice Cherry: Now I'm thinking, what if there's autonomous Lyft or autonomous Uber right now that's also like, "Oh, we don't service those neighborhoods." And it's like, why not? I've been a long-time customer and have lived in that neighborhood. Like, oh man, see this is some Black Mirror kind of stuff now you got me thinking.
Maurice Cherry: Now you got me thinking about worst alternative. But no, that's stuff that we need to know. I mean that's good data that like you say, inclusive design helps inform those kinds of things so those decisions don't end up being made on a whim. Wow. Yeah, that would suck if I got into a self driving car and they're like, "Yeah, we're not taking you there, we'll take you somewhere else." Like that just sounds like the beginning of a science fiction story. That's wild. Yeah.
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: Like, "Do you really want to go there?"
Maurice Cherry: Right. "We'll take you to ..." And then they just like read off some other random address or something.
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: [inaudible 00:44:29] Midtown.
Maurice Cherry: Right, right. We'll take it in Midtown and whatever. So with everything that you've accomplished, I mean, what is it that sort of helps with these ambitions that you have? You certainly have paved your own way, going to Stanford, going to North Carolina A & T, getting your PhD, working at Facebook. What drives you to succeed like this?
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: Honestly, nowadays, and again, this is completely cliche and I thought I would never be at this point in my life, but it's my baby. No matter how tough a day I may have, no matter how tired or exhausted I may be, because I do travel a lot for work, when I see his smile I just light up and it's like, "Oh, okay. It's okay. It is okay."
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: And I think about what I've done and how that's going to put him a different race than the one that I've been in. He's going to have his own race. He's going to have his own challenges because he is growing up as a little black boy in this country. So he's going to have his own challenges. But I do hope that with all of the work that I've done that I've built a foundation for him that will allow him to be in a different race than the race that I've been in.
Maurice Cherry: What are you most excited about at the moment? Is there any like research or anything that you're working on?
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: Oh, not ... let me think about that. There's a couple of things that I'm really interested in, one of which is, I want to look at how big data can help empowering marginalized and oppressed communities in regards to healthcare. Because with the repeal of the Affordable Healthcare Act, and unfortunately I don't think healthcare is going to be getting any better in this country.
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: I think that the communities that are going to be hit the hardest are the marginalized communities, our communities. And I honestly believe that we can use technology and all the data that's already available to us to help us come up with ways to figure that out. To figure that out, to improve the health of those marginalized communities because if we can improve the health of marginalized communities, then overall that's going to increase the workforce, the economy, education. So yeah, that's something I've been toying around with a bit and that's like a passion personal thing. I've just been thinking about how we can do that.
Maurice Cherry: When you look back at your career, your educational career as well as working at Intel, IBM, Facebook, et cetera. What do you wish that you would've known when you first started?
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: Honestly, nothing. And I'll tell you why. In retrospect, I don't regret any of the experiences that I've had because with each one I have learned something. I made sure I learned something from each experience I had and what I kind of became known for telling younger interns is I kind of became known for telling them, "Hey, use your internship to figure out two things: what you don't want to do and where you don't want to live. Because the chances of you finding that perfect job with that perfect boss and that perfect team and the perfect product in the perfect city at the perfect company, it's going to be kind of slim if you're an intern. I'm not saying it's impossible, all things are possible, but it's going to be a very slim chance of that happening. So figure out what you don't want to do and cross those things off your list."
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: For example, I worked at GE Transportation one summer and from that experience I figured like, you know what, I do not like wearing a hardhat to work everyday, hard hat and steel toe boots. I don't like it. Some people like it and they're fine with it. I don't like doing it every day. I don't want to do it once a week. I don't want to do it. So I figured out like you know what going in the future no matter what career or job or company I end up at, I don't want to have that as part of my job responsibilities. And that's something I can talk about or speak to in interviews because those kind of questions come up in interviews, right? Like, "Oh, well, what kind of a team or what kind of environment is ideal for you?" One where I don't have to wear a hardhat and steel toe boots.
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: And then the second part of that is figuring out where you don't want to live. That summer I lived in a place called Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania. Population, maybe like 800 or something. I don't know. But what I figured out from that particular internship is that, you know what? I do not want to live in a small town where I have to drive ... actually it wasn't about being in a small town. I didn't want to live in a town where I had to drive an hour and a half to two hours to get my hair pressed.
Maurice Cherry: Hmm. Yeah. That's ... ooh, it might take you that long even when you get to the salon and they have to wait.
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: Exactly. And there was something that I called my own diversity indicator when I was comparing job options that I have been given. I was like, "Okay, how many options do I have to get my hair done within a 30 minute drive?" And that's how I ... because some people are like, "How did you end up in Portland, Oregon?" I was like, "Actually it's a lot more diverse than you think it is because I had several options available for me to get my hair done."
Maurice Cherry: Yeah. I mean I think that's something when people look at places to move to, it's not just about the opportunity for work, you're not going to be at work 24/7. What are you going to do outside of work? What is the city like? What's the mass transit? I mean you can visit, but I mean any other research that you can do, especially around like haircare and stuff like that for us? Yeah, I totally understand that. Where do you see yourself in the next five years or so? What kind of work do you want to be doing?
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: Next five years or so? Probably still working in the advertising and marketing space. It's fascinating to me because of the different technology that marketers and advertisers have available to them. However, on the other side of it, I see the potential for problems that can come from it. A good example is having algorithms that allow marketers or advertisers to only market real estate to certain communities or certain audiences or demographics.
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: That's a potential downside to this. But there's so much on the upside to it. The opposite of that is now we can have markers and advertisers, they can have access to much larger pools of people than what they previously had access to. So that means more people can have access to real estate opportunities in areas they hadn't even considered before.
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: So it's an interesting space to be in and I'm excited to learn more about it and how to support those marketers and advertisers to make the best decisions possible for their businesses, but then also make the best decision as possible for their communities.
Maurice Cherry: And now just to kind of wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more about you or about your work or your research online?
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: So I don't have a website. I probably should get one. Something I've been playing around with ever since I was on maternity leave. But yeah, the best way I think to probably reach me is on LinkedIn. Quaneisha Penha. Actually on Facebook as well. I'm pretty open on Facebook. Same thing, same name, Quaneisha Penha.
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: And then I do have a researcher bio on the Facebook page, I think it's research.facebook.com and you can actually go in there and you can see the different researchers in our areas and our little bio's and stuff. I know I always give that to customers that I reach out to for interviews so that way they know that I'm real. That way they know that I'm real and I'm not like a troll or a bot or something trying to set them up. Like no, you can actually see my bio and my picture and my face. So yeah, the Facebook, research.facebook.com.
Maurice Cherry: All right, well I'll make sure we link to all of that in the show notes. Wow, Quaneisha Penha, thank you so much for coming on the show. Thank you for sharing. I mean one, the research that you're doing at Facebook and even the research that you've done before. But also just talking about your journey from growing up in Jersey, going to Stanford, to where you are right now.
Maurice Cherry: I think it is important to show that there was more than one path to get into this industry or to work in this industry. There's so many different places that you can land. And I really liked what you had to say about kind of ... That's good advice for interns. But I think that's for a lot of people like find out what you don't want to do and where you don't want to live because you'll find that will inform decisions a lot more than just what you do like. I'm not saying that you have to be negative, but you know, it helps. Thank you again so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: Thank you. I enjoy the conversation and especially talking to somebody else who knows about crazy Atlanta. I don't meet many folks from Atlanta in Seattle. So when I described certain things and they're like, "What?" And like, "Why is there a circle around your city?"
Maurice Cherry: Oh, the perimeter. Yeah. People don't really understand the perimeter. That's true. That is true. But yeah, again, thank you for coming on the show.
Dr. Quaneisha Penha: Thank you and I look forward to being able to link out to it because my colleagues and everybody, they're very excited to hear about it including the baby.