skip to Main Content
design lab cat hicks signalio

Cat Hicks Q&A: A Conversation about Google & her new start-up Signal IO

Cat Hicks Q&A: A Conversation about Google & her new start-up Signal IO

Cat Hicks Q&A: A Conversation about Google & her new start-up Signal IO

The Design Lab has long lasting impacts. Catherine Hicks has seen the Design Lab since its inception. After starting out as a postdoctoral researcher in the lab, she took her expertise to Google as a Learning Evaluation Analyst and is currently the co-founder of Signal IO, a startup that develops software to support engineering teams.

Q: How did you get involved in the Design Lab?

A: I met Scott Klemmer at UC San Diego while I was in the last year of my PhD in Experimental Psychology. We shared a research colleague who introduced us, and we had a long lunch together where we chatted about learning, technology, and cross-discipline challenges in bringing those things together. I quickly realized that across different backgrounds, we were interested in some of the same exciting problems.

Q: What was your role in the Design Lab?

A: During the Design Lab’s inaugural year, I was the first postdoc researcher in the lab, working with Scott’s research group on challenges in scaling learning, particularly for virtual environments. Along with Ailie Fraser and Vineet Pandey, I focused on questions about how we can take principles from learning science and put them into technology design in a way that supports adaptive human behavior. We were especially interested in the recent use cases for large online learning systems such as massive open online courses, but also in how future technology could cultivate a virtual studio environment. One of my long-standing research questions centers on how we can create safe spaces for giving feedback and disclosing mistakes, especially for people who are new to a domain.

Some of Scott’s students and collaborators at Stanford created a tool called Peer Studio, which was an online system that people could use to trade feedback on their work. I was interested in how peers help each other learn, and I wanted to ask what design choices push users toward more productive learning behaviors. We ran several experiments where we looked at different features that we could change in the tool itself—for example, how the system divided a review task , and whether or not users could see early drafts of work. These choices impacted the content of the reviews that people wrote: when users were able to see an earlier, rough draft version of the work they were reviewing, they gave more developmental and growth-oriented feedback.

Q: What is your relationship with Google and what work have you done since leaving the Design Lab?

A: I’ve had a few different relationships with Google. My first experience with research at Google was in 2013, when I joined the People Analytics team as a PhD intern and worked on some large statistical analyses exploring questions about internal mobility within the workforce. I joined the People Development team at Google fulltime in 2016 as a learning scientist and evaluation analyst. My experience there was varied and interesting, as I consulted across multiple teams to build out a research program that informed learning and development strategy for employees. I worked on a wide range of projects, from large survey analysis to qualitative interviewing projects.

Currently, with Chapman Snowden I’ve launched a San Francisco-based startup, Signal IO, which is centered on decreasing technical debt for engineering teams and increasing collaboration for developers. At Signal I’m both a co-founder and the head of research, which  has been a really fascinating opportunity for me to bring together my experience in academic learning science, high tech, and mixed-methods research.  My research focus started with the basic science behind learning environments. In the Design Lab, I got to apply that work towards the development of complex human-technology systems, and at Google, I worked to inform embedded systems within a nexus of business and development strategies. Now, I get to bring all of those pieces together into our startup work as we develop software that tackles day-to-day learning and decision-making processes for knowledge workers.

Q: How do you think the Design Lab influenced you?

A: The Design Lab has had a deep influence on my thinking: it provided an opportunity to get exposure to and learn from a diversity of talented and hard-working researchers, and fundamentally, to really think about how people with different backgrounds can come together to solve problems. The Design Lab built a culture that echoed the classical liberal arts belief that everyone should be able to immerse themselves broadly across multiple disciplines. When you are allowed to do that, especially as a young researcher, you get to live in an environment where you see more methods than you could have mastered on your own, and ask more questions than you could have tackled on your own. Something really lovely happens out of that, something that’s hard to find in more traditional academic spaces. The Design Lab was a very creative space, a space that prioritized interdisciplinary and collaborative problem-solving, and it’s a rare gift to get to live in that space.

The Design Lab has long lasting impacts. Catherine Hicks has seen the Design Lab since its inception. After starting out as a postdoctoral researcher in the lab, she took her expertise to Google as a Learning Evaluation Analyst and is currently the co-founder of Signal IO, a startup that develops software to support engineering teams.

Q: How did you get involved in the Design Lab?

A: I met Scott Klemmer at UC San Diego while I was in the last year of my PhD in Experimental Psychology. We shared a research colleague who introduced us, and we had a long lunch together where we chatted about learning, technology, and cross-discipline challenges in bringing those things together. I quickly realized that across different backgrounds, we were interested in some of the same exciting problems.

Q: What was your role in the Design Lab?

A: During the Design Lab’s inaugural year, I was the first postdoc researcher in the lab, working with Scott’s research group on challenges in scaling learning, particularly for virtual environments. Along with Ailie Fraser and Vineet Pandey, I focused on questions about how we can take principles from learning science and put them into technology design in a way that supports adaptive human behavior. We were especially interested in the recent use cases for large online learning systems such as massive open online courses, but also in how future technology could cultivate a virtual studio environment. One of my long-standing research questions centers on how we can create safe spaces for giving feedback and disclosing mistakes, especially for people who are new to a domain.

Some of Scott’s students and collaborators at Stanford created a tool called Peer Studio, which was an online system that people could use to trade feedback on their work. I was interested in how peers help each other learn, and I wanted to ask what design choices push users toward more productive learning behaviors. We ran several experiments where we looked at different features that we could change in the tool itself—for example, how the system divided a review task , and whether or not users could see early drafts of work. These choices impacted the content of the reviews that people wrote: when users were able to see an earlier, rough draft version of the work they were reviewing, they gave more developmental and growth-oriented feedback.

Q: What is your relationship with Google and what work have you done since leaving the Design Lab?

A: I’ve had a few different relationships with Google. My first experience with research at Google was in 2013, when I joined the People Analytics team as a PhD intern and worked on some large statistical analyses exploring questions about internal mobility within the workforce. I joined the People Development team at Google fulltime in 2016 as a learning scientist and evaluation analyst. My experience there was varied and interesting, as I consulted across multiple teams to build out a research program that informed learning and development strategy for employees. I worked on a wide range of projects, from large survey analysis to qualitative interviewing projects.

Currently, with Chapman Snowden I’ve launched a San Francisco-based startup, Signal IO, which is centered on decreasing technical debt for engineering teams and increasing collaboration for developers. At Signal I’m both a co-founder and the head of research, which  has been a really fascinating opportunity for me to bring together my experience in academic learning science, high tech, and mixed-methods research.  My research focus started with the basic science behind learning environments. In the Design Lab, I got to apply that work towards the development of complex human-technology systems, and at Google, I worked to inform embedded systems within a nexus of business and development strategies. Now, I get to bring all of those pieces together into our startup work as we develop software that tackles day-to-day learning and decision-making processes for knowledge workers.

Q: How do you think the Design Lab influenced you?

A: The Design Lab has had a deep influence on my thinking: it provided an opportunity to get exposure to and learn from a diversity of talented and hard-working researchers, and fundamentally, to really think about how people with different backgrounds can come together to solve problems. The Design Lab built a culture that echoed the classical liberal arts belief that everyone should be able to immerse themselves broadly across multiple disciplines. When you are allowed to do that, especially as a young researcher, you get to live in an environment where you see more methods than you could have mastered on your own, and ask more questions than you could have tackled on your own. Something really lovely happens out of that, something that’s hard to find in more traditional academic spaces. The Design Lab was a very creative space, a space that prioritized interdisciplinary and collaborative problem-solving, and it’s a rare gift to get to live in that space.

The Design Lab has long lasting impacts. Catherine Hicks has seen the Design Lab since its inception. After starting out as a postdoctoral researcher in the lab, she took her expertise to Google as a Learning Evaluation Analyst and is currently the co-founder of Signal IO, a startup that develops software to support engineering teams.

Q: How did you get involved in the Design Lab?

A: I met Scott Klemmer at UC San Diego while I was in the last year of my PhD in Experimental Psychology. We shared a research colleague who introduced us, and we had a long lunch together where we chatted about learning, technology, and cross-discipline challenges in bringing those things together. I quickly realized that across different backgrounds, we were interested in some of the same exciting problems.

Q: What was your role in the Design Lab?

A: During the Design Lab’s inaugural year, I was the first postdoc researcher in the lab, working with Scott’s research group on challenges in scaling learning, particularly for virtual environments. Along with Ailie Fraser and Vineet Pandey, I focused on questions about how we can take principles from learning science and put them into technology design in a way that supports adaptive human behavior. We were especially interested in the recent use cases for large online learning systems such as massive open online courses, but also in how future technology could cultivate a virtual studio environment. One of my long-standing research questions centers on how we can create safe spaces for giving feedback and disclosing mistakes, especially for people who are new to a domain.

Some of Scott’s students and collaborators at Stanford created a tool called Peer Studio, which was an online system that people could use to trade feedback on their work. I was interested in how peers help each other learn, and I wanted to ask what design choices push users toward more productive learning behaviors. We ran several experiments where we looked at different features that we could change in the tool itself—for example, how the system divided a review task , and whether or not users could see early drafts of work. These choices impacted the content of the reviews that people wrote: when users were able to see an earlier, rough draft version of the work they were reviewing, they gave more developmental and growth-oriented feedback.

Q: What is your relationship with Google and what work have you done since leaving the Design Lab?

A: I’ve had a few different relationships with Google. My first experience with research at Google was in 2013, when I joined the People Analytics team as a PhD intern and worked on some large statistical analyses exploring questions about internal mobility within the workforce. I joined the People Development team at Google fulltime in 2016 as a learning scientist and evaluation analyst. My experience there was varied and interesting, as I consulted across multiple teams to build out a research program that informed learning and development strategy for employees. I worked on a wide range of projects, from large survey analysis to qualitative interviewing projects.

Currently, with Chapman Snowden I’ve launched a San Francisco-based startup, Signal IO, which is centered on decreasing technical debt for engineering teams and increasing collaboration for developers. At Signal I’m both a co-founder and the head of research, which  has been a really fascinating opportunity for me to bring together my experience in academic learning science, high tech, and mixed-methods research.  My research focus started with the basic science behind learning environments. In the Design Lab, I got to apply that work towards the development of complex human-technology systems, and at Google, I worked to inform embedded systems within a nexus of business and development strategies. Now, I get to bring all of those pieces together into our startup work as we develop software that tackles day-to-day learning and decision-making processes for knowledge workers.

Q: How do you think the Design Lab influenced you?

A: The Design Lab has had a deep influence on my thinking: it provided an opportunity to get exposure to and learn from a diversity of talented and hard-working researchers, and fundamentally, to really think about how people with different backgrounds can come together to solve problems. The Design Lab built a culture that echoed the classical liberal arts belief that everyone should be able to immerse themselves broadly across multiple disciplines. When you are allowed to do that, especially as a young researcher, you get to live in an environment where you see more methods than you could have mastered on your own, and ask more questions than you could have tackled on your own. Something really lovely happens out of that, something that’s hard to find in more traditional academic spaces. The Design Lab was a very creative space, a space that prioritized interdisciplinary and collaborative problem-solving, and it’s a rare gift to get to live in that space.

Read Next

Design Lab Uc San Diego Don Norman Creative Education

Rethinking Design Education

Don Norman, Design Lab Director

The Challenge

The requirements of the 21st century are quite different than those of earlier years. New needs continually arise, along with new tools, technologies, and materials. Designers are starting to address some of the major societal issues facing the planet. Does design education prepare them to work with and lead the multidisciplinary teams required to work on these complex sociotechnical systems?

The Origins

We are embarking on a serious effort to rethink design education for the 21st century. We started with the multiple thoughtful articles in two special issues of the journal She Ji on design education (download from our website). This inspired us to assemble a team of senior designers from academia and business to serve as a steering committee to start a large effort to rethink design education.
UCSD Trolley Station

UCSD to create grand entrance to manage crushing growth, and welcome the public

"To see eyes looking at you matters. One pair of those eyes may give you a job offer, or help finance your startup, or help buy your first product off Kickstarter, or convince you what you’re doing isn’t solving real problems." — Scott Klemmer, Design Lab

In one of the biggest physical and social changes in school history, UC San Diego will create its first “front door,” a grand entrance meant to appeal as much to the public as students and ease crowding on a campus where enrollment could hit 40,000 this fall.
Plans are being drafted for a gateway that will blend art, culture, entertainment, dining, education and research — the same mix that helps funnel people from Westwood Village to UCLA.
Recycling

I’m an expert on complex design systems. Even I can’t figure out recycling.

Part 1 of a FastCompany editorial on Recycling by Don Norman

Recycling: The concept is pretty simple. Throw away stuff that can be melted down, chopped up, and made back into useful stuff. The problem is, I don’t understand how to do it.

For one, it’s difficult to find out what can and cannot be recycled. There are so many different kinds of paper goods, plastics, and metals, and worst of all, so many things that are combinations of materials or exotic new inventions of material science, that no list could possibly include every possible case. Secondly, the rules vary from location to location, and even at one location they can change from year to year. (“Check frequently with your recycler to see what their current requirements are,” reads one of the websites that tries to be helpful.)
Olga McConnell

Olga McConnell, Project Specialist and Executive Assistant to the Director of The Design Lab

As the Executive Assistant to the Director of The Design Lab, a project manager for the Lab’s special projects and annual events, and a lifelong learner who holds a M.A. in English Linguistics and Translation, and a M.B.A. in Business Administration and Management, Olga McConnell’s zest for knowledge is palpable. She is currently on track to complete a Project Management Certification at UC San Diego Extension at the end of 2021, and she is planning on obtaining her Project Management Professional (PMP) Certification after that. “I’m kind of addicted to getting degrees,” jokes McConnell. “I even thought the other day, maybe I’ll go to law school. And then I was like, no, enough, enough.” 

For nearly five years, McConnell was Executive Assistant to Don Norman, the Founding Director Emeritus of The Design Lab. She is now the Executive Assistant to the new Director of The Design Lab, Mai Thi Nguyen. It is Nguyen’s vision of human-technology-community interactions, along with her JEDI (justice, diversity, equity and inclusion) approach that has McConnell excited about this new chapter in the Lab’s legacy, saying, “I see how great she is as an efficient leader, so I’m really looking forward to working with her, supporting her administratively, as well as taking charge of certain projects that she has in mind.”
Seniors Technology

More Seniors Are Embracing Technology. But Can They Use It? UCSD Researchers Suggest Asking Them.

We’re told older adults are embracing technology more than ever. And there’s no doubt that inventors in the digital space are scrambling to find ways to market their platforms and tools to them. (Think high tech wearables that monitor everything from blood pressure to daily steps taken, screen magnification, talk-to-text and even assistive domotics and home robots.) Still we all know at least one older person who can barely text let alone maneuver mobile apps. So while they may be purchasing laptops, smart phones and tablets and all of the possibilities they intend, many older adults say they still don't feel confident about using them.
Back To Top