Mellon Alumnus and now Program Manager on Bill Gates' technology assistance
team at Microsoft.
---Who is JJ Cadiz?---
What attracted you to Carnegie Mellon?
I was really impressed by CMU's reputation for world class research and its specific focus on human computer interaction (HCI) as a primary field of study. Other schools had HCI as a specialty attached to computer science programs or information science programs, but only CMU had its own HCI Institute and degree program.
What was your favorite class and why?
My favorite class was the capstone HCI project course where I worked on a team of 7 people to develop a product concept for a sponsor. In my case, our sponsor was Interval Research, and our goal was to develop a novel product concept for teenagers that utilized Bluetooth technology.
The work itself was great because we were given a good amount of freedom to apply everything we had learned over the past two years to an interesting problem. However, I think what made the class so much fun was the people I got to work with. Everyone on my team was great. It was the kind of team that I looked forward to working with every day.
Who was your favorite professor and why?
Dr. Bob Kraut was my favorite professor because of everything he taught me about the social impacts of technology and how to study the effects of technology. Prior to coming to CMU I concentrated primarily on developing cool ideas without much regard for the effects of those ideas or the needs that people have.
I also liked Dr. Kraut because he held his students to high standards. He was also a great racquetball partner :-)
What was the best thing about living in Pittsburgh?
Because I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, there were two things that
really stuck in my mind about Pittsburgh life: the incredible thunderstorms
and the vivid colors of the leaves in the fall. The thunderstorms and
leaves in Oregon and Washington are pretty
What opportunities do you feel you had at Carnegie Mellon that you wouldn't have had at another university?
At CMU, I felt that I had the opportunity to learn from the best researchers in the world in a variety of fields. It was great to have classes taught by such talented computer scientists, social psychologists, and designers.
I think the CMU experience that prepared me the most for my professional
challenges was the constant exposure to students and professors in other
fields. In my current job, I interact with a wide variety of people--people
who have different academic backgrounds, different areas of expertise,
and different ways of approaching problems. At CMU, I got to work on teams
with all kinds of different people (physicists, visual
I'm the most proud of the fact that despite being insanely busy over
Two things--first, be prepared to work very hard. I have yet to encounter an obstacle so great that it couldn't be overcome with lots of focused, dedicated work. Second, all that hard work is worth it in the end. I have no regrets about all the time I spent at school.
What I hope we'll see next is a revolution in how people spend their
leisure time. Research has found that Americans spend an average of 3
to 4 hours every day watching television, and television watching is one
of the least gratifying experiences that people do (it's even been found
to be less gratifying than work!). It would be great if technology
I work as a program manager on Bill Gates' technology assistance team headed by Dr. Anoop Gupta (CS'82,'86) (also a CMU alumnus). My specific role is two-fold. First, I work on a variety of software prototypes with a pair of world-class developers. We take ideas that have promise but have yet to be proven, implement them, and deploy them. We then refine the prototype based on customer feedback until everybody is convinced that the idea should become a product, or we've found that idea isn't ready for prime time and shouldn't become a product yet.
Second, I provide support for Anoop in his role as Bill's technology assistant. For example, I do lots of technology demonstrations to Microsoft's senior executives to educate them about emerging fields. I also organize the material for Bill's Think Weeks when he takes a week off to read various papers from around the company and think about long-term strategic issues.
The main research project I just completed was called "Sideshow."
Its goal was to design an interface for the Windows desktop that could
help people stay aware of all the important information in their world
without being overwhelming or distracting. We wanted to provide a single
place where people could see an overview of things like their
We designed Sideshow as a bar that is always visible on one edge of your screen. It's filled with tiny summaries of information, and if something looks interesting, you can hover your mouse over the summary to get more information. The bar is completely customizable and extensible so with a little programming, you can place summaries on the bar of specific information that you want to track. For example, if you're a software developer, you can use Sideshow to keep track of all the bug reports that are assigned to you.
My team designed Sideshow and then released it within Microsoft to see if people liked the concept. Eventually, about 13,000 employees installed Sideshow and about 7,000 were using it on a regular basis. The product groups were convinced that it was a great concept, and Sideshow's ideas now appear in MSN 8 as a feature called the "Dashboard." It's my hope that Sideshow will also appear in other products in the future.
A paper about Sideshow is available at
One interesting thing is that my work in the area of information awareness started at CMU when I was a member of a DARPA-funded research team led by Drs. Bob Kraut and Bill Scherlis. When I was on that team, I did a prototype that wasn't very successful, but I was able to use a lot of the lessons from that experience when it came to designing Sideshow.
Interviewer: Tina Carr, Director SCS Alumni Relations