Monday, October 6, 2008

Presenting Blaine!

For the next installment in the series that has been emerging -- "people I look up to," one might say -- I have the pleasure of introducing Blaine Hoffman, an advanced graduate student from the CSCL Lab headed by Jack Carroll and Mary Beth Rosson.

Blaine began his career as a doctoral student in IST in 2005. Prior to that, he double-majored in computer science and communications at Denison University (in my home state! although Blaine is from Delaware). Even as a fresh undergraduate, Blaine knew that he wanted to learn about both the technical and social components of computing. Coming to IST after graduating from Denison was a natural step.

According to Blaine's website, his research interests include "virtual community building and support, open-source software, design based research, creativity in relation to software, interface design, wireless technologies and their role(s) in communities, usability, design, video games and associated communities." That's a lot of interests, and the broad range is not uncommon for an IST student. Like many students whose research is computer-science based (in Blaine's case, HCI), his research tends to be published at confereces (and not in journals). Blaine has publications at the First International Workshop on Social Computing, Behavioral Modeling, and Prediction, the 10th INFORMS Computing Society conference, and Conference on Designing Interactive Systems 2006. He has also served as a reviewer for CHI 2007 and 2008 and DIS 2006.

It is evident from reading Blaine's website that his extracurricular interests and his research interests fit together very well. Although of course his hobbies include activities unrelated to IST (such as fiction, debate, and philosophy), he's an avid video gamer and enjoys web design and computer gadgetry. I work with Blaine on the Wireless State College research team, and I can personally report that his computing skills are excellent, and he seems to have a natural inclination to working with all sorts of technical tools -- and a genuine interest in discovering more.

Academically speaking, Blaine and I have a lot in common. I was also interested as an undergraduate in learning about both technical subjects and human communication: I majored in computer information systems, and I minored in English studies. Our similar paths drew us both to HCI, and we now work not only for the same advisor in the same lab, but on the same project. Of course, we diverge in some ways. For starters, Blaine is part of the "software team" within the Wireless project, whereas I work more as a social scientists and requirements gatherer, conducting interviews and focus groups to learn more about how wireless might benefit the community. This difference makes a lot of sense when I consider that Blaine seems to be more passionate about the technology piece of IST than I am. Although of course I am interested in technology, I do not tend to "junk around" with it at home, playing with computer gadgets and trying to make them better. I have never been a gamer, and until college, I had never programmed or done anything more technically advanced than create a basic HTML webpage.

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