Planting seeds of mindfulness in engineers

I kicked off my UX Design class at the Silicon Valley campus of the integrated innovation institute of the Carnegie Mellon University yesterday.

For the past 14 years I have lived on the fringes of the Silicon Valley where I moved from the Midwest. I choose to remain on the fringes because I am not and do not want to become a techie. My approach is to Humanize technology and Democratize design. As a part of this approach I enjoy expanding the consciousness and imagination of those who are obsessed with technology and the disruption it can cause.

I agreed to teach at the CMU because it is training software engineers to become product managers. I see in this class an opportunity to sow the seeds of humanitarian consciousness in the creators of technology enabled future. I have learned that obsession with technology can turn human mind into a destructive force in the society. On the other hand Mindfulness will make them more sensitive to the potential impact of their creations on the society and ecology.

The origin of the most caring and creative human interactions happens around the hearth. Keeping that in mind I invited all the students to a dinner in a tent outside the school building. I ordered individual sized pizza for all the students. It was a good way to get to know each other while serving the fire in the belly.

As we entered the class, I spread out about 20 books from my library that provide mindsets, methods and tools for humanitarian and ecological approach to design. The students were curious but I asked them to wait until after the keynote guest lecture.

Maya Bissiner, a product leader from GoDaddy graciously agreed to be my opening speaker for the second year. I invited Maya because she exemplifies the mindsets I want to cultivate in my students. A software engineer with infinite curiosity, compassion and a sense of purpose, Maya’s career journey is a perfect example my students to be inspired by. Her passion for mentoring women in tech makes her one of the leaders in tech who are challenging and changing the traditional mindset in this industry. Maya set the tone of the class with highly personalized stories of her journey. Her key message to the students was to go out in the real world, interact with users, and bring back sensitivity to their reality. She asked the students to always ask “why” they would build what they set out to build.

After Maya’s lecture, I gave a gift of Edward Tuftty’s book, “The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint: Pitching Out Corrupts Within.” to each student. I pointed out to them that though PowerPoint had become a most common platform for presentation in companies, as PMs they must become aware of how much PowerPoint impairs thinking and communication. I pointed out that this book will provide insights into how to communicate rather than present, how to encourage teams to reflect, think and have an open minded dialogue rather than follow the essence of somebody’s ideas reduced to bullet points and an elevator pitch.

I also formed five teams. During the semester each team will work on a project. I have selected projects from healthcare, education, automotive, energy management and food to cover a broad range of human life. I also gifted each team “Understanding Comics” by Scott McCloud. I explained to them, “You are good at writing code. You are good at building products. You need to learn to envision and express future experiences and inspire in engineers nuances of how those experiences will play out in the interactions they build. Comic Strips are a great medium to inspire imagination of scenarios. This book will teach you how to use the medium of comics to define high value scenarios.”

In my first lecture I asked them to obsess less about disruption and care more about three ways of affecting life through technology- simplify, improve and leapfrog. We talked about empathy. We discussed gentler ways of challenging and changing beliefs in an organization and creating an atmosphere of learning to adapt to emerging winds of change.

As I was walking to my car at the end of the class. One of the students offered to help me carry the suitcase in which I brought the books. Several students walked with me to the car. I could feel a sense of curiosity, enthusiasm and caring at the end of the day. The path to mindfulness has opened.

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