Future Leaders Forum

A few weeks ago I spoke about my trip to New Orleans to participate in the newly formed Future Leaders Forum, which brought close to 300 students together, from across the country, to learn lessons from a world class panel of speakers.

I’ve been excited for this trip since I was still in Shanghai; It was the grand finale of the IEEE SPA (Student Professional Activities) re-branding that Jonathan and I have been working on since 2013. The SPA-Committee has been hard at work for over a year to pull this event together, and the line-up of speakers was truly world class. So when Guru and Jonathan asked me to present at the forum, I immediately took their offer.

It was clear from the beginning that this wasn’t a typical IEEE conference; Keeping with the themes that the team has been discussing for the past 3 years, Guru and Nicole created the event from the ground up, incorporating design thinking at every level. By thinking from the perspective of the students, the event was engaging, diverse, and most of all, a complete experience.

The idea of a complete experience is worth expanding on. Many conferences from professional groups tend to be a very dry affair; You fly into whatever hotel the conference is held at (typically the hotel next to the airport, if possible), and spend all day in meetings and talks. There’s a few breaks in between, and if you’re lucky, there’s a nice dinner included with it. Seldom do you get to actually see the city (despite the fact that you’ve traveled), or have a chance to experience the local culture (since the food will be safe and generic to accommodate everyone).

The Future Leaders Forum achieved what many of these conferences don’t do; It incorporated the location as a meaningful addition to the event. Over the course of the weekend, I had the chance to experience a steam boat ride, eat plenty of New Orleans food at Mardi Gras World, and even got to hear an inspiring talk by Chris Washburne on Jazz Leadership. How cool is that?

Chris Washburne and his band performing during their talk on Jazz Leadership

Over the entire course of the event, I couldn’t help but think that this really was something special and spectacular, from the students that attended, to the many awesome speakers that attended the talk.

Tenaya Hurst from Rogue Making, who works for *gasp* Arduino (As I’ve found out)

One of the most exciting things I got to do at the Forum was to work with Jonathan again on a talk. After a long Shanghai-Induced hiatus, I was itching to get back into presenting to eager students state-side, especially with Jonathan at my side. We spoke about the Circles of VICtory, and how to incorporate creativity into engineering. We had a fantastic turnout of over 60 students at our talk!

Overall, I’m super, super glad to have attended the FLF, and excited to attend again when/if another one is planned!


So it’s been a few weeks since this happened, and I finally got around to talking about this having processed it all.

I’ve left Walt Disney Imagineering since early June.

The whole thing came as a surprise since I was actually expecting to be put on a new project, based on what I’ve heard from management at the end of February when I asked what I was going to be doing Shanghai.

The official wording is that my contract has been completed and my role no longer is needed. While technically true, I did wish that there was a little bit more warning.

I’ve been asked whether I hate Disney now that I’m no longer working for them; I still think that working for Disney, particularly at WDI, was one of the best jobs I’ve ever worked at. The things I’ve learned there will assuredly be of use for the rest of my life; Working at WDI taught me the value of ideation, and the skills and mindset that allows for that to occur.

Things are never as bad as they seem. I took a week off after my time with Disney was over and started looking at other opportunities, not just for work, but what I want to be doing next. I started planning for things that I never had time for while I was working at WDI. It’s been refreshing being able to fully commit myself to whatever I wanted to do. Having played victim to the “I-wish-I-had-more-time-but-work-is-in-the-way” syndrome, now I really have no excuse.

The day I left Disney became the day when I started to hold myself fully accountable. It’s a scary and confusing road, but one that I’m okay with going down.

My new life with Virtual Reality

Jonathan and I were eating at the Indian place that we like near our work when I got a call from my landlord.

A large package was sitting in front of my door. “A Large package?” I pondered, wondering what exactly it was that I bought that could’ve been described as large.

Surely it wasn’t the HTC Vive that I bought? It would’ve been a few days earlier than expected. Nonetheless, Jonathan and I quickly finished our meal and headed  back to the apartment.

Much to our surprise, it was indeed the Vive. Without exchanging a word, we both knew what we’d be doing for the rest of the day.

The box was some of the most beautiful packaging I’ve seen

The packaging of the Vive is quite well designed. The box exudes a sense of luxury, with ample packing foam. The box is actually much larger than needed, but it’s cool looking enough that I would consider putting the front up on a wall.

The unit itself is the centerpiece of the whole thing. It’s not an elegant design as compared to its competitor, Oculus Rift, but then again, it’s more about the functionality over the aesthetics when it comes to prototype/developer stuff, in my opinion.

Setting it up was not terrible, but it did take us about an hour. I had some tools available, so getting to work making a hole in the wall to screw the lighthouse sensors on wasn’t a huge issue. I would imagine that someone with no tools or not allowed to make holes in the wall would find this step more challenging. It was easy sailing for the rest of it; As the Vive Setup took us through all the steps of setting up the room, pairing with the sensors, and creating measurements. I had the games downloading while Jonathan and I finished the hardware setup so it would be ready as soon as we finish the calibration steps.

The workstation, converted into a VR system.

The first game we had to try was The Lab by Valve. Online posts tout this as the definitive “First” VR experience, and they were absolutely right. Stepping into the Lab, I was immediately enthralled by the lush landscapes of Vesper Peak, a mountain range near Valve’s headquarters. A portal-esque puppy approaches on the horizon, and I bend down to touch it. It reacts. The feedback was immediate and it all felt very natural. I’m not arbitrarily pushing a button to interact with the dog, I’m simply interacting with it.

Soon it was time to try something more active. I loaded up Longbow, another mini-game from The Lab that has you defending a castle from a Viking horde. The bow mechanic had the player nock the arrow into the bow using both hands, and move their arms to aim and shoot the bow. Having used a bow before, it felt immersive and intuitive.

Jonathan and I tried a few more experiences before the day was done, but I knew that this was the beginning of something special.

New Orleans – Food, Music, and Culture

This weekend, I spent a few days in New Orleans to participate in the future leader’s forum. Of course, no visit to New Orleans can be complete without experiencing the food, music and culture that the city has to offer. After arriving at MSY around 6AM, I rode an airport shuttle that took me directly to the Intercontinental Hotel, which was a convenient location to visit the French quarter.

Our first stop took us to Mother’s, an restaurant that locals call an institution of New Orleans. They are most famous for their Po’ Boys, which is a traditional sandwich from Louisiana that contains sloppy roast beef with some history. Originally known as a “Poor Boy”, the sandwich uses french bread and roast beef that has been seasoned with beef stock for several hours until it falls apart, then simmered some more to absorb the flavor.

A Po’ Boy at Mother’s, near the French Quarter

Of course, I also got a chance to try some real southern grits, which is hard to come by in California:

A southern breakfast isn’t complete without some grits!

The flavor of the grits reminds me a little of cornbread with a neutral taste; It’s meant to be used as a vehicle for other flavors and condiments. Typically, salt, pepper, butter, and hot sauce is provided to allow patrons to enjoy grits to taste. I ended up using copious amounts of their in-house hot sauce on mine. Definitely not my go-to, but I can certainly appreciate.

Walking further into the French quarter, we pass into the Marina and ended up at Cafe Du Monde, an icon of New Orleans and the uncontested place to get the best Beignets. This was when I began to understand the style of the food here in New Orleans; The powdered sugar stacked high screams of a decadence that few other cuisines can boast. The dessert was merrily enjoyed and the coffee was a great pick-me-up amid the hot summer day.

The original cafe du monde
The original cafe du monde

During our trip, the conference also provided a dinner party on a boat; we had a chance to enjoy a trip down the Mississippi river on the Natchez, an authentic steamboat that has been repurposed for entertainment. We were able to visit the engine room, as well as take in some of the local Jazz music while on the boat.

Jazz Band on the Natchez, going down the Mississippi river

The conference also took its attendees to Mardi Gras World, the warehouse where all of the parade floats are kept each year, and where some of them are made.

Not creepy at all if you don't have a fear of clowns
Not creepy at all if you don’t have a fear of clowns

There was actually a venue at the back of Mardi Gras world that is very reminiscent of the Blue Bayou; A southern night scene with a faux plantation style house in the background.

Overall I had an amazing trip this summer to New Orleans; I was very glad that the conference incorporated many of the city’s offerings, and have found the people there to be quite friendly and the food delicious. I’m looking forward to visiting again during the food and wine festival in February!