Innovation unwrapped: TJ Rhodes

We chatted with TJ Rhodes about being Adobe’s only hardware researcher and how he channels innovation while working from home.

By Adobe Life Team

Posted on: 08-12-2020

TJ Rhodes’ workspace is Adobe’s own version of Tony Stark’s laboratory, with gadgets and screens taking up every table surface. As a hardware research engineer, TJ’s job has two parts: explore the creative potential of future devices and spur innovation by supplying the hardware for everyone in Adobe Research. Even if something doesn’t exist in the market, TJ rapidly prototypes whatever the research lab needs.

We caught up with TJ to learn more about his innovative role at Adobe.

What’s it like being the only hardware researcher in Adobe Research?

I wear many different hats, which has really been a priceless experience to have at this stage in a career. Being the only hardware researcher, I have the freedom to get things done quickly.  I’ve matured enough  to know that teams change the world; individuals just nudge those changes. I’m excited that one of my former summer interns is going to be joining my team full-time this fall and I’ll have a new intern joining me this summer so we can dive deeper into my research areas.

What is a project you’ve worked on at Adobe that you’re most proud of?

The project I’m most proud of changes regularly. It seems like each new project I start at Adobe exceeds what we thought was possible in a given timeline. At the moment, I’m most proud of Project Glasswing, an experimental display prototype that was previewed last year at SIGGRAPH, a leading event on computer graphics and interactive techniques. It was one of my first projects when I started full-time, and by far the most revolutionary in terms of hardware explorations. To see it go from a whiteboard drawing to being on display at major events like Adobe MAX in Los Angeles and Japan before my three-year Adobe anniversary is an achievement I’ll always be proud of.

The most revolutionary or culturally influential hardware isn’t unprecedented; it’s usually a human-centered redesign of preexisting technology. Most companies are taking design very seriously now and seeing user experience as being everything, not just a small part of the process. If you want to be innovative, you don’t have to invent a new device. Just look at existing hardware that was designed poorly and redesign them with humans in mind, and you’ll see that you can have a huge impact on the world and how things get done.

How are you channeling innovation while working from home?

It’s been hard to run a hardware lab without an actual hardware lab. For now, I’ve been shifting my focus to new software tools that will accelerate our system design process. I’m currently developing software tools for creating content and a simulator for one of my explorations, so we can still design without having the physical items.

How does your creativity extend beyond your Adobe research projects?

I take Japanese remotely at the San Jose Learning Center every week. I started learning over a year ago in anticipation of being sent to Adobe MAX Japan, where I was grateful to attend in December and share Project Glasswing.

My daughter and I are also trying to see how many 1,000-piece puzzles we can complete before shelter-in-place ends. We just finished our first one!

What advice can you offer employees who want to be more innovative in their daily lives?

Embrace the motto of the master inventor, Bigweld, from Robots (2005): “See a need, fill a need.” To see a need, you need to look. I do this through exploration. My favorite places for discovery are YouTube, podcasts, and OverDrive for free audiobooks from the library. My current favorites are Wintergatan99% Invisible, and Invisible Women.

How would you describe yourself in three words?

Resourceful, Enthusiastic, Curious.

Topics: Career Advice, Employee Impact, Adobe Culture, Adobe Life,