You can have a big impact

Research Intern Oliver Alonzo discusses how both science and industry can change the world.

Research Intern Oliver Alonzo discusses how both science and industry can change the world.

At Adobe, internships are more than mere on-the-job training; we encourage our interns to dream big, and we equip them with critical opportunities to learn, build community, and make an impact. We’re featuring their experiences here on Adobe Life to provide a glimpse of how these extraordinary people are contributing to Adobe’s mission of changing the world through digital experiences.

Research Intern Oliver Alonzo sought out his PhD because he wants to make an impact in people’s lives for the better. His time at Adobe has opened his eyes to the possibilities for bridging science, art and industry together to achieve something unique. We spoke with him to learn about his experiences.

Which university are you currently enrolled in and what is your internship title?

I’m studying at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) for my PhD in Computer Science, focusing on human computer interaction (HCI) and accessibility. This summer, I’m an HCI Research Intern at Adobe.

What about joining Adobe attracted you?

I really like the working style and flexibility here. I’m also very curious about what research looks like in different fields and situations, including academia and industry. I interned last summer at Facebook in user experience (UX), and that was very different from what I’m used to in academia because I was embedded in a product team there, so the work I was doing was very much to inform that particular team. Working in Adobe Research has been closer to what I’ve experienced in academic space but still different; there’s the aim of publishing findings and expanding the knowledge of the scientific community, but there’s also the connection with the product.

What is your main project this summer?

We’re looking into how to include and best visualize non-speech sounds in automatic captioning. Machine-generated captioning in videos and other visual content doesn’t usually capture non-speech sounds, even when they might be important. People who aren’t familiar with professional captioning guidelines might not include those sounds, either, when they manually add captions. We’re also looking at novel approaches for representing sounds that could be more engaging, as opposed to just regular captions. A simple example could be that we might add a sticker or image of a dog barking instead of the bracket approach — “[dog barking]” — that people might be familiar with in traditional captioning.

What has it been like working virtually as an intern?

There’s a lot of perks; there’s no commute and all of that. The downside, of course, is the difference in the social aspect. I imagine an in-person internship would have a lot of events to make connections. We have vehicles to connect virtually, but it just takes a little more work. There may be ups and downs interning virtually, but really the bottom line is that it’s a blessing to have all these experiences and opportunities. I owe a lot of my intern experience to my mentor, Dingzeyu Li, and our collaborator Valentina Shin.

Do you have any knowledge from your personal life that you brought to your role at Adobe?

I enjoy playing music a lot, as well as making videos and photography. I also minored in graphic design as an undergrad. It’s been cool working at Adobe when I’ve used our products in my hobbies! That’s made it easier to do the design side of things, and the ability to make videos has been super helpful. My other minor was musical theater, and I think public speaking skills helped with connecting with the people and interviewing them as part of my research studies. All of that together has informed how I think about sound, which has been useful in this project.

More importantly, I think my creative background informs how I approach the research. I just attended a panel where someone talked about how science and art are closely related, which is totally true. You need art to interpret the science because you have to present your findings. If the science is right and it’s not a good story, you don’t have a paper. You need a story to turn that science into something. They go hand in hand.

Did your time at Adobe affect what you plan to do after you graduate?

My motivation for getting my PhD is that I liked the idea of being a professor, to mentor people, share knowledge, and help them grow. I may actually be leaning toward an industry path now, especially if my experience can be anything like what I’ve had at Adobe. I’ve learned that you can have a big impact on people without necessarily being a professor. For example, you can be a mentor here and help people develop in that role — or just thinking about what we’ve worked on this summer, you just might have a hand in making a product more accessible to people around the world.