Jen Fernquist, B.Sc. (Hons) 2007

“I help make our products more useful and usable,” says Jen Fernquist, who has been a user experience researcher at Google’s Mountain View campus since 2011. Leading her own team, she “identifies research questions, user motivations, behaviours and pain points before, during and after product development.”

Working with designers, engineers and product managers, she’s currently engaged on the Android Wear platform, which runs on smartwatches. The project has some fascinating challenges. “For one thing, wearables are still a new area of technology. And it’s difficult designing a visual interface for such small screens – you have to focus on exactly the information the user needs and nothing else.”

It’s the kind of team challenge Fernquist loves. “The people at Google are a big part of what makes it great here. Everyone is supportive and collaborative as well as being incredibly smart. It's a very humbling work environment!”

The company’s celebrated employee perks also help. Fernquist hops Google buses to work from her San Francisco home, while campus eateries provide round-the-clock complimentary meals. There’s also a surfeit of micro-kitchens stocked with free snacks and drinks. “I heard there's a rule that no Googler should be more than 150 feet from food,” she says.

The gratis grazing fuels some serious work, though. “Things move incredibly fast here. We have state-of-the-art usability labs and top-line equipment. And if you have questions or don't know how to do something, there are great internal sites and mailing lists for finding the answer. It feels like a big, supportive team.”

Her SFU days, she recalls, were equally supportive. Fernquist’s favourite classes included Computational Geometry and User Interface Design and she spent two invaluable summer semesters researching with faculty members. “I learned quickly that I loved research and applying my skills to practical applications.”

She also learned vital time management strategies. “Taking full course loads, being involved with Women in Computing Science and the Computing Science Student Society plus having a part-time job meant I had to allocate my time well. I still played too many video games but I always finished my work – eventually!”

The benefit of hindsight means she also has some useful advice for those from SFU who’d like to follow in her Google footsteps. “Do as well as you can in your courses but also do things that make you stand out. Instead of the bare minimum, participate in coding competitions, work on side projects, make an app or volunteer for clubs. If you're passionate about computing science, show it!”

And how does she anticipate her own passion for the subject unfolding in the years ahead? “I've started moving into a management role and I'm really enjoying helping junior researchers grow their skills. But I still enjoy research so hopefully I’ll continue doing both for the foreseeable future.”