Let knowledge serve virtual reality

Cuong NyguenHow Portland State prepared a virtual reality superstar

Design giant Adobe plucked Cuong Nguyen from Portland State and gave him a coveted research associate position just six months after he earned his Ph.D. in Computer Science.

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As a doctoral student at the Maseeh College of Engineering & Computer Science, Nguyen developed an editing system that lets users edit 360-degree video directly in virtual reality. The breakthrough went on to become the foundation of the Adobe Immersive Environment in Premiere Pro.

In film production, video reviewing is a collaborative process where multiple users exchange feedback on the film's edit. Another of Nguyen’s systems, CollaVR, is the first to support the activity in virtual reality.

Nguyen has also developed systems that support instructional videos. One allows a user to interact with Photoshop or Excel video to learn from it, instead of just watching the video passively. Another system uses eye tracking technology to understand the user's behavior when watching a lecture vidgeo and can automatically take notes or control the video for the user.

Q&A with Cuong

We asked Nguyen how he landed his job, what role PSU played, and what advice he would give to students who are interested in the emerging field of Human-Computer Interactions. His answers have been edited for brevity.

Why did you come to PSU?

I came to PSU to finish my undergraduate study. I was a part of the transfer program between PSU and the University of Science in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

What role did PSU’s Dr. Feng Liu play in you deciding to focus your research on Human-Computer Interactions?

Professor Feng Liu recognized my potential in HCI research and provided the mentorship and resources needed for me to learn and advance my skills. When I first worked with him, I was a junior undergraduate student with zero experience. Regardless of this, he let me work on a video interface project that was eventually published at ACM CHI – a premiere conference in the field. This was in 2012, and it was very, very important for me. The publication allowed me to attend the conference, which opened my eyes to a lot of things. It also allowed me to see clearly that I wanted to build my career around research and development.

What excites you or interests you about the field of Human-Computer Interactions?

It forces me to think very hard about using advanced technology to improve the quality of life. I also love that the field of HCI is very diverse. It encompasses knowledge of Computer Science, Psychology, Human Factors, and so on. Some of the grand challenges in this field include how do we make technology more accessible to everyone? Or how do we promote lifelong learning? HCI researchers are at a unique position to tackle these challenges.

Please describe how you came to be an Adobe research intern.

Professor Feng Liu introduced me to the research intern program at Adobe. He was also an intern. I was very intrigued, because the internship program has a lot of value for Ph.D. students. The student can work with top researchers in the field, is expected to lead, and can keep the project for the dissertation.

Please describe how that led to your job with Adobe.

By interning with Adobe, I was given the opportunity to work with other researchers and get a good understanding about the culture at the company.

What are you working on now?

At a high level, I'm working on new interfaces and technologies that support media production in VR and AR.

What advice would you give to a young person interested in HCI?

1.     Study Computer Science, preferably with a focus on HCI. You want to have a solid foundation in order to advance your career.

2.     Keep track of what the field is doing. The SIGCHI YouTube channel is a good place to start. It features really awesome video previews of premiere conferences.

3.     Focus on programming (you want to be able to build technology), communication (you want to interact with people and understand their needs), and creative problem solving (you want to be able to tackle a problem with innovative solutions).

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