Archives for Author: Tina Santiago

Q&A with Ahmed Siddiqui (Startup Weekend)

My name is Tina Santiago, and i’m a hack-a-thon-a-holic.  It’s been 6 weeks since my last hackathon.

Recently, I met up with Ahmed Siddiqui, StartUp Weekend Bay Area Leader by day, kids app developer by night and overall awesome human being all the time.  Here’s a brief Q&A:

Q: What is Startup Weekend?

A: Startup Weekend Bay Area, is an intense 54-hour event, which focuses on building a web or mobile application that could form the basis of a credible business over the course of a weekend. The weekend brings together developers, designers and entrepreneurs to build applications and develop a commercial case around them. With access to Silicon Valley’s best and brightest innovators, SWBAY offers a unique opportunity to connect and learn from leaders in the tech industry and provides an experiential education process for event participants.

Q: Why do you think the hackathon model for generating new ideas is effective?

A: Hackathons are really interesting because they encourage action.  I think a hackathon is the best type of un-conference that you can have because there is less talk, more action.  A traditional Hackathon starts off with an existing product and then challenges developers to come up with unique uses for that product.  I think it is a fantastic model for really observing what types of things come out of it, but rarely are these products commercially viable because there is too much focus on the hack, and not enough time spent on customer development or the business model.

Q: Why are hackathons a valuable sponsorship opportunity for companies?

A: In the Bay Area, we work closely with our partners such as AT&T, Microsoft, Kno, Grockit, TechShop, Autodesk, and Qualcomm, to put together unique experiences.  Every event has its own flavor, and we work closely with our partners to get the most value for them and our attendees.  A fantastic example is Microsoft, our partner for Mega Startup Weekend.  In this event we invite 300 participants to work in three different tracks.  This year, we chose Mobile, Gaming, and Robotics as our three tracks.  This event was unique because we invited the top engineers from Microsoft to mentor and participate.  We ended up having some businesses built on Microsoft Kinect, Microsoft Windows 8, and on the Microsoft EDDIE Robot.  This was an amazing event that gave our attendees access to bleeding edge technology and mentorship, and it gave Microsoft great exposure to our community of developers, designers, and entrepreneurs.

Q: How does Start Up Weekend continue to support the “winners” after the event?

A: We support our winners and any teams moving forward by providing them extended mentorship opportunities and introductions to potential customers and investors.  More recently, we have been having office hours for teams to come into our San Francisco office and work with us.  With almost 1 event a month, we have built a substantial network of entrepreneurs, developers, designers, mentors, and investors that all help each other.  Startup Weekend isn’t just a weekend event, it is a network and community.

Q: Any other thoughts?

A: I think this movement is wonderful, and proves that the costs of building businesses is going down, and these weekend long events are perfect for testing ideas.  Granted, it is too difficult to build an end-to-end business over a weekend with complete strangers, but I do feel that this is the best possible networking that you can do, especially in a learning environment that Startup Weekend provides.  It is okay to fail, just fail fast!


Since I moved to San Francisco, I’ve given up four of my precious weekends to participate in a number of hackathons: Angel Hack at Adobe, Start Up Weekend at the AT&T Foundry, City 2.0 at California College of Arts, and Creative Currency at The Hub SF.

I have only positive things to say about my hackathon experience.  I’ve met some of the most brilliant and creative people in the Bay Area who who share an optimistic, can-do, will-do attitude.  To echo Ahmed, in my experience, hackathons give you a unique opportunity to fail fast, another way to describe accelerated learning. I’ve never learned so much about technology, design and business strategy in such a compressed amount of time. It’s like bootcamp for the brain.

After some reflection, here are a few lessons I took away about from the challenge of working in a boiler room with a group of strangers:

1. Spend time defining the problem.

Framing the problem you’re trying to solve is half the battle. Because each team member has a unique point of view, they may be speaking a different language to interpret the problem at hand.  On top of that, the number of data sets and APIs that are made available can be overwhelming, messy , complex.

This is where the design process becomes so crucial in framing the problem:  unpacking the business goals, the technological constraints and user needs can help to simplify and communicate the complexity.

2. Frame your conversations. 

Often, when friction ensues between team members, it’s because people are speaking in different contexts. It can be very frustrating when one person is generating ideas, while another person is shooting them down like a clay plate. These kinds of conversations can often get heated because of competing agendas, points of view and passions in the room. This is why it’s important to recognize the difference among opinions, ideas and data. In my experience, making collaborative decisions is always best when you can point to data to support the decisions being made.

Establishing the goal of the conversation can really help. For example, if you simply frame your conversations as a ‘brainstorm to generate ideas,’ this can really help to build creative momentum within the group. This is what is called building a divergent context. Of course, at some point, decisions need to be made. Again, it’s important to define this context and frame the conversation as a “convergent” one and point to criteria and data as much as possible to make decisions.

3. Find the right team.

Gathering a multidisciplinary team is key. The best teams are the ones that have a complementary set of skills. Putting a designer, an engineer and an entrepreneur in a cooker can have incredible results.

Needless to say, this can also be very challenging since everyone has an opinion and their own point of view. This is where the art of listening and the virtue of patience comes into play. I’ve been surprised and humbled by the amount of insight emerges when you take the time to listen and try to learn a different point of view.

4. Be prepared to be unprepared.

No matter how much research you do before the event, you’ll never be prepared. That’s because you don’t know what will emerge. The hackathon experience invites serendipity and it’s best to be open to spontaneity and welcome new ideas.

5. Work backwards.

No matter how many sticky notes and white board scribbles you generate, it really means nothing until you have a story you can weave through. Before starting anything, it’s important to imagine the form of your story and output and develop a roadmap on how to get there. This is crucial for a weekend long event when time is of the essence.

I’m proud to say that my partner in crime, Patrick Keenan and I came out winners in two out of the for four. [Insert shameless plug] Thanks the GAFFTA Creative Currency hackathon, we’re continuing on with our project called SQFT, an online platform for pop up shops to find short term leases.

Special thanks to Startup Weekend and all the other amazing hackathon organizers for their amazing work in creating opportunity for new ideas.


From Pulp to Silicon






The ancient Greeks wrote textbooks as an instructional tool for teachers.  Since then, the book has been burned, praised, protected, worshiped, and even feared. For hundreds of years, the book represented the voice of “the expert”, implying that knowledge should transfered from one authoritative source to the layman.  The print publishers of today, such as Pearsons or Oxford Press, continue to hold this editorial and distribution control over how educational tools are written and disseminated.

[Enter the Internet]

This model is old school.  Paper textbooks are a vestige of a lingering industrial age.

In the same breath, I can download a lecture from iTunes U, I can download a book onto my Kindle at a click of a button, I can read the latest New York Times article on my iphone on my way to work. Amazon, Google and Apple have disrupted the publication industry by creating a more accessible network of electronic books. Gone are the days of the educated elite.

Are eBooks any different from Paper books?

There’s been huge buzz about the advent of e-authorship platforms, such as iBooks Author, Push Pop Press and Inklingwith claims that these platforms will ‘transform’ education. However, unless ebook publishers truly take advantage of their digital platforms, interactive books will be no different from those smelly dog-eared textbooks we once knew.  Most of the textbooks that have been published so far, such as Al Gore’s Our Choice  and E.O. Wilson’s Life on Earth  are certainly superior in content and design.  However, I hate to say it, but they are sprinkled with gimmicky interactions.

Cool, there are zoomable maps,  moving DNA molecules. a short video of a farmer. Is that really changing the way I learn and engage with this content?

These books are beautiful in their own right.  But how can we address the fact that this is just a microprocessor pretending to be a set of pages?  How can we create more meaningful learning experiences?

It is my belief that electronic textbooks will be truly disruptive when we start to understand how interactive platforms enable experiential learning.

Cognitive Scientists claim that we only retain

10% from reading
20% from seeing
30% from hearing 
50% from seeing and hearing
80% from doing
90% from teaching

These need not be exclusive, at least not anymore. The truly transformative interactive experiences will integrate these various forms of learning.

Four Principles on How to Make an Awesome eBook:

1. Don’t add gimmicky interactions for the sake of gimmicky interactions
Make sure your interactions are engaging and meaningful.  Interaction can be fun and engaging and that’s a great hook. But go beyond that. Think about how interaction will enhance the learning experience of your user.  Perhaps it’s an interactive case study, a thought experiment or a math problem. Whatever it is, design your interaction with a purpose.

2. Use Game Mechanics.
Provide instant feedback, create levels of expertise and make it fun!  Codecademy does any amazing job of this. They teach non-coders how to code in an easy, straight forward and effective way by rewarding their users with leveling up and badges.

3. Make learning social.
Encourage collaboration and conversation, both online and offline.   Your user will retain more information if they talk and ‘teach’ others.  Creating a forum for discussion, inquiry and exploration can help to socializing learning between and among peers.

4. Connect to the internet.
Link up and link often.  The web is gold mine of a diversity of thoughts, ideas and opinions.  Encourage your users to think critically about the information you’re presenting them by linking them to the network of perspectives.

With that, go forth and design a game-changing book!


Tina Santiago is a researcher, interactive producer and User Experience Designer.  In the last 9 years, she’s worked in Toronto, Geneva, and London in interactive media, design and sustainable business.  She hold a BSc in Cognitive Psychology from McMaster University and an MBA from the University of Geneva.  She is currently working as a UX Designer for Hot Studio in San Francisco.


For the Love of the Code

I first met Ben at Four Barrel Coffee in the Mission a couple of months ago.  Our paths crossed through SkillShare — I was meant to coach Ben through his presentation for Toronto’s upcoming FITC event on how Flash Developers can transition over to C++.

I’m pretty sure I learned more from him than he did from me.

Ben McChesney is 23 years old. Like most people in the Bay Area, he worked a day job to pay the bills, but hacked the night away to pursue his true passion: building shiny and fun interactive installations.  With the introduction of the Microsoft Kinect sensor, his focus has shifted from a flash web developer towards creating physical experiences, using Open Frameworks. After only 18 months on the market, the Kinect hack has spread like wild fire, attracting artists and programmers alike, to create new interactive experiences.

Kinect for Film Storytelling by James George, explores the notion of “re-photography”, in which otherwise frozen moments in time may be visualized from new points of view.

Unnamed Sculpture is a piece that used a Kinect to record body movements and was then later put through a 3D softeware program.

SemanticMap, The Next Step In Public Information and Navigation On The Go is is a Digital signage prototype featuring proximity detection, face recognition and gesture interaction technologies developed in Microsoft Research Asia.

Puppet Parade is an interactive installation by Emily Gobeille and Theo Watson of Design I/O that allows children to use their arms to puppeteer larger than life creatures projected on the wall in front of them.

And of course, CFC Media Lab’s own Heart of Stars

A playspace where users become 3d avatars made of points of light. Created as an exploratory installation, this prototype seeds future iterations as a commercial game or practical tool.

And the list goes on.

For artists like Ben, there is no shortage of inspiring work that comes out of the Open Frameworks community.

“After attending a few meet ups, posting a few pieces of my work on my blog and putting together a kinect reel, I ended up at a start up called Helios Interactive. What’s been really exciting is to see my passion projects turn into my actual job…and to be able to push and set boundaries of where…this has real world applications”

Helios Interactive focuses on larger scale commercial trade shows and events.  Examples of their work include Bally’s Total Fitness and Cannes International Film Festival.

Ben gives credit to the Open Frameworks community for helping him find his dream job.

 “Open Framworks is based on the open source movement, which is built on a culture of gifting ideas…the community is made up of about 300 or so ‘hard core’ geniuses that spend hours of their brain power on developing code… and giving it away for free.”

If I were to draw a venn diagram of Ben, it would like like this:

What fascinates me about Ben is that he comfortably straddles two worlds: the not-for-profit-keep-it-real world of Open Frameworks community and the for-profit-real-world of commerce.  What’s even more fascinating is the approach that Microsoft has taken in supporting and incubating hacker efforts.  According to  NPR, Microsoft says the more hacking, the better.

The big guys are starting to take notice of the Bens in the world. They are starting to recognize a new generation coming into the work force. One that embraces openness and creativity, while being grounded in ‘real-world’ application. The Kinect is not only a tool to build shiny and fun interactive installations, a it’s a metaphor for what’s yet to come.

If you have tickets, check out Ben’s talk at FITC on Monday April 23 @10:00am. If you don’t have a ticket yet, get one. And make sure to follow him at @bendesigning


Tina Santiago is a researcher, interactive producer and UX Designer.  In the last 9 years, she’s worked in Toronto, Geneva, and London in interactive media, design and sustainable business.  She hold a BSc in Cognitive Psychology from McMaster University and an MBA from the University of Geneva.  She is currently working as a UX Designer for Hot Studio in San Francisco.

#18DaysInEgypt — A Crowd Sourced Documentary

18DaysInEgypt is a revolutionary platform that captures moments in time and weaves them into a fabric of stories.

I often have to remind myself how mind blowing it is to have Gigabites of information available to me at the click of a button, or the touch of a screen. I can look up the weather in Papa New Guinea. I can navigate the town that my Mom grew up in. I can order a custom made umbrella from a factory in China. But how do we make sense of this information and build meaning upon it? Your favorite 140 characters are only compelling because of a deeper, human context.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Jigar Mehta, a UC Berkeley J-School grad and one of the master minds behind #18DaysInEgypt.  Over a year ago, Mehta and his team immersed themselves in the events that took place during the 2011 Egyptian Revolution. They decided they were going to make a documentary film. Of course, they had no idea they were actually embarking on building one of the world’s first crowd sourced documentary platforms.

On the February 10, 2011, the 17th day of the revolution, there were rumors suggesting that Mubarak would step down. Tahir Square was filled with hope, optimism, and hundreds of thousands of mobile phones.  Armed with their hand held devices, the Egyptian people were eager to witness and capture this historical moment.

Although Mubarak didn’t resign that day, Jigar Mehta saw the potential to tell a story like its never been told before.

Originally, we were gonna make a more traditional, linear documentary film,” says Jigar, “but we started to ask questions like, how would we let people know we wanted to make a film? How are we gonna cut the trailer? And more importantly, how do we get people to contribute?”

These questions inspired creativity in the team. They would have to discover a way to tell a collective story by coalescing multiple perspectives into compelling narratives.

The technology was certainly in their favor. Jigar explains,

The mobile phone is a way to capture the most personalized experiences.  It’s dynamic and changes based on where you are. Documentary film makers should look at this trend as an opportunity” launched only a few weeks ago. Unlike the arab spring, this project has been premeditated and offers a reflective lens on the ground breaking events that happens in Egypt. It’s an online platform that allows users to build narratives from the tweets, photos and videos that were tagged #18daysinegypt. Although most of the ‘streams’ were captured during the 18 days, more and more content is coming from rebuilding projects of today.  This innovative platform is not just a tool for telling stories that happened in January 2011.  It’s a tool for telling stories of hopes and dreams for the future of Egypt.

*Images borrowed from Politico.comCodenametech


Tina Santiago is a researcher, interactive producer and UX Designer.  In the last 9 years, she’s worked in Toronto, Geneva, and London in interactive media, design and sustainable business.  She hold a BSc in Cognitive Psychology from McMaster University and an MBA from the University of Geneva.  She is currently living and working in San Francisco, California.

‘Do No Evil’ Doesn’t Cut It Anymore

‘Be Excellent’ is more like it.  Or so says the loose collective of San Francisco-based hackers who run Noisebridge – a co-working space like no other.

Noisebridge is an art & technology membership organisation run on a pay-what-you-can-but-if-you-can’t-pay-that’s-okay-too business model. Anyone who buzzes in is allowed in. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

The unassuming basement, located in the Mission District in San Francisco has a solder station, 3D printer and lazer engraver. There’s plenty of space to build, prototype, or hack whatever your heart desires. With free flowing WiFi, shared desk space and a full functioning kitchen, it’s hard to imagine why anyone would leave.

At Noisebridge, all decisions are made through consensus, based on the principles of ‘do-ocracy’.  Yup, it’s exactly what you think it is:  If you want something done, do it.  Let me paint you a picture of how this translates. I interviewed a number of “members” of this space, whom I will keep anonymous for the sake of their reputation – a currency equivalent to the Kuwaiti Dinar.

Because Noisebridge is a space for everyone, almost everyone drops by. The most recent incident worth gossiping about, is that there have been a number of homeless people dropping in and have started using the space to sleep, eat and store food.  Some members complained of security issues.  Others complained about a disturbance of the creative hacker energy of the space. Other members argue that these people should be welcome to stay on the basis that there’s a hacker in all of us.

One member had his own opinion. He practiced the principle of do-ocracy and ripped off the buzzer from the front door.   This, of course, sparked a saga of a discussion on their online wiki.  Philosophical arguments and bantering currently fill the forum on who should be allowed in and howThe most viable solution so far is to hack up a mobile app which can unlock the door using a daily pin code. Not a bad solution for a collective, especially because they can likely develop it overnight.

Why is this relevant to New Media? 

Noisebridge is a living example of a culture primed for innovation.

It takes a certain level of risk tolerance to be able to deal with the unknown.  Working on things that have never been done before is messy.  Working with people that you’ve never worked with before is messy. Very messy. Building a culture of radical creativity and innovation requires a certain level of confidence and trust in the community that builds it.  The limit at which we can push the boundaries of technology and creativity is bound by the constraints that we place on ourselves: the way we organise our ideas, how we make decisions, how we execute.  A community of innovators will only thrive when we start to become aware of these shared assumptions and how they shape our creative spaces.

‘Being excellent’ as a guiding principle seems to be a pretty good start.  Kudos to Noisebridge for taking the leap.

Tina Santiago is a researcher, interactive producer and UX Designer.   In the last 9 years, she’s worked in Toronto, Geneva, and London in interactive media, design and sustainable business.  She hold a BSc in Cognitive Psychology from McMaster University and an MBA in International Organizations from the University of Geneva.  She is currently living in San Francisco, California.  @tinasantiago |