There’s no one path to IBM, and no one path to becoming a designer. Whenever I travel to our labs and studios around the world, I meet employees who arrived at IBM from wildly unconventional backgrounds, using their unique pasts to inform the work they do every day. That’s been the case for Reena Ganga, a designer based out of SVL’s Design Studio, who spent the ten years before IBM working as a journalist and news anchor on Australian television. Over time, her impressive curiosity led her to the design field and a career at IBM.
She talked about bringing that journalist past into design. As a former travel writer and world explorer, she sources ideas from a reservoir of life experience, real-world reference points that inspire her creativity.
And that’s the lesson: the more we learn, experience and explore, the deeper we can dig into our creative reservoirs, and the more willing we are to explore outside of our comfort zones.
What do you do?
A number of different things at the moment. I’m on the IIAS team, ramping up initial designs for disaster recovery, which can help people protect their data—a critical function that people can overlook until there’s a crisis, but so important for protecting a business’ bottom line. I’m also working on data virtualization for ICP For Data. Data Virtualization reduces data analysis bottlenecks by simplifying access and obscuring the technical complexity behind the data. Additionally, as part of the the Immersive Insights team, I’m creating an app for data scientists to explore their data in 3D using augmented reality. It’s a way to give people a tool to generate business insights more efficiently and intuitively than they could before.
Give us some history. Have you always been a designer?
I actually worked in the media for about a decade as a TV news reporter and anchor, and I went to grad school at the University of Chicago for International Relations. To some, that seems like an unusual path, but I’ve found that being a designer is not just sketching wireframes. It’s really understanding and solving problems.
As a journalist, you learn to listen, observe, and deeply understand people… to take complex problems and wrap your head around them quickly and get to the root of the problem. And then when I studied IR, learning about things like nuclear deterrence and home-grown terrorism—those things really help you develop frameworks and think strategically.
I use all those skills in my job as a designer, strangely enough. Journalism helps me understand user needs. IR helps me develop business strategies to meet those needs. Then, my media experience helps me tell a compelling story about the concepts. As a designer, you’re telling stories — to users, to developers, to stakeholders. You need to find a way to make it approachable and engaging for the audience.
What got you from a news anchor? Was that here in the Bay Area or in Chicago?
I did that in Australia, and I worked as a travel writer when I lived in Chicago. What got me into design is the same thing that got me into journalism—I have this innate curiosity about the world. As a journalist you’re always asking why. I’ve always noticed when things don’t work and want to make them better. Like a lot of people, I have a love-hate relationship with technology. I love it—I live for it every day, because this is what I do. But at the same time, when it doesn’t work you, you want to throw your computer against the wall. As a designer, I get to remove the more frustrating experiences and bring utility and value to the world. That’s what drives me.
Why IBM? What was the draw?
I was drawn specifically to IBM because of the way IBM incorporates Design Thinking company-wide. As a designer you don’t want to spend a lot of time convincing stakeholders of the importance of what you do, why it’s important, why it’s necessary. At IBM, you don’t have to fight that fight every day. Everybody from the developers to offering management and the executives… everybody understands why design is important, and the value it can bring to the business. That gives me flexibility to focus on my work.
I understand you’ve traveled a lot.
I just got back from French Polynesia, but Ethiopia might be my favorite, both geographically and culturally. It’s very different than anything I’d experienced before. Ethiopia practices Christianity, but it was cut off from the world for a long time, so the Christianity they practice is thousands of years old. So they still do animal sacrifices, for example, and they believe they have the original Arc of the Covenant. They keep it in this church where it’s locked up, and only one priest can see it. A local told us they were holding an early morning procession at 3 a.m. My husband and I went, and we were the only foreigners there. Everyone was dressed in regal robes, and they carried the Arc of the Covenant in this procession — such a magical place, very different.
Greece. Italy. Bosnia. I took a year to travel at one point, I left my job, strapped on a backpack and took off. We traveled to a lot of developing countries, because on longer trips you can get to more remote places more easily.
I’m going to come and get more tips from you on travel. We should do a travel series.
Home town: Born and bred in Sydney, Australia. Currently living in Sunnyvale, CA.
Currently working on these three projects:
1. Disaster Recovery for the IBM Integrated Analytics System (aka Sailfish)
2. Data Virtualization for IBM Cloud Private for Data
3. An augmented reality data visualization app for Immersive Insights
Currently reading: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi; and A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin
Top five boardgames:
1. The Settlers of Catan
3. Machi Koro
5. Ticket to Ride
Dinesh Nirmal – Vice President, IBM Analytics Development
Follow me on Twitter: @dineshknirmal