An Interview with Meghan Gaudet

    Meghan Gaudet, photo courtesy of She Knows Tech
    Meghan Gaudet, photo courtesy of She Knows Tech
    Meghan Gaudet is a mentor with the She Knows Tech collective, and she was kind enough to sit down to chat with me about their work.
    She Knows Tech started out as a student collective aiming to close the gender gap by empowering women in technology and highlighting female role models in the tech industry. It was formed in Fall 2017 by Berklee alumni Jasmine Kok, Anna Parry & Lilian Gagnon, and has hosted many tech workshops and panel discussions since its inception.

    Spring 2019 Tech Training Program - Live Visual

    In 2018, SKT branched out and went online, releasing the "5 Questions with She Knows Tech" series of videos featuring a number of women in the tech industry. Here's a set of links for the series thus far:
    The Spring '19  She Knows Tech crew ( photo courtesy of She Knows Tech)
    The Spring '19 She Knows Tech crew ( photo courtesy of She Knows Tech)
    How did the concept of the peer-to-peer teaching system come about? What are the advantages of this system? Over the course of the club, founder Jasmine Kok noticed that while our typical two-hour workshops were educational and informative, they didn’t help students build momentum and follow through on long-term goals. The Tech Training Program is her way to address that gap. It is a semester-long program that pairs graduate mentors with first-year and sophomore mentees to guide them through their journey of learning tech. The goal of this program is to inspire and encourage female-identifying students to consider a technical major or minor.
    The mentors teach during bi-weekly group meetings and work with mentees one-to-one if they need extra help. Having a person to tailor course material to individual needs is a huge advantage of the mentor system. It prevents students from feeling lost or behind, and it ensures that technical tools remain accessible for everyone. In addition to new knowledge, we hope that mentees will walk away from the program feeling empowered with enough context to learn new things on their own. The program is going really well so far, and we already have mentees who are expressing interest in being future mentors. Roughly how many students and instructors sign up for the program each semester?
    This is actually the first semester of our Tech Training Program. Since it is such a customized experience, we capped the program at 20 undergraduate students for our 5 graduate instructors. We’re definitely planning to scale this up in the future, since our application process proved there is a lot more interest.
    What was your motivation to become an instructor in the program?
    There was no program like this when I was an undergraduate student, and that serves as my motivation to be involved. I would have loved to be part of a group like She Knows Tech when I was in school, so I'm really happy to play my part in making it available for the students now.
    How long have you been using Max? I was first introduced to visual programming in 2010, but the entirety of my experience with Max has been here at Berklee. I studied computer science in college and then worked as a software engineer, so my coding experience is predominantly in text-based languages. The transition to Max has been fun.
    Everyone has a different pathway and process of incorporating Max into their artistic practice, can you describe when you were first introduced to the software and why you've incorporated it into your work and classes?
    As an Ableton user, it was a no-brainer to start using exploring Max as part of my audio projects. Then, I took a course here at Berklee called Nonlinear Structure for Real-Time Media, taught by Pierce Warnecke. It quickly showed me how powerful the language is for data visualization and generative art, and I have since incorporated Max into my graduate thesis project as the main coding language. For my project, I am building a hardware/software system called EXLO, which allows artists to turn any surface into an audio/visual controller. The system uses sensor data from piezo microphones to detect positions and gestures of the artist’s interaction. I’ve built the majority of the software using Max, including the UI, audio analysis, data processing, and visual generation. I’ll admit that approaching Max with a text-based coding mindset can be tricky at times, but the ability to fall back on some quick Javascript logic right within the Max development environment reduces a lot of friction and helps me maintain momentum. With its simple audio data streaming and built-in audio/visual functions, I think Max is the best language I could have used to get my project prototypes up and running quickly.
    What did you find most helpful when you were first learning Max that you relay to your students? The Max reference manual and forums are incredible resources if you know what to search for. As long as you keep track of object names that you’re working with, searching the Forums should be your first go-to resource. I am always learning by reading forum threads.
    We’re at a very interesting time period in the development of Max for visual projects - while working with geometry and analysis of images remains firmly rooted in matrix-based processing, there is an increasing move into the GPU-based way of doing things, and new things to learn. In the beginning of its life, Vizzie was an attempt to provide the experience of recombinant patchers and algorithmic control to absolute beginners as an accessible point of entry. Do you use Vizzie at all in your teaching?
    Absolutely. I covered Vizzie in our very first session for the exact reasons you describe. It’s simple for absolute Max beginners to grasp at a high level, even though a lot of the technical details are hidden under the hood. I think Vizzie is a good way to introduce fundamental Max-wide concepts, like how data flows through cables and what data ranges are. I find it to be a very welcoming tool, because you can make something that looks awesome by playing around for only a few minutes. This feeling of empowerment makes my students want to keep coming back to Max and learn more. Once everyone is motivated to learn the language, then we can dive into the deeper details. What challenges do you face within the program?
    Coming from text-based coding languages, I sometimes find myself approaching problems in Max differently than I should. Most of the time, Max has a built-in object or group of objects that can reproduce the behavior I want, but it can take me some time to chase down the best solution path. Do you have any advice for others that are working in programs such as She Knows Tech?
    Put together a strong team of leaders that represent a diverse skill set, and set a concrete, tangible goal for the program. Feature and highlight as many women as possible, and share updates about your program! I hope we can inspire others to build more programs like She Knows Tech by sharing stories and showcasing our skills and projects.