For many developers, exposure to programming at an early age is often the spark that leads to a burning hot career. That’s what happened to Skyler Lauren, engineer at WildBlue Technologies, whose very first computer was a Commodore 64, a gift from his grandfather. “I don’t remember much about it other than typing load”*”,8,1 to load our games,” says Skyler. The computer came with a book containing pages of BASIC source code that he and his brother turns typing in. Those programming endeavors either turned into a cool screen saver or an error message that they didn’t quite understand — still, they persevered.
Despite his early familiarity with technology, Skyler didn’t start programming until the age of 30. Up to that point, he was a retail manager for 12 years and expected that he would be in retail for the rest of his career. But something changed that trajectory: an online article on how to make apps for the a smartphone known as the Blackberry. With his curiosity sparked, he developed an idea for a simple dice game for the device. With a Java book and the Eclipse development environment on his computer, he became hooked. After cutting his teeth on the ill-fated platform, he eventually moved to Android, and continued to learn and develop apps late into the night.
“I still remember when I told my wife that I wanted to be an App Developer when I grow up.”
With support of his family and unbounding enthusiasm, Skyler continued to sharpen his mobile development skills. Eventually he was offered an entry level developer position as an iOS developer. “The position was a challenge as I never owned a Mac and Objective-C was nothing like Java,” recalls Skyler, “but because I had published Android apps and proved that I could learn I got the job.” It wasn’t long before he became the Senior App Developer.
So what is Skyler’s favorite programming language? “I have to say Swift is currently my favorite. I really liked Objective-C and it was hard to let it go, but I have embraced the change.”
Skyler has always been driven to make things that are useful and fun, so it’s no surprise that his work at Wild Blue brought him to the exciting new world of Emotion AI. On the technology, he has this to say. “Adding an emotion element gives applications a way to adapt to the user. Would you do something different if you knew the user was angry, confused, or unhappy? Perhaps you would do something more often if it made them happy?” To Skyler, the idea of making applications that can improve the user experience, provide valuable feedback to the user, or even cheer someone up based on their emotion is, in his words, “awesome.”
Since his time at Wild Blue, Skyler has worked on a number of different projects from reading emotions via images attached to a particular hashtag on Twitter, to creating an app to add an emotional overlay to videos (reporting emotion on 12 different individuals at once), to an app that would log one’s emotions while they work to look for mood patterns.
But by far, his favorite project was the Hershey Smile Sampler. Although based on a single expression, it was a fun and compelling project. “The purpose of the machine was to dispense Hershey chocolate samples to shoppers in a retail storepeople when they smile at the machine. When shoppersusers would walk up to the machine they would go through the prompts as directed, but when asked to smile they would ‘fake’ a smile as directed. When the sample popped out and they realized they just made the machine dispense because they smiled, a genuine smile formed! What a fun way to distribute samples and bring some happiness to a shopper.”
Where does Skyler see Emotion AI heading in the future? “Software is becoming more and more flexible to a particular user’s needs… and it’s providing new ways to entertain us, but perhaps more importantly, ways to improve our lives.”