Ethical Conversations: A FASPE Podcast Transcript
by Monica Chan, 2023 Design & Technology Fellow and Jeffrey Ho, 2023 Business Fellow
Monica:1 We're going to do our capstone through a non-text medium! And yeah, a new format. We'll see how this goes. Okay. Hi everyone. I'm Monica. I have Jeffrey here with me, and we're going to try introducing each other because we just met each other one month ago, just exactly one month ago.
So that's cool! All right, so Jeffrey just graduated from CMU Tepper Business School. He's going to start as a consultant at PWC in a few months. Before that, he was doing a food-tech startup for a while. He had a background in Biology, and… something fun about Jeffrey: Jeffrey's pretty good at foosball. I am impressed. Yeah.
Jeffrey: Thank you so much for that warm introduction. So, now it's my turn to sort of get my revenge. With Monica, she's pretty much always just been in school most of her life. She’s currently working in Amazon, but a year ago she had finished her PhD at Columbia at the Teacher’s College in education.
And before that she was at Stanford also, but not studying education, specifically engineering. But I think the fun fact that I have in mind was the fact that she's currently traveling Europe, still in a car, and it seems like it's been a blast in terms of the sites that she's seen, like the burning forests, burning piles of cars, but also the scenic lakes, the beautiful reflections. So, that is my fun fact for her.
Monica: Yeah, the nice and the not-so-nice scenes. Taking the road less traveled. Yeah, for sure. Okay, great. So today: talk about the top three things that stood out to us during our FASPE fellowship. backtracking a little, we forgot to say cohort each of us is in.
So, I was in the design & technology cohort, which is actually in its second year of running. So, it's a fairly new cohort and Jeffrey was in the business cohort, which is a little older, but yeah.
Jeffrey: We're just a little bit older, the business folks, just a little bit.
Monica: Yeah. And I think it was really fun that we also had law folks in our program and of course there are the medical and journalism and seminary fellows, uh, who are in the second half of this program. So, we didn't get to meet them, but um, hopefully we meet them online or in other alumni meetups.
So, top three things that stood out to us—we'll be reflecting on them. You go first. Jeffrey: So, also on top of that, I think we want this podcast, sort of the audience to be directed, something for us to look back onto like in five to 10 years, hopefully a happy memory. That is sort of the purpose for having it in this medium. I think it relates to how we will be able just to show our age over the next five years and just to really reflect on this message, seeing how far we can carry it in the next five years.
With that in mind, I'll start with talking about the euthanasia center. For me, that was a relatively memorable experience because it started as the starting point for our journey in terms of thinking about the rationale, the logic, behind how certain events unfolded.
I was very, I was very surprised that like, I think as we drove into it, everything around it looked normal. And if someone didn't tell me that this was a memorial, it would be hard for me to believe it, because I think there's this saying where time makes us forget everything.
And I think having that in mind, how it has and hasn’t changed has made people forget the significance of this place, right? The place that we walked into, the place that we were breathing in and experiencing.
Monica: I just also felt that it looked so normal. There were shop houses right across the street, which meant people were living there. People were just going about their lives like back then. So, just some context from Brandenburg Euthanasia Center, if this is the first-time people are hearing about it, it's where the Nazi doctors were murdering people who just they felt were not useful to society, people who were either mentally unsound or classified as mentally unsound.
Jeffrey: Or even physically dependent…
Monica: Yeah, yeah. Or just kids who were born with say a disease. And what really stuck out to me was that even like promiscuous women, so women who had multiple parties or just didn't act according to what society told them to be like 80 years ago. So, these were what they classified as people who were just not useful to society. And then there were experiments done on them. That was also the place where the Nazis first experimented with killing people using gas.
Monica: So, a lot went on in this hospital. But on the outside people said something was off in that area, but they didn't really know either. What I think really stuck out to me was that the doctors could opt in, and they knew full well going on, that they were going to be murdering these people from these underprivileged or potentially marginalized committees. Jeffrey: Mhhm. There was like a story during my time that the tour brought up that the basis for this operation—which we'll call as t4, just for simplicity… Monica: Mhhm.
Jeffrey: And I'll go into that, was the fact that quoting from a letter in Paris, from a meeting in Paris back in the early 1930s or 1920s—I don't remember off the top of my head— but it quoted a conversation between doctors where one doctor had asked the other: would you choose to kill your child? Or provide them with I merciful death? And then taken into a broad context, the doctor had said “yes. I would rather give him or her, I merciful death because it's my child.” But then I think it was gross, that was a general prevailing theme, right? It was not isolated to Germany.
But then I think taken into a broader extreme that was applied to this Nazi ideology where if you were not able to work for the state, then you were considered as deviant or disabled or unacceptable to society. And it was surprising because I never thought… I've thought of Germany as a unique case like the Nazi party. But it was just the fact that the Nazis and Germany built a lot of their policies based off of what was prevailing, what people wanted to hear. And to be cognizant of that. I think a lot of that rhetoric is happening into the modern day. Monica: Mhhm.
Jeffrey: We seek to blame someone else for our failures, we seek to blame others for what we are lacking in, rather than look inwards and really growing from that.
Backtracking a little bit, T4 was sort of the first official documentation that Hitler had… Monica: Mhhm. Jeffrey: Backdated to the start of the war, providing doctors, specifically his personal physician with the ability to execute this sort of broader euthanasia plan, and use that as a prototype for what was to come, what was so well known to the Nazi party at the concentration camps.
Monica: Mhhm. Yeah. Talking about concentration camps. We visited Stockton Housing. So, I'm going to move on to my top thing that stood out to me. Guess for you it was the first one, Brandenburg. For mine, it was Sachsenhausen concentration camp. So, what stood out to me there was the shoe-testing grounds, where I guess the camp laborers and prisoners of war were forced to test shoes and shoe designs, shoe materials from German shoe companies that were designing new shoes. That basically led to so many deaths of men because the SS guards would beat them up whenever they tripped or fell. And they would purposely give those camp labors different shoe sizes or…
Monica: You know, just shoes that were too tight for them. Make them carry big loads in the middle of winter, which can be -10 or even lower degrees Celsius. And get them to walk on those different types of grounds. Right now, we can't really see the grounds very well, because there are actually different materials, there's overgrown grass on it…
Monica: But I, that really stuck out to me because I'm a UX researcher and I was like, oh my goodness. That is literally user testing back in the 1930s. And it kind of draws parallels because for me as a UX researcher, I use a lot of vendors out there to recruit for participants or to sometimes even collect data with external participants to use a certain product. And I don't, at least in my role, I don't go into the depths of really checking out every single regulation of policy. I trust the legal team to do that or the research operations team to complete that. And, you know, yeah, I don't know really what happens when I get the data, put out the data, or put out my ask and then get the data back. And then I trust the data that is about my product.
And I'm just wondering whether those shoe companies even knew that they were using this forced labor and that men were dying every day. I think from a research mindset or perspective, you would want the same person trying your different shoe to design also, and not like, “oh, someone died…”
Jeffrey: Yeah. Monica: Use someone else. I'm very torn about that. Jeffrey: I'm also wondering what kind of data they would be specifically getting, right. Because you can say like “these shoes, right? Hey, these people walked x amount of hours before the shoe broke.” What was the point? To me, I felt like it was more construed as a torture device rather than like…
Jeffrey: Because back then what was the data that you could get from this shoe? And I think, unfortunately, our group did not make it to that portion of the tour, but that would be one of my questions: what were some metrics that they were looking at, right?
Jeffrey: Because that was of course being funded back into the German effort for the war. So, in a way, they're not bystanders; they're more, they're definitely victims, but they are helping the war effort in a way.
Monica: And I'm also questioning: did they knowingly, collaborate with the Nazis and, and you know, to do this in a concentration camp? Or was it more of like, “oh, we, we just didn't know that they were actually using forced labor. And we were like lied to in that sense.”
Monica: And I guess it was very vague. No one really owned up. I actually shared this case with my team at Amazon. And just had a mini-discussion about it.
Monica: I think it’s so pertinent, especially for the UX researchers to know what’s going on behind the scenes, to be aware of things, not take for granted these processes. Being in a large company, it’s very easy to be like, “oh, these processes have been here for a long time, and they should be fine. Let’s just go along with them and get things done.” They also appreciated that I spoke about it, and I showed them a picture of the shoe-testing grounds and all that.
Jeffrey (laughing): Or did you just want to show off your pictures? Just kidding.
Monica (laughing): No, I don't. Yeah. Okay.
Jeffrey: But I think this is a very good transition to sort of corporate involvement in terms of the Nazi effort.
Jeffrey: This is more the main crux of what the business folks did, but definitely I think across the board it was something that we had seen, across the trees, sort of groups that I think Monica will help us break into. So yeah, take it away.
Monica: Yeah. And another one that really stood out to me was the Topf and Sons case. So, this was a humble family business. They just build crematoria to cremate bodies of loved ones, and usually this is just a one-person sort of oven. It's small. But it wasn't so popular like 80-100 years ago because in Germany more people would be burying their loved ones. But then they got a contract from the SS guards that they wanted crematoria.
Jeffrey: Yeah, RFPs. It's a request for proposal. It's still actually in use. During my time in consulting, we received one we were pitching. But it’s interesting that some of these processes are still in place.
Monica: Of course. Yeah, so there was this contract with the SS guards to create crematoria and because they did so well with this first version—and the SS guards wanted to see more and more bodies because they were killing so many Jewish people—the challenge or the technical challenge to this engineering company was to build more efficient ovens that could fit more people and that could burn more quickly and clean up a mess sort of thing. I was very appalled because in my history studies, I have never heard of the Topf and Sons case. You know, it's a very big case that happened and they ended up supplying crematory ovens for also Auschwitz-Birkenau, which is the biggest extermination camp, and a few other extermination camps.
And that just drew me back to our rhetoric on business and pivoting, pivoting your business to meet the needs of the situation and the trends of the times. And I always hear on Y Combinator, startup incubators, “we gotta pivot, we gotta fail fast, and we gotta execute new prototypes.” And I thought those engineers were doing exactly that. It’s not “did they know”? I'm sure they knew what it was for, because some of the engineers and technicians also went to the concentration camps to set it up and fix or maintain any technical faults that were at the site.
So, it's not really a question of did they knew. I they knew full well, but they treated it as a technical challenge. And they even tried to file a PA patent. I'm not sure whether that was successful actually, but they did try to file it, and they left many documents of the schematic, like drawings and sketches of what they were designing. So yeah, that one, that one hit me hard. Because I just felt like this still goes on today, like this sort of mindset and rhetoric. I'm not saying the mindset of failing fast is wrong necessarily, but it's more of we also need time to sort of take a step back and check or kind of have a, I don't know, sanity check, mental check on ourselves to make sure “hey, is this right? Am I taking on a technical challenge that is in line with my own ethical values?” So, I think that was important.
Jeffrey: Well, I think there's also a tendency that we tend to have within corporate settings, right? Going back to what you said earlier, was the fact that we're reliant on counting on other people to say what we're doing is objectively good or within the confines of law, right?
A government could be supporting these policies that are promoting, for example—we don't understand necessarily if electric cars are better, right? Like taking it into a more modern stance. How are we generating the electricity is important. How is that energy being delivered to your car? What are we supposed to do with the battery? We don't know the long-term effects of electric cars. Hopefully they are for the better, but… So going back, also the current trends for a company are very dependent on the policies that are outside perhaps our control. And how much can we blame, how much blame should we assign to the government versus ourselves, especially in a corporate environment? I think that line is, to me, is very difficult to tread.
Monica: Mhhm. Yeah. And what was the business case that you guys talked about?
Jeffrey: We talked about Coco Chanel. I'm sure everyone has heard about Coco Chanel. And especially unfortunately during my time coming back to Hong Kong, I've noticed a lot of their stores, like a lot of their stores: it's everywhere.
Monica: It's really popular around the world. Yeah. Chanel is super popular. Chanel you know, K-Pop and pop culture and everything. It’s a very, very well-known brand.
Jeffrey: I always knew of the brand. I've also noticed the brand, but I think now that I've seen it so much, it has a more attached meaning from what I had thought before. I was like, “oh. Is the company today representative of what they were before? Right?” I think we keep hearing the fact that like our legacy is built on what we used to be or how we got there. But it doesn't really feel that way because in governments or in history, we cherry pick what we want to remember and we forget about the things we might not want to remember.
Monica: I feel like actually before you mentioned Coco Chanel—so for the design and tech cohort, we didn't read the business case about Chanel; we focused on Topf and Sons—but before you told me that Coco Chanel had antisemitic views and collaborated with the Nazis during her time in the forties, I had no idea that Chanel was even involved in any of that. If you guys have access to the Harvard Business case on Coco Chanel, you guys should read it. Although it's only a smallish section about Chanel's ties to the Nazis.
Jeffrey: The Harvard Business case: was it the case I sent you, or no?
Monica: Yeah, it's the one that you sent me.
Jeffrey: I should provide a brief recap. It basically talked a little bit about her history.
Jeffrey: As she was growing up. I think she came from a very poor family. She did work herself and I think more than her designs, she was very good at marketing and was a very excellent entrepreneur. One thing that stood out to me was the fact that she was very good at leveraging networks regardless of whether for good or for better. And she was keeping with the sort of the times. She knew what was going to be coming up. She knew where to go to execute a strategy. So, for example during, I believe it was World War One, she had gone to a mainly bourgeois area where she was able to pitch her products to the appropriate clientele and that really spread like wildfire and really helped establish her brand. Eventually she got to the point where she got to pick her clients in terms of like, she could say no to people. It was not about the money. It was about who; it was also a matter of influence.
Obviously, those two went hand and hand. As the war sort of progressed into France, I believe it was her nephew that got captured toward the south of France. And she was offered a deal to do a small favor for one of the soldiers. And that was sort of her first foray into espionage. Slowly she was able to sort of rescue her nephew, but over time I think she was able to really participate more towards helping the Nazi with pointing out who were Nazis, who were Jewish, and also purchasing companies that were Jewish at discounted rate. For example, she wanted to buy out her collaborator for the Coco Chanel business, who was Jewish, but that family had chosen to sell to people that they had trusted earlier at a much fairer price. Over time, I think she also participated in trying to negotiate between Winston Churchill and a Nazi party member in sort of a ceasefire.
But that fell through. I don't know the specific details. But it was very interesting to me because it’s going off what you had said earlier, right? Monica: Mm-hmm. Jeffrey: She's doing what a businessperson would do, like connections. Right? I got it. Like marketing, she's doing it, just creating sort of this overwhelming demand for her product. I think she was checking off all the boxes in terms of the entrepreneurship.
It's more suspect to say whether or not how she was doing it was the right way for sure. But was she able to sort of change that culture if she stood up? Probably not because the prevailing trend was against her anyway. If she did not participate in that espionage, would she have benefited? Would she have been able to change that culture? I definitely don't think so. But did she also expand sort of that German influence? For sure. So, to me, both past felt very difficult. But I think in keeping with her personality, with the fact that she was anti-Semitic, even before the rise of the Nazi party, that…
Jeffrey: At least there was some sort of consistency you can follow in her logic. Not that I agree with it.
Monica: Mhhm. I'm curious, like when you were running your own business as an entrepreneur, have you been in any situation where you kind of really…like a fork in the road kind of thing?
Jeffrey: Yeah, I would say for sure. I think when we're negotiating and start figuring out our margins…We had relatively high margins in the food business, around 40%. But I think we were trying to figure out whether or not it was appropriate to charge both sides that price. For full context, I worked with both restaurants and our clients.
Jeffrey: Not so much the client side, it's more actually on the restaurant side. Should we have been charging what we charge? And it didn't sit quite well with me. But then I could understand that if we took into account labor and what we were doing at that point in time, we had to charge that much. But if we were able to leverage technology a little bit more, that price could have been driven down, but we just didn't have the capital or the resources to invest in it. So, I think that was sort of my fork in the road: whether or not the margin that we had set was appropriate for what we were offering.
Jeffrey: Obviously as a business you want higher margins. That is the crux. I've asked this to some of my FASPE classmates, and many of them don't see what I've done as wrong. But to me, the fact that I'm bringing it up right now is that it's still…it doesn't sit well with me. Otherwise, I would not bring it up.
Jeffrey: And I think also, as an entrepreneur, how you set the tone early in a company is important. And I wanted it to change towards them, but I felt like I was at a point where the company's prevailing culture was that what we were doing was appropriate. So, we never changed the post. So, I think that decision warranted a longer discussion within the team before we set the tone for it. I think I was very torn by that.
Monica: Mhhm. I see. Thank you. And that's personal, but I think these cases are good to read and reflect on so that you draw parallels to things you have experienced or things that will come up in the near future in your professional role. Okay. Let's move on to Auschwitz, our visit to Auschwitz, which was very gut wrenching. I think it was your first time there. Was it?
Jeffrey: Yes, it was.
Jeffrey: That was my first time there, and I think it was well positioned within the FASPE trip…
Monica: Mhhm. Jeffrey: Where it was in the second week, beginning of the second week. Because without the full context, especially I think it really helped paint the picture of extermination camps and how they fit into sort of the more general Nazi ideology, Nazi strategy. It was very logical. Like they didn't build the crematoria day one. They noticed that there were sanitary problems; there were smells; there were these other problems. Then they chose to solve them. I think it’s unfortunately named the “Final Solution,” right? To them it was sort of the accumulation of all their ideologies, all their goals.
So, I definitely saw that. But within Auschwitz itself, it was on day one that when we went in…It was the hair; it was, for me, the hair memorial that really struck a nerve, because I can't imagine someone using other people's hair for a product to be sold to a general public. Monica: Or just body parts in general. Jeffrey: Yeah. especially when you're reading books like Heart of Darkness, right? There's connotations of cannibalism, all that, and it's looked down upon as something foreign to us, but…
Jeffrey: Especially to the Western culture, but in the fact that they were so willing to resort to using that to make like carpets or products that they needed. I think that really struck a nerve. And also I don't know if it's the right word, but I found it very “appropriate” that they decided for that specific one that they were not going to
use preservatives. And that they were just going to let it go, because there were obviously people who, who were still, I believe, who are still alive that don't want it to be viewed as such. But I do think it's also an interesting statement: why would you? It's not within our rights to look at someone's physical remains, even if it's for a memorial, in such a way.
So, that really stood out to me. Yes, the sheer amount was a lot. Also, I'm 100% sure that was not all of it, right? That was just a very small portion of what was collected, especially over the last couple of months of the war.
Monica: That was just what was left behind when the the allies found the camp.
Monica: Yeah, so that also really stood out to me. It was my second time at Auschwitz actually, so I had visited it before as a teen more than ten years ago. And again, that hair memorial stood out to me similarly. That was what I remembered. Back when I was a teen, and now again I knew we were going into the hair memorial. I already knew how it looked. But I think the new reaction that I had now as a more mature adult who is working was that they used the hair for products. Basically, they used someone's body part, someone who probably has passed to make new products. And that could be considered as a new design, new technology. You know, we're innovating and we're creating this, not wasting processing, like reducing waste in that sense, which is a lot of the rhetoric in the tech world at the moment where we are always creating new mechanisms, new processes. Just new products using recycled materials. So, I think from that perspective, that that really caught me off guard. And again, it was just an “Oh my God” moment. I clearly remembered when I saw it as a teen.
Jeffrey: It was also very well located in terms of the exhibits and because of the fact that it was also placed with cooking utensils and…
Monica: Oh yeah. The luggage bags.
Jeffrey: Luggage bags. I think their prisoners…
Jeffrey: Were expecting a life coming to Auschwitz…
Monica: Mhhm. Jeffrey: Because our tour guide had mentioned they brought things like potato peelers. What is the purpose of a potato peeler? The purpose is one thing, which is to peel a potato, but you don't bring something without a purpose. If you were going to pass away… They thought they were going to live there long term. And I'm sure it was not the Jewish people that were going to live longer. It was the people who were non-Jewish that had a preferential treatment regardless of their status, which I thought was sort of astounding, the thought process, like people sort of still wanted to acknowledge that there was some semblance of humanity in other people, even though throughout this whole journey there were definitely signs they were not being treated as human.
Jeffrey: All that sort of aspect…The fact that they still kept the shower heads, right? They installed shower heads that had no water to create the illusion that they were just walking in, sort of like it was just a sort of daily routine to clean them. But yeah. Moving on. I think within that building there was also an exhibit that really stood out to you.
Monica: Mhhm. Yeah, that was the Book of Names of the six million Jews who were murdered throughout Europe. And I think it's a newer exhibit because I did not remember that when I visited it more than ten years ago. Or maybe I missed it, but when I was told there was a book of names, I literally thought of a book that you flipped through that you could hold.
Jeffrey (jokingly): What?
Monica: But it's actually so much bigger.
Jeffrey: Yeah. It was pretty big.
Monica: But when I went there…What overwhelmed me was just the sheer size of it. I just kind of flipped her randomly at any spot where there wasn't someone standing at it. I was just amazed that there was the documentation of like: last name, first name, where the person was from, where the person died. And I think also how old that person was when they died. There was a date, you know? And I just thought of like, “wow, the Nazis must have documented a lot to be able to have all this information.” Sure, it's pieced together and all that from various sources, but there was that information. But I think what stood out to me was other people's reaction to the same artifact. So, for me, and I guess for you also—we don't have Jewish ancestry—me, when saw it, I was like, “wow, it's a big book…”
Monica: “Let me look at the contents inside the book.” For another fellow who had Jewish ancestry, she made a beeline straight to her great-grandmother's name and found it and got closure that her great-grandmother died in Birkenau, which she wasn't sure about, didn't really know. And I thought that was shocking. That was a whole different reaction I didn't even think of: to find a last name or a first name that I would know of in that book. I'm really thankful that our fellows were super open to sharing these very personal stories, kind of like to see from their perspective how they reacted to that book.
Jeffrey: Yeah. And I think folks were very open about it and very welcoming for us into their world.
Jeffrey: Even if it's definitely not the easiest thing for them…
Jeffrey: To have to face sort of the truth that this is where some of their families had ended up in the end result for what the final solution was. Going back to what you said, we don't have Jewish ancestry, so it's hard for us to relate until we see someone that we're close to or that we know experience those emotions.
Jeffrey: So similarly, I didn't know some of my classmates within our tour group, which is different from yours. I knew that folks spent more time upstairs in the child sort of playground. Uh, not playground but childlike drawing exhibit rather than…
Monica: I saw those two.
Jeffrey: In the book. I think it was interesting that I wasn't really open to it until one of the fellows who I was traveling with later down the line had told me about her experiences.
Jeffrey: She was like: “yeah, at least it was some closure.” It was something she that was important that she could bring back to her own family or just people that she could care about as a representative. I was also very surprised by…I did not know it was organized in a specific manner because…
Jeffrey: To me they just felt like they were…
Monica: Alphabetical order, right?
Jeffrey: Alphabetical, but I didn't know that…it was still really hard to go straight to that specific area if you didn't know the details to what their first name, etc. was.
Jeffrey: So, I did think that was interesting when you said that they beelined straight to it.
[Brief musical interlude]
Monica: So, I think throughout the whole fellowship I've been wrestling with this question of “being good” versus “being good at.”—"being good” at something, “being good” at your professional role, your skills. I still don't have a clear answer, and I think this will be something that's evolving as I grow in my career or as I even potentially change careers down the road. But I'm curious what you think you can bring to your professional role at the moment though.
Jeffrey: Yeah. I think I want to slow down how fast sometimes we're making decisions.
Jeffrey: I think one of the very interesting discussions I had back when I was at Tepper was with an alumni where they had mentioned that the firm I was going into that he worked at was using Chat GPT for their work. I think that's a very important issue because it's really hard to resist a technology that feels so helpful but without sort of considering the consequences of using it. Because as much as I believe that we're using it as a service, they're also using our information to create answers that are tailored specifically to our mindset rather than diversifying our mindset.
Jeffrey: The discussion for use of certain technologies should be discussed and should be brought up as an area. And it can also be a personal choice, right?
Jeffrey: I might have to spend a longer time doing my work without using Chat GPT, but at least I'm more comfortable with the product or the service that I'm providing my clients. And yeah, it might suck to suck, so to speak, but I think that's one of the first things I would do is sort of slow down the use of technology, certain kinds of technology, in what I'm providing my clients, even if I'm pro, especially when I'm providing a recommendation that I want to be proud of. And I'm sure I can. I'm just as good right now as an AI, so I just have to remain confident.
Monica (laughing): Very confident. Jeffrey: Yeah, for now. But yeah, that's sort of what I hope to bring before I bring in higher level discussions because, as I'm starting my career at PWC, I'm not feeling perhaps the most comfortable bringing up…I believe I should start with my own actions before I move to a bigger sort of forum where I can discuss with other people.
Jeffrey: So, that was just my initial take on it. I'm happy to hear yours.
Monica: It's hard. I've been like, thinking about it for a long time, the being good part. What entails…
Monica: What, what is “good”? What encompasses “good”? And then also being good at what skill I have. I was kind of trying to make a list of what skills do I have right now. In research or design or just…
Jeffrey (laughing): You’re a great driver!
Monica (laughing): All right, yeah. But that's not really my professional skill. That's my hobby. I think the main one was always taking me back to like the Topf and Sons case actually, how whatever pivots I might make in the future, whether in my own role or in my work as a UX researcher, how can I be cognizant of, say, different stakeholders or just different perspectives to a situation before jumping right in. I think similarly along the lines of yours, slowing down, making sure you understand like the technology or know, really know, understand the pros and cons before making a recommendation to your client. But more being aware of that on my own also and being updated about all the new things that are happening. It could be news; it could be emerging technologies; it could be anything in society. I know it's hard. It's easier said than done. It's hard. It's difficult. Like you're not going to understand everything to a very high degree, but at least be knowledgeable about certain processes that are in the scope or in the realm of my work. And that will probably evolve. I feel like my answer to this question will evolve. But ask me again in a year. It probably will have evolved.
Jeffrey (jokingly): Yeah. If I ask into your tomorrow maybe also…
Monica (laughing): When you mentioned Heart of Darkness just now, you know in the application questions for FASPE? That was what I talked about, that book. You know?
Jeffrey: It's a good book.
Monica: Yeah. I read it in high school for the first time in my English literature class, and I didn't get it at all, and I was like, “What's this book about?” And then I had to read it like three more times to really understand what the themes were behind it.
Jeffrey: That's a lot. That’s four times.
Monica: Yeah. It opened my mind to how civilized people, people who think that they are civilized, can be so savage in the end. And that it was written so long ago, but it mapped really well to how the Nazi regime was, led and constructed by lawyers, doctors, researchers, basically privileged people who had a high degree of education. It was what was going on. And also even to now: governments led by certain people—we shall not name names—or leaders of big companies that are, you know, that have a very strong stance towards a certain area, which might not be the most popular opinion.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me again and thank you for a lot more really great conversations during our trip in person—in the morning, in the afternoon, in the bus ride, at night.
Jeffrey: No thank you!
Monica: And thank you for recounting all your business cases to me.
Jeffrey: I, I feel like I needed more perspective, so I really appreciate you just listening to me, boosting my foosball ego by letting me win. I think it was wonderful to have found companionship, especially in terms of someone who's able to look at it from a different lens, which was the purpose, right, for FASPE?
Jeffrey: Was this multidisciplinary approach. So, I really appreciate it—and hopefully stay connected. Definitely.
Monica (laughing): And we'll revisit this podcast in five to 10 years, as you mentioned at the start.
Jeffrey: For sure. We’ll do a For sure. We’ll do a follow-up recording
Monica Chan was a 2023 FASPE Design and Technology Fellow. She is a UX researcher at Amazon Alexa.
Jeffrey Ho was a 2023 FASPE Business Fellow. He currently works at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) as a consultant.
- This transcript has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity. If you would like to listen to the podcast, please find it on Spotify at this link: https://open.spotify.com/episode/2fSSO4bxf7P1auzyE5Rh31.