This week I returned to return to the Media Lab to discuss alternative career paths with current students, and what it’s like to work as an independent consultant with non-profits and other mission-driven organizations.
I started my career at the Lab as an undergraduate with the UROP program, and it provided me an incredible opportunity to get involved with a professor directly doing cutting edge work. That helped me find alternative outlets to the traditional engineering path, ones that were explicitly political in nature.
During my time in the Lab, it seemed that projects with a political lens were not seen as equally innovative as ones that were pushing technological boundaries. I received some very negative anonymous feedback on my presentations of VirtualGaza and the Boycott Toolkit, which I was unable to respond to directly with the individual. I also received criticism of my work from the campus Hillel chapter, which I did discuss and resolve with the Rabbi. In both cases, the ability to do explicitly political work was questioned as being outside the bounds of good academic behavior.
However, in the intervening decade, it sounds as if this stigma may have somewhat lifted. In my discussion here and earlier this year, several students agreed with my contention that technology is inherently political, and that we should imbue what we build with our values in order to make a better future.