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June 01, 2021

Q&A with Lookout Foundation’s Inventor Mentors

Apurva Kumar, Security Researcher, Lookout

What’s your top tip for identifying a creative solution to a real-life problem? What’s one example of a time you came up with a creative solution to a real-life problem?

Top tip: Innovation doesn't have to be complicated -- in fact, it's often the simple solutions people don't think about! Solving problems come naturally when we think carefully about a problem and don't let our insecurities hold us back from speaking up!

For example, I've thought about innovative solutions to problems at work, but didn't mention them out loud thinking they were silly or "too easy." Surprisingly, the easiest solutions are usually the best, and sometimes the most difficult to see. When trying to find solutions, remember to take a step back or take a break before tackling the problem.

What’s an invention or innovative idea that you have helped to develop and what steps did you take to develop it?

I re-purposed an old wheelchair to make a wheelbarrow. I wanted to help carry heavy items and dirt from one end of my house to the other and my neighbour had an old electric wheelchair he was throwing away.
 
A wheelchair already has wheels and a powerful motor –I just had to buy a new battery and connect a remote control and I had an awesome electric wheelbarrow as well as lots of fun driving my friends around the neighbourhood on it!
Bryan Solan, Staff Software Engineer, Lookout

What’s an invention or innovative idea that you have helped to develop and what steps did you take to develop it?

I have a patent pending for a method in online teleconferences to bring the attention of your audience to the relevant part of the picture by allowing them to see where your mouse pointer is.

This came from thinking about how in-person presentations are better because the audience can see where the presenter is bringing attention to certain details, maybe with a laser pointer. Then I wondered about how we could bring that advantage to teleconferences.

Patents and inventions are usually incremental: they build on things other people have already invented, often by wondering how existing solutions might be applied in new ways to solve today’s problems.

What advice would you give your middle-school self? Consider how the skills you learned when you were younger influenced your career path.

I wish we had the internet when I was in middle school – as much information as you want on practically any subject in the world! Nowadays the amount of information available is probably overwhelming. There’s so much that you could never hope to take it all in.

My advice would be:
  1. Find things that sparks your curiosity and then start digging deep. Keep learning and growing a little more every day. A little regularly is much better than a lot sporadically. Try to teach what you learn – then you’ll know if you really understand it!
  2. Don’t go for the safe option. Longer-term benefits come from taking on more challenging tasks, where you might fail or not do so well, but where you learn and grow a lot more in the long run.
  3. Really understand the core principles. For the extra upfront effort it takes, the core principles are much more valuable than trying to learn everything by rote. For example, for math, be able to rediscover proofs again from scratch rather than memorizing them.
Kristina Balaam, Senior Security Intelligence Engineer, Lookout

What’s an invention or innovative idea that you have helped to develop and what steps did you take to develop it?

As a software engineer, I'm often tasked with finding ways to simplify a process or find an answer to a problem using code. The best way I've found to approach implementing an idea that will solve a problem is to break it into bite-sized pieces and address each piece individually. This can help you find areas of the problem you didn't consider and it helps make the development of the solution feel less overwhelming.
 
I always start by writing out some structure or outline for the solution and work my way through implementing each part of it until I have something that works. From there, I can go back and review my work and decide which areas I can improve upon.

What advice would you give your middle-school self? Consider how the skills you learned when you were younger influenced your career path.

Ask lots of questions about what career(s) your interests could help you find! Often, we're pushed in the direction of the same few jobs – doctor, lawyer, etc. And while those are wonderful careers, there may be a job you didn't even know you wanted but that would allow you to learn and grow in all the areas you're interested in.
 
Get lots of feedback from different adults to help you make the best decision about what kind of work you might one day like to do.
Lalet Scaria, Software Developer, Lookout
 

What’s an invention or innovative idea that you have helped to develop and what steps did you take to develop it?

During my high school years, as part of science exhibition, a friend of mine and I created a water quality detector that could be made for under $2. It could detect and inform the user if the water is drinkable or not.

Tell us about a time when you did something awesome and innovative.

During my tenure as a software developer I have always tried to improve the user experience in terms of design and build and that has always been appreciated by the end users and stakeholders.
Paula Myrick, Office Experience Manager, Lookout

What’s your top tip for identifying a creative solution to a real-life problem? What’s one example of a time you came up with a creative solution to a real-life problem?

People often say 'think outside the box.' I say think outside your own brain! :)

My favourite solution-finding method is asking friends and work colleagues their thoughts on a problem. It's even better if they have a wide variety of life experiences. Often our brains will keep taking us down the familiar path and we will keep making similar mistakes. An external perspective can give you new insight and maybe even a working solution.

Another favourite technique is to STOP working on the problem and do something completely different for a while. Often solutions will pop up while I'm out for a walk or sleeping. Our subconscious can sometimes problem solve for us when we stop trying to force an answer.

What advice would you give your middle-school self? Consider how the skills you learned when you were younger influenced your career path.

Don't be afraid to fail! I often would not take on projects that were beyond my current capabilities. I really liked being a straight-A student and wanted to keep it that way. My personal growth was slowed by going for the easy A instead of trying something new and challenging.

See failure as a learning opportunity. Most famous inventors failed A LOT: “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.” ― Thomas A. Edison

And, if you are lucky, your failures may be the road to success. Penicillin, pacemakers, microwave ovens, superglue, and so many more products were mistakes that the inventors capitalized on.
Tim Wyatt, Chief Scientist, Lookout

What advice would you give your middle-school self? Consider how the skills you learned when you were younger influenced your career path.

It's not always obvious how to use the tools that you are given until you find a problem that they solve. Don't hesitate to ask more questions about what those problems might be – it can open up a whole new world of understanding why things are useful and even fun to understand.

Tell us about a time when you did something awesome and innovative.

I spend a lot of my free time taking my knowledge of software engineering, my self-education about electronics and electrical engineering, and building electronics for music and other artistic endeavours. For quite some time, my primary project has been to build my own musical instrument: a modular synthesizer of my own design from the ground up.
 
I am constantly learning from the work of others, and this is a field that is deep and wide. Someday I hope to look back on what I've done and see my own innovations at work, and contribute ideas back to the communities from which I have learned what I needed to build my own creation.
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