Eric Danas has worked for more than 15 years in the field of user-experience design — currently working with Vertafore, a Bothell-based company that makes software for the insurance industry. How did he get his start? As an exploration petrophysicist in the oil industry, of all things.
The experience interested him in the challenges of using technology to extract and work with information, eventually prompting his career change. The insurance industry, with its heavy focus on data, offers him a unique opportunity as a user-experience designer.
But it was his virtual-reality gear that really sealed his status as our latest Geek of the Week. See below for that, along with his answers to our questionnaire.
Name: Eric Danas
Job, hobby and/or other geeky pursuit: I am the Director of User Experience at Vertafore – a software provider to the insurance industry. It’s my job to understand how we can make our products easier to use for our customers and our end users (i.e. insurance agents, customer service reps, etc.).
Coolest thing about what you do: Making complex technology easy to use. If we can make the technology itself transparent, so it just fades into the background and people are using it without even realizing it, that’s really cool and gets me excited.
What does it mean to you to be a geek? Being a geek means modifications or adapting technology to a need in ways other than how it was originally intended. The inside joke term in my household is, “That can be modified.”
Geekiest thing(s) you’ve ever done, built, or worn: The latest is an adjustable stand for a force feedback steering wheel for Xbox racing. I built it because I needed it so I could win races against my neighbor.
In terms of the geekiest thing that I’ve ever worn, when I was in Grad school, most of my research focused on virtual reality. I’ve worn all sorts of crazy technology including gloves and head mounted displays.
Most important lesson you’ve ever learned about technology: Focus on the user. At the end of the day, the technology is meant to serve us, so we need to focus on the actual user of the technology. When you do that, everything else falls into place.
Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life: Have a sense of humor. On a more pragmatic basis, it’s coordinating communications across all the different devices that I have. When I finally have email and messages on all my different devices including my phone and tablet, it helps keep me efficient and productive.
Mac, Windows or Linux? Windows mostly by necessity related to work. I rely on Apple for my personal devices.
Kirk, Picard, Janeway or Sisko? Kirk. Picard would come in second but I think Kirk could take him.
Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? Time machine but maybe not if it’s a V1 product.
If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … I’d make an app for a tablet or smart phone. The exciting place is definitely in the application space for devices. Maybe an app for DIY, which is all about modifications…
I once waited in line for … A $500 laptop. It was one of those Black Friday screamin’ deals where you get up early and go to Best Buy or Circuit City. I got it, but I won’t do that again. Although at the time it was pretty darn enticing…
Your geek role models (And why?):
1) Frank Zappa – You may not normally think of him as a geek but he was constantly pushing the envelope of technology in pursuit of his passion for music. He was always finding the absolute latest in music technology and pushing it beyond what it was intended to do in order to produce the music that he wanted to create. It’s all about modifications…
2) Adrian Newey – He’s an aerodynamicist that designs Formula One racing cars. It’s the coolest blend of art, science, technology and design work with a very specific focus in mind.
Greatest Game In History: Forza Motorsport, a racing and driving game. In my house, I have a big projector screen and it’s just huge. Sitting in front of that thing, driving an exotic high performance car, is a great escape.
Best Gadget Ever: The iPad. I use it in a lot of different ways but I travel fairly frequently and it has made air travel almost pleasurable. It’s amazing what I have at my fingertips. In a travel situation, it’s perfect.
First computer: An Amiga. It was not one of the more common computers but its strength was multimedia.
Current phone: iPhone 4.
Favorite app: Photosynth. It takes massive 3D panorama photos. You simply point the camera and it automatically shoots images for you and stiches them together. And it’s free.
Favorite hangout: Museums. I’m a total sucker for the Pacific Science Center. I can go there over and over again (it helps having kids). I appreciate the hands-on science and technology.
Favorite cause: Anything related to education and kids. Our advances in technology are all rooted in education. You have to have a good solid educational system in place and be effectively engaging kids so that they are interested in understanding how things work. If you do, they’ll pursue technology in whatever form works and makes sense for them. This doesn’t necessarily mean everyone has to be an engineer or computer scientist – in fact we need more right-brain thinking – but understanding and being curious about how technology can work for us can mean big things such as breakthroughs in medicine.
Most important technology of 2011: This was the year that the Nissan LEAF became available. Mainstream availability of a one hundred percent electric car is a big turning point in technology.
Most important technology of 2015: Portable power. To me, batteries are the weak link in most devices. I’m expecting by 2015, we will have had a big break though in portable power.
Words of advice for your fellow geeks: Keep your geekiness under control. When it takes over, it can cause problems. For example, when you take a look around, and you suddenly notice everyone is fiddling around with their phones, technology is kind of taking over. It’s important to pull back and interact with people.
Geek of the Week is a regular feature profiling the characters of the Pacific Northwest technology community. See the Geek of the Week archive for more.
Does someone you know deserve this distinguished honor? Send nominations to firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Geek of the Week photography by Annie Laurie Malarkey, email@example.com.]