Jamie: Would you like to introduce yourself?
Aarati: I’m currently based in New York, and I am an artist, a programmer, and an educator. I have a design background but I actually work more as an artist and web developer. I teach coding within a creative context.
Jamie: How did you get your start in design and coding?
Aarati: In my undergraduate degree I studied industrial design, although I don’t work in that now. I took a coding class as part of that program really loved it, so I ended up slowly gearing more towards taking more coding classes after I graduated. I ending up working in the tech industry for a while, but then came back to design. Particularly in academia like teaching and getting another degree because I was more interested in coding used as a creative tool versus development in the tech industry. So yeah, I started in design, veered off into coding and tech, and then found my way back to design.
Jamie: As a woman what was your experience in the tech field?
Aarati: That’s a good question. I had a unique experience because one of my more memorable jobs was working as a full-time web developer at a startup that sold woman’s products and had an almost entirely woman team. But it was interesting to learn from that is that the problem of sexism in the tech industry goes beyond having a more diverse team. Even though our team was diverse there were still so many issues like our female team members getting lower pay or communication that was not safe for everyone. It showed that diversity is an issue that goes beyond numbers or the demographics of your team.
Jamie: For a young woman interested in industries like design or tech, do you have any advice for them?
Aarati: I think this kind of is advice can be taken for anyone: Finding a support network, whether that’s friends or colleagues, or in my case people I met in my undergraduate degree even though it’s not what I ended up doing. I still keep in touch with people I went to school with and am supported by them. For example with the job I mentioned, I felt like I had people I could talk through these issues with and come to the conclusion that I needed to leave so I think just having some kind of support system is helpful.
Jamie: That’s great. Can you tell me a little bit about your journey through design and tech- How has your work and design process changed throughout the years?
Aarati: That is a good question as well. I think design is unique because I feel like it can apply to a lot of different fields. Even though I don’t do traditional industrial design, the basic principles that I learned like user testing or research methodologies definitely still apply to my practice as a web developer and artist. I think having a design background is really helpful for creative research and thinking through your process. I think it is a strength of starting in design as opposed to a traditional computer science background, is being able to bring a lens of criticality that’s really important matter what field you’re in.
Jamie: Are there any projects that you’re currently working on right now or that you’ve worked on in the past that you would like to talk about?
Aarati: My most recent work is Ancestral Apparitions where I use machine learning on family photographs. I was interested in the consistencies in poses and compositions found in family photos. I enjoy working with my family photographs and machine learning- I feel like this is a research thread that I’m going to continue to follow. There’s just something uncanny about working with machine-generated images and it is interesting to think about what it means to work with a family archive using those tools.
Jamie: Any last thoughts for your readers?
Aarati: I don’t know how relevant it is to readers but I couldn’t talk much about teaching and I feel like teaching has also really inspired me as an artist. I am appreciative of my students and love seeing their work, I feel like it definitely feeds into my own art practice too.
Aarati Akkapeddi is a first-generation Indian-American, cross-disciplinary artist, educator, and programmer interested in the poetics and politics of datasets.
Visit her site at https://aarati.me/