From SGI to Prezi: The Mainstreaming of Visualization

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Image is from a prezi of Miranda Yao & Jenny Wang, who, while in high school, identified a bacteria that helps break down plastic waste.

I love visual communications. I never realized how much until Peter Arvai, Prezi CEO, asked me to give him feedback on his company’s zooming presentation software.  I went to Prezi.com. I was planning to take a year off from tech and therefore had no intention of spending more than a few cursory minutes browsing the website.  The next thing I knew I’d spent a couple of hours creating a prezumé (résumé in Prezi) for a job I didn’t want—an odd way to begin my sabbatical. But it was provocative and fun—an experience I’d never had with the thousands of PowerPoint presentations I’d made over the years.

After business school, I chose SGI over Microsoft.  This was ’89.  If I were more financially minded and hindsight were 20/20, I should never revisit on this decision.  But I occasionally do, and while I didn’t retire in four years (as at least two of my classmates who went to Microsoft did), I spent an amazing decade at SGI.  I chose SGI because it was an exciting, disruptive company close to San Francisco, but I now realize how much I was also drawn to its change-the-world-through visualization vision.

My last role at SGI included running internal communications.  One day I had this crazy idea to compare SGI’s vision to Stephen Hawking’s research.  A week later I was at Cambridge discussing string theory with Dr. Hawking.  Much better than early retirement.  But I digress.

When I realized in my 2-hour prezumé creation was that I was hooked on visual communications.  At SGI, we wanted to take 3D visualization to the masses.  We didn’t quite get there.  But Prezi is doing just that.  Though, instead of enabling people to visualize data, Prezi is helping people to visualize their ideas.  This was a vision I could sink my teeth into.

Instead of emailing Peter feedback, I set up a lunch date to discuss the job. So long sabbatical, hello Prezi.

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