An Interview with Tomer Sharon - Chair IsraCHI, Israel
Tomer Sharon, Chair of IsraCHI, answers questions about the state of HCI in Israel
Q: Can you give us some background about the state of HCI in Israel?
Israelis are characteristically action-driven, good improvisers, highly innovative and have a lot of Chutzpa. Because the Israeli culture is highly practical, extra emphasis is placed on the functionality of things at the expense of the human factor. This attitude is reflected in the lack of support for the handicapped in government buildings and in the weak HCI education included in the computer science academic programs. Among software developers there is an indifference to user needs and violation of elementary guidelines. But, on the other hand, Israelis are very willing to innovate and invent. The typical Israeli has no time, wants answers rather than more questions, and has no patience to fool around with a software product. The high-tech and defense industries in particular have no patience for an unfriendly software product. Nevertheless, currently there are only about 20 out of 3,000 hi-tech companies in Israel that employ in-house HCI professionals and 100 additional companies use HCI consultancies for this work. These facts are bad and good news; bad because it demonstrates a poor image of HCI in Israel and good because we have a lot of opportunity for development.
Q: When was the local CHI formed?
IsraCHI was established in response to the demand to have an HCI-related professional community in Israel. This need kept on coming up among the few Israelis that attended international conferences and lamented the lack of such events in Israel. In 1999, Dr. Avi Parush, an HCI researcher from Technion, gathered some of the leading people in the field and they discussed the possibility of founding the local SIG-CHI chapter, which he later named IsraCHI. The initial goals were to meet the above mentioned needs by organizing periodic meetings in which one or more lectures on various topics in the field were presented.
Q: Are their other similar associations that are also very popular?
The Israeli Association for Human Factors and Ergonomics is active on and off for about 20 years now and to my knowledge it has a member count of about 100 people. I know that their focus is more on ergonomics, safety at work and issues like that, less on usability and HCI.
Q: How many HCI professionals are there are in Israel, in this field?
The activities and the website brought more people to IsraCHI and the community encompasses almost 500 people to date. About 200 of them are HCI practitioners (in-house experts, consultants, students, researchers, professors and such) and the rest are interested in the field (mostly graphic designers, product managers and developers).
Q: Are their specialized HCI programs in the universities?
Israel has eight major universities and dozens of private colleges, none of which offers a full HCI academic program. Of all the technology programs offered, only four are somewhat HCI-related. These are masterâ€™s programs in information systems or industrial engineering that include a specialization in HCI, but none that is dedicated to it. Even though the market demand is growing, the market is still relatively small. Universities are lagging behind the demand in the market, but because there is such a small market for HCI professionals, universities donâ€™t want to establish a program that would attract too few students. Itâ€™s a question of supply and demand. When the industry demands more HCI professionals, universities will offer more relevant programs, and I begin to hear rumbles about establishing dedicated academic programs.
Q: What are the most important issues faced by local HCI professionals?
If I have to put it in one word, I would say â€“ awareness. Awareness is key to our profession; without it, there are no professionals, no academic degrees, no demand and no supply. There are many development and service providing companies and organizations that will tell you that they are aware of HCI, but they do nothing about it. The most challenging issue Israeli HCI professionals face is to convince key decision makers to take a step forward and recognize HCI in action, not in vision statements. Another important issue HCI professionals in Israel face is the lack of a Hebrew knowledge base. We try to face this gap by creating one through our organizationâ€™s website.
Q: Can u tell us about the activities of the local chapter?
IsraCHI meets once every two months for a professional event. Our events are scheduled for 3 hours each during the evening. Recent event topics were â€œDigital Photography User Experienceâ€, â€œChildrenâ€™s User Experienceâ€, â€œMaking of UI professionalsâ€, â€œUsability in practiceâ€, â€œGraphic Design and Usabilityâ€, and â€œIs the Macintosh UI Really Superior?â€. Our upcoming events will deal with computerized usability testing, remote usability testing, education vs. experience and an event that introduces MITâ€™s Media Lab work on advanced user interfaces. We also run a community website (www.israchi.org) that includes job opening boards, candidate boards, practicum openings, member boards, a resource center with articles, publications, a website index, a professional dictionary, and information about our events (past and future), and information for journalists. We keep the majority of the site in Hebrew since we want to create and establish a Hebrew knowledge base for Israelis.
Q: How many members do you have?
500, see Q4 above.
Q: Do you have students interested in CHI activities?
Many students show great interest in our community and events. They show up for events, try to grasp industry â€œscentsâ€ and feel how things really are.
Q: Where do you all meet?
When looking for a good gathering place in the center of Israel, Prof. Shimon Schocken from the IDC (Interdisciplinary Center) was happy to sponsor a meeting place at IDC, which is used until today. IDC is considered as the number one private college in Israel and we are grateful for its ongoing support.
Q: How do you keep in touch between meetings?
Mostly, through email updates I send all members and through our website and RSS feeds.
Q: Do you have local industry and academic sponsorship for CHI activities?
Apart from the generous hosting support we get from the Interdisciplinary Center, we get only minor support from several companies. Iâ€™d like to mention Addwise (www.addwise.com) and especially its CEO, Mr. Boaz Chen, who has helped us build our website and who I am consulting with from time to time on event topics and general organizational issues.
Q: How will the local SIG chapter help HCI professionals in Israel?
IsraCHI has three goals: promoting awareness to HCI, creating a local body of knowledge, and serving as a networking platform for HCI professionals. By accomplishing these goals I believe we are on the right track of â€œhelpingâ€ HCI professionals in Israel. We do all that by putting huge efforts on public relations (and we succeed pretty well on that), by having professional events with impressive attendance (100-250 people in each event) once every two months, and by maintaining and developing many sources and services through our website.
Q: What is your vision for the local CHI, in 5 years from now?
This is a hard one. In my vision I see a growing demand for Israeli HCI professionals that will generate a dedicated academic plan for HCI, a significant increase in the amount and size of in-house HCI groups and HCI consultancies, and more importantly â€“ a growing awareness to HCI among our most important audience â€“ the people who use technology products and services.