How Human-Computer Interaction is Changing the Way We Think, Work, and Game: Insights from Nick Balcomb

Oct 3, 2023 | Blog, Technology

Mariner has always believed that innovation should transcend technology and products to infuse everything we do, from our processes and services to our culture. In a world where technology regularly intertwines with our daily lives, this philosophy has never been truer, especially within the realm of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI).

At its core, HCI embodies the idea that innovation in technology must be intertwined with how humans interact with and experience that technology. It’s the reason why we can navigate a digital world with a mere gesture, why our favourite apps know what we want before we do, or why the line between reality and virtual is increasingly blurred. This multidisciplinary playground brings together the science of technology, the art of design, and the psychology of human behaviour to be more inclusive and responsive to the needs and desires of users.

To give a little more insight into the fascinating world of HCI, we spoke with Nick Balcomb (Software Developer at Mariner) about his own experiences with the topic, the CHI PLAY conference that he’ll be attending next week, and any advice he’d give to those interested in the field.

After completing his Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science, Nick joined the HCI Lab at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, New Brunswick. Reflecting on his interest in the field and what made him want to join the lab, Nick says, “I had taken a few courses prior, but decided to check out the lab after completing my degree. I like how HCI is basically everything all at once. It bridges how we understand and build things to connect with people and incorporates different disciplines like robotics, business, psychology, and even healthcare/medicine”. Although his interest in the area has led him to pursue his Masters of Computer Science degree this year (with a specialization in Human-Computer Interactions and XR Development), it’s his latest accomplishment that has propelled his work and passion in the field to a larger audience.

Next week, Nick will not only be attending the CHI PLAY 2023 Conference in Stratford, Ontario, but his paper and project for the lab have also been selected to be published and presented at the conference. CHI PLAY (Computer-Human Interaction Play) is an international academic conference that focuses on the intersection of HCI and games and covers a wide range of topics including game design, user experience, gamification, game analytics, and virtual reality. It brings together researchers, practitioners, and enthusiasts who are interested in exploring and advancing the understanding of how people interact with games and playful experiences.

Nick’s topic is on the representation of hands in virtual reality and how the intersection of representation and interaction can affect people’s experiences. When asked about the inspiration behind the topic, Nick shares that he thought it would be fun to explore that area and wondered how big of an impact our hands really make in the world of VR. Choosing a topic of interest has proved to be advantageous, especially when he needed the motivation to keep going in the face of tight timelines. Nick says, “Timing was definitely a challenge. After months of system work and tweaking, I had to go through an ethics board and then had about 1 month to find as many participants for the project as I possibly could. From there, it was just about completing the data analysis and pulling the final paper together”.

Thinking back on his project, Nick comments on how he believes his research and experience cemented his knowledge in HCI and taught him that everything is interconnected. “Having this knowledge has helped me in everything I do, including my job, and has taught me to be aware and account for how things are impacted by everything I do”. For those inspired to get involved, Nick’s advice would be to find something you’re passionate about and look for ways that technology has an impact on it from a variety of perspectives. He states, “Technology is intertwined with so many things- you’d be surprised! I find it more enjoyable when you can somehow connect something you are interested in with technology and understand how others might interact with it as well”.

Now, a full-time employee with Mariner, Nick first joined the organization back in 2017 for his first co-op placement. “I chose to return with Mariner because they offer security, interesting work, and diversity in projects. I want to try different things in my career and feel I can do that with Mariner.” When asked what’s next for him, Nick says he’s looking forward to enjoying the experience of attending the CHI PLAY conference, taking some time to focus on his career, and continuing his membership with the UNB HCI Lab, “As long as I’m creating something and feel that I’m having a real impact on my projects, I’m happy!”

On behalf of Mariner, we wish Nick the best of luck at the CHI PLAY conference and look forward to seeing what he’ll do next!


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