Computer Scientist-Turned Interactive Design Programmer: Meet MDM Student Shabnam Suresh Babu
This year’s first women-majority cohort was a major milestone for the Master of Digital Media program. Not only are there more women than men but these women are extremely talented individuals from all over the world. They have a ton of experience, excel in their fields and are eager to give back to their communities.
An MDM student who exemplifies this is Shabnam Suresh Babu. Shabnam is a computer science engineer-turned interactive design programmer from Bangalore who came to Vancouver in September to take the Master of Digital Media program.
I sat down to chat with Shabnam over coffee about what made her apply to the MDM program, projects that she’s working on and her upcoming mentorship with Girls Learning Code.
Above, Shabnam with her teammates Apeksha (programmer), Berenice, Judith, Vicki (2D artists) and Melody (3D artist).
1. Tell us about yourself before you joined the Master of Digital Media program.
I did my undergrad in Computer Science Engineering at the PES School of Engineering in Bangalore and I was placed at Infosys, which is an IT company. I had training there for 8 months—6 months in general training and 2 months on a banking software called Finacle. Once we finished the training, they placed me as a Technical Instructor in Finacle Academy and I trained and ran sessions for all of the new people coming into the company.
It was during this time that I started making handmade, customized pop up cards for birthdays and holidays, that’s how I got into graphic design.
I decided to take a 1 year sabbatical from Infosys to work on my creative side. But I quickly realized that I was too self-taught so I took courses in design programs like Illustrator, Photoshop and Indesign. Slowly I started doing branding projects and wedding cards on a bigger scale. One of my largest orders was 400 (!) handmade cards for a wedding.
I was lucky that I had enough projects every month that kept me surviving until the next month. Since it’s freelance, some months you’re loaded with cash and some months you know, you’re barely surviving [laughs]. My family was a huge support during that time.
In March 2015, my friend and I created LET'S INK which offers screen printing workshops in Bangalore and we’ve created a community of screen printers via a Facebook and WhatsApp group. My friend is continuing with the project while I’m here in Vancouver and I’m supporting her with things like design files and maintenance.
2. What made you decide to take the MDM?
The main reason was that I knew I wanted to get into graphic design but that I didn’t have any official training. Since my background is in computer engineering, I needed something that combined both computer engineering and design. I googled “Masters in Digital Media” and this program was the first thing that came up. I was not sure initially, but something told me to just apply.
When I applied, initially it wasn’t a feasible idea. Going all the way to Vancouver and obviously— it goes without saying—the finances were really hard. It was big decision for me. But I just believed that I could do it with a loan and scholarships. That was the other thing—this was the course with the maximum number of scholarships. So the scholarship and the loan worked out.
3. What project are you currently working on? What’s your role on the team?
I’m working on a project called Gender Vectors. We’re building a mystery game for the LBGTQ community. The client was very specific that it should be for a 14 year old non-binary character where the player finds themselves by navigating through the world. I’m the programmer, I split the tasks with another programmer, Lucas, an exchange student from Denmark.
We work well together as a team, it’s very straightforward and there’s no overlap. I like it that way because every programmer has a unique style of coding and thinks differently.
4. So you have both your computer science and your design background, is there one area that you want to focus on more after MDM?
I want to mix both art and computer science in an interactive design programmer role, especially in Unity and iOs, where you have the art and can see what you’re coding. I didn’t have any experience working with either of them before I came here but I’ve picked them up in the program.
When I was at Infosys there were a lot of things that were black screen especially while doing backend customization. Coding was not interesting, it’s monotonous. But projects in digital media are so innovative, every project is amazing.
5. You’re mentoring at the upcoming Girls Learning Code event happening at the CDM. What made you decide to be a mentor?
It might sound a little silly, but I’ve always wanted to give back somehow.
My husband is from Wayanad (a hill station in Kerala state), India and I’ve always wanted to find a way to help the girls.
I really look forward to some day starting something in India that helps other women. That’s the best part about digital media, you can do your work wherever you want as long as you have connectivity.
6. What do you want girls to know about computers and programming?
That it’s a necessary skill. Programming is not just programming, it’s the ability to think logically. Life is more organized if you think that way [laughs].
Haley Sharpe recently gave a talk at the CDM and I really like the statement he said: “You have to be Organized to be more Creative.” I was like absolutely.
Connect with Shabnam on LinkedIn.