Boomerangs: Adobe Researchers who came back and helped build Project Blink

March 17, 2023

Tags: Researcher Spotlights

One of the most exciting things about working at Adobe Research is the opportunity to team up on experimental projects and use cutting-edge research to meet the needs of real users. That’s why we talked with three Adobe research boomerangs — people who left the company for a while and then returned — who’ve been working on Project Blink. Project Blink is a new AI-powered app that enables a completely different way for users to edit videos (check out the beta version here, and read our story about Project Blink here).

Aseem Agarwala, Anh Truong, and Joel Brandt — three members of the large team of researchers, engineers, and designers who developed Project Blink — told us about why they came back to Adobe, what they enjoy most about research-product collaborations, and how the Adobe Research culture helps them to do the work they love.

Finding the freedom to explore and lead

Agarwala, Senior Principal Scientist, left Adobe Research for a large tech company, then headed back four years later.

“I’d accomplished what I’d set out to do and I was looking for the next thing,” he explains. “I had lunch with some former Adobe colleagues and they thought I should come back for a new project. It was really appealing to work again with people I’d known and respected for a long time.” Agarwala returned to help lead Project Blink.

Agarwala was also drawn back because of the way Adobe Research focuses on the needs of creative people. “We’re building tools for people who want agency in the creative process, and it’s so rewarding to help people achieve amazing things,” he explains. “For me, it’s all about our customers and how we treat them, which I think is different from a lot of other companies.”

On top of that, Agarwala missed the flexibility at Adobe. “I like that we get a lot of freedom to build interesting things and I like our openness. We collaborate with academia and we have a lot of tolerance for open exploration and blue-sky thinking. You see this reflected in the remarkable longevity of employees. People often stay here for their whole careers, or they’ll go away for a little bit and come back.”

Going from an Adobe Research internship to grad school and back again

Back in 2015, Truong, Research Engineer, was an Adobe Research intern. She came on board full-time after graduation. Two-and-a-half years later, Truong left Adobe to pursue a PhD, took the opportunity to intern at another company, and then decided to come back to Adobe Research. She joined the team working on Project Blink.

For Truong, a big perk of Adobe Research life is getting to do research and see its practical applications. “With Project Blink, we’re reimagining video editing and workflows so that even people who aren’t professionals can tell stories with video. It’s a need that really exploded during the pandemic,” she says.

“It’s just so gratifying to have consumers use the things you’ve built and learn from their feedback. While we think very deeply about what we build, there are so many things that we can’t anticipate — like how users will interact with a new video editing workflow. I get to see those real-life applications of my work.”

Truong also came back to Adobe for the creativity and the chance to grow. “It’s easy to find creative things to work on that align with the company’s mission and are just really fun,” she says. “And in the Research lab, it’s very collaborative and supportive. I feel like I have endless amounts to learn here.”

Getting back to the products — and helping more people create

Brandt is an Adobe Research Principal Scientist who specializes in human-computer interaction. Back in 2008, he joined Adobe Research as an intern and then spent the next several summers with the team as he completed his PhD. He joined the company full-time when he graduated.

A few years into his time at Adobe, Brandt jumped at an opportunity to manage a research team at a larger tech company. “I did that for about two years, and it didn’t take me very long to come to my senses. I realized how much I love actually building stuff,” says Brandt.

“Adobe was a place I could come back to and still feel like my career was moving forward, and I could lead through technical leadership — we really value people for what they contribute.”

As a researcher, Brandt especially appreciates his collaborations with product teams. “When we have interesting new ideas, I try to embed deeply with product,” he says. This is how he worked with Adobe teams, including Photoshop, before he left.

Now, with Project Blink, Brandt is close to products and the needs of users again.

The project gave him a chance to explore user experiences without shoehorning them into existing applications. “That way, we weren’t constrained by the old mental model,” he explains. “Project Blink has been an opportunity to completely rethink video editing through the lens of machine learning.”

Brandt adds, “One thing I really love about Adobe is that we build tools to help people be more creative. I think that’s a noble mission. It’s what I want my work to do.”

Want to know more? You can read about some of our other Adobe Research boomerangs here. And you can discover internship and career opportunities with Adobe Research here.

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