Interview with MOD.’s Vacation Project student Xuan Tien Pham

Posted 11 May

Lisa Bailey
Entry Banner SiaDuff

Over the 2022-2023 Summer period, MOD. in collaboration with the The Australian Research Centre for Virtual and Interactive Environments at UniSA hosted a Vacation Student project with IT student Xuan Tien Pham.  You can see the result of the project on display now with the interactive video animation he created visible as you enter the current exhibition FLEX.

  1. What are you studying at UniSA and what drew you to that area of study?

I am studying Bachelor of Software Engineering (Honours) at UniSA. As for what drew me into IT, it was quite a lucky shot actually. After graduating high school, I was lost not knowing what I should learn to work for the rest of my life. As an international student, my job options were limited. I wanted to go with Hospitality at first since I was quite good at memorizing details and managing stuff. But my parents were quite against it knowing that the industry would have little prospects and how clumsy I was… So uh, yep, they wanted me to try learning Information Technology. Not having any better option, I tried it and here I am today 😆.

  1. What was the project you worked on with MOD. and how did you find out about it?  Why were you keen to be involved?

I worked with MOD to create a responsive entry banner that reacts when someone comes close. I found out about this project thanks to Prof. Mark Billinghurst’s recommendation. If you are reading this, thank you so much Prof. Mark!

I was extremely eager to work on the project for two reasons:

  1. What were some of the biggest challenges in working on this project? What have you learned that you weren’t expecting?

The biggest challenge of the project was something I never expected: video editing. I had to turn a static banner image into an animated video. The hardest thing about this was I didn’t know where to start. I had free reign to create anything there! Should this component gets brightened and that component gets blurred? Not to mention, in After Effects, there are like at least 5 different ways to blur a component. Which one was I supposed to use for each component? How do I know if it looks good enough?

Being an IT guy, I was used to performing tasks with detailed specifications. Only during this process that I realized how I have lazed and dulled my creativity the whole time. Therefore, I started over by going through everything related to the topic of FLEX, taking note of everything I see from the exhibit. My conclusion was that I should aim for something that looks eerie and wobbly, these were the feelings I got from watching the body parts and cells on display there.

  1. What was your biggest achievement in this project? 

My biggest achievement was learning to look at problems from a more procedural level. When I was told to make an interactive banner, I dived straight into learning how to create the banner video without knowing what I was creating. At one point, I thought even though I had somewhat familiarized myself with After Effects, I still didn’t know where to start. It took me almost a month to realize the importance of knowing what I am creating, and so I started over, finally headed in the right direction. It was a valuable lesson.

  1. How do you hope people will enjoy the project you’ve worked on?

I hope people have some fun running in and out to see the video. If you aren’t recognized by the sensor, it’s too bad – you are just too small!

  1. What are your plans for the rest of 2023?

I’m graduating this June so my current plan until then is to finish things up with the highest GPA possible. Then after graduation, I will get on another journey with full of uncertainties to seek jobs. My current passion is in creating fun apps like games and interactive environments in AR/VR. But looking at the state of the IT market in Adelaide, it looks like I have a slim hope to maintain that passion since not many companies offer these positions. Well, I can only leave it to fate.

  1. Do you have any advice for anyone else thinking of doing Student Vacation projects?

First, ask yourself if you have work experience or anything better to do during summer. I didn’t want to laze around in summer and wanted to sit in somewhere with air-con so I applied for MOD hehe.

This is a chance provided by the university for you to explore your passion, improve your skills and portfolio, and to connect you with others in the IT field. Keep in mind that if you are doing a 3 years degree, you only have 2 chances to apply since these projects only take place during summer and you cannot apply for them before second year.

As a second-year student, I discovered my passion in game development when I participated in the Student Vacation project with Dr. Damien Rompapas. After that project, Dr. Damo became my mentor and I got to work on many other projects with him. My growth from a freshman to someone being capable of handling projects on my own was undoubtedly a result of these work experience.

These projects count as your work experience. Now I can proudly brag that I worked at MOD and have something up for display. Unless you think that having too much work experience is bad, you should apply for these projects.

So how do you actually do these projects? Put your efforts into it to learn. Don’t just join a project for the scholarship prize. You are getting the chance to work and connect with people who can be your future employers or mentors in your industry for free. The scholarship prize is just a bonus. Supervisors (who are often Doctors or Professors) created these projects to look for students to work with. So, when they spend their precious time to teach you, appreciate them and invest your efforts.

Final tip, don’t forget to have fun with the process! As to how you plan to have fun, I don’t know since it’s unique to you, I like to learn new things so it’s already my fun. If you can’t find anything fun then maybe the job isn’t your kind of thing. That is, uh… bad luck, maybe read the project descriptions more carefully and do some better research into what it is first next time? I hope that never is the case though haha. I hope you can enjoy your learning process just like I did!

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