BitTorrent People: Lead Researcher Jane Davis

An up-close look at some of the personalities found in our BitTorrent offices.

BitTorrent is constantly researching how our brand reaches the outside world so that we can build the best possible products. We conduct surveys and focus groups, inviting people to come in and tell us what they think of our products. If you’ve stopped by our San Francisco office before, you might have been greeted by a friendly face and technicolor hair. That woman is Jane Davis, and she really really likes asking the right questions.

I talked with Jane about weird things people say, dinosaurs, and her passion for serving others.

What do you do here?

My job is roughly described as, “talking to strangers for a living.” What I do is figure out the best way to talk to strangers and find out what we need to know.

As the lead researcher, I’m responsible for overseeing our in-house and remote research programs. We do a lot of user interviews and usability tests to find out the answers to often-specific questions the product teams have about the features they should implement next. Also, whether a workflow makes sense to the average user and things like that. I oversee that and help with a lot of the script creation and refining questions so people know what they need to do.

And, in the last year or so, I’ve been working to broaden the program so we do more research that doesn’t put a burden on the product teams. Oftentimes, the UX designers and product managers will have to pitch in and perform the actual interviews and take notes.  So, I’ve been focusing on pulling in a lot of external research — academic publications or publications from other companies like Mozilla — and finding new and innovative ways to answer questions for product teams that we don’t have the time for in-house.

Jane as cartoon

What’s your favorite thing someone has said about BitTorrent?

I think my favorite is actually the different ways in which people describe our products back us.

I really liked the guy who described BitTorrent as, “giving one piece from your luggage to every passenger on the plane, and then all of them get on the plane and fly to the same place, and you collect your luggage back from them when you get off on the other side.”

How did you get started doing research?

Fun story! I was going to be a librarian. I went back to school for my masters after many years as an event planner — I was having a really good time doing it, but I didn’t want to do it for the rest of my life. I worked in libraries for six years out of my professional life, from college onwards, so I decided that the job I loved most before being an event planner was that job. But as soon as I got there and started thinking about what I really wanted to, I realized I was less interested in sitting at a reference desk and more interested in how you build tools for people to find information. So I switched from Library Science to Human-Computer Interaction, and wound up focusing pretty heavily on research courses.

I was actually up for both a designer and a researcher role at BitTorrent, and I sort of left it up to the hiring manager to decide. But, as it turns out, there are not that many qualified researchers!

You seem to enjoy it a lot.

I do! I think I love it for the same reason I love being an event planner: you get to interact with people and it’s all about them, it’s not about you. I spend all of my days thinking about the best ways to connect with people and the best ways to improve their lives in whatever way we possibly can. I get to walk away from my job at night and say, “Cool, I’m doing something with tangible benefit.”

You’ve also been a strong advocate for women in tech, especially in developing a ladies-only email alias at BitTorrent.

Promoting women-only spaces and events is about building camaraderie and providing an environment for women to talk about some of the issues that are specific to women in male-dominated spaces, particularly in the workplace. It’s an effort to ensure that women feel comfortable and supported at BitTorrent, and helping them talk through things that they’re not necessarily ready to bring to their manager or HR, but do want to get another perspective on.

None of which is to say that BitTorrent isn’t ready and willing to support women, because I don’t think that’s the case, but there’s a lot of research showing the benefits of having these spaces for women, as a way to step outside of a male-dominated space and have some room to breathe. Fostering an environment at BitTorrent where women feel like they’re listened to and respected, both in and outside of women-only spaces, is one of my main non-research concerns, and something I’m always happy to dedicate time and energy to doing.

Jane with Acorn Junction

What do you do when you’re not here?

Lately, I’ve been volunteering a lot. I volunteer with a group called ACCESS, which does practical support for reproductive justice. Things like giving women rides to appointments or dropping off gas money for women who are driving in from out of town. It’s one of my big focuses.

Right now I’m working on a program to help Liberian children augment their education, since their schooling was severely disrupted by the Ebola outbreak. These kids, even if they did finish, often don’t have the resources to go to college. So I’m working on what will hopefully be a scalable way to provide auto-didactical materials in a cheap, effective, solar-powered and scalable way. So we’re thinking about what to put together, how to find the materials, and making kits for under $100 that can fill in from 8th to 12th grade. We’re working on just one or two students now, but we’re hoping to grow.

I used to build giant metal things that shoot fire, too.

Dino Corner

Finally: you have lots of dinosaurs.

My whole desk is dinosaur-themed! I call it “Dino Corner.” I have a couple puppets, and dinosaur figurines. Other people have noticed the dinosaurs, and it has  spread. But I also have dinosaur slippers that I stomp around in when I’ve been at work for a while, or when I wear uncomfortable shoes.

Want to be a part of the BitTorrent team? We’re always looking for fun and exciting folks to round out our many departments. Check the job listings here.

Lauren Hockenson
Written by: Lauren Hockenson

Lauren is the Editorial and Social Media Manager at BitTorrent.