Member Profile: Maureen Stone
1. What do you do, and how long have you been doing it?
Professionally, I do industrial research, first at Xerox PARC, then as an independent consultant (StoneSoup Consulting), and now as Director of Tableau Research. How long is a bit scary to contemplate…let’s call it 40+ years.
2. What was your first job?
My very first job was at the gift wrap counter at the local department store. My first interesting job was working with the Plato IV project at the University of Illinois, when I was a graduate student.
3. Where did you complete your formal education?
Most of my formal education was at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where I got my MS degree. I also spent an academic year at Caltech. But my early days at Xerox PARC were what gave me the skills I needed to do good industrial research.
4. How did you first get involved with ACM SIGGRAPH?
At Caltech, I took a computer graphics class from Jim Blinn. We became friends, and at my first SIGGRAPH (Atlanta in 1978), he was my tour-guide to the conference and the community. A few years later, I went to my first program committee meeting as a proxy for John Warnock, who needed emergency surgery for appendicitis. There I met Kelly Booth and John Beatty. They pulled me into the organization/operational parts of SIGGRAPH.
5. What is your favorite memory of a SIGGRAPH conference?
I was the papers chair for SIGGRAPH 87, and I have so many good memories about that conference, the committee, and ultimately the feeling of satisfaction of seeing it all come together. There were two especially memorable papers: John Lasseter’s Principles of 2D Animation paper, which brought the importance of great storytelling to the conference, and Paul Heckbert’s Ray Tracing Jello paper, which was a magnificent piece of satire. Fun fact, Paul’s paper was the top-ranked paper at the program committee meeting.
6. Describe a project that you would like to share with the ACM SIGGRAPH community.
While I started my career in computer graphics, since the early 2000’s my primary research domain has been visualization and visual analytics (primary conference IEEE VIS.) I started working with Tableau Software in 2003, first as a consultant, then joined the research team in 2012. I strongly believe in Tableau’s mission, which is to help people see and understand data. While my earlier work there was about best practice for using color and visual style, my current focus goes deeper into how people understand what we’re helping them to see. Is it comprehensible? Is it correct? Does it lead to appropriate action?
7. If you could have dinner with one living or non-living person, who would it be and why?
I’d pick Jim Thomas, who left us suddenly and way too soon. We did so many good projects together, starting with SIGGRAPH 87, but also CG&A, and some of the foundational work on visual analytics. Plus, any dinner with Jim would include excellent wine.
8. What is something most people don’t know about you?
Many people are surprised to learn that I was the first female Papers chair for SIGGRAPH, given there were several other likely candidates before me. On a more personal level, I’ve been playing the oboe since 7th grade, primarily these days with local community orchestras. Look forward to getting back to that now that we are all getting vaccinated.
9. From which single individual have you learned the most in your life? What did they teach you?
There’s no one person, really. I’ve built on the foundations I learned from my parents, who were both strongly principled but broadly accepting, even with ideas that made them uncomfortable. This was especially true with people they trusted and respected, including their children. This taught me to keep an open mind, to dig deep into what people were really trying to express and why.
10. Is there someone in particular who has influenced your decision to work with ACM SIGGRAPH?
It’s the community of people I found in SIGGRAPH that was most influential, especially the community of women I found there, doing good work and getting things done. Especially in the early days, women were scarce and we went out of our way to support each other. I remember fondly the women-only baby shower organized for me at SIGGRAPH ‘90 by Cindy Stark and Adele Newton. Good people, good party.
11. What can you point to in your career as your proudest moment?
No single moment, but important high points are SIGGRAPH ‘87, working with CG&A (first as Associate EIC and then EIC), and taking a leadership role in Tableau Research. All of these have have been opportunities to creatively influence the systems that help people explore and share ideas. I am also very proud to be a member of IEEE VGTC Visualization Academy, which recognizes leadership in the visualization community.