8 Inspiring Disney Talks from AfroTech

Learn about projects, culture, and more from speakers across the Company.

Last month, AfroTech World hosted a virtual version of their multicultural tech conference — bringing engineers, recruiters, and more together to exchange ideas and help grow the strong community of Black technologists.

As a Diamond Sponsor, Disney had speakers from across the company — presenting on innovative tech and diversity efforts. Special programming was also offered on a separate Disney at AfroTech microsite. Read on for a selection of inspiring talks from both programs, and keep an eye out for recordings of select talks coming to the microsite.

Empowering People, Cultures, and Markets

From media networks and movie studios to theme parks and products, TWDC inspires generations of people around the world. During this session, TWDC’s Chief Diversity Officer Latondra Newton spoke about the company’s efforts to engage employees, enhance its culture, and why inclusion is key to market relevance.

Presenter:
Latondra Newton, SVP & Chief Diversity Officer

Crafting a Culture of Innovation at Disney

This talk highlighted the benefits of bringing entrepreneurial experience and mindset into the corporate tech world. StudioLAB’s Alice Taylor reflected on her own career path and the key lessons she learned from entrepreneurship that ultimately led her to build a culture of innovation within StudioLAB.

Sonia Doshi spoke about designing an inclusive culture at Studio Technology, where employees feel a sense of belonging. She’s developed programs, processes, and tools to bring this environment to life — piloting and testing each along the way. While these processes can easily be forgotten in a corporate setting, they’ve been crucial to this project’s success and innovations.

Presenters:
Alice Taylor, VP of Content Innovation & StudioLAB (Studio Technology)
Sonia Doshi, Manager of Strategic Initiatives (Studio Technology)

Creating “Soul” Through the Lens of Black Artists

This chat featured Pixar teams — discussing their careers, the film-making process (including the importance of authenticity!), and their roles in making “Soul.” It was crucial that each bring their diverse perspectives into the film.

Presenters:
Britta Wilson, VP of Inclusion Strategies (Pixar)
Paige Johnstone, Production Coordinator (Pixar)
Robert Grahamjones, Associate Editor (Pixar)

Unified Design + Tech Platforms

TWDC has the most beloved brands and one of the world’s most used digital product portfolios in the world — from ABC to Star Wars. But how do you ensure that 200+ product experiences (and any future additions) look, perform, and scale at the world-class levels consumers expect? How do you make them efficient to build and maintain? And how do you bring new products to market quickly and effectively?

That’s where DTCI (now DMED) Technology comes in. They created a unified design system called Prism and the unified client engineering platform Cuento to bring Prism to products. This helps drive better UX and UI, make products look and perform better, provide consistency across devices, and enable easier and faster engineering. These tools do all that while ensuring quality and scalability of products and more time to focus on product-specific innovation.

Presenters:
Mike Pollard, VP of Technology Operations (DMED)
Mike Andrews, SVP of Software Engineering DMED)
Tagu Kato, Head of X-Brand Design (DMED)

Using Technology to Create Disney Magic

This WDAS team uses seamless technology to develop our beloved stories — including the water in “Moana,” skyline view in “Ralph Breaks the Internet,” and invisible characters in “Frozen 2.” These technologists shared insights into the making and revamping of their tools, along with their partnership with artists.

Presenters:
Laura Franek, Crew Manager (WDAS)
Noel Villegas, Senior Software Engineer (WDAS)
Jerry Huynh, General Technical Director (WDAS)

Navigating as a Black Woman in the Engineering & Entertainment Industry

Dynamic Black, female engineers spoke about their experience working for the Parks. They discussed their journey, inspiration, and advice for being authentically themselves. Here are a few words of wisdom from the speakers:

“Always remember the words of Michelle Obama, ‘Don’t be afraid. Be focused.’ This will help you reach your goals when you have the naysayers and non-supporters. And make sure you have a strong squad you truly trust.” – Jillian Bryant

“Your experience is just like school. Problems are simply a part of the curriculum and will appear and fade away (just like your seventh-grade algebra class). However, the lessons you learn will last a lifetime. Therefore, embrace the journey.” – Angel Price

“As women, we have to support and raise each other up, particularly in this space where we are the minority.” – Ivy Williams

Presenters:
Jillian Bryant, Team Leader Engineer (DPEP)
Angel Price, Attractions Engineering Services Manager (DPEP)
Ivy Williams, Staff Quality Engineer (DPEP)

Hulu’s “Friends with Benefits” Program

Hulu launched the Friends with Benefits program to create meaningful value for subscribers. They use first-party data to identify which content sparks interest and then surprise and delight users with exclusive offers through brand partnerships.

Presenter:
Chanel Jackson, Brand Manager (Hulu)

Developing Products for the 2020 Election

The 2020 election will certainly be the most unique election cycle on record, notably due to a worldwide pandemic that dramatically shifted the planned roadmap. Thus, the team needed to adjust the suite of election products used across ABC News, GMA, and local affiliate stations.

They got creative to navigate the collective new normal — with a few ABC News firsts, most of which were built in the web framework that is shared across a number of other DMED websites. The team…

  • Used ESPN’s multicast publishing platform FastCast to deliver real-time data to the election products 
  • Developed a real-time projections module, giving users the status of races as soon as they were called
  • Offered a results map based on census data and D3 framework tool, including the county-level data visualization for each state 
  • Provided a crowdsourced Interactive Election map for users to make and share their own predictions, which worked completely server-side without the need for a browser

Presenters:
Raj Moorjani, Product Manager (DMED)
Kevin Li, Software Eng III (DMED)