There were a few Snapchatt-able moments on campus Thursday.
One of them was a visit from University alum Steve Horowitz, vice president of technology at Snapchat, who gave the annual School of Information’s Homecoming lecture as part of the William Warner Bishop Lectureship Fund. Horowitz discussed the tech provider’s new advancements and his professional experience.
In his lecture, attended by more than 250 students, faculty, alumni and community members, Horowitz highlighted a continuous need for visual communication, the importance of creativity and innovation in technology, specifically with the camera.
“Showing is so much more compelling than telling someone something,” Horowitz said. “With a simple ‘snap,’ you can express far more than you ever could in words.”
Snapchat was created in 2011 by CEO Evan Spiegel along with Reggie Brown and Bobby Murphy, and is now worth $2 billion. Adweek named Snapchat as the fastest growing social media platform out of the big four networks in 2015 and a June study found the app has 188 million users.
He graduated from LSA with a degree in Art History and interned at Apple during his summers. Horowitz joined the Snapchat team in 2015 after working at Motorola, Apple, Microsoft and Google, among others. Horowitz stressed the importance of passion in addition to a course of study.
“I would still argue that your Michigan degree is the most valuable thing you’ll have and will set you apart for sure,” Horowitz said. “But it’s also going to put you at the top of the stack, but it’s still not necessarily the thing that will put you over the top. If you have, or find your passion, pursue it, do it. Find something that you love to do. Find something that is fun. Don’t do it just to find a job, find something you enjoy doing.”
Since he came on board, Snapchat has made advances in body tracking, sky segmentation, real-time sky segmentation, contextual sequences and facial mapping. Horowitz said Snapchat will continue to work on these features to make the user experience better and change how cameras are used.
LSA sophomore Aisling O’Donnell said she enjoyed Horowitz’s description of augmented reality and his take on Snapchat’s place in the world.
“It was interesting to learn from the perspective of Steve Horowitz and a big company that I use, like Snapchat, all the time,” O’Donnell said. “I really enjoyed how he went through his backstory and his history and described the future of Snapchat as well as his future ideas for the world.”
Horowitz said the evolution of technology will always happen, and in his experience with Android, he believes this constant change can push companies to make better products. From the first camera to the current era of Snapchat and the localization of content such as weather, location and music, Horowitz said he sees a potential to change how humans interact with each other, technology and the world.
“For better or worse — I'd like to think better — we are in an era where technology allows the transformation of the world around us,” Horowitz said. “And I think the more we sort of adapt and focus on using that for good, the better it will be for society. I think if we are afraid of it, we are not going to be as well off. Everyone in the industry has a duty to and has a responsibility to use it for good.”
Lily Wang, School of Information development associate and member of the development and alumni relations team, said the goal in choosing a speaker is to find someone who would be interesting to both students and alumni and would be interested in coming to campus.
Wang said data science is one of the most popular fields in the School of Information. This includes studying human-computer interaction and augmented reality, which Wang said made Horowitz an appealing guest.
“It’s kind of a mix of seeing who would be interesting — the fields that they study — as well as how interested they are in coming,” Wang said. “Someone like Steve Horowitz, who works on Snapchat hardware, is really enticing to both alumni and current students.”