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Alumni spotlight: Chris Golias

Alumni spotlight: Chris Golias

by Public Relations | April 26, 2024

LATROBE, PA —The grandson of a coal miner and the son of a traveling folk musician-turned-butcher, Chris Golias grew up in a mobile home in Johnstown yearning to venture out into the wide world. His launching pad turned out to be a college campus only 33 miles away.Chris Golias

Getting a bachelor’s degree in anthropology at Saint Vincent College dispatched Golias, C’06, on a fascinating career path. His journey has included pivotal stops at a wildlife preserve in Africa, a rural village in Argentina, Walter Reed Medical Center in Maryland, a corporate headquarters in Pittsburgh, and Google’s hubs in California and Colorado.

Along the way, Golias found his niche as an ethnographer who studies the ways technology fits in people’s daily lives. He became a user experience (UX) researcher—an anthropologist who helps a company improve its products by conducting small-sample research.

Some folks hear “UX” and “Google” and mistakenly assume Golias is some sort of computer expert or web developer. “I’ve never written a line of code,” Golias said. “I don’t market anything. I have an artistic side, but I’m not artistic in the way that UX designers are—I don’t know how to use [design tools such as] Figma, Sketch or Adobe. I am very much a researcher, a social scientist.”

When he enrolled at Saint Vincent College in 2002, Golias planned to major in biology and eventually go to medical school. “A liberal arts school like Saint Vincent was the right choice for me because I was interested in absolutely everything,” he said. When his plans for an internship in the biology field fell through, one of his professors steered Golias into a summer internship at Kafue National Park in Zambia. His experiences in Africa motivated Golias to add a second major in anthropology, which altered the trajectory of his life.

In 2015, Golias got his doctorate in anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania. His dissertation was based on 15 months of field work in Formosa, Argentina, where he studied the economic and cultural impacts of alcohol abuse among Toba/Qom villagers.

At Walter Reed, Golias used ethnography (the scientific description of the customs of individual peoples and cultures) to improve the hospital’s orthopedic experience for injured veterans. Around this time, there was increasing chatter about UX—the term was coined in the early 1990s, but the field has been around longer than that—and Golias’ curiosity again was piqued.

He took a UX job with American Eagle Outfitters on Pittsburgh’s South Side. “I did some really fun ethnography, standing outside of the fitting room, [asking] people how their jeans feel and how they decide whether or not they like how they look and feel on their bodies,” he said.Chris Golias (left) conducting UX research

In October 2018, Google lured Golias to Silicon Valley to work as a researcher for its first artificial intelligence feature. Golias now lives with his wife and daughter in Boulder, CO, where he leads Google’s international UX research team for hardware, photos and Google Play apps.

A one-on-one chat is Golias’ most common method of research. “You can really get to know somebody, especially a certain facet of their life, in 90 minutes,” he said. “Being able to do that with people around the world is one of my favorite things. With Google’s infrastructure, I can interview someone in Swahili without having to learn the language first. Where else could I do that?”

Golias’ background in anthropology, which was sparked by his studies at Saint Vincent, helps the interview process. So do his experiences as a trailer park kid from Johnstown who made a short trip to Latrobe and became a world traveler.

“I like meeting people where they are, on their terms,” Golias said. “People’s experiences shape them. Those experiences can be very different, but we’re all human and we’re all seeking a connection with someone. Everyone has a story tell, it’s important to them, and I want to hear it. That’s usually enough to keep things going—that level of simple human authenticity.”



PHOTO 1: Chris Golias

PHOTO 2: Chris Golias (left) conducting UX research