Meet the Woman Who Designed That Smartphone You’re Texting on
As the Design Lead for Microsoft’s digital personal assistant — Cortana, created for the Windows Phone 8.1 — Sogol Malekzadeh is a force to be reckoned with in the tech industry. Scroll down to learn about her inspirations, her advice for other designers and what else she’s got in store!
Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.
I began my career in Iran in the art industry and have a great passion for the intersection of humanizing technology and design. I joined Microsoft about five years ago, and since then, I have been enjoying working on an array of projects from Windows Phone to services across Microsoft.
How was Cortana born?
We believe technology and experiences are more meaningful when they’re deeply personal to an individual. With Cortana, we wanted to design experiences that embrace human values and our complicated life, to elevate our emotions, to celebrate our behaviors, to grow the ways we grow, to learn and evolve as our life is changing every day. Cortana was born out of a desire to create deeply personal tech that not only helps you with productivity, but ultimately gets to know you, builds a trusting relationship and anticipates your needs. Design is key to creating that trust.
Where do you get your inspiration?
We are surrounded by inspirations. Most of the time all it takes is taking a moment and paying attention to your surroundings, using all your senses, being open to discover and explore, being curious and letting your imagination fly. As a designer, I rely on my senses a lot, and with that, I have been able to find inspirations in things, ranging from simple everyday objects to complex and unknown universes.
What other hobbies do you have?
I love to learn new things. From sewing new headbands for my eight-month-old twins to designing and building modular furniture with my husband and illustrating a story with my seven-year-old, there is always something to learn and something to love.
What project are you proudest of and why?
That’s kind of like asking which child you love the most. I’m proud of every project I do for different reasons. I strive to design experiences that meet people where they are and are unified around the people and things that matter most. Cortana is an example of the intersection of human and technology, hence I am proud of it. Our team has been working on many projects and I think the combinations of all of us working together will make humanity proud.
What’s one piece of advice you’d share with other makers?
Tech is a tool and we have a responsibility as the tool makers. Our opportunity for innovation lies not just in designing a tool to meet a functional need, but in understanding the human truth or motivation driving that need. It’s our responsibility to create with care so the burden doesn’t fall too heavily on the user’s shoulders. It should be physically, cognitively and emotionally appropriate for people and should also fit us individually, yet connect us universally. We are moving in a direction where in the future, there will be software in everything: packaging, clothing, home goods, etc. And it will no longer be about pressing a button on a screen, rather technology will be embedded into everyday objects we use and responding to the way we behave. Therefore, it is important to stop and ask yourself, “What is the result of putting this product in the market and why are we designing it?”
Is your design philosophy similar to Sogol’s? Let us know in the comments below!
Welcome to Selfmade Finance School, our new money series with Block Advisors to help small business owners with their tax, bookkeeping, and payroll needs year-round. This week, we explore the tax implications of bringing family members into your business.
The question for today is this: Does hiring your family members make sense for your business? Let me be clear. This is not a piece about whether hiring your family members makes sense for your relationships with those family members. As someone who is part of a family business, I could fill up a lot more than 600 words on my opinions about that. For today's purposes, we focus on whether it makes sense from an overall "good business and tax implication" perspective. As it turns out, there is a decent amount of tax nuance when it comes to employing your family. Let's break it down based on relationship to the employee:
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Spouses Who Are In Business Together
Personally, if I had to be in business with my husband, it would not go well. However, many couples build viable, strong businesses together and I say, good for them! Depending on how you have your business entity structured, it will make a big difference on the tax treatment of you and your spouse working as partners. Because a business jointly owned and operated by a married couple is generally treated as a partnership for Federal tax purposes, the spouses must comply with filing and record keeping requirements imposed on partnerships and their partners. The election to file two Schedule C (Form 1040) forms, (one for each spouse) permits certain married co-owners to avoid filing partnership returns, provided that each spouse separately reports a share of all the businesses' items of income, gain, loss, deduction, and credit. Under the election, both spouses will be subject to self-employment tax and on net earnings from self-employment and receive credit for Social Security earnings.
One Spouse Employs Another
If you have a dynamic where your spouse is an employee of your business, then your spouse's wages are subject to income tax withholding, Social Security and Medicare taxes. If you are self-employed (not a corporation or a partnership), your spouse's pay does not have to be included in your federal unemployment tax account (FUTA) contributions and payments. However, if your business is a corporation or a partnership you must include that spouse's pay in your unemployment tax contribution calculation.
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You Employ Your Child
First, let's be clear. I work in my family business, but I am an adult, so I am treated just like a normal employee. However, if you, for example, run a family restaurant and want to hire your children under 18 to work for you, there are some tax benefits. But first, you should check with your state for rules on how many hours minors can work (in non-agricultural jobs) and reference the Fair Labor Standards Act for information on limitations on the kinds of work children can perform.
"This is an often overlooked or under-utilized strategy. Paying your children for true services they provide in your business can be a powerful tax-saving tool," says Cathi Reed, Block Advisors Regional Director. "If you are a sole-proprietorship or single member LLC, and the child is less than 18 years of age, the business is not required to withhold FICA or payroll taxes. The child can use his or her standard deduction against income you pay."
You Hire Your Parent
Oh dear. If you are brave enough to do this, know that you will need to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes on your parent's wages and make the appropriate withholdings, but you don't have to pay unemployment taxes. Now all you have to do is convince your parent that you are the boss. Have fun with that!
Is Hiring Family Members Worth It For The Tax Benefits?
"There are some positive tax advantages to hiring family members. It's important to treat a family member like any other employee. Hiring your children can result in substantial savings for businesses. Make sure your child has real, age-appropriate work to do and a reasonable pay rate, comparable to other employees. Consult with a Block Advisors small business certified tax pro to ensure that you are complying with all requirements," advises Reed. "Block Advisors, a team within H&R Block, is dedicated to meeting the tax, bookkeeping and payroll needs of small business owners year-round. To start working with the tax experts at Block Advisors, visit blockadvisors.com."
In my opinion, you should not hire a family member solely because of the tax benefits. You should always hire based on whether that person is right for the job and keep in mind how this hire could materially impact your relationship with that person and others in your family. Finally, as I mentioned, make sure you have a tax professional on your team when making these determinations. As you can see, things can get a little tricky!
*All details were sourced from IRS.gov and blockadvisors.com