Q&A: What was your journey like and what did you learn from it?
May 16, 2021
What advice would you give me about company size as I start out?
I have about 3 years in total of in-house product design experience working within a startup, scale-up, and now a big tech company and can give you insight to what I've learned while working in those types of environments. But first, I would highly recommend reading this article, it does a great job sharing the advantages and disadvantages of working as a product designer in a big company vs. agency vs. start-up: Designing at a large company, agency, or startup
What was your journey and what did you learn from your own journey?
I entered into product design with no formal design experience.
I graduated in 2016 with a B.S. in Community Development. I initially started off as a pre-med majoring in Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior but knew immediately the first month that it wasn't really for me. But to be sure, I got first hand experience interning at multiple hospitals in California and also abroad in Thailand. I'm a huge advocate of learning through doing before crossing any thing out.
Soon after, I switched my major to Community Development because I was still immensely passionate about helping others. I interned at the Governor's office as a Constituent Affairs advocate, worked at a non-profit supporting adults with developmental disabilities, helped plan workshops for emerging leaders in policy and public services and women in STEM, and volunteered in other capacities. What I learned from these experiences was that "helping others" can happen anywhere.
This epiphany was empowering, exhilarating, and scary all at the same time. It meant that I was truly responsible over my own future and what I did next was up to me.
I remember finishing up my last exam and thinking "okay, well what's next?"
If there was a time to task a risk, this was the moment. I was in a very privileged position where no one depended on me to survive—no kids, no mortgage, no partner. I only had myself to take care of—really. So after finishing my last exams, I headed home to be with my parents, stayed in my old childhood bedroom and went into research mode. I had never heard of UX design before but I did know of a company called IDEO, a global design and innovation company, who's work always fascinated and inspired me. They were solving complex problems through the power of design and community. I wanted to know how I could do this too and that's how I found UX design.
I made a decision fairly quickly to move forward down this path and began shortlisting a few UX bootcamps to contact. I got more insight into each program, costs, whether they were remote-friendly or in-person only, and overall offerings. I eventually choice Designlab due to their flexible online learning and affordability.
Shortly after finishing Designlab I took a trip to Germany and spent an unforgettable time traveling through Western Europe meeting beautiful people and just falling in love with life again. After years of study and before embarking in a new career, I wanted to give myself a little gift + break. I came back to the US rejuvenated but extremely broke. I made the big move to San Francisco into an apartment with 8 other girls and only a couple hundred dollars in my bank account. To support myself, I babysat in the City while applying for my first product design role.
Despite my lack of work experience, I had a really positive job hunting experience. I interviewed at places like Facebook, GoPro, Roblox, and Figma. However, I ended up joining a startup that offered an internship. I had a huge case of cold feet so I wanted to "try-out" my first product role before committing to a full-time position.
I joined as an intern at the startup but quickly moved up to a senior role helping shape out the product vision and building core product features. I've since transitioned to a large company (~2,500 person) with a ~40 person design team. I have about 1 month worth of experience here so I'm still learning about the culture, processes, and people.
What are the biggest challenges your team(s) have faced (present or past)?
I think the biggest challenge comes down to communication. Having a shared vision and how the work fits into the bigger picture.
What are the most important traits and skills for me to have as a junior UX designer?
Learn what your strengths and weaknesses are. Get to know yourself deeply. What are your superpowers? What skills do you have that are above average? What transferrable skills have you employed at other jobs? What work have you done using those skills are you most proud of? What's your unique point of view? Remember, nobody has the same experience as you. Your background, environment, circumstances, and upbringing, brings something unique to the table. Learn what your superpowers are and hone them.
Are there specific concerns you might have with bringing someone new into a UX team who is pivoting from another field and coming out of a bootcamp?
I'm more focused on how someone overcomes challenges, how they make decisions at key decision points, and how they push through adversity.
In which size of companies, project areas, and situations is there the most pressure to work fast?
This really depends on the project you're working on within the company. Because of the nature of startups to survive and make a profit, there is a need to generally always be moving fast. I've found working within a large company to be quite intense as well but different. With the amount of meetings I am now a part of, there doesn't seem to ever be enough hours to talk and also create which means I have to be very intentional with planning for feedback—making time to speak with subject matter experts, cross-functional teams, members on my own design team, and customers. I'd like to note that pressure can come from many places—externally from your team, customers, competitors, but also from yourself. If you have perfectionist tendencies like myself, remember to be kind to yourself and reach out to your team members when you need help.
What is a typical day like for you?
I joined a new company last month and am leading a project that has tight deadlines for the end of June. Half of my day is going through previous research to gain context about our customers, their needs, pain points, and goals. The other half of my day is spent in meetings. To gain as much context quickly, I am involved in my dev team's ceremonies which include daily stand ups, mid-sprint planning, sprint retros, etc. And depending on the day of the week, I join in on our design team standup, design critique, and Design Jam (day where designers can present something cool they want to share to the wider design team).
What type of projects/products are you currently working on?
I'm based in Melbourne, Australia currently building tools for accountants and local small business heroes! My time is dedicated to bringing the long lived desktop experience online and into the cloud. The desktop version has existed for nearly three decades so moving the experience online is a challenging but necessary one for our customers.