User Experience Designer | 16 Jan 17

I think the version that we all got from our parents was that everyone knew what they were doing. Our generation is starting to be more transparent about not always knowing what’s going on. [We’re] asking more questions.

What do you do?

I’m a User Experience Designer.

I’m currently a contractor. I usually have anywhere from 3-6 month projects with different companies. Generally it’s consulting, where they need help with specific user experience problems, whether it’s talking to users, doing mockups, writing copy. So far in my career it’s been anything from prototypes to research to programming to architecture. Currently, my project involves a lot of mockups.

What led you to your current role?

I was a sociology major in college. I always knew that helping people was a focus for me. The economy tanked toward the end of my degree, and I ended up going to work for Disney World doing customer service.

At one point I considered being a lawyer, so I transitioned to doing customer service for a courthouse. While I was there, I started noticing that their cataloging and data processes were pretty messed up. I was always training people, and I started thinking that was something I could have a career in.

I had a friend in library school, and I noticed that she was doing a lot of database and technology work in the program. I saw that the University of Michigan had a Master of Science program in Information with a Human-Computer Interaction specialization. I had always enjoyed technology, but had never thought of it as a career; HCI seemed like it would provide the opportunity to work with both people and technology.

What did you want to be growing up?

I wanted to be a writer or a veterinarian when I was younger. At one point I wanted to be a police officer, because my mom was.

What hobbies do you have that are unrelated to your current field?

I run; I just finished my first marathon. I think right now I’d like to get faster at half marathons.

I just finished a class on television script writing, and I’m trying to keep up with writing now that that’s over.

What is your first memory of being intrigued by technology?

I was always on the computer. My childhood memories are either of being outside or being on the computer. We got a computer when I was about five, and I mostly played games. I never created anything with technology other than using, like, MS Works; whatever it was that Doogie Howser used at the beginning of that show.

Do you remember feeling encouraged or discouraged about going into technology?

In school it really wasn’t something I thought about. I’m from a small town and we had some computer classes; we had a C++ class, but it was all boys. I don’t think that was by design. It just wasn’t something that ever crossed my mind to do.

When I was in undergrad, all of my girlfriends were engineers. I was the only social science major. I thought it was so awesome what they were doing. A couple of them were aerospace, one civil, but most were industrial operations engineers.

My mom was a police officer and my dad was a teacher, so more “traditional” careers. Growing up it was kind of like, are you going to be a lawyer or a doctor?

What has been your favorite project you’ve worked on so far?

My internship was the first time that I really had autonomy to design an entire user research project, and then figure out how to remotely execute user tests. I remember it being really challenging, but it was the first time I had to figure something out on my own.

We needed to user test people in Portland from Nashville, so I figured out a bunch of design breakdowns in their application, did a lot of research into remote user testing tools and had to think about how to help users remotely.

We ended up using our sister office in Portland to set up cameras on the user’s face, screen and hands, with two of us in the Nashville office. I was very pleased with the results.

What motivates you?

I don’t like to fail at things, so that’s probably a big motivator.

I want to be a contributor to society; I just started my career last June, and I’ve been picking up contracts for teams that need help. I’m able to help people that way, which has always been the common thread for what I want to do.

Now I’ve started to think, especially after the way 2016 has turned out - I’ve applied to community service organizations to offer help for them.

I want to be a contributor and I want to help people; that’s probably why I’ve mostly worked on internal applications so far. A lot of people want to do the flashy, sexy projects, but I think learning the value of internal tools is important and a great way to help people.

Have you had mentors or champions along the way?

My mentor at my internship has been awesome. I’m on a Slack channel with the women I worked with in Nashville, and we all talk about our current jobs. I also have a group of women [from] grad school who I’m in touch with. We all push each other.

I have one mentor who has really pushed me to figure out what I want to be doing. I’ve been lucky to have great touch points throughout my career so far to help me along.

What are your favorite or most-used tools?

Sketch, for sure. I really disliked it at first, because I was used to Illustrator. You can’t really get as much granularity with shapes in Sketch, but it’s proven to be very easy to use and organize. Sublime is the text editor I use. InVision is awesome for when you need a quick animated prototype. I also love grid or graph paper; dotted grid is the best.

What do you want to learn next?

I’d like to get better at Framer. I want to learn more of the development side of things, because I really enjoy it, and Framer is a step in that direction.

I have never worked on a very Agile team, so that’s something else I’d like to learn. I’d like to be able to be very embedded in an Agile team as opposed to being sort of tangential to the process as a designer. I’ve never really had to point my stories. I’d like to better understand how an Agile UX team would work.

What advice do you have?

I think that learning right away [about] imposter syndrome is important. It was really hard for me to not think that I was alone in that, or that it was just my anxiety. Learning that everyone feels it - I remember posting something about it on Facebook and my mentor commenting on how true it was. Seeing that, having worked with her and knowing how quick she was - I thought: if she feels this way, then everyone must.

I think the version that we all got from our parents was that everyone knew what they were doing. Our generation is starting to be more transparent about not always knowing what’s going on. [We’re] asking more questions.

Especially in tech, where it’s very dominated by certain ideals and personalities, there are a lot of people who are very opinionated about “the way to do something.” Be careful who you take your advice from; you need other people, and you need to work together, but you also need to take what they say with a grain of salt. There isn’t one way to do something. You have to believe in yourself, which sounds cheesy, but there’s no one “right” path. Go with what you’re interested in, and figure out how to get there.