Resumes - so boring and they tell you nothing about who a person really is and if you’d want to work with them!! (But if you need a highly conventional one, here it is.)
To get a better idea of who I am professionally, I’ve broken my story into three topics and some phases I’ve gone through in Designing, Leading, and Stuff I know about but don’t do.
I’ve spent most of this time growing and enhancing my service design skills (which double as design leadership). I’ve worked for two companies, Slalom and Morningstar. At Slalom I gained experience selling design and got to work on and lead designers through a huge variety of projects. At Morningstar I’ve been able to focus on building one service through leading and doing hands-on work with many teams.
At this point in my career, design is more about asking the right questions and having the right conversations at the right time than anything I actually make. I encourage and facilitate an experimental mindset through those conversations because my usual end goal is to get people more comfortable with all kinds of change.
That said, I deeply enjoy uncovering major insights and the moments in which I figure out what to do with them — what people actually need that is less than obvious, and what I can make that will make a truly positive difference in people’s lives. From a career perspective, I keep going for those moments, because being on the forefront of transforming companies and teams is definitely a marathon, not a sprint.
Working for a variety of companies, I became more senior in UX and started leading teams. I developed my research skills, which grew my service design skills and shifted my perspective on the role of design in organizations.
Accomplishments: I started a usability testing practice in an organization highly resistant to change, led the redesign of an enterprise website, designed and executed the release of new apps, and operated in highly ambiguous situations with relative effectiveness.
Organizations I worked for during this time included Gogo (UX Designer and Manager), the American Medical Association (Director of UX), and freelancing for marketing firm called Blue Chip.
Side note: in my outside-work life I finally had the time to do some things other than homework governance, practice transportation and meal prep for my kids. I joined an improv/sketch comedy group and a competitive BBQ team.
Within these four years, I started a boutique wealth management firm with my then-husband, got divorced, and restarted my career working at Avanade. There, I helped grow a globally distributed design team from 15 to 100 people, and learned that what I knew how to do best at the time was now called User Experience. The work hadn’t changed, and neither had the conversations we needed to have to get things done, but the software had definitely gotten better. (Visio wireframers, unite!)
After moving to Chicago, I was lucky enough to have some time off with my kids.
During these years I was in Washington, DC, working for a small agency named IDEV that folded in July, 2001 and Fannie Mae (yes, the Fannie Mae that helped tank the economy). I got very into how content management systems worked from a taxonomical and functional perspective — in retrospect, I was heading for content strategy as a specialization. Bonus: I learned that internal politics were just as relevant to any design work I’d ever do as the design itself. It turned out that external events were important, too. Something you learn in your 20s, maybe?
”This Internet thing I used in college for fun could be… a job?!” was the takeaway of those years. I found my natural home as an information architect, and have stayed there ever since, even though the field has changed. That’s because IA is a mindset and a discipline about the structure of digital spaces, something I have kept with me throughout my career. It was a pretty exciting time with a lot of opportunity — well, until e-commerce took over as the dominant purpose of the internet.
I did a lot of community stuff in the tech space, helping to build and grow an organization called DC Web Women that still exists! I moved to New York for a year and worked for a real, live dot-com (About) as a product manager. It was a crazy but fun time. Until it wasn’t because there was, if you’ll recall, quite the crash of the overvalued, overhyped Internet industry.
My formal titles have included Manager, Director and Lead since 2012.
I started out leading with my gut instincts as a well-intentioned person, but quickly learned that isn’t enough. I started reading (English major!) and looking around for mentors and examples to follow. Most of what I saw and experienced at work was… unskilled, at best. The books were much better teachers. I read and practiced what I learned to shape myself into a leader people wanted to listen to not out of fear and loathing but out of trustworthiness and earned respect. I still follow my own core principles and instincts to try to do the right thing, always. (Always happy to share my reading list, which continues to grow as I do.)
The effort has paid off when it comes to leading teams, except for in one way: Organizational leaders often get really excited when they meet me, wanting to hire me as a single “change agent.” Those same senior leaders think I’m doing great things until I start asking them politely to change what they’re doing — by supporting or funding a new hire, expanding my responsibilities or authority, slowing down a project enough to figure out what we need to be doing that might differ from what they want, or changing the way my team is incentivized (e.g. speed isn’t the only success metric). I’ve found that it’s too exhausting to be only one person making that effort, so I look for roles in which there’s support for change and principled leadership.
Stuff I understand but don’t actually do
Let’s just get the mockup and coding question out of the way, shall we? Also the UX-product management one.
I work really well with visual designers, content strategists, front end and back end devs and architects, hardware engineers and product folks, but I don’t try to do their jobs.
I know that product people basically do whatever it takes as champions of their product. I understand prioritization, MVP thinking, product ownership in contrast to management, and how to bend agile methodologies to my will. I can run a scrum and kanban board. I understand market fit and go-to-market planning. Why? Because UX and product management are crossing over into one another constantly. I could be a product manager, not because their job is easy, but because I’ve done it before. It’s a different vantage point for solving some of the same problems UX looks at.
I understand what most visual designers and front-end devs wrestle with as they do their jobs. I know what the struggles are between beauty, simplicity and function.
I understand back-end architecture - I spent about a year pretending I was going to work in SQL. It paid off, I mean I can write a Boolean query like there’s no tomorrow and understand pretty well how search works, but that doesn’t mean I’m an architect.