I started my career as a tech journalist for CNET, doing lots of tech writing while I was also building websites at the same time.
Back then, we hand coded everything whereas nowadays we don't actually have to “build the plane as we're flying it.” Now, given advancements, we can just think about what the plane should look like.
I wasn't really satisfied with the work that I was doing as a tech journalist, because I was eventually asking fewer questions, and spent less time building the platform.
All I did was write stories and to me, the stories were not good enough.So I decided I was going to go to grad school to understand technology better.
I told myself that I didn't have to keep doing it if I didn't like it, but I ended up really liking it. I did my master's degree and I took a year off and then started my PhD. where I was looking at technology in the workplace and how people were using it.
And I was about halfway through my PhD, and I ran out of money. And I was like “Okay, how am I going to do this? Like, how am I going to keep going?”
I really did want to finish my PhD. and I thought, “You know what? I have all these tech skills and now I have these research skills, so I'm just going to go get a job.”
I became the Director of Consumer Insights at Critical Mass, a design agency, where I had both researchers and designers reporting to me. It was a great experience that taught me a lot about managing the work and the team.
Afterwards, I went back and finished my PhD, thinking I was going to go become a professor, but unfortunately, there was no job waiting for me so I started my own research company!
It was tough but interesting work. Very quickly I learned that if I didn’t secure any customers, I wouldn’t eat! So I hustled. Hard. It taught me a lot about how to market the value of research, an important skill.
Around that time, I was living in Toronto and had realized that the local market wasn’t big enough, in terms of consistent clients.
I was thinking about maybe opening an office in Chicago to get more US-based clients when I stumbled upon a Senior User Researcher role at Microsoft.
I said to myself that this was the perfect job. I called my husband and told him about this great role at Microsoft in Seattle and that I was going to apply for it.
He told me later that he talked to his buddy at work about me applying for the role. His buddy said that I would never get it but my husband had 100% confidence in me and just said “Oh, she’s going to get it. It’s exactly what she should be doing.”
I got the offer and I took it in a heartbeat. That was actually the first time that my title had the words “UX researcher” in it!
I'm not too worried about failing. If I'm going to shoot my shot, I don't really worry too much about it.
I just say “Well, I think I could add value here and I think I could get value out of it myself. So would I kick myself if I didn't even try? Probably. So maybe I should try.”
Yep. After Microsoft, I became the Principal UX Researcher at Amazon because that was another great opportunity that I’d regret not going for.
Amazon is an amazing place in many ways, but it burns you out. It happened to me so my husband and I needed to take a break.
We went home to Canada, stayed close to friends and family, enjoyed everything in life. After we felt recharged, we asked that familiar question: what are we going to do now?
I put out a few feelers and got a couple offers in the Bay area that I turned down. While great roles, they just didn’t feel right for me.
But my offer from Workday to be the Principal Researcher with an emphasis on Strategy was really interesting.
An opportunity to research the future of work and bake that insight into the Workday product suite? Sign me up!
I remember pulling over in my rental car on the way back to the airport where I called my husband. I asked him how he felt about moving to California. He said “Let’s do it” and now we’re here in the Bay Area!
I would say for beginners:
“You should focus less on the reading (e.g., books, blogs, LinkedIn posts, etc.) and more on how to take in information, filter it, make it make sense to you, and connect it to what you already know.”
I had a professor who once told me, it’s not from the reading that you learn things — it’s from the re-reading. He was right. Going back and reflecting is really how you learn.
Learn more about strategy. And by that, I mean literally like MBA textbooks. You don’t have to get into the weeds of accounting or management but understanding strategy is vital.
Look at careers like management consulting. They’re expected to drop into companies, analyze them quickly and provide solutions all in 12 weeks.
It’s remarkably similar to the work that researchers have to do, but usually within one company for a longer period of time.
Getting a clearer understanding of how strategy works and how research fits into that picture is something all professionals should get better at, especially newer UX professionals.
It helps you understand how to research better.
Polarization throughout the field.
There's a great paper about trying to classify the impact of a technological change on job loss, where it classified jobs over history into three buckets: frontier jobs, last mile jobs and wealth jobs.
Here it is! To sum up the paper, last mile jobs are the jobs that technology still can't do like truck drivers.
At this moment, we can't get technology to just pop the goods in front of you.
Then there are wealth jobs which are possible now because of the wealth that's been generated from technology change like personal trainers.
“Yes, but it will not be forever so you have to think about how you evolve yourself to be on the frontier.”
To me, it's increasingly the enablement of human experience through technology which could go lots of places.
Obviously you've got machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) just starting to emerge.
These new technologies and their applications will create new breeds and types of jobs. What are those jobs?
I don't know but I’m confident that UX right now is comfortably in the frontier job category, but it won't be in the long term.
Pay attention to where your day-to-day work is changing. What is easier and easier for you to do? What remains difficult to get done?
For me, it’s easier and easier to experiment, and recruit participants, but it’s increasingly difficult to get emotional stories from actual people.
Why? What does this mean for our profession? I’m not sure, but it’s something to consider for your own future.
Over 10 years ago, I was on a ride along to this participant’s home as she worked at home. We had a friend in common and I actually ended up spending the night at her house.
Throughout the night, I got to know her family, her job, the extra work that she went through to get stuff done with her daughter running around in the background.
I got to truly experience how hard it is to be a parent and to be a full time engaged employee.
Empathizing with statements like “just make this stupid thing work for me!” and “I don't have time for all this, look at my life!” was eye-opening.
Seeing how difficult it was for her to do her job and how cavalier so many of us are about building the tools that she depends on has stuck with me all this time.