Why you should get pregnant at HubSpot

I feel incredibly lucky.

I moved from Oakland, CA seven months ago to Somerville, MA and started working for HubSpot. In January, I found out I was pregnant with my first kid. It took me by surprise because it happened as soon as I went off birth control. I was on birth control for ten years. TEN YEARS! The human body is pretty remarkable. Turns out it's not like starting a dead car.

My plan was to be at HubSpot for at least a year before having a kid. I wasn't sure how I'd approach the subject at work and I wondered how supported I'd feel and what the culture would be like there.

I was immediately comfortable with my design team of 30 people. They were all kind, thoughtful people with a good sense of humor. The head of my department, Tim Merrill, was a dad of four. He was very open about how difficult it was to be a good parent.

My boss, Jonathan Meharry, was also a dad. His son was two and he was open about how overwhelming it was to raise even one very energetic kid with two working parents.

The week I found out I was pregnant, I first Slacked Tim to tell him the news. He was overjoyed and asked me if he could swing by and give me a hug. I Slacked Jonathan and he congratulated me too.

I shared the news with my design team shortly thereafter at a mac and cheese dinner party I hosted at my new apartment. They offered me a shot of vodka and I told them I couldn't because I was pregnant. Everyone cheered and congratulated me. I wasn't planning to share the news but something inside me wanted support if things went well but also if things fell apart. I also wanted the other women on the team to know both scenarios were normal if they ever decided to get pregnant themselves. I was going to be the first mom on a team of 30 people and I wanted to normalize it.

My greatest fear was to be socially excluded because I was pregnant. While not drinking made it difficult to go out and let loose, being pregnant actually bonded me to certain people in a way I wouldn't expect.

Suddenly the dads around me opened up more about their lives. They shared detailed, emotional stories about their wives' pregnancies and deliveries over lunch. They offered me resources like midwives, online mothers communities, and baby clothes. I felt like I was suddenly a part of a club I never knew about and I was extremely touched by how much these dads cared about their partners and their kids. 

Being a young feminist, this all seemed relatively normal to me. I expected to be treated with respect and for people to understand how hard it was to be a mom. As my pregnancy progressed, I had an experience that made me realize just how lucky I really was.

You’re going on vacation before your maternity leave? Do you even work?
You should really thank them for giving you all that time.
Be careful of what you say-make sure they don’t forget you when you go on maternity in August.


These are things I heard from my mother-in-law and my mom in the same week.

I was angry and offended. Didn't they know how hard I worked and how valuable I was? I explained that tech was different in that it wasn't about the quantity of hours you put in but the quality of your work. It was about efficiency and working smart. They weren't convinced.

I then explained that I'm in a highly valuable role and that hiring and onboarding a new person would be far more costly than giving me three months to recover. They still thought I should show my immense gratitude so I'm not "forgotten".

What I realized, after the anger subsided, was that my mother-in-law and my mom were trying to protect me. Their advice rang true when they were new moms and it could even ring true to this day. I was blissfully entitled to my support and stability as a pregnant woman at work and I didn't know how lucky I was. 

A few weeks ago, my PM, Shawn Bristow, sat me down in a meeting room to catch up.

"Oh, Loe... I can't believe it-I totally forgot you'll be gone for 3 months instead of 1. I didn't plan for that because we haven't had any moms on our team-only fathers," said Shawn.

I hesitated-feeling slightly guilty for causing him all this additional stress.

"I'm sorry-I know it's not easy," I said.

I continued, "Let me know how I can help. If I were in your shoes, even as a woman who believes in moms, I'd be stressing about losing a player on my team for three whole months. It's a lot to plan for."

Shawn cut me off and stared at me with his intense, retired fisherman, Shawn Bristow stare.

"Loe...You will never get this back again. It goes so fast and it only happens once. Just be there and be present as much as you can because time moves so quickly. If you call or email me I'm not answering-just disconnect completely. You're talking to a dad who's counting down the number of school vacations before his daughter goes to college."

He paused.

"It's four, Loe. Four," he said slowly as he sat back into his chair and exhaled.

I was speechless, in shock, and so moved by Shawn's support and by his love for his daughter. I tried to maintain my composure as I held back a few tears.

When I got pregnant, I expected to be treated with respect and to keep my job. I never anticipated having so many fathers advocating passionately for my ability to be a great mom. I'm forever grateful to Hubspot for hiring them and I'm forever grateful to those dads for taking me under their wing(s).

Special thanks to HubSpot dads...

Kyle Gieste for helping me find my midwife
Gregory Cornelius for giving me baby things
Jeff Boulter for shamelessly hustling his kids' girlscout cookies
Tim Merrill for being real about the challenge of juggling career and family and checking in on me during my first trimester
Jonathan Meharry for being a boss who encourages me to do what's best for me as an ambitious but also pregnant direct report
Jay Ciruolo for leaving work early when possible to relieve his sleep deprived pregnant wife from 2-year-old duty
Shawn Bristow for being Shawn Bristow
Christopher O'Donnell for talking about his 2-year-old at Inbound
Dharmesh Shah for telling stories about his kid on stage and in company announcements

Also special thanks to my new friends and fellow HubSpot designers Chelsea Bathurst and Quintin Marcus for supporting me through all this change and for listening to me as I navigate strange and annoying pregnancy symptoms.
 

 

 

Steering a Giant Ship

"Do you feel like what you do has purpose?"

"Loe-what do you think about this UI solution?"

I was asked these questions recently and my answer left the asker feeling a bit lost. 

The truth is, anything you do-whether it be UX design, product management, marketing, sales, or customer success is meaningless unless your whole team or company is bought into the same goals and prioritization of those goals. At Hubspot, it would be like 1500 rowers on a giant boat with different sections trying to forge their own paths without communicating with the rest of the ship. You mind as well jump out and swim to get anywhere.

I see this happening a lot at larger companies and the truth is, it's really really hard to get everyone to row in one direction. The larger the company gets, the longer it takes to get buy in and to execute on the cohesive plan. Just think about playing telephone with 10 people vs. a thousand people.

Example: Let's say you're Salesforce or Marketo. Your product has kicked ass and now it's huge. It serves hundreds of thousands of use cases and the codebase is, well, (in Silicon Valley standards) old. You kept building on your original code base because every new addition met the needs of your customers at the time. It was enough and a rebuild was too costly in comparison. 

Eventually you plateau and you find yourself in a position where you have to rebuild your entire codebase to survive. You can't scale on your old framework and you can't slap on some new technology because you'll break things. You have to update everything and that means migrating all of your customers and use cases onto new technology. You can't do this as an Engineering team. You need Customer Success to prepare and customers for the change. You need your Education department to help customers learn about why you're doing it. Sales needs to coordinate with you so they can adjust their pitches and prepare old accounts for the migration so it doesn't impact their renewals. Marketing needs to create new content to support sales and they'll need to update their marketing materials.

Even within your Engineering department, there's a ton of complexity. Instead of building your product one thing at a time like you did when the company was new, you're building a giant, complex product with a ton of people at the same time. And you're trying to do it as quickly as possible.

This is a more extreme example-but the truth is, this sort of cross functional involvement should happen all the time as you build and update your product. If I update the text on a page to improve the user experience and my knowledgebase team doesn't update their help articles, my design update is meaningless. If I fail to pass on this update to my entire sales team so they're prepared to demo the new UI smoothly, it's also meaningless. Not only is it meaningless, it's detrimental to the company. I'm sabotaging my team and my customers by not keeping them in the loop.

So what's the solution? I wasn't quite sure I'd have one for this post until I discussed it with Chelsea Bathurst and Quintin Marcus, two of my fellow Hubspot designers and extremely good looking friends.

Here's what we came up with:

Collaboration and communication should be a highly valued asset at the company. It should be something that's imperative to a new hire's list of skill sets. It should also be something that's measured on the individual and team level so employees are rewarded for not only problem solving and producing on their own-but doing that with their team, their department, and departments across the company. It should be equally important to the quality of that person's individual work. If they can't work with others, again, that awesome work is useless.

How to run a horrible design meeting

 

  • Establish no clear leader(s) of the meeting who's responsible for the planning, agenda, moderation, and outcome
  • Have extroverted, more senior men speak 90% of the time (this is a symptom of the first bullet)
  • Change the agenda mid meeting
  • Have the most vocal, opinionated people be the ones who know the least about the problem
  • Have those vocal, opinionated people come up with a "good" solution based on their own personal needs and desires (not because of user interviews or data)
  • Go into the meeting with high level business decisions unresolved so the scope and long term vision of the solution is up in the air
  • Invite ten people to the meeting
  • Spend an hour on taxonomy with those ten people
  • Make the meeting is 9-5 for an entire week
  • Do multiple brainstorming, sketching, and KJ post-it exercises with no clear follow up/resulting action plan

The Good Ones: Men Who Have Empowered Me as a Woman in Tech

There has been a lot of horrible news floating around about how women are treated in tech.

While I've experienced my fair share of sexism (pinched from behind while walking up stairs, looked up and down, etc.), I wanted to take a minute to reflect on the people - the men, in particular, who have made my work life an incredibly safe and comfortable one. I felt this way before I got pregnant. Now that I'm a mom to be, I have an even deeper sense of gratitude for my respectful, compassionate male colleagues. 

Here are the men I'm grateful for in my career:

Robert Kavaler, Senior VP and Co-Founder at Sensys Networks
Robert was an executive who walked around wearing the same Cal button down, khaki shorts, and sandals every day. His wiry grey hair was always trying to escape his head and he approached everything with a healthy dose of playfulness and suspicion.  

I started my tech career at Sensys Networks as the company's Administrative Assistant. From day one, Robert treated me with collegial respect. We'd talk about politics at my desk. A cofounder and PhD from Cal, I held Robert in incredibly high regard. When he wanted to hear what I had to say I by default, felt smart and worthy. 

David Royer, Product & UX Designer
Dave is the reason I went into design. His friends were all designers and he loved his job. I couldn't believe there was this world of thoughtful, kind people who make great money studying computers and human behavior. 

I told Dave I was interested in becoming a designer and he was immediately on board. I had no product or design experience and he helped me construct a long term action plan to break into the field. He never questioned my ability to learn and he willingly nurtured my curiosity as soon as it was detected. 

Robert Hoehn, CEO @ IdeaScale
Robert Hoehn is a free spirited hippie turned CEO. He's always laughing and adventuring. He brought me on board in my first (and possibly last?) product management role and quickly promoted me to manage the entire four person product team. I was petrified by the responsibility but I accepted it because Rob believed in me and he gave me the chance.

I attended my first board meetings and managed my first team. I managed a department budget for the first time and oversaw development processes for a 20-person team in Bangladesh. It was one of the most challenging roles I've ever had but I learned and grew a ton. It made me a better designer.

Jeff Boulter, Tech Lead @ Hubspot
While I'm only 5 months into Hubspot, Jeff has already left an impression on me. He's a dad of three and he has a ton of experience leading teams of engineers. I was intimidated by his experience level when I joined and that quickly dissipated as I worked with him and another 27-year-old female Product Manager. 

Jeff immediately trusted me and the PM-supporting my PM's strategic decisions and working through problems with us in a informative, respectful way. He encouraged my PM to lead and he never made me feel stupid or inexperienced despite his greater wisdom. Jeff made it seem normal to be a young woman leading a team and I appreciated that. It became normal for me too.

Jay Ciruolo, Senior Software Engineer @ Hubspot
Jay made my jaw drop when I joined Hubspot. I remember I was in a user research meeting with him and we were debriefing on a session we had just listened in on. There were about ten of us in the room and a young twenty-something woman was leading the session.

Jay and the meeting leader spoke at the same time. Immediately the woman apologized and told Jay to continue speaking. Jay paused and said, "no-this is your meeting, you go." I literally thought I stumbled into a different dimension. I had never seen a guy be so self aware and supportive of a woman leading a meeting. 

Jonathan Meharry, Design Lead @ Hubspot
I may be drinking the Meharry cool-aid but Jonathan has been the best manager I've ever had. He spends most of our 1:1s listening and when we problem solve together, it's always highly collaborative and rarely someone with more power telling someone with less power to do something.

He advocates for his people and he does it with finessed communication and no ego. He has also followed up with me frequently to ensure I'm getting what I need to do my job well while I simultaneously grow a human being. It's so helpful to have a manager who's also a new dad with a 2-year-old son.

Tim Merrill, Director of Product Research and Design @ Hubspot
When I interviewed for a new job this time round, Tim Merrill stood out in a huge way because unlike other executives/department heads, Tim listened. Most of the interview was listening. Since then, Tim has continued to listen and I've been incredibly touched by how compassionate and caring he is towards his people. He's an open book who cares about both good design/product and bettering the world at large.

Why are they awesome?
When I look back on these men who have nurtured my career, 6 of the 7 are fathers. If you're looking to foster healthier, more equal work environments-maybe start there? From my experience dads do it right.

 

The Ten Plagues of Pregnancy

Around August 17th, I'm going to birth a human.

"Congratulations!" you say.
"Awe! What a precious gift!" 
"Don't you just love pregnancy and the miracle of life?!"

No. No I don't. Being pregnant blows. Yes it was planned-but if I could have gotten my husband pregnant or grown my child in a petri dish, that's what I would have done.

Being the progressive Jew that I am, I will now present to you, the Ten Plagues of Pregnancy:

Plague 1: Hurting boobs
Imagine if your boobs were made of pure muscle and a professional boxer punched you as hard as they could in the chest. That's what it feels like when you first become pregnant. It's uncomfortable to sleep and you're walking around with tender, bruised, boobs.

Plague 2: Flaming nipples
This one doesn't need much explanation. Ok imagine every sensory nerve on your nipples is turned up way past the maximum and a slight breeze feels like an electric shock.

Plague 3: Everything you ever loved to eat or drink now makes you want to hurl
Ah, remember that lovely cup of coffee in the morning? A bowl of ice cream? A big plate of delicious brunch with crispy bacon and french toast? Now that you're pregnant, your body will be repulsed by anything you consume or think about consuming. 

Plague 4: You sleep like an old cat
If you're an active, social person, get ready to say sayonara to the waking world where you can function at work past 2pm and have a cohesive conversation with your partner at home. Growing a human is exhausting and all you can to to fight fatigue, is sleep. My partner said he missed me for two months. I was such a zombie he didn't get any attention.

Plague 5: You're freezing one moment and sweating the next
You drink a hot cup of tea and you start feeling so hot and uncomfortable you might pass out. Then you take off your sweater and start shaking because you're so cold. Your boobs start hurting you're so cold. You put on your sweater back on again and  overheat again.

Plague 6: Gas
In addition to being nauseous, in pain, sleepy, and fluctuating in temperature, you're also unpleasant to be around because being pregnant makes you fart a lot. How lovely.

Plague 7: Dizziness
You get up to go to the bathroom at night and you almost fall on your face because you're so dizzy you temporarily lose your site. You fall over in yoga. You almost fall over at work. When you grow a baby, your blood vessels expand to allow for more blood flow to the fetus. Unfortunately, your circulation suffers as a result.

Plague 8: Heartburn
Progesterone is a hormone produced during pregnancy. It also relaxes the valve that separates the esophagus from the stomach and gastric acids seep back up and cause an unpleasant burning sensation! Yay!

Plague 9: Emotional insanity
You feel really sad. You feel depressed. You feel anxious. You feel pretty good. Why? THERE IS NO REASON. Except that you're growing a human and it's making you crazy. 

Plague 10: More gas
This one was written by Peter. I haven't noticed it but apparently he has.

I will love this baby with all my heart and I've set up a stable family and life as much as I can. I won't, however, pretend to love being pregnant and I expect giving birth to be the most painful, gross thing I'll experience in my entire life. Cheers, baby. See you in August.

My People

One month into my time at Hubspot, I was struck with fear because I realized that this may be the first and last best job I'll ever have in my entire life. I wanted to hold on to it as tightly as possible - to absorb it before it slips away and becomes a memory.

Since then, I've become spoiled and more focused on the problems that exist on my team and in the company (as a natural cynic and product designer, it was only a matter of time).

Before I completely lose track of that initial feeling, I want to take note of the things that made Hubspot feel like the best job I've ever had.

1. Hubspot has values. At my first company meeting, I discovered Hubspot hired Ta-Nehisi Coates to speak at their yearly conference. If you don't know Ta-Nehisi Coates, he writes about being a Black man and a Black father in the United States. You can't have a speaker like Ta-Nehisi Coates  and feign indifference. Being someone who also cares about Black people in my country, I was so grateful I started crying at the company meeting. Hubspot was willing to ruffle feathers and lose business to stand behind someone they believe in. It was refreshingly honorable.

2. Hubspot hires people who are both sharp and kind. At almost every job I've had, someone has always made me feel small or uncomfortable. At Art.com, a woman would completely ignore me whenever I'd try and communicate. I'd try to talk to her in the hallway and she'd act like I'm invisible. It made me feel horrible and it made me incredibly inefficient at my job. At Hubspot, I've never met someone I haven't liked. Consequently, I'm a happy person, I collaborate easily with new people, and I'm efficient in getting work done.

3. Hubspot is a big company with a small company feel. Big companies get overly political and bureaucratic. Culture is often lost and you quickly become a bee in a hive-slogging through process after process to get your job done or to accomplish any HR task. You feel like your voice is lost. Hubspot has maintained an incredibly friendly, free atmosphere as a 1500 person company. There is a shared culture of getting shit done, putting ones ego aside, and asking questions. Everyone is responsive and accessible from the Head of Culture to the VP of Product. You're empowered to do what's best for your team and to lead your own charge in your own way.

4. Hubspot has great design managers. It's common to promote the loudest, most extroverted, outspoken people. Hubspot is different in that they promote a variety of personalities into management positions. My boss is a soft spoken, incredibly empathetic person. His boss (the head of our department) is a super creative, nurturing type who's always looking ahead and reexamining the way we work to ensure we get what we need. My therapist says I've never been this happy. She says all this time, I've just been looking for a good manager.

So what about that Disrupt article that guy wrote-the one that talks about how Hubspot is a frat house filled with 20-year-olds? Here is what I can say:

- I had read the article and I was skeptical about the seemingly very young people who interviewed me.
- They won me over in minutes with their smarts and lack of ego (to me, this has nothing to do with age).
- I've never experienced any of that fratty behavior in Product.

Everyone Needs a Little Help

Think of the word VP. What descriptors come to mind? What about CEO? Here are some that I usually think of:

- Powerful
- Authoritative
- Remarkable
- Smart
- Intentional
- Tough

Every time I look for a new job, I view it with an increasing amount of scrutiny. I try to work for companies that solve problems I've seen in past positions. For example, after seeing conflict and chaos render companies inefficient, I decided it was important to have focused and decisive executive leadership wherever I go.

Now that I'm headed off to another adventure (Hubspot), I realized I missed a key element in my search: I want my leaders to be self aware. More specifically, I want them to acknowledge their weaknesses and to listen to others-especially those who are strong where they're weak.

I (and I suspect, many others) have a tendency to think VPs and CEOs are somewhat superhuman. The fact is, they're not. It's a lonely, stressful job and aside from that, they can only think and act in the way that they've been programmed because they're human. A Sales CEO may tend to be naturally gregarious, outgoing, impatient, and great at communicating. A Technical CEO may be more detail-oriented, abstract in their thinking, focused, and careful. Whatever the combination, humans always lack where they excel. 

When running an entire company, it's imperative that leaders acknowledge their weaknesses and find others to balance them out. Not only does it make companies more efficient (you can execute on all left and right brain ideas instead of just one combination), it builds a more diverse culture and employee base where openness and diversity of thought is a value. And what could be better for building great products?

On to fall leaves, chowder, and snow. I'm going to miss you California.

 

 

 

It's the Little Things

Disruptive. Innovative. Groundbreaking. Ninjas. Unicorns. Magic.

These are common words in the tech world. Everyone wants to be big, impactful, and untouchable. It's like winning the lottery or becoming famous.

It's great to have stretch goals or aspirations that seem impossible. They spur creative and abstract thought so amazing things happen once in a while. One thing I wanted to highlight, however, is that small, meaningful things get overshadowed by these goals. While they aren't groundbreaking, they do hold a ton of value and they're easier to accomplish. They can also have a ripple effect. Here is an example of what I'm talking about:

Big Goal: Carl is a Stanford MBA grad. He wants to be a CEO so he can make a product that completely disrupts the healthcare market. He wants to go IPO and live next to Mark Zuckerberg. 

Impact: World domination.

Likelyhood: -134098632049487209874%

Little Goal: Carl is a Stanford MBA grad. He got an internship at Google. He sees that there's recurring miscommunication between his boss and one of his direct reports. He sees why they're on different pages and wants to find a process that will help them understand each others' perspective so his team's work will be more streamlined.

Impact: Happier boss, direct report, and team. Better product.

Likelyhood: 85%

Making big waves is honorable and rare. Making little waves is honorable and attainable. Make sure to incorporate them into your plan as you reach for the moon.

You Know Nothing Jon Snow

People think they're smarter than others all the time. They've worked longer. They have more experience. They're more educated. They're older. They're younger. They're more proficient in a language. They think differently.

There are many reasons for why people put themselves above others. Ambiguity and the unknown are scary and people pride themselves in knowing all the answers. It defines them and their reputation. If one belief is in question-what about all the others? Will people respect them less? Will their reputation be in jeopardy?

After seeing this, experiencing it, and doing it myself, I've come to realize that as a designer, putting yourself above others is sabotage. You create distance and mistrust and you build barriers between you and others so there's no possibility of open mindedness and understanding. You're also missing out on crucial design feedback that you clearly, for whatever reason, cannot see.

I made a promise to myself that every time I feel frustration and confusion in design, I shouldn't see it as a personal affront but a key opportunity to grow.

Hello From The Other Side

I used to be a Product Manager managing two designers, a UI developer, and a Junior Product Manager. I also ran the development scrums and helped them manage their sprints.

Now I'm a Senior Product Designer. It has been so interesting to see product development from the designer's perspective.

Here are some things I wish I would have done better as a PM:

1. Product Managers juggle a ton of projects and people at once. Tools and processes can be helpful-allowing PMs to know where everything is at any given point in time. From the perspective of a developer or designer however, many tools and processes can be hard to pick up if you're not constantly monitoring those tools like the PM. This can lead to frustration on the PM's part or confusion and frustration on the developer or designer's part. I definitely remember this being a pain point in my previous role. Now it makes more sense to me.

Key learning: Only show people what they need to know and take time to learn what that may be every time you adopt a new tool or process. It'll save your team brain space and it'll prevent tool & process overload.

2. Recurring meetings are a great way to stay on track. If you're a PM at a startup however, your job may be pretty crazy and you're likely to have an ever changing schedule. You'll be late to those meetings or maybe even forget them because you have something more pressing.

Key learning: Try substituting those meetings with designer/developer driven check ins. Let them run with it and encourage them to come to you if they're stuck or if they have bandwidth. It'll be a more natural rhythm, you'll meet less, and your meetings will be more substantial.

A special thanks to my team at IdeaScale for helping me to see flaws in my management so I can continue to learn and grow.   

 

Trust and Consistency in UX

Scenario 1: You go on a date with someone new. You met them online. They seem pretty cool. You wonder if you should worry about them doing something weird. You get closer. You see their behavior remains consistent over time. Your trust continues to build.

Scenario 2: You meet someone online. You start dating. They seem cool. You wonder if they'll do something weird. They say they love women. You get closer. You find a Trump sticker on their computer. Your trust is shattered due to the inconsistency of their behavior.

Dating and UX are strangely similar. Users check you out. They see how you make them feel. They're naturally suspicious because they may have been burned in the past. They trust your designs more over time as they see consistency in your product's behavior. Do you adhere to certain themes, UI patterns, and interactions? Do you stay consistent with the language you use? Is the information (pricing, product descriptions) the same everywhere?

I ran into a situation like this today and laughed at how betrayed I felt. My longtime romantic interest, Airbnb, displayed three different daily rates on its site. Here is the first view. Airbnb shows me I can rent this place for $123 per day for two people during the time period I selected.

So I click into that place to learn more about it. At the very top, the app tells me the daily rate is $90 per day. But wait, with the fees and taxes, it's more like $150. Which is it? $123, $90, or $150 per day??? WHO ARE YOU AIRBNB? HAVE I BEEN DATING A TOTAL STRANGER?! WHAT ELSE ARE YOU HIDING?!

As the paranoia ensued, I spiraled into thoughts like, "Has Airbnb ever been true to me with it's pricing?" and "Is Airbnb trying to make more money off of me by lying to me about the actual prices?"

Clearly consistency in pricing, among other things, has a significant impact on trust. I've heard this echoed by UX Directors who work at banks where money is at the center of every interaction. They explained that they have to be extra careful to be correct, transparent and reliable.

If you want to grow and retain your users' trust, make sure to be consistent and to keep it real-especially when it comes to money.     

Ambiguity in Tech

Tech is unique. It's young and ever changing. It gets bored easily. It likes to feel special.

This is great for a lot of reasons.

1) It helps you stay on your toes and forces you to be flexible.
2) It's socially progressive (relative to other industries like banking) so it's a friendlier place for women and people of color.
3) It has a lower barrier to entry and it comes with less bullshit. Are you smart? Can you show it? No fancy degree? No problem.
4) It embraces non traditional thinkers. Maybe you're smart but horrible at tests and school. Maybe you're dyslexic (me). Maybe you're autistic. Regardless, you can still find a place in tech where you can shine and be appreciated for you originality.

It is, by all means, not perfect. According to the Harvard Business Review, 41% of women working in tech eventually end up leaving the field (compared to just 17% of men). There are also barely any Black people in tech (source : me). 

After eight years in software, I've noticed a recurring characteristic: Tech is really ambiguous. You don't know what you should do in your job. You don't know how to grow your career because you don't exactly know what your career is. Your title could mean many things. You don't know who your boss really is. Someone got hired and you don't know what they do or how you should interact with them. 

This can lead to paralysis if you're afraid of conflict or screwing up. What if you miss something you should be doing? What if you step on someone else's toes by doing something you shouldn't have?

I'm guilty of paralysis. My mentor, Glen Lipka, offered this piece of advice: If you don't know what to do, go solve a problem and show it to your execs. Any problem. If you make something awesome, others will recognize it and you can have a huge impact on the company. If you don't, you made something for your portfolio, you've learned something, and your execs think you're prolific. You have nothing to lose.

Don't let tech's ambiguity overwhelm you. Keep learning and growing regardless of the rules (or lack thereof). That's what leaders and innovative thinkers do.

What We Remember About Good Managers

This evening, I asked my mentors who their favorite managers were and why. I was really surprised by their answers-not because they were unusual but because they weren't about anything technical or specific. It was about how those managers made them feel. Here's the breakdown:

1. Good Managers are Compassionate
For both mentors, this was the strongest value. Their managers were forgiving, supportive, and understanding. When direct reports were having a hard time (either because they failed or because they were going through difficult in their personal hardships), these managers were steadfast. One mentor described his favorite manager as one of those people who makes you feel their warm, encouraging energy just from being in the same room. I found this really interesting because it wasn't about prioritization or structure or direction. It was about managers making their direct reports feel accepted and valued as human beings.

2. Good Managers Empower Direct Reports to Make Decisions and Fail
This was the second most prevalent type of feedback on good managers. Their managers did not micro manage. They trusted direct reports to run independently and when they failed, managers didn't judge or punish them as a result. They asked questions and provided recommendations but always made it clear that in the end, it was not the manager's decision.

3. Good Managers Don't Take Credit
One mentor pointed out the fact that their favorite manager was selfless. He said his boss never took credit for the work of his direct reports and that he was mainly focused on his team's personal and professional growth (maybe even more than his own).

Flashback to 1998...
My favorite manager is still my teacher, Chris Jaglo, from the 6th grade. Every day she'd make the girls in her class recite the phrase "I'm a bold, strong, woman." If we didn't say it loud enough, we'd have to repeat the phrase until the volume was sufficient.

She made us all learn the same material regardless of our level and ensured the success of every student through repetition. Throughout the drills, she'd enthusiastically call out every student's name, ask for the answer, and throw candy at them once they replied correctly.

If students fell behind, she'd keep in them in during recess and have them play board games that gave them further repetition. She was a steady, positive force with high expectations for all of us. We followed her happily, knowing that she'd never let us down or make us feel embarrassed in front of our classmates.

Chris Jaglo, my favorite manager, didn't make me feel warm and fuzzy and she didn't let me fail. She did, however, give me credit for my success and she was selfless, devoting all her time and energy to helping me grow. She had my utmost trust and respect and I worshipped her because she made me feel capable and confident. To this day, I still think of Chris every time I get promoted, receive a raise, lead a meeting, take on a new direct report, or present a design. I guess she was right. I am a bold, strong, woman.
 

The UX of Choice

I had a great design session with Tyler Ziemann of Yozio. I presented some designs and he continually asked me questions about how I could help the user make decisions in my screens. I realized I had planned for what information we needed to gather but I didn't think about what it would be like to provide that information as a user. How do they choose what to select? How can we help them choose? Can we bypass any fields entirely by gathering that data in some other way?

I started thinking about fields and how I should create a rule of either providing suggestions (either by helping or by autofilling a value) or automating that step and removing it all together. Then I stepped back and started to think about choice. 

What else can I do to help users make a decision and what factors come into play with decision making?

I watched Barry Schwartz's TED talk again about the Paradox of Choice. He goes on to explain that the more choices people have, the more paralyzed they become in their decision making (sometimes to the point where they make no decision at all). He then goes on to say that not only do people slow down when there are more choices, they're more dissatisfied when they make a decision. Because there were more choices, they have more alternate scenarios to envision as they walk away with their final decision.

I read "100 Things Every Designer Should Know About People" by Susan Weinschenk. She went on to support Barry's research with similar findings. There was a jam study where they sold one table with four jams and one with twenty. She pointed out that because people want more choices, more people went to the twenty jams than the four jams. However, because more choices paralyze people, more people purchased jam at the table with four jams.

I thought about Des Traynor's talk on how to make product decisions. He talks about scope creep, giving the example of a scalpel. It's easy to market, easy to explain, easy to make, and easy to use. Unlike the scalpel, the swiss army knife is hard to market, hard to explain, hard to make, and mediocre to use. While this wasn't Traynor's point, I reflected on how, by choosing a scalpel model over a swiss army knife model (fight scope creep), one could limit the choices more for the user and therefore cause less paralysis, more happiness, and potentially more adoption.

I thought about Virgin America's sexy site redesign and how it became a super simple, one step per screen experience to book flights. I always hated booking flights because there was so much noise on every page and it was always hard to verify my details among all the clutter.

I thought about a talk at the Warm Gun Design Conference in San Francisco. The speaker gave the example of a product created around World War II when instant, cheap food was highly valued. Instant food was a new thing and the company was excited to create a cake mix that was simply powder and water. To their surprise, the consumers of this product bought less because it was too easy and non involved. They wanted to still feel like they were baking. So the company redesigned their product again to make the baking process more complicated-allowing them to add eggs and other things. Weinschenk's book also related to this example-stating that people feel they're more in control when they make more decisions.

Clearly, creating a good decision making experience is much more complicated than I thought. Due to the many factors mentioned above, it definitely needs some serious, thoughtful consideration.

I've Got 99 Problems But a Useless Feature Ain't One

Problems are negative. They're scary. They make us worry. They make us feel bad about ourselves.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that if you aren't drowning in problems, you're not doing it right. If you have a problem, you're self aware. You probably want to get rid of that problem. Eventually you'll find a solution.

The more problems you're aware of, the more problems you'll solve, and the better off you'll be. Eventually you'll get so good at finding problems that you'll uncover other problems and increase your capacity for finding solutions.

Will you always see problems and feel the need to find solutions? Yes. Will you be better off because you see those problems in the first place and fine tune how you design solutions? Absolutely.

My biggest pet peeve is when I see people reject the possibility that problems exist. They see it as defending their legitimacy or saving their product from criticism and negativity. What I see, is a conscious decision not to grow. Every identified problem is an opportunity for improvement. It's what great designers live off of and it's what good companies focus on. I challenge you to embrace every problem. Think of them not as failures, but as essential opportunities for growth over the course of a career. 

 

No One Knows What they Want

I realized today that I made a common mistake. I took my CEO's direction to heart, assembled my team accordingly, and plowed full speed ahead with his requirements as our guide. 

We had our first meeting today to touch base on the progress of our projects. They were required to be released by the end of the year. The timeline was incredibly tight and I was concerned about the quality of the work because we had limited resources. I also didn't want to sacrifice research and prototyping time and build band aid solutions.

One of my colleagues presented a project that had a rough scope of one year. I pushed back, telling him his plans weren't within the requirements we agreed on. There was no way this could be done by the end of the year. 

To my surprise, the CEO loved it. He applauded my colleague for thinking big and he was excited about the project because it was much more impressive given it's larger scope.

Sheepish, I realized I screwed up once again by assuming that my boss knew exactly what he wanted. I assumed he thought about all the different scenarios and saw all the different designs we could create in his head. I thought these requirements were written in stone after lots of research and careful planning. I made way too many assumptions. 

It's common for people to think they know what they want simply because they can't imagine things being any other way. Sometimes it's because they literally can't see it. When they do, they have the potential to get really excited about it and even change their mind entirely.

I should have made the conscious decision to take his direction as a clue rather than a directive, presenting the best related solutions rather than only solutions that fit within his rigid framework.

 

 

Vietnam

This isn't a post about product. It's about people and culture.

I went to Vietnam for two weeks with my partner. He studied there ten years ago and I went for the food. While the Bun Cha and Pho was indeed delicious, I found that the country was even more inspiring than I had anticipated. I miss the strong feeling of community and the smell of noodle soup every morning. It feels sterile and a bit lonely now here in the United States. 

Short Story 1: The Best Tailor/Restaurant/Doctor Ever
We headed to Hoi An in Central Vietnam because it was a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it was well known for custom tailoring. "You can have an entire suit made in a day!" boasted our friends in Hanoi. We walked through the streets in the scorching heat with sweat dripping down our necks. Women reached out to us regularly, encouraging us to come into their stores. After taking a short break in the shade of cafe, we chose a tailor across the street based on her TripAdvisor reviews. 

As soon as we stepped in, a woman approached us and pulled out two chairs-asking us to sit down. She gestured to another woman who brought us cold bottles of water and refrigerated wet wipes. Her face was tan and angular with thick, perfectly shaped eyebrows. She had a look of focus and determination. 

Two hours later, we had been measured for two suits, shirts, and a few dresses. "You hungry?" she asked. "Yes," I replied. "I get you food. You try Cau Lau?" she asked. "Sure?" I said. I had no idea what Cau Lau was.

Five minutes later, her fellow worker returned with two steaming bowls of Cau Lau on a tray. She brushed aside the papers and fabric in front of us and served us Cau Lau right there in the store. With the intense heat and humidity, the site of food made me sick to my stomach. Regardless, we were hungry and we were being closely observed. We ate, gave her a thumbs up and smiled to show our extreme pleasure. She sent us back to our hotel with a bag of bananas and pineapples.

That night my partner came down with a gnarly stomach bug. Miserable and sleep deprived, he returned to the tailor with me the next afternoon. We arrived for the fitting and the tailor asked him how he felt. He said he was sick. "Bathroom all the time?" she asked. He nodded, embarrassed. "I get you medicine," said the tailor, waving to another woman who disappeared into the streets. Ten minutes later, the woman returned with five cans of Diet Coke, five cans of Pringles, and a mysterious plastic bag of pills. My partner looked at me with raised eyebrows. "We're headed back to Hanoi tomorrow so if you start dying, we'll be near a hospital soon," I said. He downed the pills and drank two cans of Diet Coke (she kept encouraging him to have more). He felt better from the sugar, developed a headache from the caffeine, and awoke fully recovered the next day.

 

A Letter to My Past Self

After trying to grow my career in Product, I've attained a good title and a decent growth story. What I've realized, however, is that I've fallen behind in skills I may have polished if I were more discerning about the employers I considered. I was so focused on title and salary that I failed to examine how companies develop product. Consequently, my product development chops are somewhat lacking for someone with my years of experience.

If I were to meet myself three years ago, here is what I'd say:

Dear Loe,
You're doing a great job but you still have no idea what you're doing. You're going to be tempted to take opportunities as they come because it's exciting and you're impatient. Unfortunately, this will bite you in the ass years later. Here are the crucial questions you must ask before even considering an employer. If you can't get hired by an employer that meets all of these requirements, go get your masters in HCI (for UX) or your MBA (for Product Management).

1. Are Product decisions made from data? What data? How is that data gathered? Are there tools used to analyze the data? Who analyzes the data? Do all Product Managers make product decisions in the same way? Every product decision (hypothesis) needs to be based on data. It should never be because someone thinks it's cool, because one customer asked for it, or because the company is trying to imitate a popular brand. 

2. Who will be the primary decision maker for all of the products I build? Who is responsible for that person's performance? There should be a clear answer to this. One person needs to be the final decision maker of every decision and it needs to be clear to the entire company. If it isn't, the internal misalignment will result in a lot of conflict and it will be impossible for you to succeed since your goals aren't clear.

3. Who manages the budget for the products I build? This needs to be crystal clear-similar to the one decision maker in #2.

4. Who defines the company's product vision? How do they do that? How do they communicate that vision to the rest of the company? Also similar to #1 and #2, one person needs to be responsible for signing off on this. They also need to communicate the plan or have a strategy for communication with the rest of the company so plans and products don't live in a vacuum.

5. How are development resources allocated to product? The loudest, most aggressive person on Product should not have all the resources. Resources should be dependent on the company's product priorities and the best development strategy (different developers have different skills and different projects have different dependencies).

6. How does the development team work with Product? Making product should be an ongoing collaboration between development and product. It should not be a hand off. Developers should understand the use cases and personas and Product Managers should ensure those stories are clearly articulated.

7. Who will be my primary mentor? How will they mentor me? There needs to be some sort of structure in place to define and determine growth. 

8. How does Marketing and Product work together? Is there a Product Marketing person or team? Is Product Marketing in the dark about Product? Is there good collaboration between the two departments?

9. Are your developers on site? Are they in the country? This has been a huge painpoint of mine. Communication is difficult. It's even more difficult when people are in different time zones and when you can't collaborate regularly face to face. It takes a toll on the product as well because misalignment leads to a decline in product quality.

10. How is Product success evaluated? What happens when a product fails? The best products are measured so PMs can keep iterating or kill new features. If product isn't measured, it becomes bloated and inefficient.

11. How does Product and UX work together? How do their responsibilities differ? How do they overlap? UX and Product are very similar. It's really important to distinguish roles and responsibilities for the two departments to prevent conflict/butting heads.

 

 

Tech and the Have Nots

I was born and raised Jewish. Every High Holiday season (Passover, Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashana) my family would spend time reflecting on how lucky we were to have what we had. We'd pray for others who weren't as fortunate and think of things we could have done to be better people that year. We trained ourselves to reflect on the misfortune of others every time our lives got easier. It was a way to keep ourselves in check. To stay human.

I read another article today about a Black person being physically abused by the police for no reason. This time it was a one legged man on crutches outside the Twitter building in San Francisco. You can read the article here. While all of these videos and articles are horrible in their own way, this one compelled me to write because this instance and this author struck a certain chord with me. Here we have an incredibly rich, White city with rich White companies and rich White people. I am included in this population. Then we have a Black, one legged man whose living on the street. He's abused and humiliated in public by the police as they stomp on his leg, hit him on the head, and hold him to the ground for 30 minutes with his bare behind exposed. No one does anything. Not a peep from Twitter about the treatment of human beings in their neighborhood.

I understand that Twitter can't save the world. I understand that this is a complex issue because of the violent, racist nature of police culture. I understand that racism against Black people is deeply ingrained in our country's history. What I don't understand as a Jew and a human being, is why the Haves (i.e. wealthy tech companies) are not using their money and power more to advocate for the Have Nots-especially in the case of police brutality against Black people. I had an argument with a developer from Apple about something similar. I told him how awesome it would be if Apple took their smart people and designed solutions that would help everyone-not just those who can afford Apple watches. He claimed it was "not Apple's problem to solve." Personally, I think that's bullshit. I also think he's misaligned with his CEO who "plans to give away all his wealth, after providing for the college education of his 10-year-old nephew" and explains that changing the world always has been higher on Apple’s agenda than making money.

Here is an example of tech using money and influence to advocate for human rights. Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce, threatened to remove all Salesforce business from Indiana when Governor Mike Pence signed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act that allowed employers turn qualified employees away because of their religion, sexual orientation, gender, or race. Benioff spread the word on Twitter and a week later, offered relocation packages to Salesforce employees living in Indiana in case they wanted to transfer out of Indiana. Apple and NASCAR followed his lead and soon Benioff had a group of executives teaming up to put economic pressure on Indiana. Angie's List, an Indianapolis based tech company, froze their $40 million dollar expansion plan in the state. Mike Pence revised the legislation after coming under national scrutiny for his ridiculous legislation. Unfortunately it's still discriminatory. But at least he's under pressure, he revised it, and big tech companies are highlighting the issue and forcing further revisions because of Benioff's initiative.

Tech has the huge potential to do good. When I see and read about police brutality against Black people, I see a ripe opportunity for tech to leverage its money and power to push for justice and reform. 

 

Keep it Real

Ja Rule once sang that he can't go on without JLo because she keeps it real. Similarly, it's important to keep it real when designing interfaces and interacting with your team. Here's what I'm talking about.

A wise Glen Lipka (Chief Design Officer at Marketo) once taught me that it's a bad idea to use lorem ipsum in my design mockups. I didn't understand it at the time but now that I've been designing longer, I've realized that fake text or fake numbers weakens your designs in a big way.

Content and content prioritization should be the foundation of a design. If you're not being real about your content, your design mockup loses its meaning and feedback will off base. A prime example of this is designing a report. If the numbers don't relate to each other as they would in the real scenario, any viewers (developers, other designers, etc.) won't understand what you're trying to do.

It goes even further. People have strong associations with words. One word may trigger a strong reaction. It's important to have time to identify and examine those reactions early on in your design process. A reviewer's interpretation of words may completely change your design and rushing through those changes could damage the quality of your product.

So, in conclusion, keep it real from the start (or as real is it can be). Scrap the lorem ipsum. Use numbers that make sense.