Strong Personalities Need Feedback Too

As I caught up with my friend today on Gchat, she voiced her frustration with a colleague who talked a lot and always had a lot of opinions. It annoyed her because she couldn't get a word in and because he always dominated the conversation.

I asked her if she felt comfortable giving him feedback on his behavior and she thought she might if she saw the behavior again (this, unfortunately, was probably inevitable).

That spurred this post.

I have a lot of experience working with strong personalities. When I say strong - I mean people who talk a lot, dominate conversations, and maybe don't have the awareness to recognize when others are annoyed, hurt, or bored.

It's really hard to give strong personalities feedback because they make you feel crappy.

Pregnancy Poetry

Sad Poem

I remember it so distinctly
Standing in the shower
Looking down at my stomach as the water scaled and fell to the tub
A pool of sadness flooded my chest
This was not my body anymore

My safety and adventure
My proud sensuality
My closest friend
Wish I had the chance to say goodbye

Happy Poem

This morning, I climbed out of my swollen belly and big boobs
I drove to the White Mountains and backpacked 30 miles
I ate and drank whiskey for 5 hours straight
I went to hot yoga and had wild acrobatic sex with my husband
Then I slept peacefully through the night and never once used the bathroom

LinkedIn Recommendations: Your New Pokemon

Recommendations are awesome for many reasons. You feel good when you get them. You feel good when you give them. Recommendations make you look valuable and competent to potential employers and new colleagues.

Over the course of my career, I've been diligent about giving and asking for recommendations. I'd go back and read them to reaffirm my value. I also liked collecting them. They were like a currency I was accumulating as I developed my skills and grew into more senior roles over time.

After 7 years of giving and receiving recommendations, here's what I'd... Recommend :)

1. Don't be afraid to ask. Asking for recommendations can feel awkward and self indulgent. The truth is, they're really important to growing your career-especially for women (Allyson Downey, the founder of WeeSpring, argued that women are seen as more valuable if others vouch for them-vs. women vouching for themselves). Focus on the benefit of having that recommendation in your pocket as you move forward in your career and try to look past the strange feeling of asking for compliments.

2. Ask folks in a variety of roles. When people look at your history and recommendations, they want to see growth and an ability to interact with others in various situations. Are you easy to manage? Do your direct reports like you? How far is your influence? Do folks in other departments feel your impact?

3. Ask all the time. For a while I found myself scrambling to get recommendations once I was leaving a company. While this works sometimes, you often have better luck when you ask for recommendations when you're not looking. Recommenders won't feel as rushed and their recommendations may be more substantial because they're truly invested in their relationship with you (you're not going anywhere). Receive positive feedback at your job? Take that opportunity to convert the feedback into a recommendation. It's a great way to get a recommendation because it's pretty effortless for the recommender.

4. If you think someone is awesome, recommend them. Love working with someone? Admire their leadership? Did someone totally save your butt because they went the extra mile? It's cliche but it's true-what goes around, comes around. If you recommend others, they'll be more likely to recommend you. 

5. If you think someone is not awesome, don't recommend them. Is it awkward? Heck yeah it is. However-it's really important to only recommend people you know and admire. Your recommendations are an extension of your network and your reputation. If you don't have enough experience with someone or if you don't feel comfortable recommending them, follow your gut. Don't do it.

6. When you recommend, give it substance. What was the context in which you worked with them? What did they do that impressed you? Similar to writing a good resume, recommendations are stronger when they have context, an action (what that person did), and how it impacted you and/or the company. Avoid sweeping statements or recommendations that only applaud someone's character. The more you can ground that person's value in something tangible, the more outsiders will trust in and see their value.

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.