Today’s Tech Role Model is Trucy Phan. Trucy is a self-taught designer and developer with Mechanical and Civil Systems engineering roots. Born and raised in Iowa to Vietnamese immigrants, Trucy lived and worked in the Bay Area in California for 10 years, and just moved to Chicago last year. Some of her favorite things include: grocery shopping when traveling in other countries, handwritten cards, and koalas. Currently, Trucy a Senior Product Designer for Yello, a talent acquisition CRM.
Give me a quick summary of your career thus far. Where did you get your start? How do the dots connect to where you are today?
It’s hard to do a quick summary of 9 years but here we go:
- After a year and a half doing odd jobs during the recession that hit in 2008, I finally got a job at a government research lab (LBL) doing energy efficiency analyses.
- After that, I ran a company with a business partner for 4 years in San Francisco. We designed and built websites, apps and data visualizations for city planning and transit agencies. At that company, I was a designer, developer, and project manager.
- In the last 5 years, I’ve worked for a handful of seed stage startups as their only full stack designer and front end developer. I’ve also worked as a full-time product designer at larger startups.
If you want to hear more about each of these bullet points, I spent a lot of time detailing how I got into tech for The Techies Project!
What’s your official title and how long have you been in this senior product designer role?
I’m a Senior Product Designer at Yello and have been here for 7 months.
What attracted you to this role?
Yello had most of the things I was looking for when I was interviewing! Some of those were:
- A data-heavy application with an abundance of design problems to solve
- An existing design team (i.e. I wouldn’t be the only designer in-house)
- A company without a robust design system (so I could help create and maintain one)
- An existing product (i.e. not something with 0 users) that could be improved. I had previously worked places that only had new features and few users to get feedback from.
Walk me through a typical day in your role. What activities do you engage in? What types of meetings do you join? When’s lunch?
Here is a sample of things I might do in a given day:
- Sync up with engineers, my PM, and other designers as needed
- Heads-down design time during which I might sketch, explore medium and high fidelity prototypes, or modify something in our pattern library
- Participate in phone screens and onsite interviews for front end engineering, product manager, and product design candidates
- Pair with another designer for an hour on a design problem
- Give feedback to other designers on their work, and go through feedback left on mine
- Chat with clients and summarize client feedback
- Write surveys to send to clients
What skills/technologies help you succeed?
Technologies: Outside of the normal suite of tools our company uses (Slack, Confluence, Jira, G Suite, Zoom, etc.) I love Figma. I use it for everything from designing, illustrating, prototyping, and dev handoff to maintaining a shared pattern library across our team. I love using their commenting and sharing features to collaborate with PMs, engineers, and other designers. If you’re a designer and haven’t used it, I highly recommend checking it out. It’s free, works in the browser and as a native app on any Mac or Windows computer.
Skills: Since designers at Yello are responsible for doing so many things: recruiting, user research, and full stack design (wireframing, info architecture, visual, interaction design/prototyping), time management and prioritization is crucial.
Work is fun if you’re curious and are also learning (not just in execution mode) so I try to investigate new tools and more exploratory designs when I can. A good designer can understand when to focus on the details and when to zoom out to get perspective, so I’m practicing that, too.
When it comes to people, being a nice person goes a long way, as well as being patient and having empathy for both your team members and the people who use the software.
What’s the most fun or creative part of your senior product designer role?
I love talking to clients and getting feedback! I also love meeting other product designers over coffee, talking to them about what drives them, and seeing how I can help them in their career. When I’m designing, I love the exploration phase early on, and creating a functional, high fidelity prototype at the end. The middle stuff for me is like a bunch of crap and terrible ideas I’m embarrassed to show.
What are the biggest challenges you face in this role?
I used to be the one who implemented my own designs, so if I changed my mind it was very quick and easy to change the code and push it to prod. The traditional designer/dev handoff happened in my head, so nothing was lost in translation. Now, I have to be a little more sure of a design before I give it to a developer to be built and iterated on, and be sure of what’s an exploration vs. more final.
I used to work in much smaller companies, where I would sit just a few feet away from the CEO, CTO, VP of Product, VP of Engineering, and customer support. At one particularly scrappy place, I literally shared a desk with the CTO. As a result, at those companies I usually felt like I always knew what was happening, and if I didn’t know, I was a quick conversation away from knowing.
Now, one of the challenges I’m facing is getting all the context and information I need across different departments from people who all have busy schedules and still feeling like I can move forward and make the right decisions without having all the information all the time.
What teams/individuals do you work with cross-functionally? Can you give an example of a time when you collaborated with another group/individual?
I work cross functionally with engineers and my PM on a daily basis. At least once a week I might touch base with PMs on other teams, and people who work in our customer support group and sales.
Recruiting is a good example. Since designers help interview for front-end engineers, product managers and product designers, I’ll also chat accordingly with other engineers, other PMs, other designers, and our in-house recruiter to discuss each interview and align on interview guides, on-site questions, and post-interview discussions.
What’s an area where you’re trying to grow in your senior product designer role?
I want to become better at coming up with more design explorations in the beginning stages of a new feature, and better at interaction design. I want to spend more time exploring beyond what low hanging fruit is, or an MVP. I like actually thinking about what an ideal user experience would be, starting with understanding a user’s journey and pain points instead of jumping right into nitty gritty high fidelity work. I’ve always had a more technical approach to design, so I think I could be better at stepping back to understand where a user is coming from a bit more.
Aside from technical skills, what personality traits/characteristics make for an ideal candidate in your role?
An ideal product design candidate is able to take information — both quantitative and qualitative — and solve a user problem related to a company’s goals. Each design choice should be intentional, and always link back to the user.
It’s an overused term, but the ability to work in a cross functional team goes a long way. Knowing what strengths people bring to the table, understanding where someone is coming from when they disagree, and having fun are all important to me.
An ideal candidate also should be self-aware. How do your decisions impact your team? What about others at the company? How do your choices impact users?
What skills (tech/non-tech) have you improved as a result of working in this senior product designer role?
Hands down, recruiting. I’ve interviewed so many candidates for Yello since I started. Through this process, I’m getting better at assessing hard and soft skills of product designers in a way that’s fair to them (and more useful for us), which include coming up with better interview exercises that allow them to shine.
Hiring my own manager is something I never thought I would do either. We wrote a job req and created on-site interview exercises for that role. (P.S., if you want to be my manager you should apply!)
Lastly, I think I’m always going to be a huge advocate of changing ineffective tools and processes at each company I’m at. I’m currently learning how to balance making others feel included in the process with also getting things done. What you don’t want, is too much change too fast, which could backfire because someone perceives it as a threat. But at the end of the day, we should all be working together because we’re all on the same team!
In your role, what metrics define success?
That depends. If it’s a new feature, is it being delivered on time? Is it sellable by the sales team? Do a greater number of prospects become customers after the launch of the feature? Or do people fail to renew their contracts despite being given the new feature?
In terms of the recruiting we do, does a candidate accept the offer? How did they view their interview and on-boarding experience?
Yello was, and is, going through a lot of change, so it’s really exciting to be a part of that but also hard to measure success when all the variables and constraints are changing.
Want more of these interviews delivered directly to your inbox? Sign up for my monthly newsletter.