Today’s Tech Role Model is Ashley Hefnawy. Ashley is a creative freelance writer who works mostly in tech. Over the course of her career, she’s worked with various tech companies, including Shutterstock, Snapchat, Google, Audible, and HP. Her creative writing can be found in publications like Catapult, Susie Magazine, and 1on1 projects. When she’s not writing, she can be found playing the violin, drawing, and DJing around Brooklyn, playing a blend of global, disco, funk, and R&B sounds.
What’s your official title and how long have you been in this role?
My official title is Freelance Writer. I sometimes go by Senior Copywriter, Content Strategist, or UX Writer. I’ve worked as a writer in New York with companies all over the world for the last 10 years.
What attracted you to this role?
I’ve been a writer basically my entire life. When I was a kid, I worked with my dad to help him draft business letters and proposals. It taught me from a young age how to articulate myself and put words to paper in a creative way that reads well.
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?
I don’t have typical days; every day is different. Sometimes I wake up and meditate, exercise, make food, and then dive into a couple projects for the afternoon and early evening. Other times, I’m running around New York meeting with clients all day with hardly a moment to myself. My schedule fluctuates a lot, but I like constant movement—it keeps me energized. Today, I woke up early and got to a cafe in NoHo to answer emails and take care of some administrative tasks. I’ll probably find some time to make music later. It’ll either a mix I’ve been working on, or I’ll record some violin samples to send to a friend who wants to collaborate on a new remix.
I love cooking, so I make an effort to cook for myself during the days when I’m in my neighborhood. My favorite thing to cook right now (thanks to my significant other for introducing this dish to me) is rice, shrimp, caramelized onions with mushrooms, and some type of green.
I typically meet with clients either onsite at their offices or at coffee shops. I also like meeting other people I’ve worked with in the past, or people I’ve recently crossed paths with, for coffee to just talk about life and work. These kinds of meetings help me fine tune a narrative about myself that I think is helpful in manifesting visions.
What skills/technologies help you succeed?
The entire Google suite is responsible for making my workday easy to access and easy to collaborate with. I basically live in docs, sheets, and mail. I also use Slack to communicate with various clients, my friends at Almost Studios (a creative collective that I’m involved with), and other international creative communities.
What’s the most fun or creative part of your freelance writer role?
My job is to help people communicate efficiently and creatively. The most fun clients are the ones where I get to learn a lot about a product or service that I don’t typically work with. I love not only getting creative with language, but with the formats in which language exists—an interactive code of conduct, alternatives to traditional company bios that show more than tell, interactive learning management systems. Stuff like that reminds me of my value beyond just words (though words alone are enough of a reason to be of value to a company).
What are the biggest challenges you face in this role?
Freelancing is mostly about having faith in yourself to do what you need to do in an allotted number of hours, and having faith in your ability to do the work you do! That’s probably the best part and the biggest challenge of my work. Most days I feel okay, but every once in a while the existential doom sets in, reminding me that I don’t work traditional hours and that I don’t embody what some identify as a model of success. But I feel at peace knowing that I offer anyone I work with a specific, unique set of skills, and that I am doing what I love.
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 actually work with designers a lot, which is one of the major benefits of my work. I love working with designers because I learn so much from them about the big picture. As a writer, I get swept up in the minutiae a lot. To be reminded of the bigger picture, from a visual and strategic perspective, is super important to me. I also think that design thinking is something we could all afford to put to practice. Designers and writers solve problems in different ways, and I think we both have a lot to offer each other in that regard.
I work with a small creative collective called Almost Studios—a collective that is, at its core, actively listening, learning, and growing to defy the traditional creative world by placing culture and inclusivity at the forefront of everything we do. We all met while working together at Shutterstock, and most members of the collective are designers. These people are my best friends, and some of my favorite people to work with. Because we were coworkers first, there’s more depth and empathy in our relationships as friends.
What’s an area where you’re trying to grow in your freelance writer role?
I’m always learning and reading more about UX. I told someone the other day that I don’t think UX writing will be such a unique skill set in the future. I think it will eventually fall under what all writers should know. It’s just another way to practice empathy and put yourself in the shoes of the product/person/whomever it is, that you’re writing for. I’m always trying to be more empathetic, both in my work, and in my own personal life.
Aside from technical skills, what personality traits/characteristics make for an ideal candidate in your role?
I’m very transparent with my clients as a freelancer and as a writer. Anyone who wishes to pursue either of these things, should consider prioritizing transparency above all else. If there’s a process you find that works best for you, use that to help ensure that you remain confident in the work you’re producing.
For me, I like to make sure I have all the hard conversations about money, payment processes, etc. upfront. Prior to this point, I was used to working in a way where those conversations didn’t happen until I needed them to happen, and it wasn’t efficient. I am also transparent about my ethics and when I feel like something doesn’t sit right with my values as a human, not just as a writer. So I try to take work with clients that mirror those values. It’s better not only for me, but for the client. Then we’re on the same page about how work gets done. I think those are pretty important things to establish before starting any kind of career, because it dictates the way you work.
What skills (tech/non-tech) have you improved as a result of working in this freelance writer role?
I’ve always loved writing emails and I found that working as a freelance writer has only made my emails more fun. It’s kind of silly, but my emails speak for me. If they don’t look great and read well, why should someone have faith in me to complete the job? I kind of love cold emailing people because it becomes a test of how I can capture someone’s attention in the shortest amount of time. It always feels rewarding to get a response I didn’t expect.
My work requires that I advocate for myself, because ultimately, no matter how nice anyone is, I am responsible for getting what I need. So that’s been an area of my life that’s seen a major improvement, applicable outside of work as well.
In your role, what metrics define success?
Metrics that define success for me as a writer include page views, traffic, and engagement whether that means comments or shares via social media. But I also think that if you examine any brand that really does well across the board, you’ll find that their messaging is extremely clear and concise. If the messaging isn’t clear, people are confused, it’s really nothing fancy.
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