Role Models: Julia Steele, Sr. Strategist, Brand Events and Relationships at SYPartners

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Today’s Role Model is Julia Steele. Julia is unflinchingly passionate about empowering others to tell their stories to the world. She began her career doing brand strategy and experience design at game-changing internet brands Gawker Media and Tumblr. Later on, she launched her own brand—Ratter—which set out to revive local news for the internet. Currently, Julia oversees brand reputation at SYPartners, an organization which consults with business leaders on diversity and organizational transformation.

What’s your official title and how long have you been in this role?

Sr. Strategist, Brand Events and Relationships (yes, this is the second wordiest title at SYPartners). 3 years in March.

What attracted you to this role?

I love envisioning a future that doesn’t yet exist, then thinking through and taking the steps it will take to get there. It requires a lot of creativity—a trait I’ve never identified as having, given I’m not a ‘capital d’ Designer.

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’m an early riser. I try to meditate, go to the gym, and write in my journal every morning. (I usually eke out two of the three.) I mention this ritual because it’s key to my success in my role.

I’m in the office by 9, where I strongly prefer to have heads down time for the first couple hours to catch up on any writing or bigger thinking I have to do for the day. We have a room in the office called “the Hideout” which is like the Amtrak Quiet Car. It is my favorite.

11-4 is all about meetings. My role is very project based—at a given time the team is working on 5-8 projects which bring ideas from around the firm to life. These projects result in various media, e.g. our new podcast series, Leading into the Unknown or a new tool like the identity icebreaker we just put up on our online store. I also reserve time each day for relationship building, via coffee catchups or just email. I’m constantly scanning the landscape for interesting business podcasts, newsletters, posts, etc. and writing people (most of the time blindly), with praise. I’m obsessed with Ellen McGirt’s Fortune Race Ahead newsletter, e.g. (Please subscribe if you don’t already.)

For lunch, I usually pop out to Good Stock or Brodo for pick up somewhere in that window. (I am a huge evangelizer of both of these places.) I eat at my desk while answering emails, but it’s far from a Sad Desk Lunch since the new Kobra mural is right out the window.

What skills/technologies help you succeed?

Everything Google. (I love how Google Docs used to be clunky and now the user experience [for my purposes] exceeds Excel. The new feature that allows you to create new docs with a Chrome shortcuts is sent from heaven. [Type “doc.new” into your Chrome address bar, et voila.])

And all of the Slackbots. (Newest obsession: brb.life Slackbot. It allows you to see all your team members wfh/vacation time. It’s like an auto responder for Slack.)

What’s the most fun or creative part of your role?

Getting to talk with SYP’s myriad brilliant leaders about their consulting work: What ideas or trends are they witnessing in their client work? And how could those ideas benefit a wider group? Then I get to go out externally and socialize these ideas with our online audiences, journalists, or potential partners, building the reputation of the leader, the firm—and creating a lot of good vibes in the process.

What are the biggest challenges you face in this role?

Not having time to do all the things I want to do as well as I want to do them. The fact that time is finite. Et cetera!

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 frequently with our design team who are normally confined to working on whatever client-facing project they are on. It’s fun bringing them into the work of the Brand Team, where we don’t have client deliverables, per se, and can play a little bit more.

A few months ago we produced our first podcast, Designing for Humanity, where our Managing Creative Director, Rie, interviews design leaders about how to create a better, more inclusive world.

What’s an area where you’re trying to grow in your role?

I want to be the best manager on the planet. Not that it’s a competition 🙂 But seriously, I have two new hires starting this month. Nothing gives me more joy than removing roadblocks for my people and generally facilitating their growth and career evolution.

Aside from technical skills, what personality traits/characteristics make for an ideal candidate in your role?

Tenacity: sometimes with shifting priorities in the firm’s client load, it’s hard to prioritize brand-building and story telling (the “drum beat” work).

Equity: We try really hard to feature the voices and ideas of leaders at all levels of SYP, not just our leadership team.

Intelligence: Companies pay us the big bucks for our smart ideas, so the people who work here are very smart. It helps to be as smart as them!

What skills (tech/non-tech) have you improved as a result of working in this role?

My ability to frame a narrative in a way that builds belief in others. Massive improvement in my public presentation of self/public speaking abilities. Despite being a major extrovert in small groups, I have had to learn to overcome extreme anxiety around public speaking. I started by presenting ideas to SYP’s leadership team and now regularly find myself presenting and facilitating large groups of people during conference and workshops.

In your role, what metrics define success?

At the end of the day, my team’s remit is to increase SYP’s reputation and valuable relationship capital. There are a bunch of tangible metrics we measure (email newsletter open-rate, social followers, conference attendee numbers), but more fun are the “anecdotal” metrics. In the past two years, have candidates we’re recruiting heard of our work? How many degrees of separation is SYP from a leader we want to work with?

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Role Models: Jon Gabriel, Digital Producer at REQ

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Today’s Role Model is Jon Gabriel. Jon attended the University of Delaware and studied computer science. While he didn’t want to code for a living, he wanted to stay in the tech space. Immediately out of school, he traveled across the U.S. as a freelance photographer covering action sports. He spent some time in photo studios learning about portrait lighting, and later moved down to Maryland to work as a Traffic Coordinator at Sabre Hospitality Solutions. One year later, he transitioned into a hybrid Product Manager role. Currently, Jon is a digital producer at REQ, a brand management agency.

What’s your official title and how long have you been in this role?

I am a digital producer at REQ and I have been in the role for one month!

What attracted you to this role?

I have a background in producer roles. Someone in a producer position is well-connected with the development and design teams and has a high-level view of the landscape of resourcing and project health. My background in computer science and design combined with my overall extroverted nature made me a particularly good traffic coordinator at Sabre. I wanted to return to this position in a different industry to see if I could learn more.

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 get in early to assess the day’s client work deadlines. I run through all the creative and development responsibilities and make sure that the design and tech teams are in a place where they can be successful. As new projects come through the pipeline, I pop in and out of meetings discussing what resources may be best for the client’s requests. I run cost/analysis operations with the different teams. Analyzing their time time tracking shows us how we’re doing compared to how much we’re generating and producing.

What skills/technologies help you succeed?

Being organized and having a caring personality are the most important skills for success in this role. I believe that a company’s success is generated by happy people, so I try and keep that in mind when I request work from individuals. We ask a lot of design and dev teams, so I strive to maintain a caring mindset towards those team members. I rely on my organization skills to keep track of specific tasks and forecasting timelines for the future.

What’s the most fun or creative part of your role?

A digital producer position is a bit of a Swiss Army knife of a role. For the most part, the bulk of the work revolves around efficient resourcing of design and dev. But just like a lot of other positions at a smaller / medium sized company, you will wear a lot of hats. There is a lot of project management in this role which can be fun. Depending on what work is coming in, there can also be a bit of business development. I enjoy the variety of what’s asked of me and I dive into whatever I can get my hands on. I love learning about the business as a whole.

What are the biggest challenges you face in this role?

Since the digital producer role sits between client services and the design / dev teams, I need to interact with a range of personalities. Not everyone’s working style / personalities may be effective at efficient project and resource management, but you have to work through those challenges. For the most part, everyone means well and is trying their best, so having an understanding and caring mindset is important.

Another challenge is keeping design or dev teams to a timeline. When someone has something due and you need it from them, the relationship can quickly turn to a ‘means to an end’ interaction. Balancing an ask with humor and understanding is critical.

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 frequently work with all teams within my organization – business development, client services (account management), design, development. Recently, we received an ask from a client to develop an email template and then build it out. This project involved first working with the account manager to understand what was being asked. Then, I brought the idea to design to create a standard email template that matched their brand. Once we had a design, the project moves to our copywriting team to write engaging content for the emails. Finally, I brought the completed designs to development to work through creating the actual HTML that would be sent out.

What’s an area where you’re trying to grow in your role?

Forecasting the future is incredibly valuable for project management and efficient resourcing. I would say planning against multiple project deadlines and limited resourcing timelines is something I’m still trying to refine as I grow in this role. Mastering this skill helps organize and turn around good work at the same time giving a better work life for co-workers I care about.

Aside from technical skills, what personality traits/characteristics make for an ideal candidate in your role?

A strong EQ is necessary, since you’ll need to interact with a lot of people in this role. Critical thinking and organization is important as well, because timelines shift daily. Having an opinion about design can help, too. Occasionally, you’ll be asked to chime in on what you think about work. 

What skills (tech/non-tech) have you improved as a result of working in this role?

I am a lot more organized than I have been in the past. I have also tried to be conscious of how I come across to others more. In this role, it’s important to stay level-headed and kind regardless of how you feel, since colleagues across the other teams will feel your sentiments reverberate.

In your role, what metrics define success?

Project progress versus client timelines determines my success. As long as we’re making good progress and hit our deadlines as a design and development team, I’m doing pretty well.

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Role Models: Morgane Santos, AR Engineer at Mapbox

Morgane Santos

Photo credit: Samuel Unéus

Today’s Role Model is Morgane Santos. She studied computer science at Berkeley and has worked in tech for about five years as both a web developer and designer. Morgane is currently an augmented reality (AR) engineer at Mapbox, a location data platform. Since she is around computers all day, she likes to hike, read, and otherwise avoid technology in her free time.

What’s your official title and how long have you been in this role?

We don’t have official titles at Mapbox, but I’d call myself an AR engineer. I’ve been at Mapbox for just under a year and have been on two teams in the time. Prior to being an AR engineer, I worked on our Unity SDK (also as an engineer).

What attracted you to this role?

I’m really interested in the growing 3D space in tech, and knew I wanted a job in AR or VR (virtual reality). I was tired of working on websites and wanted a fresh challenge. AR and VR are still so new that no one’s an “expert” yet, which can be daunting but it also means *you* can be the trailblazer. A lot of AR/VR roles also combine design + development, which I enjoy; I don’t like just doing one or the other.

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’ve actually written about my day for our company blog before. You can check out the post here

tl;dr though, there is no typical day for me. I *can* tell you that my days are a mix of 3D math, coding, sketching out ideas on paper, and drinking a lot of tea. I keep a fairly traditional 9-to-5 schedule, eating lunch at noon and getting tea with coworkers around 3pm. I never stay late. I work from home maybe once or twice a week (which I prefer; I don’t like open offices at all). Every so often my job requires going to a conference, so I may be traveling for that.

What skills/technologies help you succeed?

I’ve used a lot of different tech over the years, but this is what I use now: Xcode (we program in Swift on my team); Unity/C#; Git; Figma…

As for skills, I think the most important thing is to be curious and willing to see an idea through. In AR, there are no answers. There’s no book you can read that tells you exactly what works and what doesn’t. You have to come up with an idea, sketch it, prototype it, and build it yourself to learn if it was ever a good idea. Of course it helps to already be comfortable with math and programming, but the curiosity is ultimately much more important. Are you willing to learn? Are you willing to fail? Being comfortable with so much uncertainty and ambiguity has been critical to my success in this role.

What’s the most fun or creative part of your role?

I literally get to think of what could be cool in AR, and then I make it! This is a role with lots of freedom and room for experimentation. It’s really exciting coming up with the very first solution for something and learning by doing. It’s similar to playing with Legos as a kid: you have a visionary idea, you have some basic building blocks, and you just go for it. Sometimes I can’t believe I get paid to do this.

What are the biggest challenges you face in this role?

Everything that makes it exciting: there are no answers. I can’t easily research how someone else has solved a certain problem. I definitely can’t anticipate most problems I encounter. The tech is also nascent, so the limitations of the software and hardware can be frustrating at times.

What teams/individuals do you work with cross-functionally? Can you give an example of a time when you collaborated with another group/individual?

Our team’s fairly insular, but we do work with the sales, business, and marketing teams to better understand what potential/existing customers might want in the AR space, and how we can make that happen. We also collaborate with other engineering teams sometimes to create specialized AR experiences.

While I can’t talk too much about the work we do for customers, I can mention a more individual collaboration. Part of my job includes writing tutorials for how our SDKs work. In those cases, I work closely with our documentation team to make sure my instructions make sense and are easy to follow. People like Heather Stenson (who you interviewed!) are really instrumental here.

What’s an area where you’re trying to grow in your role?

I like teaching and mentoring; I want to focus on how I can share my work with others and help them get more comfortable in AR/VR. I recently spoke at Nordic.design about how designers can get started in this space, and it’s something I look forward to continuing.

Aside from technical skills, what personality traits/characteristics make for an ideal candidate in your role?

I’ve touched on this above, but I’ll say it again: curiosity and being comfortable with ambiguity.

I also want people who like collaborating and don’t have huge egos. My team is really supportive and kind; we judge each other’s *work*, not each other. I’d rather work with a “junior” person who’s thoughtful and excited to learn than a “senior” person who’s rude and stuck in their ways.

So how can you show that you’re curious, collaborative, and thoughtful? Maybe you have a few side projects that illustrate how you learned a new technology. Maybe you blog a lot about engineering or design. Maybe you volunteer somewhere on the weekends for a cause you really believe in. Maybe you have totally non-tech-related hobbies like learning a new language. I’m more interested in any of those facts than where someone went to school or if they’ve worked at a “famous” company before.

What skills (tech/non-tech) have you improved as a result of working in this role?

Being self-organized. I need to plan out my own work, including the metrics of success; I can’t rely on someone higher up telling me exactly what they need from me because no one knows what’s a reasonable ask in AR yet.

I’ve also gotten a lot better at understanding how people process 3D space, which is a cool perk of working in AR/VR.

In your role, what metrics define success?

Tangibly, it’s building a prototype/demo/app/whatever you want to call it that clearly communicates a certain idea. These demos are used by teams like the sales team to help convince customers to use Mapbox, specifically for AR.

Aside from the *business* success, we’re successful in our roles as long as we’re learning and honing our AR skills. The more we know about how to design and build something for AR, the better.

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Role Models: Heather Stenson, Technical Writer at Mapbox

Heather Stetson is a technical writer for Mapbox

Today’s Role Model is Heather Stenson. Up until three ago, Heather was a librarian at an art school. Feeling burnt out and looking for her next step, she began to reflect. She enjoyed the more technical aspects of her librarian job and knew basic HTML and CSS, so she enrolled in a coding bootcamp. Upon graduation, she expected to look for a job as a developer, but a friend pointed her towards a technical writing role at Facebook. After researching the position, she realized that it was the perfect marriage of her library background and her newfound tech knowledge. Heather is currently a technical writer at Mapbox, a location data platform.

What’s your official title and how long have you been in this role?

I’m a technical writer at Mapbox, a location data platform, and I’ve been here for about 8 months. Before that I worked as a hybrid tech writer/content strategist at a startup called CodeFights (now CodeSignal), and before that I was a tech writer at Facebook.

What attracted you to this role?

Mapbox is still a pretty small company, but its tool and product offerings are really wide ranging. I don’t like to work on just one thing, so the fact that I’d get to work on documentation for a lot of different products was really appealing. And the documentation team is really small – there are only two of us – so I knew that I’d have the opportunity to have a big impact on the organization. Even though the docs team is very small, there’s a really strong culture of documentation here. Everyone pitches in to make sure that our documentation is useful and thorough. It also helped that everyone I came into contact with at the company was super friendly.

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?

Mapbox has a lot of different offices spread out across the world – San Francisco, Washington DC, Minsk, Helsinki, Shanghai, Beijing, plus a lot of remote workers. Since we’re so distributed, we communicate a lot using Slack. We also use GitHub issues to coordinate a lot of work! So when I start my day, I check in on my Slack and GitHub notifications. I have keyword notifications set up so that I can always know when my coworkers are talking docs! I make a pretty detailed to-do list for each day so that I know what to focus on. Then I grab an almond milk latte and get to it.

I’m usually juggling several different projects, and if they have regular meetings/scrums I’ll join in on those so that I can keep track of what’s moving. If I’m just starting a big project, I try to have a meeting with the stakeholders (usually a combo of project managers and engineers) early on so that I can get a good sense of the project’s parameters.

I try to leave the office at least once a day to remind myself that there’s a whole world outside the office. At Mapbox, there’s a rich tradition of the“cookie walk” – folks taking some time in the afternoon to go grab a sweet treat – but sometimes it’ll be coffee instead.

What skills/technologies help you succeed?

At every technical writing job I’ve had, the one constant skill that I’ve needed was being able to write markdown, a formatting syntax that can be converted to HTML. It’s the formatting syntax used in wikis, and it’s also pretty standard in a lot of documentation frameworks. Beyond that, it’s also been helpful that I know HTML/CSS. This allows me to have more control over how the documents I write are formatted.

At Mapbox, we use GitHub for everything, so it’s been critical for me to know how to use git and GitHub, and to feel comfortable doing things in the command line. Knowing how to “read” code is also useful – I can look at a snippet of code and get a sense for what it does, even if I don’t know the language it’s written in.

What’s the most fun or creative part of your role?

Every new product that I write about means another new toy that I get to learn how to use! Before I can write an effective guide or tutorial, I need to use the tool or product so that I can unearth potential user pain points and guide them to a good outcome.

What are the biggest challenges you face in this role?

One of my biggest challenges is juggling lots of different projects at once. Docs never stop, so I usually have at least five projects that I can work on at any given time! It’s really important for me to be able to weigh something’s potential impact against the time required to complete the work, and prioritize accordingly.

What teams/individuals do you work with cross-functionally? Can you give an example of a time when you collaborated with another group/individual?

The documentation team at Mapbox works with nearly all of the product teams! When a new product is released, or a tool is updated, this means that we’ve got work to do. We typically collaborate with a combination of product managers and engineers when we’re working on documentation – they provide background, technical details, code examples, and just generally help guide the work we do. We also work really closely with the support team. Since they are constantly interacting with Mapbox users, they are able to identify ways in which we can improve our documentation.

What’s an area where you’re trying to grow in your role?

Right now, we are in the process of moving to a new documentation framework that uses React. While I don’t need to know React in order to use the system, I’ll need to know it in order to build my own components! If I think of a cool new UI component that I’d like to be able to use across various documents, I really want to be able to build it myself.

Aside from technical skills, what personality traits/characteristics make for an ideal candidate in your role?

Good technical writers are naturally curious people! They want to take things apart and see how they work, then share what they’ve learned with others. Being detail-oriented and organized are helpful as well.

What skills (tech/non-tech) have you improved as a result of working in this role?

I have a tendency to try to power through problems to find the questions myself. In some ways this is a good thing. But when the subject matter expert for the problem I’m working on is a mere Slack message away, a lot of times it doesn’t make sense for me to spend hours struggling with a question! So I’m getting better at timeboxing problems – if I don’t reach the answer myself in a reasonable amount of time, I reach out to someone who knows the answer.

In your role, what metrics define success?

As a team, we’re still working on defining what “success” for a piece of documentation is, and how we measure that. We’re exploring a lot of different ways to capture user feedback and user actions, and then turn that data into a way of measuring success. Anecdotally, though, we get a lot of feedback from different channels that people love our documentation and find it to be really helpful, so that’s a good way of knowing that we’re on the right track!

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Role Models: Una Kravets, Direct of Product Design at Bustle Digital Group

Una Kravets, Director of Product Design at Bustle

Today’s Role Model is Una Kravets. Una is an international public speaker, technical writer, and the Director of Product Design at Bustle Digital Group, where she oversees UI/UX of Bustle, Elite Daily, Romper, and The Zoe Report. Una has written for various online publications such as A List Apart, 24 Ways, Smashing Magazine, and SitePoint, and started both the DC and Austin Sass Meetup groups. She also co-hosts the Toolsday developer podcast and has a Youtube video series which features videos about about life, fashion and tech.

What’s your official title and how long have you been in this role?

I’m the Director of Product Design at Bustle Digital Group, and I’ve been here for 9 months (having started January 2018)

What attracted you to this role?

I was really interested in taking a more involved and overarching approach to product design in my next role (which led me here). I also loved that I get to work on the Engineering team and get to use my multidisciplinary background (in both design and web engineering) every day.

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’m mostly designing via writing code during the day. I work on both large and small projects. Larger projects include redesigns, the visual aspects of product migrations, or ideating and building new products that will be used by designers and editors across properties. So when I’m doing this kind of work, I’m checking in with product management and stakeholders intermittently.

Some days though, I’m just fixing UI bugs, resolving support tickets, and making sure everything is in place. I don’t have a lot of meetings, but the meetings I do have, I try to keep short, concise, and end with an action item. Lunch is usually in the office, with the engineers getting together to chat and work in the same space for a little while.

What skills/technologies help you succeed?

Having a background in computer science and graphic design (I went to college for both) certainly helps. Continuing to learn web development as its evolved over the last couple of years has been important in keeping up with technologies and trends. Learning new interaction patterns and design trends is critical, as well as having a foundation of web accessibility and the render tree.

What’s the most fun or creative part of your role?

I feel like my role is generally very creative. Designing new features is just as creative as coming up with resolutions for bugs.

What are the biggest challenges you face in this role?

Some of the projects I work on can involve complex visual systems. For example, a part of what I do is make sure every type of component works in every type of containing element, on every type of page, without breaking anywhere. With growing codebases, this becomes increasingly challenging.

What’s an area where you’re trying to grow in your role?

I’m always working on improving my technical skills to make me a more effective developer across the stack. I think in today’s world, having the ability to code gives a designer a lot of power.

Aside from technical skills, what personality traits/characteristics make for an ideal candidate in your role?

The ability to creatively solve problems and be organized is important. I use to-do lists to keep my life in order.

In your role, what metrics define success?

That really depends on the goal of the project! And the metrics that determine meeting the project goals are probably the most important. Time management and shipping on time play a key role as well.

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Role Models: Trucy Phan, Senior Product Designer at Yello

Trucy Phan, Senior Product Designer at Yello

Today’s Role Model is Trucy Phan. Trucy is a self-taught designer and developer with Mechanical and Civil Systems engineering roots. She was born and raised in Iowa to Vietnamese immigrants, 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 designing and building 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, and working 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 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, since 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 and 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 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 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, and 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 role?

Hands down, recruiting. I’ve interviewed so many candidates for Yello since I started, 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, but we definitely 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, so 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.

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Role Models: Cassidy Williams, Senior Software Engineer at Codepen

Cassidy is currently a Senior Software Engineer at Codepen.

Today’s Role Model is Cassidy Williams. Cassidy studied computer science in college and began her career at Vimeo. In addition to building out the product, she also served as a developer evangelist, organized hackathons, and spoke at events and conferences. In her subsequent roles, Cassidy continued to serve as a mentor and advocate for her fellow developers. Cassidy is currently a Senior Software Engineer at Codepen, online community for testing and showcasing user-created front-end code snippets.

What’s your official title and how long have you been in this role?

Senior Software Engineer at CodePen, and I’ve been there for six weeks this week!

What attracted you to this role?

I’ve used and loved CodePen for several years, and I’ve known that I wanted to work for them for a while. It was so thrilling to be able to finally do so!

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?

CodePen is a fully remote company! We’re a team of 7 people based all over, from Virginia to Australia. So far, I work from home or at a cafe nearby; I’m thinking about joining a co-working space at some point. We don’t have a lot of meetings as a company. We have an all-hands every week, weekly 1:1s with a different member of the team (everyone rotates), and then we have impromptu meetings whenever something needs to be discussed. It’s a great, friendly, very efficient team.

What skills/technologies help you succeed?

Communication is absolutely key. Especially on a remote team! If you can’t communicate, then people don’t know you’re working. 

As for technologies, I’m armed with JavaScript and React! We’re converting a large chunk of the codebase to React right now, and we’re also working on new features and bugs. I normally use Vim as my editor, but I’ve been dabbling in VSCode here and there lately.

What’s the most fun or creative part of your role?

Because we’re such a small team, everyone’s voice is very significant. If someone has an idea or opinion, their thoughts directly impact what the company builds! I love having that freedom.

What are the biggest challenges you face in this role?

A small team means you’ve got to be efficient. We don’t move super fast; rather, we move more deliberately. This isn’t a bad thing, but it can be a challenging thing.

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 with everyone on the team! One of the things we do at CodePen is a “support rotation.” On Fridays, a different person rotates to handle customer support. We have a dedicated customer support/community manager/etc person, and on Fridays she works on her other projects. Doing that sort of cross-functional work is great for having perspective on what users want. I’ve also pair programmed with almost everyone on the team, which has been helpful for learning the codebase and seeing how other people think.

What’s an area where you’re trying to grow in your role?

Because I’m still fairly new to the role, learning the codebase and how the team works is still top of mind. That being said, I’m hoping to establish a long-term work/life balance where I can do fun side projects and not be stressed about work. I want to be a better developer and manager, but being better personally is something I constantly have to work on.

What skills (tech/non-tech) have you improved as a result of working in this role?

We’ll have to see as time goes on. 😉

Aside from technical skills, what personality traits/characteristics make for an ideal candidate in your role?

Being a solid coder and being willing to pick up and learn new technologies is good, but communication is #1.

In your role, what metrics define success?

Code quality and solid communication.

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Role Models: Yisselda Rhoc, Software Engineer at Def Method

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Today’s Role Model is Yisselda Rhoc. Yisselda earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in computer science and specialized in artificial intelligence and human-computer interaction. On top of this strong foundation, she translates those theoretical fundamentals into tangible products. Today, Yisselda is a software engineer for Def Method, a New York City-based software consultancy. In her spare time, she also plans events as a committee member for NYC PyLadies.

What’s your official title and how long have you been in this role?

I’ve been a Software Engineer for four years. I’m currently working for Def Method, a small software development consultancy focused on using Agile methodologies.

What attracted you to this role?

I enjoy creating and solving real-life problems with code.

As a consultant, I get to work on a diversity of projects. It’s interesting to experience the many ways people run businesses and how tech fits within them. This past year, I’ve worked with a Fin-tech startup, a Fashion-tech startup, and an insurance company.

My job also gives me the opportunity to try out different stacks/technologies, which I love because it keeps me up to date and satisfies my curiosity.

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 adapt to my client’s schedule. Here is what my day has looked like for the last 10 months:

9:00 am~9: 30 am – Grab cereals and tea for breakfast from the office kitchen before sitting at my desk. Start looking up what I was working on the day before.

9:50 am – Get up for the stand-up meeting. The whole team gathers, even the remote engineers. In this meeting, we tell each other what we’re working on, if we’ve encountered a blocker and if we are available for pair programming.

10:00 am – 5:30pm~6pm  – Code, code, code for the whole day.

I’m lucky that I don’t have many meetings. The ones I attend to are:

  • The weekly planning meeting to define our goals and the tasks on which to focus.
  • The bi-weekly retrospective to summarize what went well and what we can improve for the next sprint.
  • The bi-weekly engineers meeting where we get to meet new hires and geek out.
  • The weekly meeting with my consultancy during which we give a lightning talk, a project update and share announcements about the company or tech events we are attending.

Most importantly, I’ll get lunch at around 1 pm.  We have a communal table where I can eat with others, but I like to go alone from time to time to disconnect, listen to podcasts and eat mindfully.

What skills/technologies help you succeed?

The multiple programming languages that I’ve worked with in the past make me very adaptable to any technical project.

The ability to focus and listen has helped me work with many teams and clients.

Although I use my laptop to code, I always have some form of paper so I can write thoughts, ideas, and lists.

I also plan my week to ensure I respect my work-life balance. I have used a bullet journal and Trello in the past, but right now I’m just using Google calendar to set time aside.

What’s the most fun or creative part of your role?

I think that I get most creative when coding because I get to imagine and craft a solution. Everyone has its style, techniques, and tricks.

The most fun I have is when I’m talking and laughing with my colleagues. This role made me realize how important it is to have a good relationship with your teammates.

What are the biggest challenges you face in this role?

Learning a technology on the job to quickly produce quality code can be destabilizing and stressful.

As a French woman, just understanding some English accents is a challenge at times.

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 daily with my product manager. He knows exactly how the app is supposed to function.

From time to time, I work with the DevOps team, to set up the application’s environment.

Aside from technical skills, what personality traits/characteristics make for an ideal candidate in your role?

I think empathy, curiosity, and joie de vivre are essential personality traits to collaborate with teams.

Technology is always changing, which means you have to be eager to learn new concepts.

Being down to earth and able to take a step back to see the full picture is crucial, too, so that you don’t get overwhelmed by work.

What skills (tech/non-tech) have you improved as a result of working in this role?

I’ve improved overall as a backend engineer. For example, I’m more mindful of memory usage when processing big data. I learned about the impact of incorrect database indexes, and I got better at pair programming.

I’ve improved my professional network by taking the habit of organizing coffee meetings.

In your role, what metrics define success?

Our customer’s satisfaction and feedback define success because it means we’ve successfully added value to their business.

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Role Models: Jen McNamee, Senior Manager of Partnerships and Channel Development at Braze

Jen McNamee, Senior Manager of Partnerships

Today’s Role Model is Jen McNamee. Jen began her career analyzing ad revenue, but later realized she had a strong skill set for building relationships. Over time, she moved from tracking campaign data to managing accounts and eventually brokering large corporate partnerships. Jen is currently the Senior Manager of Partnerships and Channel Development at Braze, a mobile messaging customer engagement platform.

What’s your official title and how long have you been in this role?

My title is Sr. Manager, Partnerships & Channel. I’ve been in this specific role since January, but I’ve been with my company for 2.5 years. Prior to this role I was Manager, Partnerships & Channel.

What attracted you to this role?

This role provides the opportunity to collaborate with a variety of internal & external groups creatively figuring out ways to collaborate for mutual fulfillment.

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?

My typical day begins early. I start reviewing anything that’s occurred overnight on our various Slack channels & email prior to getting into the office. Once I’m in, I try to respond to any time sensitive emails prior to kicking off meetings with a mixture of internal & external groups.

I don’t have a daily routine for meetings, so everyday provides an opportunity for something fresh. Externally, I meet with potential tech partners to investigate if the partnership would be fruitful or with current partners to plan out additional ways we can collaborate across product enhancements and sales growth or to drive market/brand awareness.

Internally, I meet across a number of departments in our organization (Marketing, Sales, Product, Customer Success, etc.) to build out plans for how to work with our partners and figure out areas for improvement.

Meetings fill up most of my day, but in between, I answer emails/Slacks and also set time aside for long-term partnership planning. Additionally, we have lunch delivered daily, which is an amazing perk, as it saves so much time and interjects a breather in the middle of the day.

What skills/technologies help you succeed?

Evernote, Slack and Google Docs help me with organization, collaboration and time efficiency.

What’s the most fun or creative part of your role?

I really enjoy working with our partners to figure out ways we can create market/brand awareness on the back of each other for mutual company success.

What are the biggest challenges you face in this role?

The biggest challenge, yet also one of my favorite things, is working across such a multitude of groups. It can be difficult to connect the dots between different departments and collectively organize to drive one common goal.

What teams/individuals do you work with cross-functionally? Can you give an example of a time when you collaborated with another group/individual?

Within my role I work with our internal Marketing, Sales, Product, Customer Success, Legal, and Engineering teams. Externally, I’ve worked with those same groups at our partner companies, as I have to help connect teams across both organizations.

One such example of this collaboration is when we roll out new Partners. I get to work hand in hand with our internal Product team to select the Partner. Once that’s established, I connect with our forthcoming Partner and their respective Product team to build out the integration. Then I meet with our Customer Success team to address prospective beta users to test the integration. In addition, I also work with our Sales / Marketing team to share our Partner positioning and value proposition for usage across prospective clients, current clients and forthcoming marketing initiatives.

What’s an area where you’re trying to grow in your role?

One specific area I’m looking to grow is being more outspoken. I need to improve on sharing my opinion in a confident, firm manner.

Aside from technical skills, what personality traits/characteristics make for an ideal candidate in your role?

A person within this role needs to be a team player, flexible, collaborative, creative, empathetic, easy mannered and engaging.

What skills (tech/non-tech) have you improved as a result of working in this role?

I have learned an incredible amount about partners in the tech space, as well as product/technical intricacies within our Product offering. Both of these are evergreen areas of knowledge that will only grow with time. I also had to become more situationally aware of the best way and times to address certain partners & departments to work in the most efficient manner. In addition, I had to improve my understanding of the ‘controllables’ of a situation and work to my strengths to make those a success.

In your role, what metrics define success?

The three main areas are successfully building out new partnerships, collaborating internally/ externally in impactful ways for success, and hitting a sales pipeline revenue goal on the back of Partner introductions / referrals to new clients.

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Role Models: Lindsay Hinman, Senior Project Manager at Sabre

Version 2

Today’s Role Model is Lindsay Hinman. Earlier in her career, Lindsay coordinated events and managed internal projects at different firms. Once she got a taste of managing a digital project from end-to-end, she was hooked on building products. Today, Lindsay blends her technical acumen with her strong communication skills as a Senior Project Manager at Sabre, a travel technology company.

What’s your official title and how long have you been in this role?

I’m a Senior Project Manager on the Digital Experience team. I started at Sabre in early 2017 as a Project Manager and transitioned into the Senior role about four months ago.


What attracted you to this role?

Ever since I led my first website redesign project in 2014, I was hungry for a role that allowed me to lead digital initiatives year-round. This opportunity promised (and delivered) a fast-paced environment with plenty of potential to learn and grow.


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?

Meetings are pretty frequent. You can typically find me in stand-up meetings, weekly client check-ins, or internal planning sessions.

I also spend a good amount of time helping scope out new projects, evaluating client requests for enhancements, and performing iterative quality assurance testing. Outside of project-specific responsibilities, I focus on internal process improvement. Our team is very receptive to new ideas and ways we can work more efficiently.

Lunch is flexible; while it can sometimes be hard to step away, I usually take a break from screen time and go for a stroll.


What skills/technologies help you succeed?

I rely most on my communication skills in this role. It’s important to adjust communication styles based on the variety of audiences I speak with on the regular. For example, if the development team brings me a technical recommendation, I need to distill it into a more digestible summary for clients, while making sure nothing gets lost in translation.

Tech-wise, the tools can vary based on the type of project, but being well-versed in Jira can be a huge time-saver. Creating custom queries and dashboards can give a quick snapshot of project progress without having to scroll through an endless Kanban board.


What’s the most fun or creative part of your role?

I get really energized by requirements-gathering sessions and design review meetings. I’m enthusiastic about mapping out detailed pieces of functionality and achieving consensus among technical experts and clients alike. It’s exciting to build a razor-sharp vision of the finished product.

Also — QA! Finding and reporting bugs is a dream for a self-proclaimed pedant like myself.


What are the biggest challenges you face in this role?

Managing expectations among a variety of stakeholders is a common area for pitfalls; it can be challenging to ensure alignment on every detail of every project, but it’s critical in ensuring the client receives the products they expect. Documentation is clutch.

I think PMs can also struggle with time management, especially when overseeing a lot of initiatives simultaneously. It can be difficult to find blocks of time for focused tasks like QA among the sea of meetings and other tasks. I have a pretty robust priorities document for this reason.


What teams/individuals do you work with cross-functionally? Can you give an example of a time when you collaborated with another group/individual?

Collaborating with designers, front-end developers, back-end developers, and QA engineers is a huge part of my job. I work closely with our design team to bring the project vision to life while staying true to the client’s brand. I rely on our technical experts to assess the level of effort of client requests, confirm the best approach for those requests, and evaluate designs to ensure a seamless UX.

I also collaborate with account managers to gain a broader understanding of client priorities. This helps inform my client communications.


What’s an area where you’re trying to grow in your role?

I find it rewarding to collaborate with my fellow PMs and help them brainstorm solutions to creative problems, so I’m aiming to level-up my supervisory skills.

Also, there’s always more to learn in terms of code; I use our biweekly demos to soak up some technical knowledge from our scrum teams.


Aside from technical skills, what personality traits/characteristics make for an ideal candidate in your role?

The ability to keep calm under pressure. A common mantra among my team is “don’t pass the panic.” If something goes wrong on a client’s site and they are (understandably) anxious to have it resolved, there’s a way to communicate that sense of urgency without compounding everyone’s stress.

Additionally, curiosity is an important trait. Don’t hold back on asking questions. It’s good to get into the minutiae of business requirements and technical requirements to ensure the project runs smoothly.


What skills (tech/non-tech) have you improved as a result of working in this role?

My technical knowledge has grown exponentially since starting at Sabre; I’ve expanded my expertise particularly in content management systems (including a custom CMS) and in QA metrics like WCAG. I’ve also further honed my skills in project management tools; I consult a variety of platforms to craft and maintain my iterative plans across the roadmap.  

In terms of soft skills, I’ve gained substantial experience in client services overall, including handling difficult conversations with tact. I’m also much more comfortable with managing conflicting viewpoints and finding common ground among stakeholders with seemingly disparate priorities.

In your role, what metrics define success?

Put simply: Meeting deadlines. This requires a thorough understanding of the project’s scope and dependencies in order to map out an efficient and realistic project plan. Consulting with technical leads early and often is key. While I don’t need to know how to write code, I do need to “speak the language” enough to ask the right questions.

A more subjective measure is client satisfaction. It’s critical to know the client’s brand inside and out, especially when it comes to making pivotal decisions during the course of the project.

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