Role Models: Bushra Mahmood, Principle UX Designer at Unity

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Today’s Role Model is Bushra Mahmood. Bushra got her start in tech nearly a decade ago working in motion graphics and visual effects. She produced punk shows in Canada and worked on documentaries as a teen, which is where she developed her design and motion skills. She started doing motion graphics for advertising agencies and then gradually moved into product design. Bushra led design at a fintech startup that was acquired by Goldman Sachs and then moved to San Francisco to work for Adobe.

At Adobe, Bushra worked on several tools ranging from Dimension, Premiere Rush, After Effects and Project Aero. Bushra recently moved to a new role at Unity Technologies working in the Labs team. In her free time, she likes to hang out with her dog, write, study languages and work on her 3D art.

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

I am a principal designer in the advanced UX team at Unity Technologies. I have been at Unity since July of this year.

What attracted you to this role?

During my time at Adobe, I became obsessed over the idea of making tools for real-time content authoring. In my research, I had found that Unity was the go-to software for nearly every engineer and researcher working in emerging tech. When the opportunity arose, I couldn’t resist the chance to be a part of the company that is already starting to shape the future.

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 usually one of the first people into the office, getting in at around 6 am. I find that I do most of my best work in the morning without any distractions. During a product cycle, I have presentations that I give to stakeholders at the end of each week, and this lets me evenly distribute my workload into three stages.

I spend the first stage researching and sketching. Once I have a good idea or concept, I then go into prototyping and try to produce several variations. I spend the second stage doing check-ins to make sure there is alignment amongst the team. I work with some brilliant minds, so I always make time to collect feedback and iterate. This stage is also usually the longest and the most unpredictable.

The third stage is the final presentation in which I always have a deliverable that can be shared and documented.

I also always make time for lunch at noon, having an early day would be impossible without a mid-day recharge.

What skills/technologies help you succeed?

My motion and 3D skills have been monumental in my career trajectory. They gave me the confidence to explore and discover non-traditional design paradigms. My entry into augmented reality was a lot less daunting because I understood how to composite video. My tools of choice have always been Keynote, After Effects and Cinema 4D. I feel empowered to do anything with these three tools under my belt. All of these tools deal with motion and interactivity in some capacity; this then allows me to communicate much more effectively.

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

My current role involves predicting what the future might hold for creatives. I find myself continually navigating uncharted territories and dealing with a lot of ambiguity. My purpose, in a nutshell, is to understand and minimize complexities wherever I can. I love taking vague or difficult ideas and breaking them down into something more digestible for a broader audience. I aspire to make mediums like motion and 3D less daunting for any user.

What are the biggest challenges you face in this role?

The biggest challenge that I face in my role is not having enough concrete data on which to base assumptions. In our research, we often find that the user is not even aware that they may have a problem that needs solving.  

The speed at which technology evolves can also feel daunting. Trying to stay focused but also pursuing innovation is a balancing act that can get tricky fast.

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

My team works alongside several other groups within the company. We work on early research and help with product definition, as well as prototyping and experimenting with emerging UX and UI patterns for new mediums.

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

Although I have been enjoying the role of an individual contributor, I’ve started to become more interested in leadership roles. I feel lucky that Unity offers training to anyone who wishes to learn and pursue a leadership role and I plan to take full advantage of that opportunity.

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

Gaming can be a grueling medium that requires a lot of love for the craft. In turn, the field attracts people who genuinely care about the medium. I get the opportunity to work with industry veterans who are still as excited about what they do now as they were on their first days.

The leadership in my team puts a lot of trust in us and champions a healthy work environment which has in turn made me much more patient. Being more patient has dramatically improved the quality of my work and overall productivity.

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

The ability to write, present and communicate are often more valuable than the technical skills themselves. These skills help create understanding and alignment across groups which in turn extend the life of your ideas.

In your role, what metrics define success?

Success is a difficult metric to define when building for the future. There are always things out of our hands that can change the trajectory of a product overnight. The most valuable takeaway from an experimental project is what can be learned and then applied in a practical situation. Proper documentation and case studies become valuable for teams that may otherwise not have the time to experiment.

 

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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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