"Never stop learning never stop growing!"
Queens of Tech Podcast
60+ questions with female tech influencers about their journey into STEM
Senior UX Researcher
Anna Loparev is a senior UX researcher at New Relic with over 10 years of experience in both academia and industry. Over the years, she’s built cross-departmental coalitions, developed ResearchOps processes, and informed the design and strategic direction of over 10 products at various stages of development. Her analytical inclination, academic curiosity, and drive for impact help her make informed decisions on research methodologies and content, while her knowledge of programming and experience in game design help her connect with cross-functional teams.
Anna holds a Bachelors from Wellesley College and a Ph.D. in Human-Computer Interaction from the University of Rochester. She is an active member of the UX research community, running daily mentorship coffee chats to guide junior researchers and co-hosting the XInsighters bi-weekly UX research discussion group.
In this episode, I’m very excited to welcome my guest tech queen Anna Loparev Senior UX Researcher at New Relic. Hi Anna! I’m very happy to have you joining us from Boston, USA, today. How are you?
I’m doing great it’s a beautiful morning out here.
Now let us dive into your journey into tech. Hope you’re ready for the Queens of Tech’s 60-plus questions.
I hope so too!
***FUN FACTS ***
- How would you describe your personality in three hashtags?
I would say #bold, #tenacious, and #inquisitive.
- How would you describe your life in three sentences?
I grew up with a love of math and science. I went to school for a very long time to find out what I wanted to do, and now I have a job I love.
- What kind of music stimulates and motivates you the most?
Weirdly enough Hamilton. When it came out for some reason I found the music just very inspiring and very, very energetic.
- What’s your personal motto?
Never stop learning never stop growing!
- What is your favorite book?
“1984”, but I’m not sure why. I just read it in high school and for some reason I just really enjoyed it.
- What is your favorite podcast?
There’s a podcast called “Welcome to Night Vale”, and they are kind of a fiction podcast kind of like a fake local news station with some supernatural elements, and it’s a really fun lesson.
- Mac or PC?
PC. I grew up with PCs. I did use Linux for a little bit, but I came back to PCs, and now I have to use a Mac at work and I miss the PC.
- Say something interesting about yourself that most people don’t know.
I speak several languages. So obviously English, but my family is from the Soviet Union, so I also speak some Russian and I took Japanese in high school and college. So I speak a very small amount of that as well.
- What is your hidden talent?
I don’t know if video games count, but I’m really good at Star Fox 64. I played it a lot growing up as a kid and I still played at least once a year.
- If you were going to write a book about your life what would the title be?
Probably “No one’s perfect”. I think there’s stuff I’ve done well in my life and stuff I’ve probably messed up in my life so probably going to be some ups and downs in that book.
- Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Florida. We moved to the US when I was really young, and I’ve slowly made my way up north. So I went to school in the greater Boston area, and then I went to school in upstate New York, and then I came back to Boston.
- What was your dream job as a child?
Don’t remember what it was from a super young age, but I know by the time I was in like middle school and high school I wanted to be a physicist.
- What was your favorite subject in school?
I love math. It just made a lot of sense to me, and so I kind of was actually pretty good at it.
14. What was your least favorite subject?
My least favorite was history. I always felt like I was memorizing dates and events.
- What would you say is your earliest memory of technology and the arrival of the internet?
So, my dad is an engineer, and so he actually built my first PC. So our first family PC, when I was growing up, was probably when I was around eight or nine. So my first memories are of playing Doom on our home PC and logging on to MSN messenger and chatting with some of my friends outside of school.
- Which were then the three first technology gadgets you owned?
The first one was probably a Game Boy Color. I was into video games growing up so that was a big thing for me. One Christmas I got it with my Pokémon Yellow, and I was super excited. Then I got my first cell phone, it was a flip phone I got in high school, and the first thing I did was like call my best friend and tell her I got a cool new phone. Then the other one was my MP3 player. I got an Iriver mp3 player. At the time I had my CD player, which was like would skip all the time and just like wasn’t as convenient. So my dad bought me this Iriver mp3 player one year for Christmas, and I was like so excited I could now carry so much more music, and it didn’t skip all the time.
- Who was your female role model and why?
Probably be my mom. We were from the Soviet Union so there she was forced to major in like computer science, which she didn’t really enjoy much. So when we came to the US she actually started taking night classes and learning a topic she was interested in which was accounting. Then she worked through all that school while taking care of me. My dad was working nights as well, and then she managed to get a career in that field, and she’s been doing great ever since. I find that really inspiring to kind of see that progression.
- How do you think where you grew up and the school you went to and the generation you come from influence your education and career choice?
In high school, I took a computer science course, but this was in the early 2000s, so computer science really didn’t have that many dedicated teachers, especially in a high school setting. It was taught by the track coach, and it was a SQL online database course, and I did awful in it and I hated computer science and never wanted to do it again. I didn’t want to do anything with technology. So it was a very negative impact on that account, but then I got to college, and kind of halfway through college I was like “you know I’ll give this computer science thing another try”. I really like math and computer science has a lot of similar problem-solving skills that I can apply. I’ll check it out, and I ended up really enjoying it. Taking a computer science class taught by someone who is an expert in computer science was totally different. Got me back into being interested in technology.
- What did you study at university?
I started out with physics. I told you I was interested in physics growing up, so I took one physics class and I hated it, so I decided to go with math because that was the class I really enjoyed in high school. Then from that as I mentioned there was a natural kind of progression to computer science. I’ll try this computer science thing out, it’s kind of applied math, I’ll give it another shot and I really enjoyed it. But one thing that I found challenging with computer science was pure coding. It felt kind of isolating, and it just didn’t come as naturally to me as a lot of my peers, so when I got to graduate school I didn’t really know what area of computer science I wanted to kind of expand on. But I knew it probably wasn’t just direct coding and that’s when I really discovered human-computer interaction. There was a new professor that was starting the same time as me the same year, and he was looking for students. He really connected human computer action to my interests and kind of the more human side that I felt was missing from pure computer science as I knew it in my college career.
- Who, and what influenced you to get into your chosen field?
That would be my advisor in graduate school. I had an interest in game development as well as game design, and so he was able to connect human interactions to the idea of studying players. How we can make games more engaging? How we can study how people think, and why people act when they play games in a certain way? How we can use games to do things with education? All that really connected not just to again that human side of computer science, but also to my interest in things outside just coding, or you know that idea of the video game side of things.
- What professional roles have you had before that led you to the current one?
Not too many, because after I did graduate school I spent a lot of time in academia. So before my current role, I was a UX researcher in a company that created some niche chemistry software and hardware.
- What does your company do, and what is your title?
We create observability software for DevOps and engineers to help them monitor the systems. So within this company, I’m a Senior UX Researcher that works in the marketing department. We have a separate team of researchers that work on the product, but I do a lot of the stuff with the website and some of the marketing materials.
23. How did you get the job, and what are your main responsibilities?
In my previous role, like many people when Covid hit, I started working from home and I really enjoyed the flexibility of that. In my previous role, they were starting to have us come back into the office, but I wanted to keep that flexibility, so I was looking for a new role. I talked about this with a former co-worker, and he mentioned that his company was hiring, New Relic, and so I was like all right I’ll check this out. I worked closely with him, so I trusted his judgment on it, and they seemed like a really nice group. So I ended up working here. Because I’m the sole researcher on the marketing department side of things I do a lot of aspects of UX research for quite a few different projects. Not just kind of the planning execution analysis and sharing of insights, but I also do things like participating in design brainstorming. I’m kind of being the voice of the customer and the voice of what we had heard in the past and various meetings to ensure that we’re remembering what we heard from people.
- What does a typical work day look like for you?
It varies by project, but usually, it’s a mix of planning data collection or analysis. As I mentioned I have multiple projects that tend to go on at the same time. I might be doing a little bit of planning for one project, and then I’ll do a little data analysis for another project. Then maybe there’s some initiative we’re working on where I have a meeting, and we’re going to discuss the customer input on that initiative.
- What do you love about your job?
I love that I get to see people react to the changes I push based on other customers’ input. It’s the reason I moved from academy to industries. I wanted to have that direct impact. I wanted to see people’s lives get better from the work that I’m doing. So being able to talk to people and hear them say “oh I love that this thing in here”, and I know that we put that in recently because of what we heard. That gives me a lot of great feelings that’s what really motivates me in my role.
- What is the best experience you’ve had in your role so far?
Probably seeing my first project going from planning to influence to release. I think seeing something end to end takes time but once you see it, and you can really look back you know it’s going to be over the span of like months. But you can follow that trail you can see “oh I chose to ask these questions and go for this topic and that led to these suggestions”. I had this brainstorming session where I really pushed for this and now that’s in the design and there it is on the website and everybody can see it.” That’s a really cool feeling.
- What is the biggest challenge, you have encountered so far, and how did you tackle it?
I think there’s just so much to do there are so many projects, and they’re all in various stages. It’s really important to stay very organized. Everyone has their own way of staying organized, and it took me a while to find mine, but at this point, I basically have a long to-do list and I check it pretty much daily double check if I need to follow up with anyone double-check like what has two dates coming up that’s the main thing is just staying organized because there’s just so much to do.
- What do you wish everybody understood about your role?
That UX Research is important, but you need to plan for it. I think it’s easy to say that UX research is something we should be doing, “oh we’ve heard of this UX research thing we should probably do it”. But then if you don’t give it enough time, especially for things like recruitment it can take a lot of time depending on how niche your product is. If you don’t plan for that you end up getting to the point like “okay let’s do the UX research” and then the researcher was like “well I need like a couple of weeks to recruit”, and they’re like “we don’t have time for that we have like one week, and we’ve got to release this we’ll just do without you”. It’s important, but it does take time, and you need to plan for it. It needs to be a part of your company processes to have it really be effective.
- What is one of the common myths about your professional field that you want to disprove that everybody?
I think that there are certain assumptions about what you need to have as a background. Maybe you think you need stats. Maybe you think you need computer science. Maybe you think you need design, but you really don’t need all these different things. I have no design background whatsoever. I have some computer science, but most of my peers don’t, and I really only use it to optimize certain things, but you can totally do this without it. You certainly don’t need stats if you’re going to be more on the qualitative side. These are all things that are good to know that understanding it will make you a better researcher, but they’re not a requirement for the job. So don’t feel that if you don’t have these particular things in your background that you can’t do the job.
- What do you love about working in the tech industry?
I love the speed of it. I love that it’s so easy to update and make incremental changes and therefore experiment in this sort of space I mean if we want to test out a new idea we’ll throw out the change it’ll take you to know a couple of days maybe if it’s really complex, but it might take an hour to change it might take 10 minutes to change, and then we can immediately show it to people. People give us feedback “oh let’s try changing this”, “all right to change that real quick”, and “let’s do another round”. There’s so much speed to it and it’s so easy to keep things moving forward that it makes it a really exciting job to have.
- What has by far been your biggest achievement in your career?
I think there’s been a couple throughout it. I think the first one was probably getting published as an academic. I think that’s kind of the first big hurdle, is writing your big first paper, figuring out how to format it, how to fit it all that good stuff. The second one was probably getting my first promotion. So once I went into industry there’s certainly some imposter syndrome and there’s a lot of stuff you don’t know because you haven’t done it before. So once you get that first promotion it’s like proof that you are moving forward in your career. that you’ve learned things, and that you’ve kind of earned the right to say “hey I’m more experienced in this”, and that’s a pretty good feeling too. Then the next one is doing my first guest talk. At that point, it’s like you have to have enough confidence and enough experience to pull from to do a talk and speak about it in a way that is clear and concise, and if people ask follow-up questions you can be ready to answer those. So I think that was a big one too it makes me feel like a little more experienced even past that promotion.
- What’s the biggest factor that has helped you be successful? Any success habits?
I would say the main thing is staying organized. So have your to-do list in whatever way makes the most sense to you. Follow up with people don’t feel bad about bugging people. Don’t email them like every hour, but it’s okay to follow up with someone if they say they’re going to do something, and then it’s been a while, and they haven’t done it. One way that you can help you with that is whenever you have a meeting for something always summarize the content of the meeting in the description and then at the end summarize what you talked about and what the next steps will be. If you’re not sure ask in the meeting “hey, what are we going to be doing next, when can I get back to you to figure out to double-check if it’s been done yet.” That way you’re not bugging people too much, and you’ve got a plan for what’s going to be coming up. You can put that on your to-do list, and then you can be ready for it when it comes up.
- How do you measure your own performance at work?
The main thing is whether my research questions are answered. So I go into this project, I have something we want to learn. Did we learn that? It doesn’t necessarily have to be positive you know. If we went in we’re like, is this product ready for release? and the answer is no that’s not a failure that’s a good thing that we caught that now. Then we would have some sort of information about what we need to do to prove that it is ready. I think the other thing too is making changes based on the output of my work. That’s something I have less control over, so it’s not kind of the main way I measure it, but it is a measure to some extent in terms of kind of what’s the influence of UX research in the company. In my own work and as the group as a whole kind of like are we making an impact on the products that’s ultimately the purpose of our role.
- What is your biggest failure in your career, and what did you learn from it?
It is probably my dissertation in the sense that I did all this work. I was looking at how we can make some changes to a couple of educational software to promote kids collaborating better, and the results really were kind of inconclusive. There wasn’t really much there, and it was very disappointing because you spend a very long time on your thesis. What I’ve learned especially over time that it’s okay, sometimes you just don’t get a result, sometimes people are just on the fence, sometimes you didn’t collect enough data, and the important thing is what you do after that. I’ve done so much stuff after that, and I’ve had so many other successes and achievements that a kind of setback is like nothing at this point. Eventually, it kind of falls back, and the more recent stuff you’re doing becomes the focus, and it’s not such a big deal.
- What is inspiring and motivating you the most in your role and career right now?
The freedom to try lots of things. In my previous role, I was working in a niche field that was highly regulated, so there were quite a few restrictions on recruitment and the types of activities we could do. Now it’s much easier for me to recruit. I can try and mix different methods together and that freedom is really exciting because I get to try new stuff and that’s a lot of fun.
***MENTORSHIP AND ROLE MODELS**
- Do you have a mentor today?
Not at the moment, but I do pull from our UX research team. I would call it probably co-mentorship and that we are very tightly-knit and if any of us have a question about a project or are saying “hey did anyone else do this in the past? Does anyone have suggestions of how this can come to look over my work?” We just ask it, and then other people will answer it, so it’s not necessarily one person being the mentor but rather a group of people helping each other work through the problems.
- Who is the female role model you look up to in your field?
I would say the head of our current UX research department, Lori Landesman. What I think she does really well is that she’s somehow able to balance the kind of business side of it and the management side of things. Also, it feels like she cares like she takes care of the team. There’s this human element to the way that she interacts with us and cares about us and our careers. I think that’s a really tough thing to balance once you get kind of higher up because there are all kinds of pressures coming from the business to do things a certain way. You have to be there to protect your team, to shield your team, to promote your team and I think she does a really great job of both promoting outward and also supporting inward.
- How important do you think it is to have a role model and mentor during one’s career?
I think especially early on it’s really important. I had one when I first got into the industry and that was my manager, and he taught me about politics. About how to present to people, when to push and what not to push. It was so great having someone who could be frank with me, and have those types of conversations. I can’t imagine coming into the industry and not having someone who could help me navigate that. So I think it is critically important when starting out. As you get more advanced it can be tougher to find mentors because there are fewer people who have the experiences you have, but I think early on is very important and probably the easiest time to find a mentor in your career.
- What does leadership mean to you?
To me, it means enabling success both success in the products that you work on and also success for the people you work with.
- What do you consider a good versus a bad leader?
A good leader is someone who sees and paves a clear path to success and removes any roadblocks that would prevent that success. A bad leader is someone who takes credit from others and puts personal gain over group success.
- Who would you say is your favorite female tech leader?
I like the founder and CEO of “Girls who code”. I think it is really inspiring. I did a talk for them a while ago, and I just think the whole program is such a worthy cause. They have so many different activities for kids and young adults to learn to code and get them involved, and I just think it’s a really cool program.
- How would you describe yourself as a leader?
I would describe myself as a supportive mentor who’s always looking for opportunities to advocate for UX research to non-researchers.
- What values are most important for you as a leader?
I think empathy is probably the number one value. Empathy for the customers that you are servicing. Empathy for your co-workers especially the juniors who may need extra support, and empathy for people in other roles who might have different priorities or not understand the same things you do. Make sure you’re understanding other people, and you’re realizing that people are coming from different backgrounds from different perspectives and be able to be understanding of that.
- What leadership lessons have you learned that have formed you into the leader you are today?
So some of the bad ones, don’t try to do everything yourself all the time. You know it’s it can be very tempting when you’re trying to move up the corporate ladder, or be a leader, it can be like I can’t show weakness, I can’t show that I need help, but sometimes you just need help. You need a mediator just someone with an outside perspective, someone to bounce ideas off. You can’t always do it alone, and that’s okay, everyone goes through that.
A second thing is, don’t be hyper-critical of others because you don’t know everything about them. No one’s perfect firstly, so you’re going to make mistakes just like everybody else, and second of all, they might have different priorities than you. They might be specialized in something else, but you’ve asked them to do something they’re not an expert in like. There are all kinds of reasons that people might not be doing things up to your standards, and sometimes they’re very legitimate reasons. You shouldn’t get upset at people for that.
Another one is kind of related to that, never assume why did someone not show up to this meeting maybe they had an emergency, and they’ll tell you about it later. Why didn’t they get this to you on time again maybe something came up they’ll let you know. There are all kinds of reasons for things and a lot of times it’s not malicious. Everyone’s trying to make a good product. They’re trying to make the company successful. They’re just doing it in their own way.
In terms of some kinds of things to do, the first is to promote people when they’re successful, but leave out their name when they’ve made a mistake. If someone’s made a mistake especially if it’s something that is hard to prevent, or almost expected, there’s no point in dragging their name through the mud and bringing it up in group settings. You can say that something went wrong in a general sense, but don’t put people down at the same time. If someone is successful don’t take credit for it, or keep it vague put their name out. As I said, a good leader is someone who enables success so if you want to enable success for your co-workers put them first you know say “hey, Jill did a great job bringing up this idea, oh I love Bob’s idea from the other day, I think we should go with that”. Put their name out there so that people will remember them and they’ll be more successful in their careers.
Then another one is to connect people together. It’s great to be a connector because if you are someone who is helping people connect to other people. Let’s say “oh I knew Dan was working on this project you’re working on something similar right I’ll connect you to”. People firstly will appreciate that you doing that, and second of all they’ll remember you better, and they think of you when they see someone else that they think you should connect with. It’s a really great way to build out your network by helping other people build out theirs.
The last good thing I think is adjusting your communication style to match who you’re talking to. Some people are really direct and if you’re not direct with them, they won’t realize you’re actually trying to give them critically, like constructive criticism, or something. They’ll think everything’s going great, and other people don’t like being super direct it feels very rude and so you want to be more point, and you want to say it in a way that is less harsh. Usually, people are somewhere in between those two extremes, so being able to adjust how you talk to people both in terms of that, and the communication style. Are they casual? Are they formal? Just try to match others, and they’ll be more willing to talk to you.
- What would you say are your three strengths and three weaknesses?
I would say organization, data analysis, and thanks to math computer science. Weaknesses, I would say I tend to be too much on that direct end of things. I do lack a design background so when I do need to make design recommendations that don’t directly come from the data where I kind of has to make an informed decision, that can be a little intimidating for me. I also don’t have a strong statistics background, and I don’t do a lot of analytics. Especially in my previous job we didn’t really have much analytics, so it’s something I’m trying to learn right now more about, but I don’t currently have a particularly strong background.
***DIVERSITY, EQUALITY, INCLUSION & BELONGING***
- What do diversity, equality, and inclusion mean to you personally?
Personally to me, it means treating people based on what they do and how they act rather than just their demographic information. It also means being understanding of diverse backgrounds and implementing support as needed to enable everyone’s success.
- What do you consider to be three to five signs of good company culture if you were to join a company?
The first is “how work-life balance” is defined. Do they expect you to work 40 hours or 50 hours? Are people expected to take time off? Is there a certain amount of time off? You get that all is kind of an indication of how understanding the company is of you as being a person and not just a cog in the machine. Another one is “how good the company and people in it are at communicating”. So communication is really important in all aspects of life, and if there are bad communication practices within the company or the people there are going to be misunderstandings. People are going to get angry at each other, they’re going to get frustrated with each other, and everything’s going to be inefficient. If that’s the case probably don’t want to work there.
The third one is “how people who fail are treated.” Everyone’s going to fail at some point. No one’s perfect, so the question is what happens especially if you try to rectify that failure? Because that is what you should do in that scenario. You should try to fix it. Are people still upset even though you fix it, or are they understanding, or do they promote maybe you did something? That will also determine whether the culture is good or bad.
- As a woman, what has been the most significant barrier in your career, and how have you overcome these challenges?
It can be hard to self-advocate because you don’t want to come off as bragging or pushy. This is something I ran into when I was job hunting for the first time. It’s really tough to speak about your successes because it feels like you’re just like I don’t know is it really that big a deal? I just feel like I’m stretching the truth here, and it can be really difficult to overcome that social barrier.
I think the key here is to start small. If you’re having trouble advocating for yourself outside with other people start by just advocating yourself to your boss or a mentor or a parent or somebody who you are already close with. These are the types of people who want to hear about your successes. Your parents, because they’d be proud of you, your boss because they’re advocating. The more they hear about what you do well the more likely it is they’ll give you a promotion. They want to hear that stuff, so you want to talk to them and then once you get comfortable speaking to people close to you then you can start to maybe throw some things out.
Go to networking events, or conferences and things where you are kind of expected to talk about your work and the cool stuff you do. Then you can kind of work out from there.
- Why do you think it is important for more women to join the tech industry, especially as leaders?
I think the first aspect is that diversity in perspective can lead to all kinds of new innovative solutions. Just a different perspective and different backgrounds. Another one is to inspire others. because you never know who’s going to come up with the next big idea. It could be a man. It could be a woman. It could be anyone from anywhere doing anything. So why not keep that applicant pool large by inspiring others no matter the background to move into tech and take these awesome jobs in tech and move us forward as a society do you?
- Do you, and how do you speak with your female colleagues and male colleagues about diversity quality and inclusion challenges, especially salary gaps?
I do some mentorship discussions from time to time. Again, I always encourage people to negotiate especially women, because I know I myself have trouble negotiating salary. A whole self-advocacy thing is really enough. Should I be pushing? Am I going to screw this up? All this doubt comes in through negotiation. I always encourage people to just push past it, especially as you get more senior in your career. You have more experience, you have more clout, and you have more achievements. You can push more. You have reasons why you should be getting what you’re getting, and you can put those forward those are facts, and you can share those.
- There are many public and internal discussions about the barriers women face from reaching higher positions in the tech industry. How do you feel it has affected and is affecting you, and what is your advice on how to best unlock these roadblocks?
So it hasn’t affected me personally, but I think the way to try to overcome this is to be a strong self-advocate. As I mentioned, start with your boss and then move out from there.
If you complete a project and someone’s like, “oh hey yeah we as a group totally did this, and you’re like yeah as I came up with that piece of it”. Make sure that people know that you were involved in these projects and that you were working on them. Try to be in the meetings where people discuss these projects that you worked on to make sure that it’s clear that you were a part of the project. You don’t have to be super pushy about it, or like you don’t like just randomly bringing it up when it’s not the topic of conversation, but you want to make sure that whenever there is an opportunity you get the credit for it.
If the culture is so bad that even that means that you’re still getting ignored, don’t be afraid to leave. You’ve got so much experience. If you’ve been doing all this great advanced stuff, and you’re still not getting promoted, you still have the experience, and you can go elsewhere somewhere where they will appreciate you. You’ve tried to promote yourself, and they’re not listening. A lot of times some of that culture is so ingrained it really needs to be starting from the top and the bottom. If you’re not getting that support, as an individual can be really hard to make that change.
- As the tech industry finds it hard to attract and retain women what is your best advice on strategies for how companies can work to build a stronger corporate culture that engages gender diversity?
I’d say promote and hire women into leadership roles to show that there is an opportunity for that, especially the promotion part. People might feel if they see a woman getting promoted that “oh there’s an opportunity there. I might get to do that too.” That’s not to say hire them just because they’re women, but at least kind of think about it, or once a woman does get hired maybe promote that out to the company that “hey, this woman got this really cool promotion.”
Another thing is to have female employees at external talks and recruitment events so that when you’ve got people who are coming into your company, they feel like “oh this is a woman-friendly company, she talked about this company, she seems to really like this company. I’m looking forward to working here.” Then as you get more women who are interested in applying and more get hired, now you start to build out that female employee pool.
I think the other thing too is pairing female employees with female mentors so when they first start there you know give them someone, who has experience facing the challenges, who have been promoted a couple of times, and who has experience. Maybe they’re in a male-dominated department within the company like give them someone who they can talk to if they have any concerns or any situations where they need some advice.
- What would you say then are the few challenges and possibilities of implementing diversity, equality, and inclusion in a workplace?
I think that one of the issues is that people tend to self-select. If you do an event, especially if it’s optional, the people who go to that event are people who probably already know something about the topic. You’re not really reaching those people who would benefit the most from this talk, but don’t know anything about it. That can be really challenging, and even if you make the meeting mandatory those people might not pay attention, and you can’t force people to pay attention all the time.
Another challenge is that some people might just not feel like this affects them like I’m not a woman what does this topic have to do with me? It’s not part of my job? It doesn’t have a direct impact on my work? Why do I have to go to this meeting? So, it can be hard to convey that this is something that benefits the company as a whole, that it can benefit the product as a whole, and that it can benefit our culture and our society as a whole. It can be hard to convey that if people aren’t going to the meetings it’s hard to convey that in a single email.
- Why and how do you think companies would benefit from having workplace gender diversity especially better gender representation at C-level?
I think there would probably be more innovation through that new perspective and also the opportunity to attract a wider applicant pool which means you have even more opportunities to pick the best from that pool.
- How much do you think the tech industry has changed regarding this subject since you joined?
So I’ve only been on the industry side of things for about five years, but I think it’s something that I’ve seen pushed in both places I’ve worked. So, it’s definitely something that is top of mind and something that both companies have worked towards improving.
- Looking back on your own career what one thing would you have changed in your working environment to break the bias?
I think I probably would have been more direct about my accomplishments and more confident in my skills from the start. I definitely had imposter syndrome, especially starting out. That prevented me from necessarily speaking up during some meetings, or like really pushing myself to get promotions and things. I wish I was a little better about that from the start.
- Looking forward what would, will you do as a leader to improve the bias for the next generation of women in tech?
I would like to inspire and support those starting out. I do a lot of mentorship meetings one-on-one with people who are looking to break into the field. I would also like to advocate for female co-workers and their successes male or female. If someone did something right I will like “hey this person did this awesome thing”, and I’m hoping that doing that will foster a more inclusive culture.
**MENTAL HEALTH AND WORKPLACE BALANCE***
- I’m sure without a doubt you have a busy lifestyle, so how do you take care of yourself to maintain good mental health?
I work from home which gives me a lot of flexibility. The other thing is I do work from a separate office room that is not my living room or my bedroom, so it’s a little easier to disconnect when I’m done with work. I think it’s something that when I was in graduate school I would work from home a lot and there was no disconnect. I lived in a studio apartment, so work was always there, and I think it’s much easier when you have a separate space.
- Have you ever experienced burnout?
A little bit. I generally at that point go to my manager and say, “hey manager I think I gave myself too much work”, and then I work through it with my manager. I’m like “help me prioritize, what are some of the stuff that we can drop?.” It stinks because now it’s like we’ve kind of let someone down, but we can’t keep going like this. How do we prevent this in the future? Let’s come up with some strategies.
I think dealing with burnout is part of it. It is about being honest about the fact that you’ve reached burnout. It can be hard when you’re trying to advance your career. You know again you don’t want to admit that you’re not able to do the job, but sometimes you are just given too much. No one can do that job, so going to your manager, and saying “hey manager like this is just too much. Either, can I get some more training if you think that I should be able to handle this, or maybe I’m just not getting it, or maybe you agree that this is just too much work? Let’s see how we can prioritize this.
- What motivates you every day to get out of bed?
Knowing I’m making a direct impact on people’s lives. It’s the reason I went into UX research and this industry in the first place.
- What is your advice on how companies can create a more mentally healthy workplace in the new now?
I think allowing people to work from home even if it’s like a hybrid sort of thing. Giving people the option is really nice or at least once in a while. “I have a doctor’s appointment, can I just work from home in the afternoon?” That type of flexibility is really nice.
Another thing I think is nice is having at least one day off a month. This is something that I know back when I was in college MIT had this where if there wasn’t a holiday that month they had just like a Friday or Monday off. Just to give people an extra day to relax, and I like that philosophy. Make sure everyone gets at least one extra day a month to relax.
The third one is better management training. I think part of mental health is having a good manager and that manager being able to shield you from all the stuff coming down from upper managers. So, training managers to be able to do that effectively and also for them to talk to their managers and let their managers know if they’re getting too much. I think that can also lead to a workplace that has better mental health
**WORDS OF WISDOM***
- What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given that has helped you during setbacks in your role and career?
Everybody fails at some point, but it’s not about if you fail you’re going to do it, it’s about how you respond to that failure. Do you try to cover it up, and hope no one notices? Just the wrong way to do it. Or do you go to your boss and say “hey boss this broke I don’t know what to do to fix it”, or better “hey boss this broke, and here’s how I’m going to try to fix it.”
- What is the worst advice you have ever been given, and how did you tackle that?
Things will figure themselves out eventually. Sometimes that is the case for certain situations, but in terms of business and making sure your work is going to be implemented you know you don’t want to make these assumptions that people are going to actually do things when they’re kind of wishy-washy about it. It’s okay to follow up like I said don’t be afraid to like to email them a week later and say, “hey let’s just check it in. I know you mentioned you were going to do this, but I didn’t hear from you for a while”.
- Is there something you wish you would have known or a skill you wish you had when starting out in the tech industry?
How to talk to business people. It was something I didn’t have in academia. So coming to the industry it’s the way to pivot my work and pivot the way I speak to align with business objectives, and even people in other roles and the way that they speak in their language. It can be really a cultural shock in terms of when you’re coming from academia, where everything’s a little flowier, and everyone speaks the same UX research language. We have a very technical set of terms we use, and then you get to business, and it’s completely different.
- If you have the ability to go back in time when you were just the beginning of your career what advice would you give to your younger self?
Network more! So, when I was starting out I went to academic conferences, and I did look into like industry meetup groups. There was one meetup group, and they didn’t really meet very often. I should have probably tried harder. Right now I’m a part of a bunch of wonderful UX research Slack groups. Why didn’t I look at this before? There are so many online communities not just in-person communities that you can join to learn from others and to meet others. I think it’s really important again especially starting out your career to build out that network.
- What advice would you give to young girls and women, wanting and trying to break into STEM fields today?
Find a mentor! It is so helpful to have a mentor to bounce ideas off, and give advice. Pretty much any mentor. Everyone started somewhere, so every mentor has gone through something to get to where they are. So, finding one, especially one that potentially has a similar background to you can be so helpful to have. Also, a part of being a mentor is also just supporting others by giving them confidence. It can also be a confidence boost if you find the right mentor who can be there to give you that.
- What is next for you in your role and career in tech what are your career aspirations?
I’m looking to stay an individual contributor, but I do want to lean more heavily into mentorship. I think it’s something that whether you’re a manager or an individual contributor it’s just something good to do. You want to help people succeed, you want to be that later that enables success. When you’re an individual contributor a lot of times that means mentorship and doing talks and really helping people understand what you do and how to do it well.