Last month on Friday, September 16th, I had the pleasure of being part of New York City’s first XX+UX (Women in UX) Mentorship Program Kick-Off event at Google’s office in Chelsea Market. The program was founded in September 2015 by San Francisco’s XX+UX chapter to support junior user experience professionals by pairing them with senior-level leaders in the industry. Earlier in the summer, I was fortunate to receive an invitation to this event after submitting an application online. I wasn’t sure what to expect but thrilled to say that going to the event was an incredible experience. Here is a recap of everything leading up to the event, what happened on the day of and my takeaways.
I was introduced to the XX+UX community through Jenny Ng, a friend and former classmate (now alumna!) from Soka University of America. She is currently a UX Designer in San Francisco. XX+UX (Women in UX) is a community of professionals in user experience design and research that support each other through monthly events and their quarterly mentorship program. These activities help UX professionals gain skills, build confidence and grow immensely as designers. I’ve attended all their monthly events since July and have enjoyed them very much.
During the summer, Jenny wrote to me about how XX+UX was accepting applicants for mentees for the first cohorts in New York City. She encouraged me to apply so I submitted my form online. I wasn’t confident enough in my abilities as a designer to be chosen for the program so I didn’t expect to hear back. To my surprise, I received an invitation to this event to meet the mentors and have the opportunity to potentially work with them one-on-one. They invited a total of thirty mentees to meet twenty mentors for a “speed dating” session to ask questions to each other and find a good mentor-mentee match.
Before the event, we were provided with a complete bio of all twenty mentors. We were asked to review them and provide a list of up to eight mentors that we wanted to personally chat with during the speed dating session. I was thrilled that about half of them focus very much in UX research. This group could not have been a better representation of New York City’s design community. There were mentors that came from various backgrounds such as health sciences, teaching, cognitive psychology, industrial design and marketing, to name a few. They also represent a lot of disruptive companies and have many years of experience under their belt.
Going into this, my goal was to absorb as much of the wisdom that these senior UX professionals have. I wrote down at least three specific questions I wanted to ask each mentor. Since most of their backgrounds were anything but traditional, I set out to ask about their personal journey into the world of user experience design. I was also curious about their career breakthroughs and memorable milestones. I also wanted to learn about what they still struggle with and how they overcome them. There’s only so much that I could learn from online classes and books. Directly speaking to people who have been through it all is the best and I wanted to make sure my questions were on point so I could maximize my learning.
On the day of the event, both the mentors and mentees were given a meeting schedule. This was for the speed dating session where we would have five minutes to chat with the mentors before we moved onto the next person. The event began with a great introduction on how XX+UX started and the amazing community it has built. Afterwards, the mentors gave brief verbal introductions of themselves. After grabbing some drinks and food, we got straight into the speed dating rounds. These rounds moved unbelievably fast and each session left me feeling a bit bittersweet about leaving a good conversation. But that wasn’t a lingering worry because all the conversations from that evening were amazing.
When the speed round sessions ended, the mentees ranked the mentors and the mentors ranked the mentees in terms of who they liked the most. I loved everyone that I chatted with so it was difficult to choose but I prioritized based on how each person aligned with my goals for the mentorship program. I want guidance on the design process and build the confidence to be a competitive UX researcher candidate so I chose mentors that will push me. The last part of the event was for everyone to get a chance to mingle and continue our conversations. During my time at Google, the energy level was unreal. I’m still feeling the adrenaline and the excitement from being there.
Whether I got paired up with a mentor or not, my determination was to use this time to learn as much as I can. When given such a short time to chat with incredible UX professionals, it can be limiting. It’s hard to prioritize which questions I want to ask but I made the most of every moment I had. That experience in itself was rewarding. Up until now, I haven’t even had twenty informational interviews with industry leaders so this event was a career game changer for me. Here are my three biggest takeaways from the whole event.
1. My background is my advantage
As I make the transition into UX, insecurities about not having a design background still come up. I know that my background in the humanities can be leveraged to my advantage but I’m not yet confident enough to carry myself that way. Chatting with the mentors helped me validate the importance of my background in liberal arts. When they shared about what they majored in and their previous roles, I realized that any background can be an advantage to UX. Designing is about solving problems and it’s always a collaborative effort, meaning that a diverse scenery of professions are necessary in UX. While I may not come from the traditional design or computer science background, I’m equally as capable (if not, more) of becoming an impactful UX designer.
2. User interviews all day every day
Although this was an event to equally learn about each other, I strongly felt the desire to keep asking questions to the mentors rather than talk about myself. Perhaps I’m sick of telling my own story but I’m more compelled to learn about others, especially if they’ve done the work that I’m interested in doing. I mean, when else will I get an opportunity to mingle with so many brilliant UX people? When I realized that 80% of the conversations I had were me asking them about their story, I understood why I’m drawn to the user researcher role. I love asking questions and being surprised. I love absorbing what they say and asking even more questions because I’m intrusively curious like that. This is something I could do all day and every day.
3. The design process permeates every aspect of life
When people asked why I’m currently in law, I shared that I wanted to pursue a law degree. Even before I knew it as so, I was applying user testing principles to my own life to make sure that it’s a career path that’s compatible with my goals. I also realized that I applied the design process at a previous job as an ESL teacher. I took an iterative approach to creating lesson plans and catered activities to fit my students’ needs. The design process is a universal problem solving language that I’ve used all my life. I learned that many of these mentors also exercised aspects of the design process early on in their lives without even knowing it. But now that I’m aware of it, I can’t wait to exercise it in more areas of my life and see what changes I can create.
OVERALL THOUGHTS & RESULTS:
The XX+UX is a wonderful community and I have nothing but sincere appreciation for the mentors. I commend them for dedicating their time and efforts into helping junior UX professionals, like myself, grow and succeed in the industry. Although I have a long way to go, I want to build myself up to be in their position so I could mentor others as well. I loved everyone’s willingness to support each other and this commitment is a testament to how amazing the UX design community is. I highly encourage people who are early in their careers to apply for this program because it’s a great way to be supported and challenged.
Finally, the moment you came for is here. What happened after the event? Was I paired with a mentor? The answer is yes and I’m pretty convinced we’re a fantastic match. Two weeks ago on September 26th, I received news that in the next three months, I’ll be mentored by Kristen Ramirez of Terminal Junction! It frightens me to ask of this but I want to be as far out of my comfort zone as possible. I want to be challenged. I need to do things that frighten me. I want to be treated as the UX designer that I can be and not the designer that I am now. You’re all responsible for keeping me accountable. I’ll be back in a few months to share an update but until then, I’m pumped to get started!