Job opportunity: Product Designer, ThoughtSpot (Redwood City, CA)

ThoughtSpot is a startup that is revolutionizing the way companies do business intelligence.  They received $30 million in Series B funding led by Khosla Ventures, with partner Keith Rabois on the board.

Among all the companies I’ve seen working on business intelligence, I am most impressed by ThoughtSpot.  I know from years of working at Google that query formulation is one of the most difficult user experience problems:  how do you let users know what kinds of questions they can ask, and how do create an experience where they can ask intelligent questions and get meaningful answers back from the data?

With a clean, minimal user interface, ThoughtSpot’s UI is as simple as a consumer product, but as powerful as the best business software.  Their whole focus is to make the user experience as easy as possible to identify and display structured data.  CEO Ajeet Singh has personally invested a tremendous amount of energy and time into scouring the internet for the best people possible to bring on board, and the team and product reflect the fruits of those efforts.

The company is looking to add a few more designers to the team.  This is a great opportunity to join a terrific team, especially if you like to solve hard design problems.

Read more about ThoughtSpot in a recent article from TechCrunch.

Learn more about the opportunity to join as a designer and apply by sending your resume, portfolio, and cover letter to design@thoughtspot.com.

Job opportunity: Interaction Designer, The Hunt (San Francisco, CA)

Over the past few weeks I’ve gotten to know the team at The Hunt; this is a great opportunity for an interaction designer especially if you are interested in how people shop.  In addition to having a thoughtful CEO and a strong product management leader, the current design team includes a user researcher and a visual designer.  Some articles about the company and their last round of fundraising:
Title: Interaction Designer
Company: The Hunt
Location: San Francisco, CA

We are looking for an Interaction Designer to join our growing team and craft high-quality user interfaces across both web and mobile platforms. As an Interaction Designer at The Hunt, your job will be to:

  • Identify tasks and create solutions based on user goals
  • Wireframe key interactions, flows and interfaces 
  • Create prototypes
  • Collaborate on usability testing and research

The ideal candidate will have 4+ years of interaction design experience and:

  • Love working at both the conceptual and detailed level. 
  • Have experience building social products for a passionate user base.
  • Be an advocate for our users. You should want to hear from our community as much as possible and want to create the best experience for them.
  • Have a portfolio that shows a wide range of interaction design and a thoughtful approach.
  • Thrive working in a fast-paced agile development environment.

Compensation for the role will include:

  • Salary of $125k-$175k
  • Equity ownership of 0.1% – 0.5%
To apply,  send your cover letter, resume, and portfolio to Shane Hall at Shane@thehunt.com

Job opportunity: Founding Designer, Homerun / OpenDoor (San Francisco, CA)

Title: Founding Designer, leading product design and identity.
Company:  Homerun (to be renamed OpenDoor)
Location:  San Francisco, CA
 
Hi, we’re “Homerun” and we’re redefining what it means to sell a home.
 
We will give homeowners a fair cash offer on their screen in under a minute, saving them 2 to 6 months of time and removing all of the uncertainty of selling a home. This is possible because we will literally purchase the homes ourselves (then resell them on the market). It’s a little bit crazy, but it makes for a much dramatically better experience for customers. In 10 years we hope we will be the only rational way to sell your home.
 
Here are two articles about us:
 
Summary:
We want to hire a thoughtful, empathetic, and experienced designer to build and lead the design team and culture at Homerun.
 
You will craft the delightful products and identity that will come to represent us. We’re introducing a fair and trustworthy product to an industry known for dishonesty. Your challenge is to overcome that bias and create an experience that earns customers’ trust and love.
 
If you succeed, you and your work will help define a next generation high-profile startup that changes one of the world’s largest industries for the better.
 
Responsibilities:
– Leading the design of our “version 1.0” product
– Developing an iconic and beloved identity for a high-profile startup as it launches and grows. (Think Square, Uber, Tesla, Zillow)
– Developing products and tools for homesellers, homebuyers (for the property we need to re-sell), home inspectors, and internal teams.
– Understanding how and where to use data to improve products.
– Conducting and/or managing the outsourcing of customer research
– Growing and managing an elite and widely respected design organization
 
To apply:
Send your cover letter, portfolio, and resume to jd+designlead@opendoor.com.

Hiring and Retaining Women in Tech

The same day UX Magazine published a QuickPanel on Women in Tech, featuring comments from Indi Young, Christina Wodtke, and Brenda Laurel, and me, I had dinner with a high ranking executive at a large well-known tech company. When the topic about women in tech came up, he declared, “I would love to hire women, if only I could find ones who are qualified.”

This perspective is not surprising to me since so many others in this industry have expressed the same sentiment. His comment opened a door for us to have a healthy discussion about this perception. Here are some thoughts I shared with him:

Be aware of your hidden biases. Women often don’t match our mental model of someone who is qualified, because we have a fixed archetype of who constitutes being qualified. It is natural for us to form a model in our minds of what works and seek others that match that pattern. This is especially true for highly effective, efficient, and intelligent people. The better we are at pattern recognition and matching, the easier and faster we can be at accomplishing what we seek to get done.

But a woman engineer who is highly qualified might not look like a typical highly qualified man. Case in point: at one company, a common question asked of candidates was “What’s the largest project you’ve ever worked on, in terms of number of lines of code?” It turns out that male candidates were more likely to talk about their involvement in open source projects, whereas women were at a disadvantage because they participate in open source projects at a lower rate.
Furthermore, hiring managers are more likely to trust referrals from people they know. Given that most people inside tech organizations are young men, and that people are more likely to refer people from their own networks which usually are comprised of people similar to themselves, there is a natural bias toward hiring more of the same.

Fortunately, this company recognized that these biases exist, and are now training all hiring managers to become more self-aware of their hidden biases to address inequities in their hiring practices.

Still can’t find qualified women? Help women become qualified candidates. Etsy sets a great example as a tech company that invested in training women with an eye toward hiring them. By funding $7000 per student in grants to cover women’s living expenses for Hacker School which was held at Etsy’s offices, Etsy was able to increase their pipeline of women candidates and hired several of them. In other words, instead of giving lip service to wanting more women in tech, take action by developing or sponsoring programs that will help close the gap.

This executive then pointed out that when he looks at his team’s hiring statistics, it turns out that women are being hired at a rate similar to or more than men. But keeping them on the team is another issue.

Many women don’t want to throw their entire lives into their careers at the expense of family. Companies can do more to retain women in tech by making it easier for women to not have to choose between career and family. Giving women the option to work part-time is an obvious, easy choice: companies benefit by having more diversity in the workforce and having happier, more fulfilled employees. In my experience, managers have little to no incentive to allow people to work part-time because part-time employees occupy one full-time headcount. In many companies, the headcount accounting has to change for this to be a viable option for managers.
Still, there are other creative ways to help working mothers stay in the workforce. As an executive at Yahoo, I sponsored a job-share arrangement for two women employees who were new mothers. They were high performers who were diligent, effective, and responsible. They took it upon themselves to keep each other informed on all projects, so that they were essentially interchangeable from the perspectives of the teams they worked with. They were motivated to make it work, and did so with considerable success.
Even when managers overcome their hidden biases, get women hired, and help them balance work and family life, too often women opt to leave the workforce because it’s not worth the fight. Just as we have hidden biases that thwart our good intentions to hire women, similar biases get in the way of women’s advancement in the workforce.
Be aware that similar traits and behavior are perceived differently in men than in women. For example, what is considered “aggressive” behavior by a woman is lauded as “assertive” behavior by a man. When a man is perceived to be “passionate”, that same behavior makes a woman “emotional”. (These are true stories that affected me and women I know in leadership positions. For anyone who knows me well, you know how laughable this is.) Female leadership might look different, but it can be just as effective.

Diversity in a company ultimately enables organizations to make better decisions. Fortunately the challenge of hiring and retaining women in tech is not an intractable problem; there are concrete things managers and companies can do to help be part of the solution. By being more self-aware of our own hidden biases to overcome them, initiating programs to train women to be better qualified, and changing workplace policies to support women’s needs and interests, we can all help close the gender gap in tech.

Want a job? Act as if you already have the job.

An acquaintance of mine reached out to me about landing an internship for her daughter in product design.  
What I told her, and what I’d like to tell all high school students aspiring to be a young Jony Ive, is this:

Even if you don’t get an internship working as a product designer, I highly recommend spending your summer engaging in endeavors as if you already have the job. For example, invent your own project in which you observe human behavior and try to design a solution that meets people’s needs. Learn how to code so you can build prototypes of your concepts.  Or, for physical products, hang out at a maker studio so you can start prototyping or building stuff with your hands. This experience helps you build a portfolio of projects that you can later show potential employers; it’s a great way to demonstrate your passion for learning and for this area of work. Going through such an experience will also be a good indicator to you as to whether this is truly something you want to do for your career — if you love it, that will be reassuring, and if you hate it, you’ll know early before you invest more energy in it.

Want a job?  Act as if you already have the job.  Invent projects for yourself, start making, start tinkering.

Recently I spent an afternoon mentoring a group of high school girls who are working on their Technovation Challenge.  In 10 weeks, they are tasked with understanding user needs, assessing market fit, sketching, designing, and building a prototype of a product idea for the identified need.  It’s an amazing experience that will help them gain tangible, employable skills and build a portfolio of project work.  From the perspective of an employer (like Google) who has their choice of candidates, students with straight-A transcripts from elite schools are easy to come by; what helps them identify great candidates worth hiring ultimately comes down to the portfolio.
As a hiring manager, I always look for passion in a candidate’s portfolio.  Where there is passion, creativity and grit come much more easily; passion is what we do when it’s inconvenient.  A high school student who actually has a portfolio demonstrates their willingness to learn on their own and their fearlessness in trying new things and iterating.
Towards the end of my graduate studies I applied for and interviewed for several jobs with high tech companies.  I sat through many interviews where hiring managers asked broad, high level questions that didn’t seem to help reveal whether I had what it took to do the job.  Interviewing students with no work experience is especially hard for managers because there isn’t prior work experience to ask about.  It was only when I pulled out my project work related to my master’s thesis that helped turn my fate around the corner.  As I walked interviewers through my work, they could assess how I solved problems, the tradeoffs I made, the determination I had to go through many iterations to find the best solution given the constraints and requirements.  Showing my project work is what helped me land my first dream job at Netscape.
Throughout my career as I’ve interviewed, hired, and rejected hundreds of design, research, and web developer candidates,  I always give candidates a chance to show their work.  Beyond asking for a link to their portfolio, I ask them to walk me through it, because hearing their story reveals so much more:  what was the opportunity they saw, how they framed the problem, how they approached solving the problem, the iterations they tried (or whether they iterated at all), the feedback they got and how they responded to it.  If they’ve thought further about how they would improve the project if they had more time, it’s a good sign that there is some self-awareness and introspection going on.
As I began teaching yoga, I found this advice “Act as if you already have the job” to be especially true.  You can’t get a job teaching at a yoga studio unless you have experience teaching.  How does one get experience teaching yoga if one cannot teach at a studio?  You have to invent reasons to teach.  My mentors talked about how they would offer free yoga in the park (on a donation basis) just to give themselves an opportunity to teach.  They would offer discounted private instruction to friends and family and build a network from there.  They would offer to substitute for absent teachers and assist teachers (for free) in their classes.
Want a job?  Act as if you already have the job.

Designer seeking advice…

Earlier this week I received a message from a young designer asking for advice on how to land her dream job.  With her permission, I’m reprinting it here (with some editing to not reveal her identity):



Hi Irene, How are you? Hope you are well 🙂 Sorry for the direct approach. My name is V. and I’m a Visual/UI/UX designer currently based in [city].  I’m a young designer in my mid-twentys [sic] aspiring to become a good UX designer. During the mean time I’m having a difficult time just to get started. It would be amazing if I could get some help on some career advise. I discovered [an opportunity] I really want to be part of, but as I’m not experienced enough for the highly skilled small team, I was not a great fit. The team lead has kindly given me some advise on what skills I need for the role.  Two years later, I’ve found myself not gaining the skills I wish to gain through my job. While working, I’m constantly reading blogs, books, and more in order try and improve my skills. I’m starting to get frustrated, since I’m not quite sure how to take my skills to the next level through work. Like most mid-twenty year olds trying to figure out ‘life’, I find myself so hungry for something, but I can’t quite pin point it out exactly. What I do know is that I do want to work on something meaningful, have contribution to the world through my skills. This is exactly why I find [this organization] so appealing, or you could say it was like love at first sight and the flame is still burning strong two years after. I strive for creating great user experiences through strategy, research and design. The only problem is, I have no idea on how to get there. Just yesterday I came across a design worksop that is going to be held at Google Headquarters – Mountain View. On the application it asks the applicant to explain one project that is in their portfolio that they are proud of. And I realised that I haven’t done any UX work that I’m proud of nor came across any major problem solving matters. I do love being a designer and I’m grateful that I have a design job in this economy. Thank you so much for reading this letter and I do apologise if this letter came across a little strong or intense. Have a lovely day! Best wishes, V.


A few years ago I would have responded with a reply naming my favorite UX books, authors, and consultants.  I would have given more blogs to read, specific workshops to take, and conferences to attend.  What I have observed over many years of mentoring and employing hundreds of designers is that it’s often not lack of skill but lack of an internal resource that limits them.  This is what I wrote to her:


Hi V., 

Since you asked for my advice, I will share my perspective with you, which has largely been shaped by my own career and studying and practicing the spiritual teachings of yoga. 

First, start where you are.  Stop worrying about the skills or expertise that you don’t have.  You already have a foundation and basket of skills to draw from.  When you worry about not having the skills or knowledge you need, you lose confidence, which undermines your ability to learn and be effective. 

Second, the best way to learn is by doing.  Get involved in projects that interest or inspire you. Maybe you will be lucky enough to engage in such projects that happen to also bring you income.  If not, find the time to engage in such projects on your own time.  Seek collaborators, or go on your own.  Make stuff, design stuff.  Invent projects for yourself to do that allow you to exercise your skills; you will learn a lot by practicing.  You will learn even more by seeking feedback, from mentors and users.  From the feedback, you will discover how you need to grow.  In your desire to make your product better, you will orient your energy toward activities that will help you grow. 

Third, notice and follow what brings you joy and energy.  If you are truly interested and passionate about the endeavors, your interests will guide you toward what you need to learn, and you will invest the time and energy into learning it.  You will also build a portfolio/body of work that you can later show to potential clients or employers; the joy you bring to your work will shine through and you will be able to see yourself more clearly — and people you talk to about hiring you will see that too.

 […]

Best, 

Irene 

This advice was inspired by three basic rules for practicing Hatha Yoga, which I wrote about last year.  In fact, these rules are relevant to almost any endeavor, whether starting a yoga practice or exercise regimen, advancing one’s career or beginning a new one, entering a new relationship, or creating a new product:

  1. Start where you are.  Stop worrying about what you don’t know or that others are further ahead than you.  Stop worrying about what the future holds.  Be in the present moment, and start with what you have, where you are, right now.
  2. Join movement and breath.  In other words, just do it.  Fear nothing.  The best way to learn is by doing and getting into it.
  3. Observe yourself.   Through self-study and observation we gain awareness and presence of mind.  We notice changes over time, understand cause-effect, and use that feedback to inform the future.
Hatha Yoga rules = Rules for Life

Udacity seeks to solve our greatest education and employment challenges

It’s no secret that higher education as we know it today is not sustainable.  The cost of going to college is only increasing, and the nation now has nearly a trillion dollars in college debt.  And yet, the unemployment rate in the US is around 8%.  People are paying sky high prices for college, only to not find a job.

At the same time, here in the SF Bay Area / Silicon Valley, the demand for talent has never been higher.  Employers like Google, Facebook, Twitter, and countless startups compete for engineering and design talent.  It seems the country’s system of higher education is failing employers and prospective employees.

It is because Udacity seeks to help address this problem that I am so excited to be working with them.  The CEO, Sebastian Thrun, who is perhaps best known for his involvement in directing the development of Google’s self driving cars and augmented reality glasses, gave up his tenured position at Stanford to found Udacity.  His vision and ideals are directly aligned with mine:  use the internet to democratize education and make it freely accessible to all; offer a teaching environment in which students can explore their passions and learn about the things they love, while taking responsibility for their own learning; and help connect employers with people who have the skills and passion needed for the job.  

There is much work to be done with the site. It wouldn’t be a fun endeavor if things were already figured out and perfect!  We’re looking to hire a designer to join the team.  If you’re passionate about working on these problems, have a great portfolio and would enjoy working in a scrappy startup environment, please contact me.