Helpful articles for UX job searching: putting yourself in the employers’ shoes

I recently cleaned out my personal bookmarks and wanted to share a few useful ones I came across. I’m very happy with my current position so I wanted to share these before deleting these links. Hopefully these are useful to others.

I think what helped me most in searching for my current position was to put myself in the employers’ shoes. By doing so, I was able to find the most appropriate jobs given my skills, interests, and career aspirations while also keeping in mind the employers’ needs. After all, getting an offer for a job involves both parties, and there must be mutual interest.

The links below fall into two categories. The first one involves the actual job search. The links near the top are most directly applicable to UX jobs, and the further down you go, the more general the advice is. However, I think it is still helpful advice

The second set of links involves deciding if a job is right for you

UX Job search

Deciding the right job for you

I’m a huge fan of the link from “”. It was extremely helpful in deciding between job offers. Before I came across that link, it was difficult to decide. I was fortunate to have a few options, and they all were very appealing and involved the kind of work I wanted to do. The “RIGHT” framework was helpful and made it obvious there was a clear winner for me, IBM (Pittsburgh)

Whereas the other offers I had involved more of a mix of UX Research and interaction design (40/60), the Pittsburgh office would give me the opportunity to focus on UX Research (which is what I wanted) while still giving me some work in interaction design (80/20). My manager had a research background and was clearly committed to it, having contributed heavily to some of the company’s learning materials involving UX Research. However, she had a balanced team that had a UX Designer, visual designer, and many front-end developers with design skills.

Given the limited number of UX Researchers in some of the other design teams, I would also have the opportunity to help other teams as part of a “User Research SWAT” team. This has been an great experience since it has allowed me to work with other teams, sometimes finding opportunities to collaborate between teams.

The team was very enthusiastic and collaborative, and I liked their personalities. Clearly nice people with a great sense of humor, and also with similar interests as mine outside of work (video games, board games, music)


1 month left until joining IBM full-time!

Crazy it’s already been almost a year since I interned with IBM Design. Currently I’m in Atlanta getting ready to move back to Pittsburgh, the city where I lived before coming back to grad school. This time I’ll be joining IBM again but as a full-time user researcher and designer, not just an intern. Looking forward to it!

I also wonder how the first-year students are doing on their internships. Most have already left, though not all. I hope to hear good things from them when they get back


Quick update as I approach graduation

Wow, this semester has flown by! Lots of important updates, both personal and work-related

I’m now engaged to my lovely fiancee 🙂

I will be moving back to Pittsburgh where I met said lovely fiancee and will be working as a user researcher and designer for the IBM Watson team.

Going to CHI this coming Sunday

Working on a full-paper submission for CHI ’15

Graduation May 2nd

A more substantial update to come. Can’t wait to graduate so I can relax a bit. Lots of books to read, both HCI and non-HCI, as well as music to work on before starting full-time


Convergence and divergence in the design process: diversity of ideas and opinions leads to great insights

This is a recent response for a course where I had to read chapters 5-8 of the very well-written book “Rapid Contextual Design” by Holtzblatt, Wendell, and Wood.


One detail I would like to focus on is the emphasis on diversity that is placed throughout the book, especially in chapters 5-8. I appreciate the author’s constant mention of this need. In my work in graduate school, I have found that the best work I have done has come from working with those from vastly different backgrounds since we not only have different skillsets but also different ways of approaching problems. I have had the pleasure of working with very talented programmers without design backgrounds, as well as very talented designers without programming experience. Being in the middle of those two in terms of skills, I also add a background in psychology and philosophy that I have found very complementary.

While I would consider all of my teammates in my projects in grad school thus far to be excellent, I have also found that I work best with one particular person in my program. Part of this has to do with being friends outside of the classroom, but a large reason for our successful collaboration is our predictably different way of considering design solutions that has become a running joke due to its reliability. Even when I try to do otherwise, my tendency is to use inductive reasoning to attempt to find general theories based on specific use cases. Based on these abstractions, I converge again to create my own use case. She on the other hand does the opposite and focuses on general principles and then uses deductive reasoning to create a detailed use case. While I would not call these strictly “top-down” versus “bottom-up” approaches, they are clearly quite different and have led to a variety of strong projects.

On a related note on diversity, as has been mentioned in class, many of these methods are borrowed from various disciplines. Perhaps most surprising (to me at least) is the amount of borrowing that has been done by business and management methods. Seeing how I have been trained and worked in academic environments (psychology research and now HCI), I have been raised in a learning environment where “living solely to make a profit” and “the corporate world” are usually seen as “corrupt”. Clearly, thinking of money is not a bad thing, but devoting a career to become a banker or other financial position can be interpreted as “selling out” (this has been said by every professor I’ve had the pleasure to work with). This perspective makes it all the more ironic when one considers that many essential “UX” and “HCI” methods such as affinity diagramming came from a group of Japanese researchers who wanted to create tools to assist in managing ideas [1].

Interestingly, different organizations use different names for these methods. One particular example that comes to mind is when I spoke with a Google recruiter recently. On my resumé, I listed several design skills (such as “affinity diagramming” and “stakeholder mapping”). The recruiter asked if I had done “tree analysis” for guiding usability tests. I admitted that I had not, in fact, heard of such a method and asked her to clarify. She then explained what amounted to a description of a “Tree diagram”, a method from the Japanese scientists [1], which I learned in grad school to be titled a “hierarchical task analysis”. Similarly, upon reviewing these seven planning tools, I realized that my stakeholder mapping experience could also be described as an “arrow diagram” or even a “consolidated sequence model” with all five work models (if one were to use Holtzblatt et al’s terminology).

To summarize, diversity and divergent thinking can lead to great insights and even more so when paired with effective convergent thinking. However, one must also ensure that terms and concepts are clearly outlined and defined in a manner similar to Holtzblatt et al in order to avoid confusion due to potential differences across disciplines


What makes a good UX researcher portfolio? Part 3: Presentation (Project Page)

I’ve finished updating my own portfolio with a few projects I completed over Fall of 2013. I’ve also redone a lot of the project posts for previous work.
To recap my original post on designing a portfolio, there are three essential components:
  1. Organization of the content
  2. Visual presentation of the content
  3. Textual presentation of the content

There are also three qualities or features that each one of these should present

  1. Clarity
  2. Conciseness
  3. Context

Some feedback I received from my original portfolio was that the process I outlined was super detailed. Yet, at the same time, some recruiters, hiring managers, and UX practitioners who interviewed me appreciated the brief but clear outline I provided. This clash is something we all face in building our portfolio. I decided to stick with the brief approach in order to focus recruiters’ attention on my critical thinking and writing skills since I am looking for UX research and UX design jobs rather than positions more focused on visual design or development. This rationale and outline was inspired by a great article in Smashing Magazine

An interesting insight from one conversation during an interview, as well as several conversations during my internship, was that recruiters wished portfolios could be designed in multiple ways for multiple audiences. While at first this idea of a “context-aware” portfolio may seem difficult to actually build, I thought of an appropriate solution. At its core, this trade-off is an issue anyone in UX faces:

  • trying to summarize months or years of work into an outline with tangible and actionable items
  • trying to detail the journey and the process of solving a design problem without being overly detailed

Based off of these conversations, I rethought the next iteration of Rather than try and solve both problems with a single interface and outline, I decided to have two separate views for eacah project:

  • a slightly shorter version of my original “research outline”. I named this view the “Executive Summary”
  • a detailed chronological description of the work involved in the project, appropriately titled “Design Process”

The “Executive Summary” focused on brief and concise text with links to relevant materials such as reports, posters, or other deliverables.

The “Design Process” focuses on a linear description of the work involved in a project. However, it starts off with a brief overview to frame the question, stages of the project, and any key deliverables or results (e.g., submitted to a conference). I use writing to explain design decisions and also include pictures of design artifacts where appropriate.

It is extremely difficult to be clear and concise while also providing appropriate amounts of context in a portfolio. This iteration of my website hopes to address both by acknowledging the difficulty through the creation of two separate views for each project. We’ll see what recruiters and UX professionals think!


Design insights from reframing your research question

Can’t believe my master’s program here at Georgia Tech is almost done! These two years have flown by. Been a busy week already too. The CHI Student Design and Research competitions were yesterday so I was working on those over winter break. Finally figured out my courses. Now updating my portfolio with recent projects.

I had an interesting insight this morning in regards to the WIC project. I still need to think about this more, but I have realized that the focus of my project should not be on technology itself. I did user research in the fall and learned about WIC parents’ familiarity with technology, their preferences for technology, and values (such as convenience, desire to learn, and trust in content) that affected these preferences.

The goal for this semester was to focus on testing technology (mobile app, text messaging, digital kiosk, website) to see which one is most effective for delivering information about children’s development. However, I was having difficulty envisioning how to address this question through user testing. I reframed the most basic question: “What is needed in technology to track milestones”? and listed different features. I realized there was a mismatch between some technologies. I also noticed some are much more critical than others in terms of delivering basic information (e.g., “View a list of milestones” is essential, as compared to “notifications”). Others still are more critical in terms of ACTUALLY getting parents to use whatever technology (e.g., seeing example pictures of each milestone may be extremely helpful)

I am going to use the Kano method, a tool that arose from market research in order to find what features most impacted customer loyalty, to determine which features are most important.

Sometimes it really is all about taking a step back and rethinking why you’re doing research in the first place. Great insights can arise 🙂


Qualitative Data Analysis

I am learning so much in grad school, and arguably the skill in which I have improved the most (besides programming) is qualitative data analysis. I started using Excel back in the 6th grade for Science Fair projects. Crazy to think that was in 1999. I took advanced math courses throughout high school and then continued to use my analysis skills when working in psychology labs at Duke and Carnegie Mellon.

For this WIC project, however, there are no sophisticated quantitative analysis, at least that I have done so far, since almost all of my data is qualitative notes based on interviews.

The experience has been very enjoyable however and in a way has reminded me of detective work. I know the “culprit” (lack of awareness of children’s development) and am now looking for contextual clues as to how parents approach (or don’t) the problem. The focus of the interview is asking parents how they find information related to children’s health and why they prefer that method. I also present them with five different options for learning about children’s development (kiosks, booklets, texts, website, smartphone app) and ask them to rank them in order of preference. Again, I ask them why they ranked these tools the way they did.

While clearly each parent brings a unique perspective, three core values are consistently emphasized. Each one is also associated with a preference for learning about children’s development:

  1. Convenience/ease of access (prefer text messaging and/or phone apps)
  2. Interest/ desire to learn (prefer website and/or booklet)
  3. Trustworthiness of information (prefer kiosk in WIC/doctor’s clinic or asking a doctor in person)

It also contrasts interestingly with a text analysis assignment I did in an information visualization course I am taking. We had to find the “hidden terrorist plot” in a set of 50 FAKE (this was not real!!!!) documents using software our professor implemented. Here we had no direction however, so it was frustrating taking a shot at the dark. Additionally, in the scenario presented, we only had 50 documents and could not “look up” any additional. We could of course Google things to look for potential relationships between the entities mentioned in the documents (e.g., looking up where there are major airports in the US since several cities are mentioned in the documents as potential targets). For the WIC project, I had the benefit of interviewing additional parents, which I did, in order to get a clearer picture of patterns of behavior. I was not restricted in any way, besides the fact that I had to limit the duration of these interviews.