Fresh Faces is a collection of stories from people who have just begun their UX career. These stories are direct from people just like you, who went through the ups and downs, stuck with it, and successfully found their own path into UX.
Today, I’d like to introduce you to Samyukta Sherugar. I love her story. Sam talked openly with me about making the transition into UX, what she learned while interviewing for different UX positions, and what made her stand out from the crowd.
Hi Sam, tell me a little about your background.
I did my undergrad in information technology which is basically computer science. After two internships in development and graduation, I went into my first full-time software job at Oracle.
You used to be an Applications Engineer at Oracle, what made you decide to transition to UX?
Once I was at Oracle, it was quickly apparent to me that writing code all day and fixing bugs was not something I resonated with. I liked thinking about the higher level details about the product: why are we making these design changes, what will users prefer, etc.
I was thinking UX without knowing about it as a field.
Eventually, I started working on front-end projects and got to work with some folks in UX at Oracle. This gave me an inkling of what I could do next.
In 2014, I started finding friends who were studying design, learned of a discipline called HCI, figured Georgia Tech was a good school for HCI, and then I applied. I joined Georgia Tech in 2015 and that was really the beginning of a formal UX education.
What’s your current role and what does your day-to-day entail?
Currently, I am a qualitative UX researcher at Google for a product called AdMob. On a daily basis:
- I work on my evaluative/generative research study plans
- Work with recruiters to find the right participants
- Run studies
- Analyze data
- Communicate insights to key stakeholders (it’s important to communicate and share the results)
- Provide consultation to designers and product managers. At this time it’s important to be the voice of the user based on my gathered insights
To get a job at Google, I assume you did a few things differently to stand out. Can you give an example of what you did?
Honestly, I wouldn’t call my approach unique, but I would say I pushed myself very hard during my job search. I started early, which I would recommend – not because that increases the potential of landing a job – but because you can learn so much about yourself during that interview process! Interviewing is like a muscle. The more you do it, the better you get at it.
For my first interview, I went in with all my projects in my head.
I learned that it’s more important to remember what I learned through each project than what I delivered.
For Google specifically, I had to present a research deck of one of my projects. I chose the project that I was most passionate about and practiced the presentation with a few different people (designers and researchers). This really helped improve the deck and presentation skills.
Can you describe a design challenge that was given to you during an interview?
When I interviewed with one firm, they asked me to, in one hour, wireframe out the user flow for a carpooling app. This had nothing to do with the product the team was working on which was nice and given the timeframe it really helped that I could already relate to the design needs.
This was one of my first design challenges, so I wasn’t too coherent and ultimately didn’t end up getting the role, but it was excellent practice for the future.
Walk through the process of how you got your first UX job.
It was a constantly ongoing process. I updated it as and when I read about “portfolio best practices”. It’s still not perfect but eventually, I edited it to work as a presentation piece while I spoke during my interview.
I also looked at a lot of portfolios. I never duplicated someone else’s template…it would never feel like my space. However, everyone has great ideas and it’s good inspiration to do this for a while and then work on your portfolio.
Practicing the trade:
I did UX stuff. Sounds very generic, but every time I did a design or research project, I learned a tonne but I also felt so confident in my own abilities which is very important during job hunting season.
Hackathons. I ended up going to the Marta hackathon without it being part of any job plan.
Best. Idea. Ever.
Working with an interdisciplinary team to work out a solution in 24 hours is a great UX exercise. It was also an excellent story to share in my interviews. We won the hackathon, but I think it would have been just as useful even if we hadn’t.
Landing the interview:
Applying online: I wouldn’t recommend this approach at all for UX jobs. It does help to learn about role descriptions and qualifications. However, it won’t get you an interview.
Networking: Formal networking events, it turns out, are not my thing, so I stopped trying to make this my main job search method.
LinkedIn: Was very useful. I got a call from NN/g based on having a fully updated LinkedIn site. Recruiters pay attention to LinkedIn so this helped get a few calls.
Conferences: I went to CHI in May this year which is where I met a UX research who was hiring, at the Google booth. I ended up getting an interview call based on that conversation. I feel CHI is so HCI focused that meeting a recruiter/team who is specifically looking for UX is highly likely. Career conferences at Georgia Tech never worked for me.
Referrals from known people: This is also an excellent resource. Write to friends and connections in company’s you want to work for. It worked for me at times.
Like I said earlier, other interviews really helped me learn about interviewer’s expectations, my strengths and weaknesses, perfect my self-pitch. It also helped me think on my feet. I kept reading about other UXers experiences on Medium which mentally prepped me on what to expect.
It was such a stressful time for me, I have to highlight the importance of having supportive friends who share their journeys truthfully so you know that it’s not just you who’s going through this process. It also helps to go meet them and vent on days you just have a bad interview.
How did you manage your lack of experience in UX?
Initially, I felt like an outsider looking in but only until my first project. Once I started practicing the skill, I knew it was up to me to learn and find people who can help me get where I needed to be.
I stopped telling myself that I lacked in experience. The great thing about UX is that everyone comes from different backgrounds. So lack of experience in UX just means greater domain experience in some other field – in my case computer science.
I learned to use that to add to my skillset – to have conversations with diverse groups of people.
You describe yourself as a storyteller. Why is that?
I’d seen enough portfolios to know that it was important to describe myself in a few words at the top of my portfolio. Why storyteller specifically? Because I am great at telling stories. Having it up there also reminded me of my own unique communication style. I feel that being able to communicate research findings by rooting my audience in the ‘user story’ is a great way for them to empathize and relate to the findings.
A couple of days ago my co-researcher wasn’t onboard with one of my hypotheses. When I went on to describe to him ‘Imagine the person is in this ABC situation…’ and communicated my idea in a quick story. This helped him understand exactly what I mean, and why it was important for our users.
What advice would you give to someone who is ready to start looking for a job in UX?
Start doing. Take on projects. Create artifacts (pictures, wireframes, designs, findings).
Portfolio: I’ve taken the advice that imagines someone is going to skim one project in under 30 seconds. Show them you know how to go from start to finish through images. (this is an over-simplification but it’s good advice IMO, especially for research)
For research: Have a research deck prepared and focus on the learnings for you rather than just the findings for that project.
Start looking for positions everywhere, find what methods of job hunt works for you and then put your efforts there.
UXers are awesome. They write lovely medium articles about their interviewing experiences. Find and read these.
Be active on LinkedIn.
Attend conferences that make sense for the field you are applying to.
If people want to reach out to you, where’s the best place to do so?
On LinkedIn. I ended up having the app on my phone during interviewing, and so I check that often.