Mariah Hay has built product organizations for some years now, most recently for the publicly traded company, Pluralsight. She was directly involved in growing its product team from 150 to 600 contributors in just a short couple of years.

In today’s episode, she shares some of the insights gained in helping design those organizations to function at a high level, and what it takes to distribute information to all key players on those teams.

Additionally, we spend a lot of time talking about job titles. For the early-stage UX Designer, this is something you MUST listen to.

You can find more of Mariah below:
Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mariahhay/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/mariahhay
Talk: https://vimeo.com/288526528

Please Subscribe either on Youtube or on any of the popular podcasting platforms.

Designed Today brings you insights to help bridge the world of Design & Business. Learn how you can improve your design, branding, marketing, and advertising skills all in one place. In this show, we’ll explore the startup world, flexing the entrepreneurial muscles, from a user experience perspective.

Transcription

Dillon Winspear:

My guest today is the extremely talented Mariah Hay. And she knows a thing or two about organizing product teams. Welcome back to another episode of Design Today. I’m your host, Dillon Winspear. We’ve got a treat for you today. I know I say that at every episode, but I swear these episodes are getting better and better as I’ve got great guests who are willing to donate their time to help all of us. So before we get into this episode with Mariah Hay, I want to take an opportunity to plug some of the other great things that are happening with Design Today.

First and foremost, we have a Slack community. If you’ve been listening to hopefully, you know this already, but we’ve got a Slack community and we want you to join us. So if you’d like to join, head to designtoday.com and search for the community page, and there you will receive your email invite after you give some name and information. Additionally, there’s a free resource now out and available under the course’s page on the Design Today website. It’s a free resource, a free course I just finished putting together a week ago all for helping UX designers put their resume together. So if you are someone who is needing a revamped resume, go ahead and check out that free course. And let me know what you think of it.

Dillon Winspear:

Now, back to the episode today, Mariah Hay is an extremely talented individual. She has worked for some great tech companies here in Utah. The top of that list I think where everyone’s starting to get more familiar with Mariah Hay, she was a Vice President of Product at Pluralsight. I think she did that for about three years. And then she became the Senior Vice President and the Head of Practices for about a year after that. Spending four years at Pluralsight and building extremely large functional organizations has been her key to success. And she knows a thing or two about the ins and outs of putting those organizations together. Since leaving Pluralsight a couple months back, she now works as a Vice President of Product at a company called Help Scout, another great company that she’s now building and structuring.

So needless to say, she knows a thing or two about organizational behavior and management, and she can help us understand some of the ins and outs of that from both a leadership perspective and somebody who’s getting on board and hiring and being hired at a new company. So I think she’ll have a lot of good things to say and a lot of good things to share. She’s also got a few thoughts on job titles and you might want to pay close attention to that one there as well. So without further delay, let’s go ahead and jump into this episode of Design Today, featuring Mariah Hay. Mariah, thank you so much for your time.

Mariah Hay:

Oh, thanks for having me, Dillon.

Dillon Winspear:

This is a really cool opportunity for me, for the listeners to have you on here. I told you this when I first messaged you, that I’ve wanted to have you on the podcast for a long time. It’s taken me a while to get a little bit of courage to ask someone like you to join us. But there have been a lot of listeners have always reached out and said, you need to get Mariah on this podcast. So thank you very much.

Mariah Hay:

I’m so honored. I appreciate you asking me. I’m always happy to do things like this and share my lens with people. I think that’s how you grow as an industry.

Dillon Winspear:

Yeah. I knew you would be willing to do it. There was never a doubt one mind that you’d be mean and shut me down or anything like that because you have been very active in the community. You’ve always been very helpful and I know early-stage UX designers have always looked to you as a mentor. They appreciate what you’re doing to help them in the process. So I knew it wouldn’t be a stretch to ask you and that you’d be willing, but there’s always that bit of nervousness, you know,

Mariah Hay:

That’s fair.

Dillon Winspear:

And then, this is also the first podcast that I’ve recorded since this whole pandemic hit. And so this is a unique opportunity. So again, I appreciate your willingness to come in and do this here with me. We’ve got a treat as far as the topic to discuss today and I’m really excited to get into it. But before we get too into our theme and topic, I want to give those who are not familiar with Mariah Hay a little bit of background, how you got to be where you’re at today in product, a little bit of… Yeah, what’s your come up story? I guess that’s how I’ll phrase it.

Mariah Hay:

Well, it’s funny. A lot of parents don’t want their kids to be artists because they worry about them supporting themselves. Well, if your parents are artists, they don’t want you to be a theater major because they’re worried about you supporting yourself. So I actually started out being really involved in theater in high school and college, but quickly, I kind of realized that wasn’t the path I wanted to go down. And so I went into an art program because people typically tend to mimic their parents when it comes to career choices. They see what’s around them and they try to make that same path happen.

And it was kind of towards the end of college when I just, you know I’m a good technical artist, but I just didn’t really have anything to say with art. And I decided to take a trip and spend a semester at the London Institute in London, in England. And I was making these weird little artifacts in a small metals program that solves problems for people with a story behind them. And one of my professors said to me, “Have you ever thought about product design?” And I thought, what’s product design? Well, back then product design meant physical product development, industrial design, cars, manufactured goods, tables, you name it, anything that’s mass-produced. And so I started to study that and the candle light bulb went off in my head and I’m like, oh, I can create something and solve problems for other humans. How cool is that?

So I went into a graduate program in industrial design and I ran into human-centered design philosophy of how you go learn from a human contextually and translate that into creating solutions for them. So the program that I was in really lent itself to exploring human-centered design in all dimensions of product and experience, which could be architecture, spaces, physical product design, graphic design, you name it, anything that solves a problem. And so as I went into my career, even though I started out in physical product design, believe it or not, I was a luggage and business case designer right out of graduate school, out of New York, which was super interesting, but I quickly, the B2C app market in 2007 went kind of hockey sticked as Apple brought the iTunes store online. And a lot of industrial designers moved into that space because at our heart, we are problem-finders and problem-solvers. And so that’s really how I moved into the digital space.

Dillon Winspear:

I’m kind of envious of that journey a little bit, because 2007, I was not in this career field and it would have been really exciting to see the changes that were taking place right there. What was your experiences? What do you remember in those years as people were moving more to technology and those types of products? What was your experience in that?

Mariah Hay:

So in 2007, it was really interesting because Facebook was starting to explore markets outside of universities and social media started to become the hot new app that everybody wanted to create. And in fact, one of my very first jobs in digital design as an interaction designer was a social media company for parents and children that complied to the COPPA laws, which in the United States require children under the age of 13, not to post their personal information online, which are still in effect today. I’m sure everybody breaks them, but people were trying to explore and solve some of these problems as social media uptake became more and more adopted.

Dillon Winspear:

Sure.

Mariah Hay:

So you started to see more online community presence at the same time the app market was going crazy. And so now you’ve got a whole lot of products that are… Software used to be B2B and people only interacted with software in the context of work. And so people didn’t care about user experience because companies would buy the stuff anyway and said, it doesn’t matter if it’s pretty, it doesn’t matter if it works well, it gets the job done. Why invest more? Suddenly people get to make their own choice and you start to see the rise and importance of user experience in software and application development.

Dillon Winspear:

Yeah, that’s interesting. And I’m sure people were kind of timid as they were getting into that space too. They don’t know the boundary that they can push yet because it’s so new. Whereas, today here we are 13 years past that and I think that line is pretty identified, but there are definitely companies that are still pushing that line on a yearly basis. So it would be very interesting just to see how people slowly start to flip their way into that niche.

Mariah Hay:

Well, you’re actually going to start seeing some really interesting spaces for UX design.

Dillon Winspear:

Oh, tell me.

Mariah Hay:

We’re going to move out of interaction design from a graphic user interface into interactive voice design, like Siri, as the technology behind things like Siri can get smarter. There are designers who design vocal cadences, how you have a conversation that feels more natural, how you bridge something called the uncanny valley and those kinds of things. Also, facial recognition and how that’s applied. I know yesterday, IBM just announced they are dropping their facial recognition software program because they’re worried about the racial impact that the software will have because their software is actually not doing a great job identifying people of color, particularly black people and women. Surprise, surprise it’s a bunch of white guys designing it. And they’re worried that, if you have software that isn’t tuned well and you give it to say something like a police force, they might misidentify people. And that has real impact on people’s lives in a negative way. So IBM put that stake in the ground, but those are the kinds of things the future of user experience design in my opinion.

Dillon Winspear:

Well now, so is IBM dropping it altogether?

Mariah Hay:

Yes.

Dillon Winspear:

It seems like that technology though, we’re going to continue to need.

Mariah Hay:

Yes, but they don’t want to be part of it.

Dillon Winspear:

Who’s better suited then?

Mariah Hay:

You know, it’s funny. I saw, I can’t remember, another company came out yesterday after IBM said that and said they are putting a pin in their development for the next year because they’re like the technology just isn’t there yet. I don’t know. I would think that people like IBM would be well-positioned. I’m sure they are trying to set a precedence in the industry for ethical responsibility.

Dillon Winspear:

It’s wild. I mean, it’s, again, something that needs to be addressed, needs to have people willing to participate in the space, but they’re such a double-edged sword that could come from it.

Mariah Hay:

Completely.

Dillon Winspear:

You know, Domo has been looking at working with companies getting back into the workplace. And one of the things that is becoming more and more prevalent, Disney announces a month or so back is that there’ll be doing temperature scanning at the gate entrances. And there’s a lot of ways to do temperature scanning. There’s things like body scanning, thermal readings. There’s obviously the touchless thermometers that they can kind of go across the forehead. There’s a lot of different ways, but how do you do it most efficiently? Well, there’s technology, there’s software out there to read groups of people coming in, read body temperatures for groups of people coming in. And that software, it’s going to need to continue to get worked on over and over and fine-tuned. And we need companies that are going to be willing to put their best foot forward in it, but it could be a double-edged sword.

Mariah Hay:

Yeah. I think that one of the things I’ve been speaking about the last couple of years as I go speak at conferences is if you are practicing human-centered design, it can help you avoid some of the ethical pitfalls that can come from working in these technologies by always going, how will what I create impact the lives and livelihood of the people that it is meant to serve.

Dillon Winspear:

Yeah. That’s interesting. Not the topic that we’re here to talk about-

Mariah Hay:

No. Sorry.

Dillon Winspear:

… but it’s very interesting because it’s very timely to what we’re talking about right now. And we kind of went down that path because you’re telling me a little bit about your experience in 2007, how you started getting into this space. And we talk about how the evolution of this space is going to continue to move as we look into the future. Tell me and the listeners a little bit about what you’ve been doing for the last few years.

Mariah Hay:

Yeah. For the last few years I’ve been working for a company called Pluralsight and their goal is to make technology education accessible to a global audience. Mostly from a customer standpoint, from a sales perspective of what keeps the lights on is we’re trying to help larger enterprises solve their skilling up, skill maintaining problems and aligning skills in their company with company strategy and where they’re trying to go. That’s kind of the bread and butter, but we definitely have a bigger vision. And then Pluralsight One is their arm, which helps nonprofits that helps underserved populations and communities.

Mariah Hay:

So I’ve been working on that product as a whole, and I’ve been leading teams over there looking at interactive types of education, looking at how you smartly assess humans and be able to put them in a more personalized curriculum than just the normal, like say you want to you go join a college. Everybody gets the same curriculum. Well through technology, we can actually assess people more thoroughly so they’re not repeating skill, education stuff they’ve already got.

Dillon Winspear:

Interesting. Okay. And your organization, when you were at Pluralsight, what did that look like? What were the genetic makeup of that team that you were working with?

Mariah Hay:

Yeah. Well, I joined Pluralsight when we had about eight cross-functional teams, product teams, which is product manager, product designer, four to eight engineers, maybe a data person. And over the four and a half years I spent there, we grew that organization from teams to almost 50.

Dillon Winspear:

Wow.

Mariah Hay:

So we had a lot of teams. Over my time there, I had worked on content creation to enable our authors to be more effective at creating content for us. I worked on the acquisition and integration of two companies, one with smart skills’ assessment and one with interactive educational content that was really hands-on learning. And then towards the end of my time there, we had completely changed our organizational design to better serve that large group of teams and align them around strategy. And I became head of practices, which means that the head of engineering, design, product management and data practices all reported to me and we set the standards for the skills needed on the teams, how we empower those individual contributors and teams and the practices we use to create product for those areas.

Dillon Winspear:

Wow. I mean, that’s a lot of people you’re talking about.

Mariah Hay:

Yeah. It was a large group.

Dillon Winspear:

How many people on those from going from eight teams to 50 teams, how many people was that?

Mariah Hay:

150 to 600.

Dillon Winspear:

600 people on those teams.

Mariah Hay:

Yeah. I hired 150 people in 2019 to add to the org.

Dillon Winspear:

Oh, my goodness. Well, it makes sense why you needed that new building.

Mariah Hay:

Yes. They were outgrowing our buildings like kids outgrow their pants.

Dillon Winspear:

That is amazing. So what are some of the challenges or the hurdles that you face in hiring 150 people in a year?

Mariah Hay:

Well, part of our organizational design change was meant to create a central funnel for hiring. Instead of having different leaders sourcing their own product managers and having a million product manager job postings out in the world, you centralize it and you have one or two central ones that your local market can apply to. And then you have a streamlined process to vet people and only then do you consider the top people for the teams. So we completely revamped the way that we were hiring, which enables us to create consistent ways in how we are looking at people’s skills, assessing them, making sure that we have diversity of background and ethnicity and skills across the teams and making sure that they have the support that they need when we’re onboarding them. So people get the same consistent experience, the same message, understand how we work the same way. And that’s really how you create that kind of velocity in hiring.

Dillon Winspear:

So that gets us closer now to the theme that we wanted to start talking about, a little bit more about organizational design here, right?

Mariah Hay:

Yes.

Dillon Winspear:

And you’ve obviously had ample experience with this in the past. And I liked that angle that you were just talking about, obviously you’ve got candidates that you’re trying to bring into the company, but you also got leaders who need to onboard those candidates in the same consistent manner. I mean, you’re facing a lot of different challenges all at the same time. So let’s speak a little bit to some of those things that you had to do to train or teach those managers who are bringing people on. What was critical to that process that you’ve done?

Mariah Hay:

Well, it’s funny. We moved from an organizational design where we had a head of engineering, a head of product and under product was both product management and product design and then head of content because Pluralsight also is a content creation team, just like Netflix have people that create content in addition to developing their platform. And that worked for a long time for us. But around the time we started to hit like 30 teams, 35 teams, the problem with that model is everybody is reporting to a discipline specific leader. Engineers are reporting to engineering managers, product folks are reporting to product leaders, content to content.

Mariah Hay:

And what happens now is at the leadership level, it’s very difficult to manage strategy of where everyone is going in the same direction. Because if you’re a product manager or a product leader of product managers and product designers, you are kind of responsible for three things. You are responsible for hiring and the practices that those folks use and their skills. The second one is you’re responsible for the business of running product, so cadence and planning, and you were also responsible for the strategy, but when you have so many people co-parenting team strategy gets lost.

Mariah Hay:

So what we did was we moved to a model where we could organize groups of teams and what we call business units and say, you’d have eight teams focused on all of the different components of our learner experience. They would have a leader that was disciplined agnostic, which means that leader was not focused on solely on the discipline or how the teams are, ways of working the practices. They’re focused on the strategy and their job is to work with the other business unit leaders to really create that clarity. And when you’re at that size of org, you have to have that. You can no longer, jobs get more specific and smaller in scope the larger an organization gets.

Mariah Hay:

So we had those. And then we had my team, which is why I moved to head of practices. The head of engineering practices, data practices, product management practices, and product design practices, each had teams of principals, principal engineers, principal product managers, and those principals were deployed out to the business units. And we’re kind of the mini-CPO seat, CXOs. They were kind of the mini heads of the discipline and the right arm of the business unit leaders so that the principals weren’t focused on the strategy. They were aware of it and they helped the business unit leaders hire to it, staff to it, plan to it, but they weren’t in charge of the strategy. They were in charge of making sure that those teams were aligned staff-wise to what the strategy was.

Dillon Winspear:

So how did you get communication then from top-down to those team, like unit leaders?

Mariah Hay:

So communication-

Dillon Winspear:

Like strategies specifically is what you’re talking about. How to get strategy down, how do you get them to buy in and then be able to deploy that to the teams?

Mariah Hay:

… Well, it was kind of, it was a new exercise for us. So the business unit leaders were responsible for all coordinating together to figure out higher level outcomes we were trying to create that were linked to Pluralsight market strategies we were trying to go after. Pluralsight and the CEO, Aaron Skonnard, they would say, hey, we’re not going to go after Japan, but we’re going to go make sure we’re covering Europe. And so we directionally understood what markets we needed to cover. We aren’t going to go after K-12, but we are going to look at higher education, those kinds of things. And so then the business unit leaders could get together and say, all right, if those are the people we’re trying to serve, where are we going to focus our efforts of the teams on? Then you can get the teams together and go, what are you seeing in all of your day-to-day interaction with customers so we could triangulate the outcomes?

Dillon Winspear:

Interesting.

Mariah Hay:

And the principals were there to be part of that org and participate and help get there from a discipline perspective. So the designers were all aligned. So the product managers are all aligned. So the engineers are all aligned. It was a great scaling function for us.

Dillon Winspear:

That’s very cool. I mean, that’s intriguing because a lot of people, I mean, we’ve had great economy so lot of people have been building companies, teams are growing probably faster than they’re ready to grow. And they’re running into these types of challenges. It’s really fascinating to learn how you guys were tackling those challenges. Talk to me a little bit about employee satisfaction and retention because that’s another topic that we wanted to get a little bit into. You know, we live in a day and age where there are a lot of successful, big name companies that people want to work for. But like we are seeing up to this pandemic, the economy was doing great. A lot of startups were growing and now they’re trying to compete for talent that more, some of the bigger companies are hiring.

Dillon Winspear:

Some of those bigger companies can put better packages together for hiring talent, the smaller startups can’t quite compete with those packages. And so one of the things that you and I talked about as we were preparing for this podcast was titles. Job titles tend to attract new talent. So tell me a little bit about your experience when it came to job titles, employee satisfaction and retention.

Mariah Hay:

Yeah. So it’s super interesting employee satisfaction and retention. If you look at HR reports, most people on exit interviews will say that they have left because they haven’t had the ability to grow in their career or experience new things. And that can mean three different things in my opinion. The three levers that companies and leaders have to pull are title, money or compensation and the responsibility scope. And so to what you’re saying, the smaller startups will say, Oh, you’ll be director, you’ll be VP. You’ll manage this. You’ll be head of that. And those titles don’t really mean anything, but you and I know that we’re proud of what we put on our LinkedIn. And so they have a social currency. The sad thing is though, I think that when people are earlier in their career, they don’t realize that a VP of product at a 30-person startup is probably more like a mid-level product manager at a company like Pluralsight.

And I think that can be frustrating because you just don’t have the lens and understanding of how these levers are pulled. And same thing goes with scope of responsibility. The interesting thing, a startup company or a smaller company, your scope of responsibility is much larger. You get to touch a lot more things, but you won’t ever get super concentrated and deep in the weeds on stuff like they would get necessarily at a larger company. And I’ve seen that switch. I’ve worked in eight-person startup companies. I’ve worked in 5,000-person corporations and kind of everything in-between.

And you know, it’s fascinating. I personally made a choice recently where my title actually looked like a demotion and I even moved to a smaller company to do it. But the reason why I moved was my scope of responsibility was very different. It was much larger. So the best thing that people can do when they’re making decisions around career moves is really, I know the title like feels good, but at the end of the day, it’s not going to make you more satisfied. And if you’re interviewing for another job and that interviewing manager is worth their salt, they can quickly suss out what your skill is. So the title has very little to do with it.

Money is always important. It’s important to be compensated fairly for the work that you’re doing. In fact, the company I work at right now, Help Scout, I joined about six weeks ago. They have a really interesting policy. The company is all remote and they pay everybody based on Boston. Everybody. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in Argentina or whether you’re in London or whether you are here in Utah. Everybody gets paid based on Boston. They say equal pay for equal work, which is controversial because Facebook is just on the opposite where they’re like, you can go work anywhere, but we’re going to put your salary where, if you’re in Des Moines, Iowa, we’re going to pay you a Des Moines, Iowa product manager salary.

But yeah, so you have to make sure you’re compensated. But again, that is not going to be the thing that gives you the satisfaction. You need to make enough money that you’re not worried about it. And that you’re not like, what’s the next thing. How do I get the next raise? Companies are bad at raises. They’re bad at bonuses. They’re just bad at it. So bargain what you want to get paid for the next three years when you come in the door and then don’t worry about it. Just focus on your responsibility. That’s the most important thing.

So my personal choice recently, I moved to Help Scout from Pluralsight. A company that I loved, had been with for longer than anywhere I’ve been in my career because the scope of responsibility allowed me to sit at the executive level with the CEO and drive the strategy of the company, understand the go-to market and drive that, build out product to drive the engineering org and install human-centered design on the teams. So I was basically like Martha Stewart-ing this, like I can run the empire, but I’m in there baking the cookies.

The company’s 108 people, super interesting growth period to be there. And I want to be able to take them from, $22 million in revenue to 100 million. And it was the opportunity for me to do that, but I want from a SVP title back to a VP of product title, but they call all of their executives, VP. It’s just their personal naming convention. So I had to shake that off and be like, all right, Mariah, you don’t need to be called the chief product officer or chief experience officer. You know that’s what the role is, who cares? Who cares? Nobody actually cares. And then from a compensation, bargaining and compensation where I’m like, if I get paid this for the next three years, I’m totally okay with that.

Dillon Winspear:

You’re good. Lots to digests there. I want to backtrack just a little bit and then come back to one of your last points here. So I shared it with you on the phone my background prior to Domo was at three different startups. Two of which I had the title of creative director. Creative director at a company of 15 people does not mean a whole lot. And I was very aware of that all the time, but the title did feel good. It would have been, probably would have been actually demoralizing to be like entry-level or associate-level UX designer at a company of 15 people. That probably would have been demoralizing. But what I found is after those startups, I wanted to go work for a bigger company. And I quickly identify the fact that, the Domos, the Plurasights, the whoever, they weren’t looking to hire a creative director, those positions were probably already filled.

And so what I had to do is reassess what my LinkedIn and my resume looked like. And I went and changed my titles from my previous positions, from creative director to UX team lead because ultimately that is what I was doing. Small UX team of three to four, six individuals and I was just leading those teams. And I found that as soon as I did that, I started getting more traction from the corporations that I was interested in. So my common then is in this transition between individuals wanting to have a nicer job title, I found that that probably hurts them more than helps them longterm. Because if you were at a startup where you are now called a senior UX designer after a year in the field, and you want now come work for Pluralsight, what’s that going to look like for them?

Mariah Hay:

Well, as a hiring manager of UX designers, product managers, engineers at Pluralsight, I can tell you that we can pretty quickly assess how much time you’ve had behind the wheel, the scope of your responsibility. Again, I come back to the scope of your responsibility and what you’ve had the opportunity to work on and how long you’ve been doing it, what your blind spots are and how often you’ve been hitting them. That’s what really determines a seniority level. So the lip service of those titles, it might get somebody to look at your resume, but once they talk to you, it doesn’t matter. And so it’s actually better for you to align just like what you did, your background and experience to reflect what a hiring manager would be looking for so that they can imagine you in the role.

Dillon Winspear:

Is there a common or consistent level of responsibility then for someone who is a senior UX designer?

Mariah Hay:

Yes, but. And the yes, but is it’s the scale of the company. So in a smaller company, a senior UX designer might actually be leading all of design and design is probably not quite as sophisticated at a smaller company. You might have a team of three, four or five designers. You might not actually be their people manager, but you might lead them in philosophy, you mentor them in practice and you probably kind of work on lots of different things, but not very deeply. A senior UX designer at a company like Pluralsight, you might be working very much as an individual contributor on a team of people, your product manager, engineers, and you might be going real deep on a super wicked problem. Like how might we apply, oh, I don’t know, better algorithms to our search function for our library of 7,000 courses so that learners can quickly get to what they need? So it’s that’s kind of the difference between the two. And I would say you would need senior-level leadership roles, very confident in your skills for both. They just look a little different.

Dillon Winspear:

Sure. So then if I’m going to come in and interview at Pluralsight, I do have what I would quantify as senior-level UX experience. How do I present that then to help you understand my scope of responsibility?

Mariah Hay:

When I interview a UX designer, I am looking to talk through what they’ve worked on. Well, first I want to hear how passionate they are about product. I don’t want to hire somebody that I don’t want them to be in it for the pay. I don’t meet a lot of people that are in it for the pay. We have as a side effect, actually get paid really well. Coming from jobs early in my career, where UX designers sat in agencies, marketing agencies versus tech companies. The pay is like half of what it is in tech. So that’s why moving to tech, wasn’t a bad move, but I just want to hear their origin story about what gets them excited, because it also helps me imagine how they could be excited about what I’m interviewing them for in the work.

The second is learning about the work they’ve done walking through case studies, understanding what are their qualitative research skills, quantitative research skills. What kind of UIs have they worked on? What kind of products? Do they understand how to identify user problems, solve them with a really graceful and intuitive, interactive design, and then understand the business impact it has to the customer? How do you measure whether what you’ve designed has been successful? And those are the hallmarks that I see of somebody that sits in a senior seat.

Dillon Winspear:

Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. So now let me flip the coin a little bit and say, what if you are a junior-level UX designer and you get offered a senior level title at this startup, what do you recommend they do when in all reality, after listening to this podcast, they know, okay, that’s not a senior-level job, but that’s what they’re offering me. Now what do I do?

Mariah Hay:

You take it, but don’t fool yourself. I think that I talked to people that have two or three years under their belt and get that senior level title and they really think they’re senior. That’s the most dangerous thing. There is a philosophy around growth within any subject matter, including your career, where you start out as unconsciously incompetent, which means you don’t know what you’re doing wrong, and you don’t know that you’re doing it wrong. And then you get better and you suddenly become consciously incompetent. You start to know when you’re doing things wrong. And then you become unconsciously competent and you’re doing things right much more of the time, but you don’t realize when you’re doing it. And then when you’re at the top of it, you’re consciously competent.

So when you’re three years into your career, I guarantee you, you are not consciously competent in all of the different blind spots of like being a senior designer. So take the title. That’s totally fine. Leave it on your resume, but don’t focus on that title and don’t kid yourself that it means stuff. Actually, your scope of responsibility at that point in your career makes more of a difference than anything will.

Dillon Winspear:

I love that. I’ve not heard that before and that’s something I’m at to go back and listen to again, because it rings so true. I mean, I’ve thought about how in the beginning, and you see this with a lot of early designers, they think they know and understand UX, but they understand this narrow vision of UX and they don’t just, and it’s not a knock on them. It’s just that they haven’t seen the breadth and they haven’t kind of opened their eyes to what else is out there. So there’s a lot of confidence heading into that first position, a couple years into it they’ll go like, Oh wait, all that was there the whole time and I don’t know about that. And so the confidence takes a little bit of dip. You start dealing with what they’re going to call imposter syndrome or whatever we want to call it. I know that one’s kind of hotly debated, but, and then you start to, like you said, that you’re consciously making the right decisions consistently and that confidence then should hopefully come back up.

Mariah Hay:

Absolutely.

Dillon Winspear:

It’s an interesting journey that UX designers go through with this confidence and not knowing, and then knowing, and still always learning. I mean, it’s a real roller coaster.

Mariah Hay:

It is. And I think that I look on younger Mariah, and when I came out of grad school in industrial design, I was so confident. I knew all the things. Well, it’s because I had just done a four-year intensive program at a graduate level. But the reality was while I knew the philosophy and I understood the skills, what I was missing is I hadn’t done that skill once, five, 10 times in practice in industry. So that’s my other advice to junior designers. Just because you have read a book on it or done a school project on it, doesn’t mean that you have done it. You had your time behind the wheel matters. And again, that’s why I go back to scope of responsibility. If you look for jobs where you can spread your wings, make mistakes through learning, which we all do and all will for always. Embrace the painful growth, which also feels really good as you’re getting wins along the way. That’s the fastest way to move into more of a senior skill level.

Dillon Winspear:

Yeah. I love that. We’re kind of at time here, but I’m going to try and sneak in one more question just because we’re on a roll and I love these insights that you’re sharing here. What can a UX designer do to showcase passion in that UX interview?

Mariah Hay:

I think that a UX designer before they even interview can showcase that through making sure that the work that they post online has all of the details in it. It’s not a resume, it’s a case study. Talk to me about how you think through it, why you made those decisions, things that you messed up on, how you debated these. It really helps me get into the psychology and those are the people that I end up interviewing. Once I interview them, that will carry through and I can even dig into the details because if you case study all of your stuff, I can come into the interview and ask you even deeper questions about how you arrived at things and stuff that I might be curious about. And that depth of thought, people that are naturally passionate and curious, that’s how it comes out.

Dillon Winspear:

Yep. That makes a lot of sense. This has been so extremely insightful. I appreciate all of your time. Without fail, they’re going to be people going, how do I get in touch with Mariah? So go ahead and leave whatever plug you would like. How would you like people to reach out and find you, maybe ask follow-up questions?

Mariah Hay:

Absolutely. Well, I would say that the best ways to find me are both LinkedIn and Twitter. My Twitter handle is simple. It’s my name, @mariahhay. LinkedIn, you can find me at Mariah Hay. There’s not a ton of them either, so. And I think if you Google me like a bunch of my talks from different conferences will come up, so you might find some of that stuff interesting. There’s a really interesting 2018, Mind the Product talk I did on ethics and ethical responsibility and experienced teams. And there’s probably some other interesting stuff out there from old front conferences from Utah.

Dillon Winspear:

Cool. I’ll be sure to drop some of those links into the show notes so people can find that a little bit more easy. Mariah, thank you so much for your time.

Mariah Hay:

Oh, it was my pleasure, Dillon. Thanks again.

Dillon Winspear:

This has been another episode of Design Today. Thanks for listening.

Leave a Reply