Margaret Gray

Photo By: Taby Chang

Photo By: Taby Chang

Q: Tell us about yourself!

A: I make parade float costumes that win first place ribbons. I've met two celebrities in real life: Zac Efron and Joni Mitchell. I thought I was good at singing until a choir teacher told me I wasn't but I still sing as much, maybe more? My coolest job ever was writing parking tickets because I got to wear a walkie talkie and carry a clipboard. My least cool job ever (if you adhere to traditional definitions) was two summers at the Bowen Island Public Library but screw you society reading is cool. Right now, I work as a researcher at MetaLab, Canada’s (and perhaps the world’s) finest product agency.

 

Photo By: Lindsay Rutledge

Photo By: Lindsay Rutledge

Q: You’re a part of a team at MetaLab that’s designed some of the world’s most used apps, like Slack and Facebook Messenger. What do you do there?

A: I work as a researcher. My role is to equip our clients and our design teams with a winning product strategy that actually helps users. That means doing everything from marketplace and competitive research, to user interviewing and testing, to analyzing product data. Clients come to MetaLab because they know we can turn really complex problems into elegant solutions, and I’m part of that translation process.

Q: Can you explain what UX is and why we as consumers, individual contributors to businesses, and business owners should care about it?

A: UX stands for user experience. You’ll hear it appended to titles in the design world like UX designer, UX researcher, UX engineer. It’s a practice that’s expressed in a lot of different ways. What it means is that people apply their craft with the goal of creating the best experience for whoever ultimately makes use of their work. As a designer or an engineer, you’re making decisions on behalf of this person, and you want to do right by them. A UX researcher helps designers, engineers, and business leaders understand these people, which assists in making good decisions on their behalf. Think if you were trying to pick out an outfit for someone else. You’d do a better job of it if you knew a bit about them. What sizes they wear, what styles they like, what they’re self-conscious about, where they’ll wear the outfit, who they want to impress.

Consumers should care about UX because it’s a practice that’s useful in all realms of life. Do some reading on design thinking and you’ll see what I mean. A measured approach to optimizing your experience or someone else’s will help you achieve all sorts of goals.

Individual contributors should care about UX because a good user experience means you’ve done a good job. Whatever your role is. If you’re seeking to do great work, challenge yourself, better your skills, and produce something that positively impacts the world, think about the people who will be making use of your work.

Businesses should care about UX because the better their UX, the more their customers value their product, and the more likely they are to pay for it or recommend it to a friend. It’s a neat and tidy cost benefit analysis.

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Q: Tell us about a recent UX research project you worked on.

A: I’m cloaked in iron-clad NDAs when it comes to client work. My hair is not big but it’s still full of secrets. What I can do instead is describe the basics of my research process, and welcome anyone to reach out if they’d like protips.

My main task is to define how undefined our clients’ problems are. Do they have an existing platform, and they want a visual redesign? Defined problem. Barely any research needed; I probably don’t need to be involved. Do they have money and an idea and nothing else? VERY undefined. Much research needed. I know I’ve got to dive in, get weird, and spend real time understanding their space.

From there it’s:

  1. Write and share a research plan, including tactics, user profiles, costs, and timelines. I need the design team and the clients to be on board with it.

  2. Research! Interview, run tests, demo competing products, program surveys, whatever it takes. I keep the MetaLab team and the client engaged and involved throughout.

  3. Summarize insights about user needs, pain points, and priorities.

  4. Work with design team to decide: what features does a product require to meet the needs that research uncovered, and how should those features work?

  5. Share our recommendation with the client and refine until we’re ready to jump into design production.

 

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Q: How did you find yourself in the UX world?

A: I ask myself the same question regularly. My career has been like moving through a room full of funhouse mirrors-- I don’t know where I am or where I’m going but I’m having a good time.

Looking back, I’ve been heavily influenced by people I enjoy and admire. Every job I’ve had since the age of 12 I’ve gotten through a connection. I meet new people and they introduce me to new worlds of knowledge and the excitement of it all guided my career choices. I’ve met really smart, really cool people in the world of UX and software. They lured me in, I guess.

Of course, I do have a certain personality that settled into the space well. I’m:

  • Fascinated by people

  • A good listener

  • Confident

  • Equipped with a mind for strategy and an eye for detail

All in, I naturally excel at helping businesses build actually useful products. And research gives me an excuse to bother innocent citizens with esoteric questions.

 

Q: You’re one of the most self-taught people we know. How do you go about learning and accumulating knowledge for navigating your career?

A: I kind of alluded to this above, but I don’t particularly have career goals. I’m hardly ever thinking about what I can do to get to the ‘next level’, for better or for worse. I’m just thirsty for knowledge, and I go where my interests take me. I’m also grossly self-confident! I think I can do anything, and that’s mostly proven to be true… after a LOT of Googling, asking questions, and seeking out opportunities to test and grow myself. I just really like learning stuff, and I like people. So whatever accumulation of knowledge and career achievements I have, it’s the result of a genuine interest in the world and how people think.

When I encounter a blocker (I don’t have the right skills, or I don’t know the right people, or I don’t know the right context) that stops me from understanding a thing I want to understand, I research. I look online, I read books, I ask my smart friends, I send people emails, I draw pictures and I go for a run and eventually, I get it.

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Q: What does a typical day at work look like for you?

A: Oh dear. I’m irregular. I often have a bunch of project team meetings, a few user interviews or tests, a number of documents to produce, and some internal video calls to take care of. I spend 60-80% of my day talking to people. When I make it into the office (I live 15 minutes away, it should be easy, but somehow the day passes and I’ve worked from home?) I get to spend time murmuring sweet nothings to one of the many good boys and girls of MetaLab. I’m on so many video calls every day I’ve mastered the arts of lighting, strategic muting, and not wearing pants but not making it obvious that I’m not wearing pants.

 

Q: What have been some of your biggest challenges when carving out your career in the tech industry

A: This world is full of people that have been obsessed with computers and technology since infancy. By virtue of pure hours devoted, they’ve got leagues of knowledge above mine. I’ve always relied on tech and welcomed it into my life, but I’m not in love, as some very smart, very talented people in this space are. I admit I also fell prey to gender stereotypes when I was younger. The logic seemed sound: Boys are good at math, computers, and sports. Girls are good at other stuff. We all believed dumb stuff when we were little, right? These factors together have in the past made me feel that I didn’t know enough, didn’t care enough about the technology behind the products I helped design.

What I’ve come to understand is that everyone comes to their job with a different background and perspective, and it’s actually that diversity that enables us to build incredible, beautiful things. No, I’ve never built my own computer. I don’t have a particularly relevant degree. But I bring so much else to the table! Everything I learned from growing up in a small town, from my creative energies and projects, from meeting and getting to know so many people. I’ve got worthwhile insights to share, and so do we all.

 

Q: What advice do you have for the wimmin in our community who may be considering a career switch to the tech industry or the realms of UX?

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A: This is true of a lot of industries: we’re all just making it up as we go along. Software design is a sweet, squalling baby compared to jobs that have been around for centuries. Shepards know how to shepard. Software people know 60% of how to do our job and we invent ways to do the rest. We encounter new problems every day and have to move past them somehow. We rely on Google, each other, the scientific method, and good ol’ reckless experimentation. We adopt jargon to sound cool and smart. We try to share what we’ve learned. It’s beautiful, really, to see people working together in such an… undefined space.

If you’re thinking of joining the party, it’s can be intimidating to be on the outside looking in. Please don’t let that stop you. We’re welcoming of newcomers, and we respond well to people who ask questions and take initiative. We’ve all had people that helped us in our careers too, so don’t be shy to reach out with a request for coffee. Have an unrelated background? So do most of us. And you don’t have to be a designer or a software engineer to work in tech. Every job that a traditional business has, we’ve got. Recruiter, accountant, project manager, marketer. However you end up here, be prepared to learn, to get comfortable with the feeling of not knowing what you’re doing (it does not go away), and to take chances.

And slide into my DMs if you have questions. I’m always happy to talk.


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