Career Planning Miscellany

Anthony Bourdain on success

I’m not looking to rule the world, I’m not looking to create a permanent brand. It’s a quality-of-life issue with me.

Am I having fun? Am I surrounded by people I like? Are we proud of what we’re doing? Do we have anything to regret when we look in the mirror tomorrow? Those things are huge to me.

Source: Fast Company

Career Planning Information Architecture

Finding an IA job, idea #3: practice listening

This is part 3 in a short series I’m doing on finding an IA job. Read the previous parts: part 1, part 2

The always eloquent Mark Hurst had a great piece recently on the importance and value of listening entitled Listening is Hard. Two things in particular stuck out for me as an important to finding a job in IA:

You can’t create something better for someone unless you understand what it is they need.

As UX practitioners we’re often responsible for creating things that are better, more usable, better organized, easier to engage with, that sell more stuff or help reduce costs. Listening is a critical skill to learn.

Take a methods like interviewing and facilitation — these require open ears, active listening, attentive to the inputs being provided. Without effective listening, you’ll likely miss a chance to truly understand the needs being communicated through the words of others.

Consider also usability testing as examples where listening is an important part of the process of facilitating a test. Hearing responses from test participants and understanding what is/isn’t working for them requires attentive listening.

Finding out what they need – often by listening to them – is hard.

Talk to anyone who has sat through days of back-to-back stakeholder and user interviews or conducted numerous card sorts or usability tests — they’ll tell you it is hard. You have to practice.

So how do you be an effective listener?

Career Planning User Experience

A case for mentorship

My latest article, A Case for Mentorship, is now up on UX Magazine. In the article I explore the value of mentorship in the UX space, some of the requirements of being a mentor and some of my lessons learned over the past few years of mentoring. Enjoy.

Career Planning

Do what you love

Great advice from Steve Jobs’ 2005 commencement address at Stanford University:

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

Ask yourself at the end of this year — are you doing what you love?

Career Planning Information Architecture

Career advice: enjoy the ride

I few weeks ago I sat on a panel at Mount Royal College University here in Calgary. The panel was for new students to the Faculty of Communications which encompasses the Broadcasting, Journalism, Public Relations and Information Design programs.

I had a great time, but was struck by the number of students who had parents or family questioning as to whether their learning path was the best for them. Many had questions like “is there work in this field?”, “what do you see as the job opportunities ahead for people studying X?” to “can you really make money doing X?”, or “isn’t this sector on the decline?”.

During the panel discussion I spoke of my varied career path — from a musician, to bookseller, to dot-com (where I was a project manager, producer, user experience, front-end developer), to teacher, to banking (product management, channel management & strategy and web analytics), and currently information architecture.

The important point I tried to get across is that many of us go to school intending to be one thing, but that our various interactions in life lead on new and often diverse paths. You might be one of those who just specializes, but few now days do (other than say my dentist or doctor). Instead, embrace these opportunities to try new things and follow your passions and gut instincts. Work hard and do what you like. Life will work its way out.

Personally, I love this quote from the Tinkering School‘s Gever Tulley: “Instead of having a career path, always do the most interesting thing you can. A career-path will only get you to retirement. Follow your interests obsessively, sacrifice everything, and keep doing it. Eventually it will turn into something both amazing and surprising. Along the way you will do things that you never thought you would, find yourself in places that you never imagined you would go, and back and say “Wow! What a fun ride that was! Can I go again?”

Career Planning Information Architecture

Finding an IA job, idea #2: network

This is part 2 in a short series I’m doing on finding an IA job. Read part one of finding an IA job: practice.

Networking is critical and especially important since many jobs in our field are filled not via traditional job postings, but rather through word-of-mouth. Who you know matters and is a big factor when looking for work.

There are a number of ways to network. Here’s some suggestions:

  • Research and reach out to other IA’s in your local community. We’re not scary and often can be of help or will try to keep our eyes and ears open about possible opportunities — either within our own companies/teams or with others. Here is Calgary you’ll want to try Calgary UX or the soon-to-start Calgary UX Bookclub
  • Come out to events and conferences. Calgary UX runs quarterly events, local conferences like UX Camp and nForm’s CanUX are all great places to meet others.
  • Talk to those who are doing UX in the community. The other day I got a great letter of introduction from an IA moving to Calgary asking if I’d be willing to meet with him, view his work and talk about the community here in Calgary. We’re meeting this week and it’s a great example of putting yourself out there.
  • Seek out folks on IXDA, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other gathering points. Many of us post using hashtags like #ux or #ia. Search for common phrases like information architecture, usability, interaction design, service design to find others who talk about IA topics. You might even stumble on some local folks.
  • Browse the membership directories of UX groups/associations. The Information Architecture Institute and other groups have membership directories that are accessible to members. It’s a great way to uncover folks who live and work in your city.

Any other ideas?

Career Planning Information Architecture

Finding an IA job, idea #1: practice

This is the first in a multi-part series I’m doing about finding an information architecture (IA) job. Hope you enjoy.

One of the challenges for people trying to become and IA is how to gain experience so they can find employment and build their skills. It’s the classic “chicken and egg” story — you need experience to get a job and you need a job to get experience — and can be very frustrating.

While I wish our profession was better at supporting the development of new information architects, it sometimes isn’t feasible to take on new talent (even interns). But I can say that when openings do come up, I want to be able to see how you problem solve, work through issues/challenges and communicate your decision-making and a plain old interview won’t do that.

So how do you get experience, when there are no positions available and you don’t have client work? Simple, just  practice. Practice is a great thing as it enables you to do something, fail, learn, while building skills over time.

For example, take the following “practice” scenario:

  • Pick your favourite e-Commerce site
  • Map a process flow of their existing web shopping cart
  • Assess how that cart compares to other site carts (similar and different industries/verticals/services)
  • Seek out a best-in-class cart experience and/or example cart interaction patterns
  • Show how you would re-design said cart to make it “more usable” — sketch a bunch of ideas, explore options
  • Pick an option and make some wireframes using your favourite application
  • Walk some friends through a presentation of your idea — take questions afterwards
  • Evaluate the cart changes with your friends. See what works and what doesn’t.
  • Make changes to your cart idea based on your collected feedback
  • Create a blog post on your blog and walk people through the process start to finish, callout the eCommerce site you evaluated (who knows their product/ID/IA manager might read the post)
  • Twitter it to all, share with your local IA community — let them see what you can do

What I’d see coming out of this process would be:

  1. That you can explain flows and complex interactions
  2. That you understand the importance of research to inform your understanding of problems to develop ideas
  3. That you can identify problems, evaluate with heuristics and/or usability in-mind
  4. That you can ideate and think thru options
  5. That you know how to use a tool to capture your solutions
  6. That you can communicate your work
  7. That you understand the importance of user testing (you alone don’t have all the best ideas and approaches)
  8. That you can effectively integrate feedback into your work
  9. That you know how to market yourself and network

Add a few of these to your “portfolio” and bring to your next interview. Then I will be able to see what you do and know.

Who knows, I might be hiring sometime soon.