Meghan Schofield is an Ohio-native who has an impressive knack for creative problem solving. Prior to her current role as a UX/Product Designer at infrastructure startup, CoreOS, Meghan worked in the field of museum exhibit design for 15 years and she also ventured into project management at some point. Meghan is passionate about creating a positive impact in people’s lives and she firmly believes that you need to have a deep understanding of your medium to become great at whatever you do in whichever field you’re in.
|Years in Tech||5|
|Current Job||UX Designer|
- As a designer, you’re solving a problem. You’re not just creating something beautiful for the sake of it, but there’s always an element involved. There are parameters, goals, and rules to consider and always a consumer on one side of it. Think really deeply about what your goal is.
- As a designer, you’re communicating all the time. Designers being visual, you need to be able to create a well-designed, well-thought of resume that stands out from the pile.
- Curiosity, attention to detail, and knowing what people expect are three essential elements that make up a good candidate for a design role.
- Enthusiasm is key during the interview process. Don’t pretend you know something or can make something up on the spot. Instead, ask them about their pain points or the problems they’re solving.
- If you want to be a great designer, get to know the medium you’re in. You have to understand how certain pieces and parts come together. Also, having basic knowledge of HTML or CSS can come handy especially when you’re working with engineers.
Show Notes (focus on the Stepping Stones):[01:41] Meghan transitioned from illustration / art school to a traditional 4-year college taking a degree in visual communication design at The Ohio State University [03:00] Her transition from illustration to design: She took every art class she could in high school with pencil and paper as her primary medium. Eventually, Meghan left art school and moved back to her hometown college that has a fantastic and very competitive program for graphic design [05:13] Her journey to museum exhibit design: As a Junior in college, Meghan started applying for jobs and she landed a job at a museum design agency as a graphic designer where she worked there for almost 13 years (with overall 15-year experience within the field)
[08:01] Day-to-day job of a museum exhibit designer – Flow of the exhibit, design, user experience, content design, “low tech, high touch” model for better interaction
[09:07] The art of creative problem solving – The difference between an artist and a designer is that artists create art but designers have parameters, goals, and rules. There’s always a consumer on one side of it.[10:23] Whetting her creative appetite: Meghan decided to continue her career in DC but she had trouble finding jobs in the museum exhibit design field and her friends encouraged her to break into a design role in tech [12:27] Applying for tech jobs in DC was another struggle for her: Applying to 100 different companies (tech and non-tech) [13:38] Learning HTML and CSS, moving to San Francisco, and taking up UX intercourse at General Assembly
[14:29] Just do it – Although, Megan sought as much learning resources as she could, Meghan learned a bunch from the HTML and CSS book which made her realize that she learns well through doing things.[15:35] Her crushing job search experience: Getting only one response out of the hundred jobs she applied for, Meghan was asked to do a whiteboard creative solving program without any knowledge of their field. She didn’t get hired because they needed somebody more technical. [17:53] Meghan’s first break into tech: Getting a job at an ad-tech startup which sprung out from her camping experience
[20:02] How she learned the specific skill sets required – Realizing the need to learn the tech lingo and the ability to communicate with engineers through drawing wireframes, high fidelity mock-ups, and prototyping[23:14] Some curve balls she encountered at the tech company: Meghan created very beautiful wire frames by which people confused them as high fidelity intended as the final product. So she started making rough and wiggly lines and worse color palettes to be able to communicate well to the engineering team that they were just her first draft. [26:11] Another job transition: iSocket got acquired by another company where she stayed there for another 6 months until applying to CoreOS which had a more intense interview process (a 3-hour interview with 3 different panels and 3 people in each panel)
[28:19] What a design interview looks like at a tech startup – Portfolio + Well-designed resume + Ability to talk about why you chose what you did
[31:33] How to deal with the hard interview questions – Do as much research as you can but don’t pretend to be something you’re not. Ask them what their pain point is to show them you’re curious.
[34:44] The characteristics of a good candidate – Curiosity + Knowing what people expect in interactions + Attention to detail[38:08] Meghan is a fan of the amazing designer John Mayta, who turned out to be a Design Fellow at their company [39:16] Meghan’s future plans: To learn more about distributed systems and to have more leadership opportunities
[40:49] The Lightning Round
Imagine that you get dropped in a brand new city. You don’t know anyone. You’re trying to start again and you only have $100. What would you do and how would you spend the $100 to get back on your feet?
- Networking: Meghan would research a company that she really wanted to work for and reach out to somebody there that she could take out for dinner.
When you were in some of those frustrating moments when you couldn’t find a museum job or you couldn’t find a tech job, did you listen to any music or a movie or interact with any art piece that helped you brave through this situation?
- Meghan spent a lot of time going to art museums to try to stay inspired.
Knowing what you know now, having gone through this amazing career of starting out in design then switching jobs, switching industries, ending up in tech, what is the one piece of advice that you have for our listeners who are contemplating starting on this journey?
- It’s really important to have at least done some things in HTML and CSS. As a designer, you need to understand the limitations of what you’re going to be creating. You don’t have to be doing it constantly but at least have an understanding of your medium.
Articles Mentioned & Resources:
Intro: Growing up we’re told that in order to be successful, you have to be a banker, a doctor, or a lawyer. That’s what the gatekeepers want us to think. But we’re a part of something bigger. We’re part of a technological revolution. Either you’re at the table or on the table. Getting eaten. 10X.
Ruben: Yo, yo, yo, this is Ruben here so I’m here with the homies Artur and Timur Meyster and this is the Breaking Into Startups Podcast. Timur, can you please tell the people what we’re doing today?
Timur: Today, we’re actually recording this episode out of Hack Reactor. Hack Reactor’s based pretty much in the heart of San Francisco. It’s on Market and as you go up the staircase, you’ll see a lot of students and their laptops, studying for exams, doing coding problems. We just broke into one of the back conference rooms on the 7th floor and we’re about to talk to a very special guest about her journey on breaking into startups. Artur, can you please introduce our guest?
Artur: Thanks Timur. Yeah, today we have an amazing guest, Meghan Schofield. She has a super interesting story of starting to work in museum exhibit design. She also designed a bunch of exhibits at zoos, aquariums, science centers around the country. She then worked as project manager for several traditional media companies and then made her way into tech. And now she works for super cool infrastructure startup called CoreOS as a UX and product designer. Today, she’s going to tell us a little bit about her journey. Meghan, before we begin, can you take us all the way back and tell us where you got your start and what were you up to before you got into museum exhibit design?
Meghan: Sure. I can do that. Actually, I love to make jokes that I dropped out of our school, which is true. I went to school to be an illustrator for a year. I did that. And I realized that that wasn’t the best for my future career moves although I enjoyed my time drawing and painting for that whole year. And then I switched over to graphic design. So I started illustration. I’ve always been somebody who has been into art and drawing but I wanted to make sure I could get a career going and have a job and whatnot. And then I switched from art school to a traditional four-year college. And have a degree in visual communication design.
Ruben: Got it. So how did you get interested in art and drawing in the first place? Tell us a little bit about your family and the environment that you grew up?
Meghan: That’s a really good question. I’m very different than my family. They always tease me because I was always drawing and doodling on my spelling test papers and all of that good stuff. I never recall the aha moment of when I decided to become artsy. This thing was always kind of in there.
Ruben: Younger culture.
Meghan: Yeah, I guess. But I think it appealed to me also to be a little bit different than my family. I have some different perspective.
Ruben: How was your high school experience. I know you were doodling on your test and things like that, did you have any exhibits while you were in high school as well?
Meghan: No. Museum design was kind of an accidental thing that I fell into. High school, I took every art class that I could. I took summer classes at the art college that was in my hometown. And I just did it sort of my identity.
Ruben: What was your medium? Always pencils and paper?
Meghan: It was actually almost always pencil and paper. I really like to find random pieces of cardboard to draw on. And ink was a big deal for me when I was young.
Ruben: Got it. And so what led you to make the transition into actually doing this with graphics and then museums and things like that?
Meghan: That’s interesting. I went to this little art school and I’ve gotten a scholarship and it was its own deal. They discontinued the major I had gone for. I was, ‘Wait, what do you mean?” And I’m like young Meghan, right? I’m living in the new town for the first time and they were like, “Yeah, we don’t offer that sort of illustration degree anymore. But we do offer this thing called graphic design. It’s totally the same thing.” And I was just like super naive and young and I’m like “Okay, sure. Put that down, whatever.” And then when I realized our college wasn’t really for me, I had to go back home. And I moved back with my mom.
Ruben: Shout out to mom.
Meghan: Yeah, mom! And I ended up going to the college at my hometown which was a gigantic school and I had decided before I left high school I’m not going to go to this college. I can’t go to my hometown college. It’s just ridiculous. But it turns out they have a fantastic program for graphic design. And they only let in 17 people a year. It was this huge deal. And I like somehow got my heart set on it from not even knowing what it was in art school and switching over. I remember walking up to see if my number got called for the crazy test. They put a little piece of paper on the wall with all your social security numbers on it or the last four. And I walked up there hyperventilating. “Did I get in?” And I did get in. And it was great.
And so I guess my transition started that kind of accidental and then I got really into design. It’s a much more of a logical human being. I love art and all of that. But being more logical, that works really well with the design world.
Ruben: Got it.
Timur: So how did you make the transition into interactive exhibit design at museums because that’s not directly related to graphic design, right?
Meghan: It is in a lot of ways. So when I was a junior, getting close to finishing my degree, I decided that I wanted to work. I wanted to see what it was like to be in a firm. Is this thing that I’ve been spending the last four years of my life all worth it? So I started looking for jobs. My college, the college advisor wasn’t really happy with me because they didn’t want young ones out there in the world making a bad name for the school, But I started applying for jobs anyway. And she actually ran into an alumni, “We need somebody to work for, this is at the local science center. We need a young designer to just help us out.” And she thought of me because I had been pestering her. So she put me in touch with them and I went through the whole interview process. I was so nervous and they offered me the job eventually. And they hired me as just a graphic designer to help out. I remember in my interview being like, “I just want to be around this process. I will sweep the floor. I will go get coffee.” I will do these things and I learned many years later, because I’ve worked with those people for many, many years, that that impressed them that I was so excited. And they liked my work so that’s good too.
Ruben: This says a lot about your hustle, done, or do whatever. You’re 1 of 17. That sounds like you’ve been doing a lot. You’re pursuing what you’re passionate about and tell us about how long you did the museum interactive design experience and how that was for you and how some of the things that you learned while you were there?
Meghan: Oh man. It was interesting because I started there when I was really young. I worked at that museum design agency for almost 13 years. And then for a couple of years later, I continued to work in the field so overall it was about 15 years. I started as a really young designer helping with marketing templates and I read a lot of marketing copy back in those days. But they needed help every once in awhile like the really big deadline and they’d ask me to put together models of some exhibitry. I had a really great mentor at one point. He asked to design an entry arch for a children’s zoo in Philadelphia. Well, it’s the Philadelphia Zoo but the children’s zoo within it. I was like, “Dude, I don’t know how to make physical structures. I went to school for flat graphic image which I love and are amazing.” And he was like, “No, you’re going to have a great perspective on this because you actually don’t have the constraints other people do.” So the transition kind of was slowly helping out the team who was really overstretched but they also felt like I’d bring a fresh perspective to it because I didn’t actually understand physics at that point, which I learned a lot through that particular project. So I learned a lot in that case.
Artur: What are some of the things you do day-to-day being an interactive exhibit designer. I would imagine you’re probably thinking about ways to present this exhibit if you’re working for a science center. I’ve been to the Exploratorium a few times. You would work with maybe the scientist or someone who actually has the knowledge to come up with the cool and a playful way to engage. Is that the kind of the thought process you had to go through?
Meghan: Yeah. We did everything from the flow of the exhibit, what does design look like which I often designed. How do people walk into the space? What’s the carpet? I designed murals all the time. But also what is the content? We’d have museums come to us and be like, “We need to do an exhibit on health. Can you help us make that interesting and playful?” And so I would work helping design the content and also how do people touch and interact with this thing? With my particular company, I did a lot of work in children’s museums. When we did this thing called the low tech, high touch so that kids could be engaged and learn and we helped museums understand different ways to present their science topics so that kids could interact with them.
Timur: Nice. So it sounds like before you were even doing UX design or UI design, and we’ll jump more into it later into the interview, it sounds like there were a lot of things that you were doing already that was laying the foundation for what was to come next.
Meghan: Absolutely. I spent all of my time thinking about how was, we use the term user in tech, how will guests, how will people interact with this thing?
Ruben: I think people are users or users are people.
Timur: Do you think all design professions, you have to always create something with the user in mind? Or was it just that specific field that kind of exposed you to some of the similarities that you might see a user experience designer think about it?
Meghan: I think the fundamental difference with him being an artist and a designer is that you’re solving a problem. Art is great. I love art but designers have parameters. They have goals. They have rules. And there’s always a consumer on one side of it. And most of the times, people, which are people that design for animals I’m sure and things like that. But I think design is with a consumer on the other side of it, whatever that may be. And you’re solving a problem. You’re not making something beautiful for beauty’s sake. So I would imagine most people in design fields feel like that there is that element there.
Ruben: I see. Did you feel like you had a hunger to solve problems after 15 year?
Meghan: Yeah, always. One of the things I learned as a young designer and one of the things I’m still incredibly passionate about is that creative problem solving is just really interesting.
Ruben: And so, you’re doing this for 15 years in Ohio primarily. And you had this yearning desire to do something else. Tell us about you went to DC and how that was and how your search to do more and to whet that creative appetite. How did that go?
Meghan: I was trying to continue my career in DC and for reasons, I wasn’t able to really stay within the museum field. It’s very small. There’s not a lot going on. There’s not a lot of companies doing it is what I should say.
Ruben: Your options are limited? Or there’s not just a lot of people doing it?
Meghan: I would say there’s not a lot of people doing it. And I had a really wide breadth of skills which I think confused people and so I did project management, product management. I have client leading. I worked on budgets. I did pitching. And then I was also on the install and selling exhibits I helped design. And so I would present that and they would just be a little bit confused. So when I moved to DC, I was trying to find a job and I was having trouble finding firms that I felt were of the caliber that I wanted to work for partially because that narrowed down. But I really just wanted to, for me personally, it’s really important to make stuff that has a positive impact in people’s lives. I had a bunch of friends at that time when I moved to DC who all worked for a tech startup and they would talk about their jobs all the time. I was the only non tech person. And so they talked about their jobs all the time. And every once in awhile, I’d get on my own little museum story. And they were saying, “Yeah, that really sounds like designers do in our field and I think you might be interested in that.” A really good friend of mine is a great and amazing friend and developer and UX designer and she and I would just get into these really in-depth conversations about how to help people use software. In her case, she was designing internal tools for this company. And I just found it’s an interesting problem to solve. And I was having so much trouble finding a job in museums. I just kind of started to see that there could be this other possibility over here that was just as satisfying even if it was in a different form factor. It wasn’t a space that you walk into where there were walls and carpet. It was a thing you interacted with to hopefully, in their case and what I try to do today, is like make somebody’s life better.
Ruben: Yeah, tell us a little bit about that job search. Including the struggle to find a job as a museum interactive designer, but also the job search to get into tech. And this was in DC, right?
Meghan: Yeah. I started applying for tech jobs when I was in DC. And at that point, I’ve always considered myself a designer even if I wasn’t working as a designer. It’s like my core. But I really enjoyed product management and project management. So I actually applied for a bunch of jobs in both sides. And I wrote a couple of hybrid cover letters where, “Look, I have both of these skills. I don’t only want to do one, but if your company, one of my skill sets resonates with the need, I would do that one for a while just to be around what’s going on.” And I got very little response. And again, I think maybe it was just that I was maybe not focused enough for people or something. But I applied probably in DC, probably like a hundred different companies, not all in tech. But I would apply for museum jobs like actual museums, museum consultancies, advertising agencies. I ended up doing some work for a trade show company and then all the time trying to apply to other tech, usually larger tech companies, because at that point they have a product team and things like that.
Timur: I know it’s been a few years since you went through that particular job search, but when you were being interviewed, let’s say at a tech startup, what skills were they looking for and did you feel like did you had them or you were able to demonstrate that you would be a good fit in their team? Can you just walk us through that?
Meghan: I actually did not end up having any job interviews at tech companies until I moved to San Francisco. I had just started teaching myself HTML and CSS and I still as trying to make the transition, wasn’t sure that I’d fit. And it wasn’t until I moved here and I actually started taking a couple classes. I did UX course just one night thing at General Assembly and I happened to know the teacher through friends of friends. And afterward, she was like, “I know your background. You are already a UX designer. You just haven’t made the right connections of how to talk about it just yet.” And so she and I talked about that for a little bit but yeah, I didn’t interview until I got here.
Ruben: And what were you using to teach yourself HTML and CSS?
Meghan: It’s this really great book called HTML and CSS. It was a black cover and I forgot who the author is. I tried all this online things and Treehouse or whatever. But sitting down with that book made a huge difference for me.
Ruben: So speaking of cocktails and alcohol and things like that, there was a campfire outdoor outing that kind of led to something else. Tell us about that.
Meghan: So I did. In my very first backpacking trip, I’m now a huge backpacker. But moving here, all my friends are all talking about this thing that was really foreign and interesting to me and so I went backpacking on the Angel Island with a group of people. I knew one other person in this group and yeah, campfires and whatever. The first night we’re there I think there was, I don’t know what i was drinking, it was a cocktail of some sort. And I got really excited about a particular typeface and I just went on and on about this particular typeface I was really excited about and I can’t remember why but everybody around me was looking to me, like “Look at that girl talking about typeface…” and it was a very lovely weekend and we went hiking and we camped and it was great. And then Sunday, somebody who had been in the group that I didn’t know very well and I had only met that night, contacted the person that we knew in common and said, “Hey, my company is hiring a designer and your friend was going on and on about typeface I think she might fit in. I like her as a person but she’s really passionate about this thing.” So that friend put us in contact. On Monday, she messaged me, “Do you mind if I give this person your phone number?” I’m like, “Sure, whatever.” And on Monday, he calls me and Wednesday, we set up a time to meet. I went in and I said, “Look, I don’t know what your problem is. It was an ad-tech startup. I don’t know anything about ad-tech but I can tell you that I love design and I love solving problems. Tell me what your problem is.” And so we went through it and I hit it off really well with the only other designer they had on staff. Within 10 minutes of me leaving the interview, they called me with an offer.
Ruben: Wow that’s awesome.
Meghan: Yeah, after hundreds of resumes.
Ruben: But no whiteboarding?
Meghan: No. We did not whiteboard.
Ruben: Very cool.
Artur: Nice. So that was you first break into tech, right?
Meghan: Yeah. I would say that was my first serious interview at a tech startup.
Artur: And you crushed it.
Meghan: Well, I think I did pretty well.
Artur: Definitely. Tell us a little bit about the first few months on the job. How did you learn that specific skill set that the job required and then what else did you do to level up to the position that you got? So the other designer that was on staff, he and I still to this day, have a lot in common on the philosophical side of design. And so what I learned in those few months was that my skill set was there. I just needed the lingo, all of the terminology we use in tech isn’t necessarily easy to grasp or other areas don’t use it in the same way. I’ve noticed when I’ve moved around from different industries, everybody has different words for things. So the other designer really helped my understand the lingo and I remember with like Sketch came out for example, a couple of years and he and I were having this conversation about what tools we wanted to use because before when he was one, it didn’t matter. He did whatever he wanted. So we just started working together and researching the world about “Should we use Sketch. Should we use this? Should we use that?” So the first couple of months were us kind of level setting of how we were going to work together and him helping me understand terminology and I was thrown right in the projects and working with engineers. A lot of my interview with that particular company was about, can you communicate with engineers? Can you have a conversation? Can you do the right kind of stuff to get your point across?
Ruben: What things did you need to know to be able to communicate with engineers?
Meghan: Well, I’ve worked with engineers a really long time. When I was in museum design,I led a team of engineers to build the exhibitry, like the stuff underneath the hood. So I understood what they were getting at when they were trying to… it was not always easy to communicate these really complex ideas so I think the answer they were looking for and the thing that I think is valuable and hopefully my team agrees is if you can’t communicate it via words and you draw something, wireframes or straight-up high fidelity mocks, and then you get into the idea. Back with that first job, I did a lot of prototyping so using InVision and stuff like that. There wasn’t doing HTML kind of prototyping and whatnot but it’s just about being able to communicate that really complex idea to people who are not necessarily visual.
Timur: So this was your first job in tech, did you find any misconceptions of your view of the tech before you joined in, and you have the things that people talk about tech like a bunch of wide guys sitting behind desk. Is that true or how was your experience? Is that what you’re expected?
Meghan: I would say, it is what I expected. I was well-prepped.
Meghan: I was well-prepped. I knew a lot of people in tech and I knew a lot of women who were in tech so I was ready for that. I remember my first day on the job and I didn’t even think they asked this in my interview. I walked in and there were no other women in the office. And I had a panic moment. I’ve actually worked with all male teams a lot in my career. In museum design, I think I was the first woman they hired. So it’s not that I’m not used to that but I was like, “Oh shoot! I didn’t even think to ask.” There were more women there but only like two. So I was ready for what I encountered in that way.
Ruben: So is there anything that you didn’t expect. A lot of the times, you come in. You’re prepared for a lot of things but then when you actually started doing it, being a doer, there’s a lot of things that you can come up within theory with this roadblocks and curve balls.
Meghan: I would say I have two answers to that question. I remember designing, when I was a museum designer and as I became a project and a product manager, I would make the most beautiful Excel spreadsheets because designing information so that people can consume it well just in my bones or something. So when I got to this job, I made some wireframes and they were great. They looked really good. But they confused the heck out of people because they thought they were high fidelity. They thought that that’s what I intended for the final product. I’m like, “No. This is just graze. This is not the real thing. This is totally just a wireframe.” But it was too pretty.
So I remember starting this process and talking about this with the other designer. I started making the lines rough. I started actually drawing wiggly lines and then I had to make the color palette worse. I kept making them worse and worse and worse. And when I left, I was actually back to hand sketching wireframes. I had a bunch of markers. I had a bunch of trace paper and I would be outlining everything in hand so it was absolutely 100% clear that this was not intended for the brand color palette. And it really made a difference with that particular team. And I would scan them in or take pictures with my phone and make hotspots and do all the prototyping but it made a huge difference in communication with them.
Ruben: Got it. And so looking back with the way you were trained before to make it pretty and then how you flexed on them when they didn’t like that and they wanted to be back to basics, do you like your new process?
Meghan: Do I like the new process? I love any time I can draw things on paper. It just feels great.
Ruben: Well, does it feel weird to forcefully draw rough lines and wiggly lines?
Meghan: It was weird to do it digitally. I won’t lie. My background being in illustration. I’ve done a ton of digital illustration. I was like, I got this, I can do this. What was interesting to me was how far back I had to go and nobody knew how to say to me, nobody on the engineering side was telling me, “No, make it rougher.” I was just doing that as my own process. As a designer, one thing that has been true to my whole career is that I’m a communicator on all levels. I have to communicate. I’d figure out how I can communicate to even solve the problem. And this is one of those moments where I was like, I’m good at this and I just kept going
Artur: And I guess to take us back, the issue here was that your mock ups were so good that they almost resembled the final version and a lot of the engineers when they saw it, they basically assumed that since it was so high fidelity, since it was really well-thought out and made then this must be the final version so I’m going to go ahead and start building it. But in reality, that’s just your first draft, your first pass. That’s very interesting.
Ruben: And it’s also, we might go back to like you writing a lot of copy and understanding communication and what they interviewed for so it sounds like you were firing on also under it.
Meghan: Yeah, I like to think that.
Ruben: So this was your first job at a software. How did you get to where you are now?
Meghan: iSocket got acquired by another company and that was a very interesting and eye-opening experience. I had joined a little bit later so I was really just like an employee. And we got purchased and it felt like I was a desk. It’s just like, “Now, you work here.” I mean they offered me a job and I said yes because if I had said no, I wouldn’t have had a job the next day. There really wasn’t a lot of time to process and it was like, well let’s just jump in. It doesn’t matter. But it was really interesting. I didn’t choose that company and they were doing very different things and then how our products started to change with all these other people involved. It was really difficult. The new company had not a great understanding of what the design skill set can bring to the table.
So I stuck it out for about 6 months and I was having a conversation with some of my friends, all of whom were working in tech at that time, about the struggles I was running into and what was going on. And my friend was like, “Hey, I just started this other little tech startup and everybody there is really great. The CEO is a fantastic person and we’re hiring a designer. Would you be interested?” It was one of those moments like, I mean why not. I will talk to you. And I said, “No pressure. I’ll just send you my resume and my portfolio and pass it through your recruiter.” So a couple of days later, the recruiter calls me or actually, he sent me an email. We had a little bit of an email exchange. I went in for an interview later that week and their interview process was much more intense than iSocket. It was a three-hour interview, three different panels, three different people each panel. My interview ran over to four and a half hours. But they also offered me a job I think later that day. I got a call from their recruiter and they wanted to hire me.
Ruben: Awesome. Can you tell us a little bit about now, you’ve been on the job for several years, a little bit more about that interview process. You’ve been interviewed in different spaces and different industries in design. You have interviewed people for positions in design and I think the listeners would appreciate how a design interview actually looks like.
Timur: At a tech startup.
Meghan: You have to have some work to talk about. This is kind of a controversial point among some of my design friends but it’s one of the few ways. As a designer, you can see their skills. You can see where their taste level is.
Ruben: So if I am fresh out of school, I can draw some pictures or maybe graphic design them, figure out a book or something and design them. Now, I’d make a portfolio.
Meghan: You need some kind of portfolio. I have to read people without looking at their work in the sense of who they were. But the work is kind of important. So if you’re interviewing for a design in tech or elsewhere, people are probably going to ask for that.
Also, personally, being somebody who comes from a more traditional background, having a well-designed resume speaks volumes even if you don’t have a ton of work in your portfolio if you’re right out of college or you haven’t gone to college and you want to break into this.
Ruben: And when you say well-designed, you don’t mean well-formatted?
Meghan: I suppose those are similar.
Ruben: So when I say well-formatted, I’m thinking just black and white, just traditional. You’re thinking like very pretty resume? Is that what you’re saying?
Timur: Well-created. I don’t think she wants colors and stuff.
Meghan: No. It doesn’t have to be colors.
Ruben: I think that’s important to clarify.
Timur: I’ve seen some design resumes that look very nontraditional and definitely sticks out from a pile, something like that, right?
Artur: More visual?
Meghan: Yeah, definitely more visual. I think just that there’s been some thought put into this thing. This is a thing you’re communicating who you are on paper. It doesn’t have to be rainbow color unless that’s really speaking to you. It can be totally black and white with beautiful spacing and I could pick it out of a pile and know that it was good. So I think that when it comes to being a designer, you’re communicating all the time through everything you send. It’s the same with other professions. It’s just that we’re visual.
Timur: Like if you’re in sales and you can’t write an email, that would be a huge red flag. So with resumes and designers, yeah just make sure your resume looks good.
Meghan: Yeah, and I’ve spent a long time helping my non design friends design their resumes. It’s a pretty good success. They often get calls back when I help them out, I’m just saying. But I think what’s absolute most important thing for designers when they’re in the interview process or on the other side of the interview table is to be able to talk about why you chose what you did or why you think something’s good. And the phone screen for CoreOS, the recruiter asked me, “What’s a product out there, if software product, that you’ve used or that you liked?” And it took me by surprise which I shouldn’t have. I mean we talk about that all the time. I’m sure everybody in our field talks about that. But I had just signed up for this new (at that time, new) service called Digits and I got super excited telling him about it because it was one of the most sign-in processes I’ve ever seen and to this day it’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. And he pulls it up while we’re on the phone and I’m telling him why I think I think it’s good. The branding is beautiful. It speaks just like in the most minimal but perfect way. So all of that is to say, as a designer, it’s important to think deeply and not just be able to say it’s a button. If it’s a radio button, is it a checkbox and why?
Ruben: Got it. So you have the portfolio. You have the beautifully designed resume. We have some qualitative stuff with how we talk about it. What are some of the technical hard questions that you guys ask during the interview?
Meghan: Being technical or not has been probably one of my biggest worries, how technical I am or not. My particular company, currently CoreOS, is very technical. My friends that had been working in tech for a long time are blown away when I’m talking about pixie booting or servers or that you’re already computing because it’s not your typical stuff. It’s not like a web app which are also very complicated, just very different. And I lost my train of thought.
Ruben: So essentially, what are some of the hard questions that you’re asking.
Artur: And I think something that you did right was to ask them a question first. Not just pretend like you can make something up on the spot but you wanted to identify what is their pain point and it also shows that you’re curious. You want to find out what problems they’re solving and that actually relates to a lot of jobs, not just design. Even with engineers, if we’re interviewing someone for a job and they started asking us about a technology, why did we choose that technology over another technology, it just demonstrates that that person is interested or curious. They actually want to build something. So I guess to all of you guys out there who are listening, definitely show that enthusiasm because it goes a long way.
Meghan: And I think being curious, when I’m interviewing a designer, when I want somebody on my team, I want to be able to have the most random conversations with them about stuff, about stuff they’re curious about, not just about the job that we’re doing everyday. I particularly really love sci-fi. We just hired a new designer. We talked about comics and sci-fi and the type of pens we like to doodle with and it keeps us creative together if that makes sense. So being curious and caring about whatever problems that you have to work on day to day is really important but it’s like thinking deeply too. That’s what I look for.
Artur: Awesome. So it actually builds on what you just said, what are those things that you look for in a candidate besides just their design knowledge? If you can contrast things that are good and things that are just red flags that will turn you off from a candidate.
Meghan: The reason I got the interview in the first place at CoreOS is they had actually interviewed, I think 20 or so designers, and nobody had a point of view on philosophy. Nobody had a point of view on why it’s important to be a designer. They just did it. And when they would be asking candidates like, “Why did you make this blue instead of green?” They’re like, “Well, the project manager told me to.” That’s a big red flag. You have to think deeply. As a designer, I’m solving a problem. Can I quickly just make everything green? Sure. But you need to think deeply about making it right for what your particular goal is.
Artur: That was one of the red flags. What about one of the things that when you see it in a candidate, you mentioned curiosity. But is there anything else that when you look at a candidate it stands out to you and you want to just hire them right away?
Meghan: Curiosity is really important. Being interested in other things, again, I mentioned that earlier, just when you care about… when you have a wider breadth with design. It’s like, I had signed on to random… I’m currently not playing Pokemon, not that I want to do it.
Ruben: You know you want to play Pokemon.
Meghan: I do. I just haven’t signed on to it yet. But as a UX designer in particular, it’s like I sign in to random apps all the time just to check them out partially because something in Pokemon in particular, that is so widespread now, I need to know what’s going on there.
Ruben: Absolutely. Shout out to Team Valor.
Meghan: And it’s the same with any apps that get big. We need to understand what’s happening in the world currently. So people that are researching, people that are staying up to date, people that are reading, I read a lot all the time just to keep going. And if I have a candidate on the other side, it’s like, oh, I read that book or I know that person or I went to that talk. It shows again, it’s really just curiosity again. But it’s really helpful.
Ruben: And to your point that’s bigger than Pokemon or whatever it is, it’s like the biggest app of all time or something that’s relevant that everybody is talking about. It doesn’t have to be a game. This could be a book that’s bestseller.
Artur: And it’s also super important because a lot of the interactions that people expect a lot of the time, like if you’re designing an experience, you need to know what people expect and what are the national things and what are going to be the surprises. So maybe augmented reality wasn’t some of the people are used to but now since everyone is playing Pokemon Go, then maybe introducing something with augmented reality will be more intuitive to people and they’ll think, oh this is how it works and they don’t need to go through a learning process anymore.
Meghan: Right. And as designers, we need to know as UX designer and talk form in particular. We need to know what people are expecting. You think about something like Google Search, we all expect it to work that way and we’ve never even thought about it. Some people probably just grew up with it but I remember when it was new and it just worked. And as a designer, I need to be able to communicate to engineers how it actually just worked for our users because engineers don’t think about the same way as I do. Some do, obviously, but yeah, we have to know what people are expecting in the interactions out there in the world because it’s all over the place.
Another thing that is really great to see in candidates is an attention to detail. I don’t know if you remember but Instagram changed their little heart icon. When you click it, there’s this tiny little animation. It’s subtle but gorgeous. And it makes you want to push it. And so, those tiny details make a huge difference in experience.
Artur: Who are some of the people in the design world that you admire and look up to?
Meghan: When I first got to CoreOS, I was a little bit floored to find out one of our funding partners, one of the design fellow is John Mayta. I’ve been a big fan of his for a really long time. I’ve been following his work, doing museum design, I really loved digital art experiences and putting people on an immersive place. And a lot of his work and a lot of his studies have been around that. I actually was invited to do a little presentation, me and the other designer about something we were working on like a meetup for designers through that partner. And I was fit, we set it earlier, KCP.
Meghan: Thank you. They’re great. I really love them. And they invited us to this thing. And I walked in and there’s John Mayta. And I don’t get fangirl about things very often but I was a little bit like, oh my god! He’s right there. So he’s somebody I admire quite a bit.
Ruben: Yeah, he’s awesome.
Timur: That’s awesome. Over the next couple of years, what are you looking to do or which areas are you looking to grow and just tell us about your plans for the future.
Meghan: That’s a really big question. I really, really love what I’ve been doing at CoreOS. I love the idea that I’m working on products that are below all the other products, if that makes sense. So working in an infrastructure, I’ve been designing a bare metal installer for the last couple of months that we’ve been testing with our users and it’s really interesting to me to think about systems, to think about servers, and to be in this world. So I hope to stay within this world in some way or another and I was talking about being technical or not earlier. I want to learn a lot more about distributed systems. I’m always looking for books and stuff to read. Somebody just put out a book about Kubernetes, which is really interesting. My near term, I want to just learn a lot more about that stuff.
Artur: Yeah, definitely.
Meghan: I’ve been reading a lot of books and going to a lot of talks and I also designed all the conferences my company puts on or I have in the past so I have to go and be there and then I’d sit through all the technical talks. You really learn a lot in that way. So that’s been really great. I would like to say, I’d like to get more technical in that way but also personally, I’ve been looking for growing our team and leadership opportunities. I really love mentoring. I really love working with the team. When I was in museum design, I was running teams. I was running several different teams and tandem and I kind of miss that stuff. So I’m hoping to have some more leadership opportunities.
Artur: That’s awesome. I can totally see how just from this conversation alone how you would be a great mentor. If I wanted to be in design, i will totally reach out to you. And we’ll get to it later to how to get in touch with you.
Timur: At this point of our podcast, we do The Lightning Round and this is where the three of us will ask you a series of questions and we’re looking for short answers but we are looking for hands-on strategies, tactics, any resources that you’ve used to get to where you are today. So Artur, take it away.
Artur: Sure. So this question takes you back to the basics. Imagine that you get dropped
in a brand new city. You don’t know anyone. You’re trying to start again and you only have $100. What would you do and how would you spend the $100 to get back on your feet?
Meghan: Start again? What do you mean start again?
Artur: Like you’re in a brand new city. Let’s say you moved to San Francisco to break into tech but you only have a $100, didn’t know anyone, and you’re hustling.
Meghan: As much as it’s sort of cliche, I think networking is actually how I got into tech in the first place. And I really dislike going to networking events and whatnot but If I had $100, I guess I would try to research a company that I found pretty exciting and I really wanted to work for and I would try to find somebody there that I could take out to dinner or something in along those lines.
Ruben: So let’s take it back to when you were in that frustrating moment or some of those frustrating moments when you couldn’t find a museum job or you couldn’t find a tech job, or when you went to the whiteboarding as you said, you didn’t get the job. Did you listen to any music or a movie or interact with any art piece that helped you brave through this situation. I know you talked to your friends but was there anything else?
Meghan: Yeah, man. It’s really soul-crushing to be on the job search and to not get a lot of response. It’s very difficult for you self-esteem. I don’t know. I really love modern art. I know at that time, I was spending a lot of time doing freelance which helps me pay my bills when I was still designing. So I wasn’t like I thought I was the worst human in the world. But I think I spent a lot of time going to art museums and trying to stay inspired. the SF MoMA closed for many, many years here in San Francisco.
Ruben: Yeah, it’s open again.
Meghan: I know. I went opening weekend. It’s great.
Ruben: Shout out to SF MoMA.
Meghan: Yeah, it’s really great. But there’s a fantastic comic book museum around the corner, for example. And I would go there every once in awhile and just try to stay inspired so that it continued to propel me forward.
Ruben: Who’s your favorite superhero related to comic books?
Meghan: I want to pick somebody insecure and feel cool. But I don’t have that off the top of head. I really like the comic book, Saga. Have you heard of that?
Meghan: Let’s go with…
Ruben: Saga, sounds cool though.
Meghan: Saga is great.
Ruben: I’ll look it up.
Meghan: Saga is a beautiful artwork.
Ruben: We’re going to put that in the show notes.
Meghan: The writer of Saga is fantastic.
Ruben: What’s the name of the writer?
Meghan: Good question.
Ruben: We’ll figure it out.
Timur: We’ll add it to the show notes.
Meghan: I’m really bad at names.
Timur: I’m actually the same way. What was your name again? Just kidding.
Meghan: That’s fine.
Artur: So the next question that we usually ask is knowing what you know now, having gone through this amazing career of starting out in design then switching jobs, switching industries, ending up in tech, what is the one piece of advice that you have for our listeners who are contemplating starting on this journey?
Meghan: It’s a good question. My favorite advice I give people is to hydrate because I think that is very important. Yeah, that’s perfect. I forgot my water bottle.
Ruben: Half gallon water bottle right here.
Meghan: Very sad that I forgot it because I meant to bring it with me today. Within trying to get into tech, I think for designers, I’m going to go with designers if that’s okay. It’s really important to have at least done some things in HTML and CSS. I got in trouble early on by saying I coded something and it was HTML because it’s not complete and all of that. I know that now. But as a designer, you need to understand the limitations of what you’re going to be creating. You don’t have to be doing it constantly. I don’t often write a lot of HTML but having learned that early on and trying to execute things I had designed by writing it myself was really important and I will totally be on board to hire a designer who has never written HTML but I usually say that they need to at least try HTML and CSS.
Timur: I guess it comes down to that curiosity as well. If you’re going to be working with engineers for the next ten years, explain to them how this mock up works and what you expect, you could take a 1-hour course, 2-hour course online like Treehouse or the other resources. And within an hour, you’ll build a page and pretty basic like a background color, a few elements on the page. But at least, you’ll get the essence of it so then when someone tells you “Hey, actually I can’t reuse this anymore because it’s a different element.” You’ll know what that means.
Meghan: I did Treehouse and a bunch of those things. I tried every possible method of learning to code and all of that stuff because I struggled with it first. To find the little traction in that book made a real big difference for me. But I also read a lot about when HTML5 came out, I read a book about some of the history behind how do you even continue to change. So it’s not just sitting down and coding it, it’s understanding your medium. So when I was designing exhibits was I’d understand wood-end buttons and also digital screens. I know a crap load about random hardware and stuff because I had to understand it to design well. And then when you’re in tech, your tools are software and talking to computers and screens and break points and all of that. So I think great designers can come into the field and not know that stuff immediately. But you’ve got to learn it as you’re going or you’re not going to be able to design really, really great things.
Timur: Yeah, and just to draw another analogy, one of my buddies, he races cars. And recently, I was chatting with him and shout out Lance. I was surprised so much he knew about the types of tires on his car, like the types of transmissions, little tweaks that could cause him to go a couple of seconds faster. So even though he races a car and majority of his work is just driving the vehicle, there’s a lot of things that you need to know about the medium that you’re in. And just like you said, if you want to be the best, you’ve got to understand everything that you touch.
Timur: Well, thanks for coming in our podcast, what is the best way for our listeners to get in touch with you? Are you on social media or email or any other ones?
Meghan: That’s a good question. I am on a lot of the social media things. I am on Twitter. It’s that a good way?
Ruben: What’s your Twitter handle?
Timur: We’ll include it in the show notes.
Ruben: What about Instagram?
Meghan: I think the same thing on Instagram. It might just be my name. Instagram is one of my favorites though.
Ruben: Yeah, I mean as a designer. Do you do photography as well?
Meghan: I do a little photography. I took a lot of classes in photography in college.
Ruben: What about InstaSnap?
Meghan: That’s new today.
Artur: So InstaSnap came out yesterday.
Meghan: Okay, I’m sorry. Yesterday. I got my email today. I must be like way down on the list. I have not used it yet although we were messing around with it at lunch today. So I personally haven’t used it yet.
Ruben: I put my first InstaSnap post today.
Artur: I saw it.
Meghan: People can also email me if they want to get in touch or whatever.
Timur: What’s your email address?
Meghan: It’s firstname.lastname@example.org.
Timur: Awesome. We’ll put that in the show notes as well.
Ruben: We’re really excited to see future designs. I know you’re going to be a legendary designer in the future. And you’re a legendary designer now.
Meghan: I try to do good work. I think that’s the important part.
Ruben: Awesome and it’s how with us.
Meghan: Thanks for having me. This has been great.
Timur: Have a great night.
Meghan: Thank you.