Spiral staircase

Mags Hanley on Career Architecture

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Gerry Gaffney

This is Gerry Gaffney with user experience podcast.

My guest today is based in Melbourne Australia, and I have known her for many, many years. She’s a career growth coach and mentor. She has a wealth of experience in information architecture and design. She’s led teams in the US, UK and Australia building UX practices at companies like Argus Associates, the BBC and Time Out.

Her new book is Career Architecture: Analyse, Structure, and Plan your Design Career.

Mags Hanley, welcome to the User Experience podcast.

Mags Hanley

Thanks Gerry. It’s an honour to be here.

Gerry

I’ll remind listeners that as always a transcript of this episode is available at uxpod.com.

Now early in the book, Mags, you write that ‘many digital professionals either float through their careers or sit in roles that don’t suit them because they pay well.’ And when I read that, it reminded me of a chap I knew many, many years ago in Dublin, when I was studying electronics. And we were asked as a group what our aspirations were and this guy, Pat his name was, said ‘I want to get through this life from one end to the other with the minimum of hassle.’ And I always thought that was kind of admirable in its own way.

Is it such a bad thing to float through one’s career?

Mags

Oh. I think it’s bad to float through one’s career at certain points. I feel as if, when you’re getting into that, when you’re starting your career, actually floating as in just making yourself comfortable learning the ropes is probably the right thing for you. And there’s going to be certain points where you sit there and go, I need to really take action. And for many people, and I’ve had this with people that I have coached where they sit there and go, you know, I stayed in an organization 10 years and maybe I should’ve done something else because I’m finding it now that I’m left that organization, I’m finding it very hard to find another role. And I think that’s the bit of the floating, which is… Sometimes you put yourself in a position where it’s very hard to get the next one, because you haven’t purposely said, this is what I want out of it. Or said this is how I’ve grown through this. And I think that’s the problem with floating.

Gerry

It’s interesting when you say 10 years, because I mean, in the old days, people went… If somebody looked at your resume and you had only been at somewhere like a few months or a year or two years, people would say, what’s wrong with you? You know, why, why aren’t you, why aren’t you like… nd now if you see 10 years, it’s kind of the opposite. People say, well, you know, what’s wrong with you

Mags

What’s wrong with you. Yeah. And I sit here and go, oh, a long-term is three to five years at a place now. And I feel that that’s the difference. I was having a chat to someone who’s coaching me. And I said to him, I was talking about someone who has 13 years’ experience. And he said to me too, you know, that most people’s careers are now seven years. I’ve gone, Whoa, because I know so many of us designers and I would still consider myself a designer, even though I’m not doing it primarily as the work that I do every day. We, our careers I hope are going to be 30, 40 years long and we will change and we will move. But that inherent part of being a designer is there. And it’s just like, okay. So every seven years someone changes, exactly.

Gerry

You write, ‘Imagine you put as much time into making decisions about your career as you do into creating a customer journey map for a client.’

And I guess it’s a little bit like the cobbler’s children syndrome, isn’t it? A lot of people tend not to bring their work skills to bear, I guess, on their own lives or outside of the narrow environment in which they’re working.

Mags

Absolutely. Absolutely. And yes definitely that shoe-makers children not getting their shoes. It definitely is a point where we sit there and say… Well, I’m gonna say there’s two bits. One is that I find with a lot of people who are of my generation and I’m an, X-er where we are, we’re probably not spending the time on it. And then I work with some millennials who basically sit there and they’re spending so much time, they’re evaluating every single minute and I want them to calm down and I want us X-ers us to go, there is an inflection point. I want you to see that inflection point and then actually sit there and do the analysis. Be very, very conscious of the decisions that you make. And it’s not gonna be forever, but make, make that particular decision. And I want the millennials who are always over-analysing, sit back a bit, mate, just sit back. It’ll be fine. You can do this every six months. You can do this every year, but don’t sit there because it gives you so much anxiety. We don’t need any more anxiety, we’re in the middle of the pandemic. Just let that, do what you need to do every single day, every single week. And then give yourself that time every six months to review.

Gerry

Now you mentioned there, and you mentioned several times in the book, inflection points. How does one recognize that they’re within or approaching or have just missed an inflection point?

Mags

I think there’s a couple of bits. One will be when you sit there and say, it just doesn’t seem right in the organization where I am or within the project that I’m in, there’s something happening there. Let me think what would that be. For a lot of people that is the I’ve missed an opportunity or I’m in a project and what I’m being seen as is the production worker, as opposed to the person who is providing support and actually shaping what this product looks like. In others it might be I’m bored. So I had someone who was speaking, who had written up… So Alex Douglass Bonner, who is one of the case studies, and Alex had been doing a lot, a lot of formative usability testing. And every two weeks she had to do some more formative usability testing.

And it obviously a tick, everyone was seeing, they got okay for us to get through the next stage of this piece of functionality, it was a tick. It wasn’t let’s make this better. It was yeah, ok…

Gerry

Compliance.

Mags

Compliance. And she was just sitting there going, I can’t do this anymore. I can’t be the person who is going through and I’m bored. I’m not making, I’m not making any impact in the organization. And I just can’t sit here any longer. I want to make that change. And she and I sat there over a cup of tea as you do. And we, we talked about what she wanted to do. And I have known Alex now for six or seven years. And I told her and said, PhD. She went, I know, I know. I said, PhD. She goes, I talked about it with my mum. I’ve talked about it with my therapist. Yes, PhD. And that’s what she did because she saw that point where she just wasn’t making an impact anymore. And she just needed to move forward.

Gerry

Of course that’s a big financial commitment as well. Isn’t it doing a PhD for most people?

Mags

It is a big financial she’s been lucky enough, she’s moved up to Queensland. And she’s been lucky enough to get a funded PhD as well as some tutorial work. So she’s in that position of actually having a funded one, which is great.

Gerry

Fantastic. Now, to get a little bit granular, you describe your own work and career path early in the book as a sort of a framework for considering career architecture. And you say that a skill that you lacked at one point was managing up. Perhaps this is purely my perception, but it seems to me that a lot of people in the design community and certainly in digital design are not good at this. Can you tell us what you mean by managing up and how can one get to be good at it?

Mags

Okay. So yeah, managing is definitely, when I do the strengths, weaknesses and never done, it’s always my weakness. And I’ve talked about this at UX Australia a couple of weeks ago and talked about in particular the point which made me realize that I was struggling and I hadn’t paid attention. There’s a certain point in time as, as designers and that we spend a lot of time managing down. We are sitting there with our teams. We are in the midst of working with the developers sitting next to us or the QA or the user researcher. And at a certain point we start to realize that actually, what we’re focusing on is the actual craft. And for us to make an impact, we need to actually broaden our horizons to start looking at the stakeholders that are higher. Now that stakeholder could be your boss. It could be the engineering manager. It could be the product lead. It could be the director, the CEO. And at that point in time, you’re starting to realize for us, for design to be effective, it’s less about, can I get the pixels there and actually can the users go through it, but can it be accepted by the business and can it be accepted by the other stakeholders? And that’s the problem because we don’t sit there and consciously do it. We sit there a lot of times and go, if we do good work, it will be rewarded. If we do good work, it will go through the process. It will then go live. The good work will happen. The service will be developed. And what we need to realize is that actually what we do is there’s so much impact on business. When I talk, when I think about when I started working for Peter Morville and Lou Rosenfeld in Argus in the U S their Venn diagram, we all have Venn diagrams, it’s business, users and context. And we realized really early on and they realized really early on, that if you didn’t bring the business requirements in that it was going to fail. And I feel that, especially at the levels, the lower levels, we spend a lot of time focusing on what those deliverables will be and not on how do we make sure that they are actually implementable within that organization, whether it’s us as consultants or whether we are product designers within an organization,

Gerry

I guess, related to that, and maybe to pressure you a little bit, you know, you hear this forlorn refrain from designers. And I guess, I don’t, I don’t know if it’s even particularly junior designers, but from designers, why don’t they listen to me? I mean, this is exactly what you’re alluding to, you’re describing here, but you know, it’s all very well to say, yes, you need to manage it. But how do, how, how do you get those people above you to listen to you?

Mags

Yeah. There’s well, there’s the first one is trust. Do they trust you? Do they know you? Because if you’re banging on about the user all the time, and you’re not understanding where they are coming from and their, their focus is going to be, and I think, I mean, I’ve worked in a lot of retail. The focus of retail is gross profit. If we are sitting there and saying, where does our UX fit into the gross profit? What does it do? Then we aren’t making a good case. We don’t understand what the requirements of the business are. You know, you may sit there, well, what’s the value, there’s other value for different organizations. So how do you get them? Well, first, they’ve got to trust that you are actually thinking more than just about the users that you are thinking about the business.

The second one is, is that you actually have to understand what it is that there’s coming from them. What are the pressures that they are under? What do they need to do? And it’s incredibly selfish because they’re sitting there going, it’s all about me. And in some ways you’ve gotta sit there and go, yeah, it is all about them. So for me, it is an aspect of going, how do I establish a relationship with these people? And it has to be relationship based. It can’t be, this is why, why don’t they listen to me? Well, they don’t know you. They don’t know, they don’t think that you understand what they’re going through. So you have to develop that relationship. And I spoke about this, in UX Australia, which is the one where I was working with, I was working on a large project. I’m going to say, this was, this was a platform. It was a re-platforming project. Re-platforming projects are horrible. It was as always, it was a horrible project. It had its ups, it had its downs and had a lot of downs. But one of the things I worked on was I had three directors that I had to work with. The directors at JB Hi-Fi or the equivalent of the C level. And my bosses were the Director of Marketing, Director of IT and the Director of Strategy. And I wasn’t really quite sure what to do. And because I am a mature woman, I went off and found the other director who is the Director of HR, the only woman in the director level. And I turned to her and said, help me work out how to do this. And so that’s the other bit, go out to the network to understand who these people are to help you establish that relationship. And so she and I sat down and said, who are you having the most trouble with? And I said, it’s the Director of IT. And I purposefully went and started to develop a relationship with him to make sure that I understood what the pressure that he was under and what I could do and how I was going to help get this project over the line.

Gerry

Excellent. Tell us about the five principles you use to ground career conversations. I think it’s probably worth spending a little bit of time on each one of these. If, if you could, it’s also a test to see whether you can remember all the five, but you probably got them written down there. Usually somebody forgets. [Laughter.]

Mags

Well, that’s it. I’ll just bring that up.

So: No career is linear.

Absolutely no career is linear. And I laugh when people say and I did this and then I did this, I did, I did this. And I know, I mean, Gerry, you and I have been in the industry for a while. And therefore our careers have never been many because we started in design when there was, UX was not a term that was being used. HCI was the term. If we got usability in, Yay! And you sit there and say, well, we’ve all made these different changes through this life. And because of the way our lives are and our life circumstances, it’s not going to follow that particular path. And if you’re lucky, yay, it does. But you have to make a decision on whether it is, what’s right for you and not worry about the anxiety of it being that it should be something. It doesn’t have to be something. Yeah.

Gerry

I think one of the hardest things for people to do is to, is to change careers. Like, you know, you find that you’re on a particular pathway, something else comes along and maybe it’s got more risk and maybe it’s got less money, but you know, it’s the right thing to do. It’s very hard, isn’t it to make that change?

Mags

Totally. As a number of people know, I had cancer 13 years ago, and then 11 years ago. I had breast cancer and then I had leukemia. And one of the things that came out of this was that the inability for me to work a full-time role. When you have leukemia, you have a stem cell transplant. It is like having a full body reboot. Sleeping 20 hours a day type thing. And it was like getting through that point, I just sat there and went, okay, I need a job with stability. I need a job that’s going to give me sick leave. I need something. And I realized, and two years ago, I decided that I wanted to do this particular work, which is this coaching and growing of people. And I realized that actually, I had made decisions on sick leave and I left and I was not sick.

And it made me realize that I was taking, I was using that as the crutch to say, not to take that risk, when actually I didn’t need it because as soon as I left jobs that actually were at high pressure I wasn’t sick because my immune system wasn’t reacting that way any longer. So there is, and yes, I may, I still don’t make the same money that I was making in a corporate job, but I have a much more, my mental health is a good place. My physical health is in a good place and you sit there and go, okay, this is the risk that I took. And actually it took a while, but it paid off. I think that’s the bit you need to have a look at and say, if the things that are keeping you in someplace, do they, are they really the gatekeeper?

Gerry

Yeah. And I guess I’m just, I don’t want to sidetrack us, but you know, money as, as a prime driver for your career is, is, is a very poor life choice, I think. But anyway, let’s, let’s leave that aside.

The next principle is: There is no 20- or 5-year plan.

Mags

Yeah. I mean, I think I look at people who go, and I have memories of people in all of my career who’ve sat there and go, I want to be, particularly developers, I want to be the CEO. I want to be this C, CIO or whatever, CTO. Okay. And you sit there and go that’s in 20 years time that you’re planning for this. As some of them, I’ve got people that I worked with particularly at the BBC who’ve moved themselves into those sorts of roles. But if we sit there and say, the technology changes so quickly, the business of design changes so quickly, digital has changed so quickly. Why are we sitting there and saying, this is where I’m going to be in 25 years time? Five years time? I didn’t know I was going to be here, five years ago I had just moved back to Australia after being in the UK. It’s just like, okay, take these as the chunks of 12 to 18 months, take it as the chunk of saying, I can see this. And if we think about the last 18 months, none of us expected this to be where we are right now. So if you sat there and go, okay, 12 to 18 months, if that’s the thing, if I’ve got a vision of what I want to feel and be as opposed to what I want to do, then you can sit there and say, every 18 months, is this still matching my values and the vision of where I want to be.

Gerry

I guess. So that takes that pressure off you too, that you alluded to earlier on where you’re constantly stressed about it. If you’ve got shorter time blocks, you can say I’ve taken this pathway and I’m happy to run with it for a year or so, or year and a half. Yeah.

Mags

And you’ve made a decision. I’m in a business school. And one of the first things they say is make the decision. If it’s wrong, it’s okay. You can experiment, but make a decision. If you’re just going in loops. And so many of us go in loops. If we’re just going in a loop then we’re actually going to sit there and ruminate rather than actually move forward.

Gerry

I’d like to pull you up on that one where you said make a decision, even if it’s wrong. I mean, a lot of people, I’ve met a lot of people who’ve made it you know, who’ve left perhaps a comfortable role that wasn’t challenging them. And then six months down the track, or a year down the track there, they’re struggling in this, on this like that. Then it becomes a huge form of stress. I made the wrong decision. There they’re second guessing themselves. Aren’t they?

Mags

Yeah. I think for a lot of people, this comes back into the second point, which is people who are, if people make a decision because it was the floating and they were sitting somewhere that’s wrong or, and something gets happened to them, they actually get to that point of going, I have to leave. I have to leave now. And they haven’t put the thought in. They’re doing a reaction element. I’ve had a number of in particular friends who said, I’ve had my rebound job, you know, in the same way, as you have the rebound boyfriend after a big breakup, you have the rebound job. It’s okay if you have a rebound job, it’s okay for you to sit there and say, I left X. And I went into Y and went, wow, that was a six months. That really wasn’t right. But for you to learn from it and move on.

Now, the greatest problem, and I’ve got this within the book is at a certain age, there is life circumstances that you must pay attention to. And that’s when the stresses come. Life, family mortgage, you sit there and go, okay, health. These are the bits where at a certain age you’re going, every decision I do is going to make an impact on the life that I have with my family. That’s where the stress comes in. Oh my God. I made the wrong decision. Everything has gone bad. Okay. Let’s, that’s your inflection point. Let’s go. It wasn’t a wrong decision. It was the right decision probably at the time for you to move on. Maybe it wasn’t the right decision as the place to move on. Think of it as the rebound job. Let’s put some time in and work out what the right job is or the right direction is moving forward.

Gerry

Yeah, because regret can be very soul destroying can’t it? Well, in any aspect of life, I guess, but in your career, it can, can really sap you.

Mags

And I think this is the thing for the majority of us. If you sit down with a bunch of old timers and they talk about the jobs they’ve regretted, we’re going to have so many of them and we’ve moved forward. And I think that’s the bit, which is everything doesn’t have to be perfect. I’ve had so many roles that weren’t perfect. And I sit there and I go, if I can do one thing, which is learn to not repeat it, that is a good thing. Unfortunately, I have repeated that many times. [Laughter.]

Mags

The wisdom of being 50.

Gerry

We learn by our mistakes over and over and over again. Now the next principle, which I don’t think we need to dwell on because you’re really lazy is the Change is Inevitable. So we can probably accept that.

Mags

We can accept that one.

Gerry

The next one: You can plan your career.

Mags

I think you can plan your career. I think you need to sit down and say, back into this 12 to 18 months bit, the process that I take through people through the book is all about how do we get people to reflect well enough so that they can say, this is where I want to go. And the bit about the element is that I’m, I’m aiming for a vision and that vision then could have multiple directions and one vision. The way that I think about it, if I think about my own job is I could sit there and say, I am where I was, you know, at certain points I was managing a team. I love managing a team. This is why the managing up managing down bit is… I really love managing down. I love having a team together. I like making sure they really go to lots of stuff, which has its essential element for me, which is growing people.

Mags

Therefore, if I said with my vision is all about growing people, I could be managing a team. I could be doing coaching. I could be sitting there and doing something else as well. So I sit there and go, okay, there are multiple directions and you then can plan for them. And I think this is back into this, this window of going, I’m just going to grab the next thing. I’m just going to grab the next thing. And actually what I want you to do is just sit there and have a think about there are more than one thing and to make a conscious decision.

Gerry

I guess one thing that occurs to me on this, I’ve had the same conversation a few times with Daniel Szuc and Jo on their Make Meaningful Work stuff? You know what I mean? You know, I think, I think it’s great and it’s great that people say to take control and focus on the stuff you love. But I often think we’re in a very luxurious position that we live in a, you know, in a part of society that’s wealthy enough for us to be able to make those choices.

Mags

Absolutely. We are privileged really, really privileged. And I think this is why life circumstances is the bit that I think is different with me than it is with lots of other people, which is there are certain points and I’ve, I work with a lot of women, that women, especially in the US who sit there and say to me, I’m a single mom or on the primary breadwinner, I need to have, I’d love to go off and do this other stuff, but I need a job which has benefits. I need a job which has enough good benefits and enough money so I can send my kid to college because I could see my kid college is really, really expensive. I can’t take that jump into being, taking that job into a role which has a lot of risk in it because I have these circumstances. Now at a certain point in time, maybe in 10 years time, I’ll be fine, but I need those benefits because otherwise I’m not going to look after my family. Now that’s, that’s a bit where I feel we need to, and as I said, as we grow older, that’s going to hit us more and more.

Gerry

I think you know, you can certainly appreciate the advantage of living in a society that takes care of, medically of all its people. Anyway let’s not going to have that particular sidetrack. Hey, listen, the next principle you’ve got is it sounds like one needs to be very wise to even consider being able to implement it. And that is: Learn to Read the Signs.

Mags

Yeah. I think this is, one of the things that I’ve been working on, which is trying to learn how to read my body, which is every single time I’m in a place where I can feel it in my body. It feels very… it’s you sit there and go, okay, where do I feel this emotion? Because emotions are in your body. I think that’s part of learning to read the signs, which is your body will give you those indications that something is right. You know, you’re bored, you actually sleep longer. Cause you just don’t want to get up. You sit there and you’ve got that anxiety, whether it’s higher up or deep down in your body. So use your body as a way for you to actually start to read those signs. And the other one is, is that you need to pay more attention to what the network, what’s happening in your organization, your network. And I feel as if a lot of what we’re doing, we’re in the midst of design is sitting there and getting going through our process and what we should be doing is looking outside and going forward. And I, this is the bit that I bring in, which is the sort of the IA bit, which is the wayfinding. So I want people to start thinking about reading the signs is about like going into wayfinding as we do when we’re in, in IA, which is where are we? Where all the paths? Are we lost and then how do we move forward? And that’s the big thing, which is recognizing those patterns.

Gerry

Okay. And I guess that brings us reasonably neatly to the next question, which is what is a career audit? And you’ve got four elements of the career audit that you describe.

Mags

I do have the four elements, and I’ll just bring them up so I can look at them at the same time. I love it… [Laughter.]

Gerry

Personal Audit this is the first one.

Mags

That’s it. Got it. I think for me the thing about the career audit, it’s like doing a current state analysis. And I’m a bit of a current state analysis girl. I think I’ve spent way too much time working with BAs, which is great. I love working with my BAs and I love when a BA takes control of the functional requirements and the non-functional requirements. Cause I don’t have to, yay!

The thing about this is, is sort of sitting there and going, I need to understand who you are right now, so that you can work out where to move forward. And the personal audit is all about understanding you very specifically, you know, what are your skills? These are tech skills, but these are also what Seth Goden would call the real skills. What’s your experience? How do you manage people? How do you work with others? Then we have our stakeholder interviews. And those stakeholder interviews are all about talking to the people in your life, talking to either your co-workers or talking to your family, because what you need to do is, everything you do in your career actually has an effect across the rest of your family and your life and understanding impact. I say in a story in the book is that I was having a conversation with a very close girlfriend of mine in Minnesota. And she basically turned to me and she said, you need to stop. You need to get out. You need to stop this now. And she said it to me a number of times, before it actually really hit me, me because I was in the rumination loop, but they can see from the outside what’s happening. And I think that’s the bit, which is we spend a lot of time just going in, in, and I want it to broaden out. I’ve talked about life constraints, which is life constraints is all about how do we understand. And I’ve, as I’ve mentioned, I had cancer and I only really had, so for the first three or four years after that, I could really only work sort of three to four days a week. Major life constraint. For a lot of people who have chronic diseases, major life constraint. The benefits. I have elderly parents, so parental or family commitments, and you sit there and say, what are these non-negotiables, what do I need to think about?

And then the last one is the current positioning. And the current positioning is about how are you seen? Because if you want to move forward, you’ve got to be seen as something different. And therefore, this is where all of the bits of, your portfolio. Well, yes, it’s about your portfolio, but it’s also about who knows you within the industry, who knows who within your organization, if you want to move to a different role within the organization, how are you actually showing and talking about what you do? I have a friend and I think we’ve, we may talk about this more, who, who said to me when I was talking about positioning and he said, that feels, that just feels bad. I don’t want to do that. Am I bragging? And we’ve got to get away from the aspect of, are we bragging? And you know, for a lot of people in the industry, we have, they have made their mark by going and talking at conferences. This isn’t about bragging. This is about saying, who are you? How certain are you of what you do, and actually making sure that it’s written down and it’s communicated clearly.

Gerry

Yeah. Again, I don’t a sidetrack us, but interesting when you talk about bragging. I mean, if, when it looks at, I guess I do in some work with companies that were looking for venture capital and one of the, one of the issues Australian companies face when they’re, when they’re pitching is they tend to have the self-deprecating thing, which just doesn’t run in the States for example, or if you’re working with an Indian company, you know, the, the cultural differences are so are so all important, aren’t they as well?

Mags

They are, and there’s cultural. And then there’s the male/female split as well. Yeah. So yeah, we really need to sit there and work out. How do we position ourselves? How do we talk about ourselves in a way that’s very true to us. And so I’m total extrovert, you can realize this. When I work with introverts, a lot of them say, I I’m really uncomfortable going and talking in major groups. I’m okay with my team… And I say, well, then positioning that is, is about how you behave, as opposed to how you go and talk all the time. It’s about showing what you do, but being very deliberate in showing what you do, as opposed to sitting there and going and squirreling away, hopefully someone will notice, but being very up.

Gerry

I mean, and that’s the question that you’re talking about there, we have a question a little bit further on, one that highlights your antipathy towards real estate people [laughs], because as you said, that networking is like, it’s like, you know, going around, handing out business cards and it feels sleazy. But you know, for those people who are introverts, how can they go to meetups and things like that? I mean, if it’s outside of their own narrow company within which they’re working, how do they network beyond that, with that introversion?

Mags

Well, I think the joy has been in the last year, being everything being on Zoom, because it does mean that there’s not that pressure for you to sit, stand around as you always did with that, with either good or bad pizza, trying to make small talk with someone. And I think this is where anyone who’s starting meetups should be allowing multiple ways for this to happen, whether it is having some sort of side conversations, a chat facility, having small breakout rooms and small meaning, you know, two to three people. Because that is the sort of the level that introverts will be much more comfortable with and sitting there and saying, okay, how do we make those connections? The other bit is if we’re, for a number of people who are introverted, it is, I want to think about what I’m going to come up with and then say it as opposed to be on-the-fly. Extrovert, I will talk on the fly. Introvert wants to be comfortable with it. So even things like meetups, when you’re, they may be suggesting they’re going to present, these will be really good because they can present and think about it and come up with it rather than always have to be on the fly.

Gerry

And those meetups really are a great opportunity for people to present. And as you say, to put a couple of weeks into preparing the presentation and just do it in a narrow 20 minute block or whatever, I mean, yeah, it’s very, it’s, it’s, you know, it’s stressful, but it’s a great achievement to do it as well. Incidentally, we had Rory Madden on a few months back and he was talking about running a virtual conference, which was sort of elevated as part of the whole COVID thing, of course, but he was, he spoke a lot about how to get people to network online as well, which is perhaps interesting to people. >

Now one thing I don’t, I don’t want to skip over is the fact that the book is really very action-oriented and very hands-on, and it has a lot of useful templates for self-auditing and making decisions about your career. How were those developed Mags?

Mags

They were developed as part of my practice. So I have been working with people really solidly for the last 18 months doing this work and actually using each of these templates with them and developing as we moved forward. So I work with, I work with people right through the spectrum of design. So I’ve started with working with small, with designers who are just moving in. So have maybe we’ve done a bootcamp or a Master’s qualification and starting to move forward. We talk about their positioning. We then move forward with people who were sort of mid-career. So I work with a lot of senior practitioners moving into leadership and we going through each of those. I think the big thing that has hit me over the last 18 months is there is one thing that I can teach people from a technical perspective, which is information architecture, but the rest of it, because they practice so much, they know it hands down better than I do. And so what I’ve noticed is my, what I can frame and what I can do and facilitate for them is actually taking them through this process of their reflection. And that’s what I’ve been doing through these last 18 months with them.

Gerry

Another thing I really liked in the book was you have very clear descriptions and tables of the various career paths, you know, for practitioners, managers, and consultants, and a breakdown of the different streams and levels within them. It really occurred to me, it’s something that a lot of companies who are hiring miss out on, they don’t have clear articulations of these roles. And if for nothing else, that book was worth reading just for those tables, I thought.

Mags

Thank you. Thank you. It is actually something that I have written down, I’ve been working on, and Donna Spencer has seen it a number of times over the years, Donna’s a friend of the two of us. And I sat there going, I hope this makes sense to others. And I hope when I, when I first have a conversation with someone, we describe what their job role is and we go, ah, you’re here. Where do you want to be? And this is the difference between them or, the new one, I think, was writing the consultants down. And that came out of a conversation with someone in the before times, just before COVID hit. So I think it was February or March, 2020, and we were talking about it. And then he turned to me and said, I think I’m a consultant. And I went, Ooh, okay.

Okay. And this is important. Now it could be somebody who’s with an agency. It could be someone like you or I who have, sit there and go in and work with an organization. But the difference between that being someone versus in an actual product role and a product role where they’re sitting there and they’re working in an organization, focusing on products and the features within it, versus someone who brings her expertise and probably does the same methods, but comes in and comes out. It’s a different headspace. And I don’t think we talk about that enough. And so that’s, what’s been really useful for me being able to have those three… you can move, move through it.

Gerry

Now one can imagine a junior designer thinking ‘it’s already well for Mags who’s clearly clever and motivated and also got in early when the world was young. But I’m a junior working in a design to a design system and I’m just churning out stuff in what you referred to earlier as a factory environment. And I can’t see a pathway out.’ What advice can you give that person? I mean, you can visualize this person, right?

Mags

Oh I can visualize this person. I’ve seen them. I think there’s a couple of things that they can do. The first one is get really good at all of your methods get really, really good. So if you are sitting there and you are churning out stuff, sit there and say, okay, have I brought more research into this? What can I do that could be something else that I could expand my skillset in? How can I learn how to work better with my developer? So maybe what I’m doing is changing what I’m developing or writing up because they, it makes it easier for them to work. One of the things, and I hate saying pay your dues, but one of the aspects of us as juniors is you need to get really good at your technical so that when you have that down pat, you’re starting to see where all the rest of the opportunities are.

So get really, really good at this. So the two ways we’ve talked about it. So Peter Boersma would talk about it as the T-shape and Jared Spool talks about it as the Broken Comb, you need to get that there, and you need to have projects under your belt because once you do that, you have the ability to start to be able to read the signs. The same as reading the signs when it comes to the organization, is starting to read the signs when it comes to projects. Oh, okay. I’ll go apply this in this way. And I know you must sit there and feel I’m really limited. I’ve got a design system I’m churning out, but you can start every day just to find another bit to, to add to it.

Gerry

Great. Thank you. One of the final pieces of advice in the book is to find a trusted mentor. How should we approach this?

Mags

Ooh, okay. So I’ve had number of people who turned to me, be my mentor. What I want people to do when it comes to their mentoring is to have a look and see who, to understand what questions they have. So you could do it two ways. You could sit there and say, I want to find someone who will, I have a particular question that I need answered, and I need their support for that. And that could be a one-off, someone who will spend an hour with you focused very much. If I think back into that thing where I was talking about the director of HR, she and I met three times over a year on the work that I needed. That was true mentoring because we sat down with a really specific question, she and I went through it and we moved forward. I wasn’t meeting with her every week to actually help.

It was very strong on a, on a very focus. The second one is if you want someone with an ongoing relationship to actually help you through your work, you could either do that by finding someone within your network who is willing to have that conversation with you. And that could be someone who is in your organization, who’s slightly different. So not your boss, maybe it’s another principal designer, or you could be paying for it, the sort of stuff that I do. But the thing for, and I want to talk about the two differences. There’s a mentor versus a coach. A mentor is someone who you say, can you help me? Can you give me some advice? A coach is someone who says, okay, let’s go through the situation. I’m going to ask you to write questions for you to get to the right answer. So that’s the other bit, which is to say, what you want is a mentor who’s going to be saying, Mags, wrong idea. Okay. Here’s my, the wealth of my experience. And I think this is what we could do to move you forward. A coach is going to say, Mags, let’s have the conversation and let me help you come up with what the answer is. And I think we need a lot of mentors who are going to say, go and do this rather, we need coaches as well. But at this point, I think the mentor who’s going to say, let me give you the wealth of my experience.

Gerry

I’ll remind listeners that Mag’s book is called is Career Architecture: Analyse, Structure, and Plan your Design Career. I think it’s a really useful and practical resource. It’s a fantastic book. And it has the added virtue of brevity. I think it’s only about 140, 150 pages long, which, it gets the thumbs up from me. >

Mags Hanley, thanks so much for joining me today on the User Experience podcast.

Mags

My pleasure. Thank you so much, Gerry. Lovely to talk to you.

Gerry GaffneyMags Hanley on Career Architecture

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