Design Leader Insights - Amy Jackson

January 16, 2023

Alex Smith: Hey Amy, thanks so much for joining the show today. 

Amy Jackson: Well, glad to be here. Thanks for inviting me. 

Alex Smith: Yeah, of course. And as we get started, can you give the audience a little bit of context and how you've worked with UX design over the years? 

Amy Jackson: Sure. So way back, in my day, I was a UI Engineer. That's what I did when I got out of school. Got a little tired of coding. And cuz that's what UI was back then, it was coding. Went to a headhunter, and she said, gee, you know, there's all this technology we don't understand and you know, what do you think about trying this out? So we said, okay, my mother cried, but I said okay, that was 30-something let's just say years ago. So I actually predated the internet, in UI recruiting. The term UX all that, so I've been around a really long time. So when I first got started, because there really wasn't a lot of digital presence for anyone,it was old fashioned, meaning everybody sending out resumes and that type of thing. And things have really changed for the better. People can interact online. People have access to people's work. So it's been really good. About 12 years ago, 13 years ago, I am on the East Coast, started working exclusively on the West Coast. Silicon Valley called literally and so I switched away from New York in the Boston area. So I've been doing that exclusively for the last 13 years. I specialize in startups.I have worked with a few of the bigger companies, none of the FAANG's. They always have giant recruiting teams, but I'm a specialist. I do matchmaking for UX professionals, you know, scanning from early in the career not super, super early, but earlier in the career, all the way up to senior leadership and stuff like that. 

Alex Smith: Yeah, that's awesome. Being around the field and seeing it grow so much. I also love that you work with startups. There's a lot of startups that come out with like a focus on design or design has a seat at the table, so we say, and that can kind of push the old incumbent companies to really focus on,okay wow, this is a new startup that focused on UX, we need to improve that as well.

Amy Jackson: There's actually a tie, a part of time where that started to really come out. It was after the housing crisis, 2008-ish kind of time where, and again, this is probably what drove me to the West Coast. Companies started saying if we're going to invest, we want design early. We want design first. You know, the companies that were designed later have design as part of their  development were the ones that didn't fail during the recession, which is probably an interesting thing to talk about, as we go into this. That was the last official recession that we went through. And, you know, I was busier than probably I've ever been, except for the ".com" era as far as hiring goes. In design again, I think there was a focus or recognition that the impact that design was having on product was extraordinary.

Alex Smith: Yeah Amy, let's talk about that. I think, obviously, the recessions are everywhere. And it's terrifying to designers of all levels in their career. What does that mean for UX? It's I mean, sounds like you've been through the last recession, and what that did to design. 

Amy Jackson: Three in total. Obviously, UX has grown a lot since then. Part of this is my opinion. But my opinion is based on what I'm experiencing as fact. I started to slow down at COVID. And then things by the end of summer of 2020, were great guns again, everybody was hiring, it wasn't a problem. Once companies figured out how to work remotely, how to hire remotely, how to manage teams remotely, the barrier, the only barrier that really remained was location. That was dispelled. So all of a sudden, instead of just having X number of jobs available in a certain area, you could work anywhere in the country, arguably anywhere in the world. So there was this huge perception of a surge in hiring. And in fact, it wasn't a surge in hiring, it was an access. It was an access that never existed before. That access still exists. In the last 15 years, 10-15 years, companies have been making a lot of money. They're investing a lot of money, the VCs have gotten very, very, very well off, and they still have money to invest. Now they're impacted by a down market, stock market, they're impacted to some degree, but that is how they make their living. By investing in new technologies, by supporting the companies that they're working with already. So what I've been seeing since, you know, the first down quarter, and then subsequently the second down quarter, which is what indicates us being officially in a recession. What I've been seeing is the startups in particular, and we'll talk about bigger companies too. The startups in particular that needed to get funding soon, that didn't get funding before this all started, they might be the ones that are concerned or could be struggling because the purse strings might be a little bit tighter. They might be getting looked with a closer lens as to whether or not it's viable to give them another 10 million or 20 million or whatever. The companies, the startups that had money in the bank, because they raised in January, or they raised the end of last year, that have 18 to 24 month runways, they gotta get product out the door. They need to build to be successful, they're still hiring. And so, you know, since that's a big space of where I work, I'm not seeing a downturn from there at all. We'll talk about the big companies just for a second, because I do have some larger startups, you know, multiple 1000s that they still call themselves startups. There are the FAANG companies, they've got plenty of money, they can actually hold off on new initiatives, they can hold off on major hiring. So the stock market affecting them, maybe, you know, their stock prices, their boards, their members. But it isn't because they're really hurting, it isn't because there is a risk of going out of business. It's, it's more because, you know, we're going to sit back and chill a little bit. You know, instead of taking money, investing money in new initiatives, we can afford to continue on the path that we're on. And so...They'll start again, as soon as they feel a little more comfortable and or somebody really wants to push some new product out the door. It's still much less affected by the stock market than other technology or other areas rather other than technology. Some of the ones that the biggest cuts are these companies, these startups that really haven't turned a profit in years. Like if you look at their price to earnings ratio, it's negative. How do you advise someone looking to think about like to actually like, look at the financials and say, okay, this company hasn't really turned a profit yet, or, like, I think it's an important consideration.  Yes, but I always maintain that it's what you're working on, what you're doing and what you're able to produce that is going to push your career forward. So this is advice I give a lot of people who are like, well, should I go to Google? Or should I take the startup that nobody's ever heard of? And I'm like, okay, well, if you go to Google, and you're one of 20 people working on onboarding for search,or you go to the startup and you get to own you know, something end to end, you get to work directly with the C suite, with the users, you know, what do you think looks better when you go to go to your next job? I always maintain, I mean it's one of the reasons I love startups so much, you get to do more. The other mistake I think a lot of people make from, especially younger designers, people getting into it or haven't been into it for a really long time, is they think they need that name company on their resume. There are companies I have heard hiring managers say we'd like somebody out of a design led company, we'd like somebody out of, you know, a Dropbox, which I you know, I hold in very high regard from a design perspective.Because we know they hire very discriminately. And, yes, that can get you in the door. But it's not going to get you the job. If you go work at a really good company like Dropbox from a design perspective, but what you work on is minimal. What you work on doesn't have impact. What you work on doesn't have any metrics that you can show. You're no better than some of us at some company that hasn't been anywhere else. So you have to take everything with a grain of salt, big companies gonna get you X, but all the other stuff falls off and is equal to anybody else. Getting your foot in the door, you know, it's nice, if you worked at Dropbox, you'll get an interview at Google doesn't mean you're going to get a job at Google.

Alex Smith: Let's wrap up here with a question I always ask. What advice do you have for newer designers entering the field today? 

Amy Jackson: I think when you're first getting into the field, whether it's fresh grad and you're changing from something else, there's a strong desire just to get a job. And anybody can understand that, I was a fresh grad once you know, I need a job. I just want a job, my parents driving me crazy, whatever, that I need a job. And that's fair. But you gotta you gotta have a little person on your shoulder saying don't be stupid. And don't take something just because it's at a big company or because they have made you the biggest offer or you've got to think about and tell everybody experienced or not experience not this job, what's the one after this job? What you have to start thinking about, you're in charge of your career. You could talk to somebody like me, you could talk to your friends, you could talk to your manager. But in the end, you're in charge of your career. Where do you want to be? Not you know, where do you see yourself in five years, but just what do you want to learn? What do you need to learn to stay marketable? What do you need to learn? You know, let's say you want to work on EVs, at some point, how do you get there? Go look at what other people have done. And then you've got to be purposeful. Your blinders can't just be I need a job.Your blinders have to be I need my career to be able to continue to move forward. And that's probably the biggest piece that I'd like to impart upon anybody when they're considering making a job change. 

Alex Smith: Well, thanks so much for being on the show today Amy.

Amy Jackson: Sure, no problem. I'm happy to do it. If there are any follow up questions or anything that you need to ask feel free to reach back out to me.