That’s what Sally Hogshead shares in her book Fascinating. She speaks about how “better” keeps you chained to the same old way of working as your competition. It pays off to be different because true innovation doesn’t arise from just trying to be better than another.
At Praxi Data, we are different.
Consider how we approach design. Design at our company is currently a small but mighty team of three. Look deeper and you’ll find that there’s nothing typical about us. Our team comes from all different walks of life: a former veteran, accountant, and elementary school teacher (me). It’s not your common image of a data management driven design dream team. Still, we make magic.
AI Data Catalogs and Educating 10 Year Olds
It’s fair to wonder exactly how our different experiences really benefit the team. Take teaching, for example. What does educating 10 year olds have to do with designing data catalogs based on machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI)?
It’s a question that I, admittedly faced myself when ideas for change came running through my head. I have two education degrees under my belt and years of experience working with kids. I was certain that I would be a teacher forever and always. Big Data wasn’t even on my radar. Two years in charge of a classroom left me with new thoughts that I had never considered before. Worries about surviving on a teacher’s salary in the Bay Area mixed with other concerns left me searching for a new purpose.
I’m Not Exactly a Data Analyst But . .
I went on to make spreadsheets and googled too many articles about the alternative careers suitable for teachers. Sales always seemed to be a popular suggestion but it was an option that made me shudder. Instructional design sounded like it could make sense but it didn’t speak to me, either. I continued to search, hoping to find something that could be meaningful and not turn out to be just a boring job.
My light bulb moment came not from Google, but from someone I knew. He was an aspiring product designer, taking online design courses while juggling a full time job as a multimedia designer. As I asked questions and learned more, it wasn’t long before I found myself following in his steps.
Being a product designer, helping to create data catalog models, made sense to me in a way I never really expected. Because for me, design was a shadow. It had always been around in my life but never in the spotlight since I had been so focused on teaching.
Thinking Back, I’ve Always Loved Design
When I was in high school, I started formally working with kids as a summer camp leader. It was also in those exact years that I first installed photoshop and started making quirky little designs. I continued to design as a hobby over the years and eventually took a position as a website design instructor for summer camps.
When it came to college, I considered double majoring in graphic design but I eventually graduated with a minor, instead. Designing continued to be my side interest and my subject of choice when teaching fun lessons to students beyond the curriculum. It wasn’t until 2019 when I finally realized that design could become my career.
Once I finally settled on this goal, I did what every good teacher with a lifelong learner mindset would do: I sought to improve myself through education. With my years of tinkering in photoshop and a minor in graphic design, I was already familiar with elements of visual design. Research was the half of product design that seemed daunting to me.
Completing My Skill Set
To tackle this barrier, I decided to sign up for a design bootcamp. It didn’t stop there. I attended design meetups, read books, listened to podcasts, made a Medium account, and much more. In the words of Lin-Manuel Miranda, I was truly “young, scrappy, and hungry” in those moments, searching for any avenue that could help me become a better designer.
I continued improving my own data catalog of technical skills. I began to understand that being a former teacher wouldn’t cripple me as I feared it would. The more I dived into the product design world, the more I realized how my teaching experience could benefit this new field.
In a 2019 product design hiring report conducted by Invision, hiring managers revealed what they found to be the top “soft skills” needed in product design. Those skills included collaboration, communication, empathy, emotional intelligence, and public speaking to name a few. Ask any parent and they will likely tell you that they would want their child’s teacher to possess all these qualities.
As an educator, I constantly collaborated with staff, administration, and parents. Public speaking was an essential part of the job.
Knowing how to communicate complex ideas into digestible lessons that were grade appropriate was an equally essential point of being an educator. Most critical of all, though, was having empathy for my students. When I was a teacher, I always turned to the wise words of Rita Pierson to best understand how to reach all the learners in my classroom.
In her talks, she speaks to the value and importance of human connection and how all learning involves understanding relationships. As a teacher, I sought first to understand before being understood. Empathizing and learning what truly motivates kids allowed me to become a better teacher.
Putting It All Together
I still carry Rita’s words of wisdom with me as a product designer for Praxi Data, a company that uses data management and machine learning models to create the best enterprise data catalog solutions. Rather than focusing on what simply looks nice, I take the time to understand the business user in order to build sound solutions that address real needs. Teaching may not have provided the technical skills I needed for my current position. However, it did equip me with the right attitude, temperament, and mindset to be an effective product designer for today’s data consumers.
My unique perspective coupled with my ability allowed me to successfully complete bootcamp in half the time of most others. It eventually came time to put my skills to the test. LinkedIn became my best friend and Slack channels for design groups a close second. Admittedly, the UX job market has been hot in a number of ways. There has been an increase in open positions as companies realize the value that design brings to the table. Paralleling the rise in open positions is the climbing number of aspiring designers. The UX space seems to see more and more career changers such as myself. It was critical that I positioned myself to stand out.
Firm in my belief, I eventually found someone who also understood that “different” is better than better. Through the South Bay UX Meetup community, I crossed paths with our Head of Product Design, Brenden Rodriguez. As of November 2019, I have been collaborating and designing side by side with him and May Song.
Never Doubt the Power of Education
My studies and experiences have led me on this path of becoming a designer. As an educator, I will never doubt the power of education. With that being said, there were numerous areas in which I’ve had to grow to be able to design for a big data company. Prior to working at Praxi Data, I had no experience with data governance, machine learning, or artificial intelligence. Learning the technical side of it all was the most pressing hurdle for me. Thankfully, Andrew Ahn and Brenden Rodriguez have been wonderful mentors and educators. Their mission is to democratize ML and big data, and this includes making it understandable and real by applying it to common business problems
My studies and experiences have led me on this path of becoming a designer. As an educator, I will never doubt the power of education. With that being said, there were numerous areas in which I’ve had to grow to be able to design for a big data company. Prior to working at Praxi Data, I had no experience with data governance, machine learning, or artificial intelligence. Learning the technical side of it all was the most pressing hurdle for me. Thankfully, Andrew Ahn and Brenden Rodriguez have been wonderful mentors and educators. Their mission is to democratize ML and big data, and this includes making it understandable and real by applying it to common business problems.
Learning Never Ends
These days, I’ve been able to settle into my role and position at the company. Working with other enthusiastic players that have very forward thinking visions has been tremendously rewarding. My knowledge in the data catalog market has grown and with it, my design capabilities.
Of course, learning never ends. Continuing to improve my craft will be a constant part of me. I’m thankful to work with a design team and mentor that constantly encourages me to grow.
Moving forward, our team will continue to create elegant and trusted data solutions that will enable businesses and organizations to gain deep data-driven insights from our product. If you want something fascinating, something different that will really help you tackle your big data problems, Praxi Data is here for you. Learn more about our current work with the Department of Defense. I am excited to lead design efforts in building out their use case.