Beyond the px — Georgie Luhur Cooke on mentors, working out and positive thinking

Luis Ouriach
Feb 20, 2020 · 10 min read

This month’s Beyond the px is with Sydney-based UI Engineer Georgie Cooke (née Luhur). As someone who sits inbetween the design and tech team, I’m fascinated to see her perspective on how design and engineering can pair up to deliver successful, profitable products.

Enjoy!

Can you explain briefly who Campaign Monitor are?

Campaign Monitor are an email marketing company that originated in Australia. We provide our customers with the tools they need to create beautiful emails and automate subscriber journeys to their email lists. We also have a dedicated customer support team to help with requests.

We now have offices around the world (some cities include Nashville, New York, Wellington, London) for some of our sibling brands.

Our core values are built around the themes of respect, innovation, collaboration, and being adaptable. These core values are really important to the way we operate as an organisation and is reflected in our welcome, caring and positive culture.

What has been your journey up until now?

I started learning how to code when I was about ten years old. I had only just started using the internet to play games and chat with friends, and was really curious how to get a website of my own.

I don’t have a formal education in coding or programming, and I don’t have a traditional computing background. Getting my first steps into the industry came as a result of looking for web development jobs, hoping I could use my self-taught skills to have a job I enjoyed.

To date, everything else I’ve learned has been on the job and from wonderful mentors in my career.

What does your typical morning look like?

I love going to the gym, and I’ve found that I really can’t get my day started properly without lifting some weights — unless it’s a rest day, of course. If I don’t go to the gym in the morning, I’ll spend most of my day thinking about what I’ll do at the gym later… so exercising in the morning works best for me!

I wake up at 6:00am most weekdays, but on Thursdays and Fridays I wake up at 5:00am, and work 8–4 instead of 9–5. After waking up, I immediately get ready for the gym. Then I get my workout in (as of the beginning of 2020 I’ve been doing a full-body workout split 5–6 times a week). I come home, get showered, and get dressed for work, drinking a protein shake somewhere in between.

I catch a bus to work, and it’s a short 20–30 minute commute including any walking. Sometimes I will catch the bus with my husband since our workplaces are quite close. If not, I’ll listen to music on the bus.

I like to have a pretty mindful morning and mindful commute, so I try not to use my phone at all on the bus, and I avoid reading anything related to work until I actually get to the office. I check my email and messages at some point, maybe while I’m at the gym, but actioning any emails or messages is postponed for later in the day.

I’m lucky enough to get breakfast at work, that the chefs cook for us, so when I get to work I’ll grab some food and then get stuck into work.

What does your tool stack look like?

I like to think it’s fairly simplistic! I use a Mac. I have been using Sublime Text as my code editor since 2012. I use the Terminal app on macOS for working with the command line (including Git).

I view designs in Sketch, but at CM our designers upload the Sketch files to Invision, and the web inspect tool there is fantastic and easy to use.

Do you have any process hacks?

When I’m developing, I really make use of splitting the screen between my code editor and the command line, or my code editor and the browser. I’m just really organised with my digital working space.

It’s not a hack, but I think it’s important for productivity.

Do you find it hard to define what you do to your friends?

In the past I found it difficult because the term “front-end developer” didn’t make a lot of sense to laypersons or people outside of the tech industry. But the job title has evolved a little to be more descriptive, which is why I find that “user interface engineer” works quite well.

In the past I’ve used “software engineer” and “programmer” to explain what I do on a generic level, which many of my friends and family understand and can explain.

Do your career aspirations encroach your life?

My work and my life kind of meld with each other a bit. What started out as a hobby turned into my job.

Things I learned at work became things I could apply to my personal projects, such as my blog (which I am extremely passionate about). While I felt lucky that I was working a job I loved, I soon realised that it was very easy for my work and personal lives to tangle together in a way that caused stress and uncertainty. I had to work on finding the right balance — which I think is really important.

I don’t think my career aspirations have affected my life directly, but rather the other way around. I’ve gone through a lot of personal growth in the past few years, which resulted in me having a firmer grasp on my views on life. I adopted a more minimalistic and intentional lifestyle and learned to appreciate and be grateful for what I already have, and every day I strive to be a better person by doing or learning something, no matter how small it is.

I’ve applied the same positive thinking to my career and my work. For example, I might declutter things I don’t need and make use of what I already own, and in working on our design system I will always try to see what isn’t necessary and can be removed, and what great features we can draw attention to.

How do you design ‘for the future’?

When I think of the future I think of innovation and being creative, taking inspiration from others but not copying too much.

There’s a bit of thinking outside the box, but also remembering to stick to the fundamentals: user interfaces have to function correctly; a good user experience has to be provided, and it all has to be easily understood and digested by users. I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with designers and this gives us an opportunity to collaborate, but it can be easy for us to think about the delight and the bells & whistles too soon.

It’s important to get the form and function right.

What’s your affiliation with the email marketing industry?

From a young age I was really interested in building HTML emails. It was a different playground to building a regular webpage or website, with entirely different problems to solve.

I found it fascinating, and bundled with the fact that I was plainly obsessed with communicating digitally (before communicating with Hipchat or Slack was even a thing!), I was really drawn to working for an email marketing company like Campaign Monitor. I used to work for small clients, and for companies with marketplace products, which I didn’t really enjoy as much as I enjoy what I do now: basically helping people communicate effectively with others.

Can you explain the team dynamic?

As a UI engineer I work closely with designers to tighten feedback loops on designs being translated to front-end code. I also regularly communicate with back-end engineers, who are the users of our design system.

As for the team I’m directly in, there are only three of us (me and two others, one being my direct manager). We’re a really small UI team and we operate as a single unit, with at least one member periodically working with product teams to help build their UI (we take turns).

Although it has a long way to go still, our design system has made it much easier for product teams to put together UI themselves, without much support from us.

Will your product exist in ten years time?

The phrase “email is dead” has been used for at least half a decade now, which is funny because that’s about how long I’ve actually been working at Campaign Monitor.

We’ve all joked about it, and continue to joke that no one sends email anymore, but to this day it’s still one of the most widely used forms of communication. Email marketing is very important for business in this day and age.

Even though technology moves fast, and with the rise of technology like virtual/augmented reality, I don’t see email disappearing any time soon. I think that VR/AR might solve certain problems or give way to another method of communicating with others, and definitely another way for businesses to communicate with their target market. But I don’t see anything replacing what email does for us now. I think that we will still be communicating via email in ten years.

Email has slowly, gradually become more personalised, and tailored to our interests when it comes to consuming and purchasing goods. This is, as I mentioned, great for business! And we can see email evolving to become even more closely tailored to ourselves as consumers. I strongly believe that, yet that doesn’t reflect my hopes for the future of email. With recent talk about sustainability and global warming and how we should be consuming less, I’m less open to receiving email about how I should buy this and buy that. I actually hope that email will be used to communicate more about how we can be kinder to the environment, by businesses and organisations spreading the word about how we can be more sustainable.

It might be something that causes our product not to exist, in perhaps twenty years’ time, but maybe — one day — email itself will just be an innocent form of digital communication that exists like the novelty of receiving a postcard in the mail today.

What advice would you give for those interested in kick starting a career in designing for the market?

Learn to code on your own! You don’t need a formal education, and it’s very possible with the large amount of resources available on the internet.

My teammate Ryan has created Frontend30.com, and I also commend Wes Bos’s Javascript30.com. Having a side project can also help you learn so that you have some skills to show for a junior role.

A simple way to start becoming familiar with HTML and CSS can be building your own website, or looking at existing websites and trying to rebuild what you see. If you’re looking to work with more JavaScript, creating a data structure with metadata for something like movies, a directory of restaurants, a wardrobe inventory (this is something I did!), video game character profiles, etc. and learning how to manipulate that data can help you become familiar with the language.

It might be daunting, but it’s also very useful to talk to someone who might already be working in the industry to ask about their experience or what to expect out of their role. Asking people about their experience or for help is a great way to learn more and to also find a possible mentor if that is the career you’re looking to pursue.

What’s your stance on our culture of overwork?

Burnout is real.

I don’t think that anyone should be slaving away at work outside of work hours or beyond an acceptable amount of working hours. Time and time again we’ve seen people on social media share their stories of ill mental health caused by overworking.

If one enjoys their job and what they do and want to explore or play or have side projects or hobbies related to their work — that’s totally fine. But I don’t think anyone needs to feel like they should be using their personal time for working.

In fact, I think companies should be more accepting and understanding of using a small percentage of working hours to do research or exploration related to the job.

Georgie’s journey is a clear indication that the culmination of hard work, mentorship and a clear drive can land you somewhere where you’re producing high quality work that you’re proud of.

On top of this, looking after your mental health and building a routine that is complimented rather than hindered by your work is so important to your long term happiness both in the workplace and at home.

See you next month.

P.s. we’ve teamed up with DesignLab to offer out their courses to 8px readers. Want to learn UX from some of the industry masters? They offer both short and long courses, where you’re teamed up with mentors from Github, Dropbox and the BBC.

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