How I went from contractor to Lead UX Designer at JCPenney in 4.5 months.

Twas a sunny May 4th in Plano, Texas, when a young bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Matt Souza joined the UX team at JCPenney Digital Studio. While I was brought on as a contractor to work on the rewards project, I was immediately drawn to the then very outdated and neglected mobile apps.

After successfully delivering a brand new JCPenney Rewards experience which drove an 11% increase in enrollment (around 13k per week in the first 6 weeks alone) and a 15.84% boost in account linking, I was excited and ready for my next big challenge.

Fast forward to 4 months and it was now early September and timing could not have been more perfect! You see, Black Friday and Cyber Monday are two of the most lucrative events in retail, especially on the eCommerce side.

Because of this, JCPenney was under a ‘code freeze’ where no new features or functionalities could be introduced to any of the production environments, whether it be web or native. And so, I took this opportunity and ran with it!

Black Friday Madness? Code freeze, please!

I began to recruit and collaborate with some other fellow UXers, product manager, business analyst, and developers in our team. Soon, my initial redesign sketches and concepts began to come to life. It wasn’t very long until we had a bullet proof business case and working prototype ready for debut.

As fate would have it, our VP of digital platform had gotten wind of my “madness” and asked to take a look at what my team and I had been working on. Fortunately for me, it was around this very same time my contract would be up for renewal.

After our informal sit down, I was offered a full-time position, and before I could say “Yes!”, I was pitching my redesign concept of the iOS and Android apps to product managers, business analysts, system architects, directors, VPs and even EVP left and right — even our CEO got a word of it.

*Keynote. Keynote. Keynote.

While there is no exact formula for success, one personal take away from this entire process was I had to get out of my comfort zone and push my limits. I learned to supplement my weaknesses with my teammates strengths. More importantly, I made the decision to speak up and not be held back from trying something new or different, simply because ‘failure’ was a possible outcome.

It was through meticulous determination and perseverance that I was able to demonstrate key initiative and organizational savviness. Soon after receiving sponsorship and funding from executive leadership, project Copacabana (#shoutout) was in full motion. It gave me the opportunity to lead the overhaul and complete redesign of a major iconic US retailer app.

Because nothing says ‘Celebration’ quite like a catered lunch from Chipotle!**

TL;DR

  • Don’t just sit around and wait for that “great opportunity” to fall on your lap. Yes — while it does sometimes happen to the lucky few, are you really willing to leave your career up to fate?
  • Create your opportunities. Analyse the system, identify the gaps or pain points and create solutions for it. This will ultimately lead to the right opportunity you didn’t even know you were looking for.
  • You can’t just “love” what you do. You gotta be the best at what you do. Be informed of all the latest and greatest, reach out to that talented designer you really admire, be open to criticism and feedback (when applicable — sometimes haters just gonna hate).
  • Be present in the moment! Step up to the plate, even if you don’t really feel that you’re “ready.” Take a leap and just go for it! As the modern day philosopher Michael Jordan once said (or Wayne Gretzky — depending on your personal belief…), “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
#DropTheMic

Fun fact about the author:

Matt Souza is a Dallas based minimalist design enthusiast with a healthy obsession to travel, fitness and Chipotle**. Learn more at mattsouza.com


**No I do not receive any type of endorsement from Chipotle, however, if offered, I won’t say no. So in the event of someone from corporate happens to take a quick read…call me, maybe?