How GDPR, Data Privacy, and the Cambridge Analytica Scandal Are Affecting My Job Search
Is accreditation the answer to public concern and my hiring potential?
The good news is I’m not alone. In my current state of jumping through hoop after hoop of fiery UX ambiguity for three months now, I’ve learned that there is no standards of practices, accreditations or even sound expectations from my potential clients. With the amount of time I’ve spent doing this, I should say I’m very particular with the type of jobs and clientele I want. The plug not entirely accidental here, I want a remote UX Researcher or Product Management position at a company with a smart, collaborative and remote team that’s building something I believe in. As such, my pool has narrowed to a small puddle as my competition has effectively become every Product Designer and UX Researcher in the world. It is from this viewpoint I beg the question; What role can accreditation play in all this?
I’m the Data Sniper of Public Concern
As I listen to the concerns of my less tech savvy friends and family have over data privacy or the Cambridge Analytica Scandal, it’s not lost on me that I am, though indirectly, whom they are in fear of. All 110 pounds of this 33 year old woman just trying to make it in this world with my curiosity being my most intimidating characteristic. That’s because I’m a UX Researcher and Strategist. As such, it’s my job to extract any data I can from the users of the products I design to make more educated decisions about how to make them better. I have no interest in embarrassing some Joe Billybob with his search history. It’s more so I’d like to find commonalities in folks like Joe Billybob so he and everyone like him get the most out of the digital products.
Clearly, the public doesn’t have a lot of clarity into my field of Product Design. But it isn’t just the general public. The companies I’ve been applying to, though they may understand they need folks like me, have varied greatly in the requirements they expect from me. Many job hunts simply require a resume update. Since January, I’ve both redesigned and developed my new professional website. I’ve put together a new portfolio by extrapolating every project I’ve ever worked on in my entire 8+ year career. I’ve made video responses to job posts when requested, had to carefully navigate confidentiality agreements to share insights legally, and went as far as to create my own product with hopes of having research I could share more transparently. To twist the knife further, I’ve even been told that to some companies, just having a portfolio can been seen as a red-flag or “a designer with too much time”!
Now the world gives me sideways glances and I have no idea how to make potential employers happy. When did Product Design and being a UX Researcher become a world of such anarchy and total chaos?
Accreditation To Save the Day?
What do doctors, lawyers, real estate agents and teachers have in common? They are entrusted with important tasks the layman couldn’t possibly verify. They are certified in an agreed upon way or, if you will, accredited. Physicians need to become licensed, lawyers have bar exams, but UX Researchers only have vague voluntary accreditations.
What Exists Today
There is no one accreditation body for design. This is the biggest reason it isn’t working today. The most common may be certificates offered by The Nielson Norman Group (NN/g) with costs ranging from ~$3,000 to ~$11,000 per certification. Kathy Batemen, a UX Designer from Austin, has such a certificate and says,
“I’m not entirely sure yet about all the different ways it has affected my career… Obviously, the things I learned can be implemented on the job to make our products better.”
There’s also User Interface Engineering (UIE). They define themselves as a leading research, training, and consulting company. But in a twist of irony, most recently offered the “Hiring Master Class” which I can only hope either teaches you exactly how to hire UX folks like me, or more business viably, the very alumni of UIE.
It seems with no agreed upon credentials, the certifications currently available seem to signal to employers more a lack of experience than anything. Meaning, if you lack the experience, the certification almost acts as more a way of training than it does accreditation. According to Jason Brownewell, a Product Hiring Manager and expert at developing UX talent told me,
“No certification exists today that qualifies a UX Designer. There’s so many now that they’ve flooded the market and just created noise. I know managers that immediately discard resumes with certifications. They do more harm than good.”
But Brownewell went on to say there are rare times when it makes sense to use them as training to fill in the gaps. In fact, UXmag’s Danny Bluestone sites why his company attained certification by saying,
“It wasn’t a love of accolades written on fancy paper that marked our pursuit of these certificates, but rather a genuine belief that it would help us to improve our project management skills and fast-track the development process.”
If there’s any truth to that, it says even the certification enthusiasts aren’t treating certifications as ways to accreditation.
The Failing Fear Reducer
Today, validation may not be the only job current UX accreditation misses the mark on. In Zoe Rose’s article, “Experience Design is not a profession… yet”, she points to the fact accreditation could ease the mind’s of our friends and family that are losing trust in our profession.
“Because people who claim to have a profession know things that other people do not know. They can do things that other people cannot do.
And because of this, they are in a unique position to do wrong.”
Which is to say, without accountability or threat of my UX powers being stripped away, I can use the unique combination of user data, psychology, and design to create apps that evoke whatever the heck user behavior I please.
I posed a question to a group of friends outside my tech bubble. I asked them if they’d feel any better if company’s designers were held to regulations and had to be accredited like doctors and lawyers to ensure they never abused the data they had on you. They responded,
“I don’t see a need for accreditation. People should not give out data they don’t want to share. If social media collects click data, that’s different.”
I then tried to explain to the group that “click data” is usually collected and that often, more data about them is collect than they knowingly give out. They responded:
“The internet makes me uncomfortable all together… I feel anyone or company with access to this personal info should have some accreditation or be held to a standard of privacy”
“…comes down to personal responsibility first… even if there’s privacy settings, I do a gut check and see if I’m truly ok if big brother had access to the information”
It’s interesting that even after explaining that they had less control than they thought, there was still confusion around the amount of control over their own data than what they actually have. It seems accreditation would need to be coupled in tandem with more education to the general public to be an effective fear reducer.
As an aside, I fully understand three responses may not be the most statistically relevant sample of the entire global population. I debated actually running a data-gathering survey to find out the fear-level of data-gathering. It’s pretty easy to see the holes in running a survey like that, not to mention it’s already pretty clear that generally, concern is on the rise.
My Hiring Potential… Accredited
I, by nature, generally dislike standardization. I hate taking tests. I have a hard time trusting the test designer took the time to ask the right questions. I’d also hate being graded so black and white on soft skills like ethnographic research. And make no mistake, actually crafting an agreed upon accreditation process for UX Designers is a massive undertaking we’re generations out from solving. But what I hate more, is the state we’re currently in. It’s clear something of accreditation has an immediate place.
I try to imagine how my job search may be different with something like a National UX Researcher Certification to my name. What if instead of rebuilding my portfolio from scratch and getting tangled up in legality issues, I just showed clients a piece of paper. What if instead of carefully editing every project for every application, I just had to take one UX Researcher’s bar exam every 2 years. I’m sure I’d still need to show samples of my work, but I bet both potential employers and myself would feel we had a more concrete idea of the skills being presented.
I mean, wouldn’t you want me held to that?