Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech: Sarah Doody of Career Strategy Lab On The 5 Leadership Lessons She Learned From Her Experience

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis
Authority Magazine
Published in
16 min readMay 31, 2022


To cultivate more critical thinking, it’s crucial that we slow down so we can find the context of each situation and proceed with a clearer perspective that’s rooted in fact, strategy, and mindful decisions.

As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah Doody.

Sarah Doody is a User Experience designer, researcher, and educator. Having worked in the UX industry for more than 18 years, she began her career by working at large corporations and startups of all sizes before launching her own product design consultancy business in 2012.

In 2021, Sarah founded Career Strategy Lab™, a program that helps UX and product professionals at all career stages navigate their job search and articulate their skills and experience. Thus far, professionals that have worked with Sarah have landed jobs at some of the most prestigious brands around the world, including Microsoft, Amazon, Salesforce, Nordstrom, Spotify, Blue Origin and many more.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Ever since I can remember I’ve been very creative and technical. In elementary school, I was in charge of our school newsletter and in grade seven another student and I learned to use graphic design software. I guess you can say the rest is history! However, I didn’t plan to go into the field of User Experience (UX) Research & Design. To be honest, I didn’t even know it existed until after university.

My original plan was to become a neuroscientist. After being accepted to the top neuroscience program in Canada I deferred for a year, taught myself graphic design, and ended up pursuing that. A year or two later I got into web design and read the book, Information Architecture For The Worldwide Web through which I discovered the field of UX. That was 20 years ago! Since then I’ve worked for a few companies, started my own UX consulting business, spoken around the world, and today I’m the Founder & CEO of my UX education and career services company, Career Strategy Lab.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

One of the reasons I decided to go “all-in” on this business, which I explain in the next question, was because I realized that the UX consulting work I was doing at the time would be hard to scale. For example, when you are trading dollars for hours in consulting, there’s a cap on how much time you have, therefore you either need to raise your prices or clone yourself by hiring other consultants to work with you.

At the time, I ran every idea I had through the filter of “how would this scale” and that’s when I really honed in on the idea of online education and courses because of how scalable that business model is. Behind this motivation of scaling was not just revenue, but also time. I had a dream to move away from New York City and live in the mountains because I love downhill skiing. I intentionally designed my business with that lifestyle goal in mind. In 2019 I moved from the Financial District of Manhattan to Salt Lake City, UT. I’m happy to say that my business has grown significantly and this past winter I had the pleasure of enjoying 56 ski days.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

The very first mistake I made was not realizing that I was starting a company and to be honest, it was more of a false assumption than a mistake. In 2017 my inbox was flooded with people asking me “how do I create a UX portfolio?” and to be honest, I just ignored those emails for two reasons. First, I was overwhelmed by the number of people asking me for help with this. And second, at the time I held the stance that if you couldn’t figure out how to make a UX portfolio then you probably didn’t have a future in UX!

Long story short, I wanted to do something that would stop people from asking me this question. To solve this problem, I decided to teach an hour-long “lunch-and-learn” style workshop about how to make a UX portfolio. I created a checkout page and spread awareness about it to the people in my circle. Within just a few days, 85 people signed up and I had to cut off registrations and start a waitlist.

I then realized I had to actually make the workshop. My original plan was that I wouldn’t start creating the workshop unless 40 people signed up (and if less than 40 people signed up I had planned to simply refund everyone). Then something magical happened… After I taught the workshop people started to get hired. They inquired about me teaching again but making the workshop four weeks long instead of one hour.

I’m not sure there’s really a lesson here other than it being an example of how that was kind of my accidental entrepreneur moment. However I must say there was a distinct moment a few months later when I realized I was on to something and I decided to go “all-in” on solving this problem.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

There are two things that make Career Strategy Lab stand out in the UX industry. First, our success stories are truly incredible and life-changing. Second, is that we know our customers and potential customers better than they know themselves.

People routinely email and message us to say our videos, articles, and social media posts feel like we are reading their minds!

This is a testament to the in-depth research we’ve been doing since 2017 around why professionals struggle to articulate their skills and experience during their job search. This has been invaluable in helping us have authentic conversations that attract the right people to Career Strategy Lab.

Additionally, that research has informed the methods and strategies we teach when it comes to everything related to the job search — resumes, portfolios, LinkedIn profiles, job searches, interview prep, negotiaton, and everything else a career seeking person needs to be armed for their next steps.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We are getting into UX recruiting and my team and I are very excited about this. For 5 years I’ve held back from getting into recruiting because when running a business, one of the biggest challenges is to sequence your offerings into a logical order.

When it comes to UX recruiting it makes sense to me to first help candidates learn how to articulate their skills and experience. Now that we have proven success in helping UX candidates get hired, we can supplement that and help companies recruit quality UX candidates.

This is really exciting because in our pilot recruitment project, we averaged three and a half weeks to go from writing the initial job description for a company to having the candidate get hired. One company we worked with had planned to hire a candidate for a three-month contract but instead, hired them full time because they didn’t want to risk having the candidate leave them after three months!

We believe we can help companies find, vet, and hire candidates faster because our 15+ years experience gives us a deep understanding of the industry and roles, a very large network and audience, and the ability to vet candidates more effectively than people who only know UX terminology but haven’t actually worked in the industry.

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?

I’ve noticed that many women are switching into UX from previous careers such as occupational health, architecture, and teaching. One common trait is they didn’t even know the field of UX existed. When it comes to STEM I think there needs to be more awareness about the wide range of career opportunities and how previous careers in education, health, and design can set people up with transferrable skills that will be seen as very valuable in UX for example.

Also, I think many people have an assumption that to work in tech related roles you must learn how to code and that’s simply not true. Coding has an intimidation factor that can make people shy away from the field. However, not everyone who works in UX knows how to or needs to know how to code.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in STEM or Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?

I think a key challenge women face is that we often have to work harder to have our ideas heard, literally and figuratively. This is especially true when women pushback or disagree with something — we’re perceived as being difficult or not a team player. It’s frustrating that men are almost exempt from being considered emotional but when women show an ounce of emotion our credibility is put on the line.

To deal with this, I’ve learned to always return to the facts and data. I find that in my podcast interviews, I can get really fired up about things like UX education however, I know I can confidently back up a lot of my statements with data, so I have no problem showing that emotion from time to time.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech. Can you explain what you mean?

As I mentioned before, one of the big myths is that women think they must know how to code. It can be helpful to develop literacy when it comes to different coding languages and frameworks depending on what you do. This can be beneficial because it allows you to collaborate more easily and quickly with the people actually writing the code. However, coding is not a requirement for so many roles in tech.

Another myth is that working in tech will result in a poor work/life balance. I think many people’s impressions of tech jobs stem from assumptions about startup culture. Not every tech company is a fast-paced environment with 12+ hours days and the expectation that you’re on call all weekend. In fact, some of the women who’ve been through my Career Strategy Lab program switched to UX because they wanted more work/life balance.

One woman in my program got hired at a 100% remote company which gave her the flexibility to travel and decide where she wanted to live versus having to live close to a main office. Another woman gained more life balance because she had a drastic salary increase and was able to pay off debt and be more financially independent.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Tech” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  • Focus on the quality of relationships, not quantity. I see so many new people to the tech and UX industry stressed out with trying to “network” and have 500 connections on LinkedIn … but what does that actually mean? I believe that metrics such as number of followers are simply vanity metrics for most people in the work force. Unless you truly aim to use your social platforms to sell consulting, books, or other endeavors, there’s no need to have a giant network. When the time comes when you need your network, such as when you are looking for a job, it’s far more useful to have a group of people who actually know your talents, experience, skills, passions, etc. rather than someone who just sees you as a face on their feed.
  • Don’t be afraid to say “no.” As a leader in my industry, I’m asked frequently to give my time to different people and causes — speak at an event, review a resume, have a coffee chat, be on a podcast, and more. Earlier in my career, I did a lot of free speaking and teaching on webinars as a way to grow my audience. But I quickly learned that each of those engagement takes time and energy. As I grew my own business, the way I perceived the value of my time changed. These days, I have to protect my time. As a result, I say “no” to a lot of requests because every “yes” comes with a trade off. Now with a team to pay and develop, I have to pay more attention to how I spend my time and energy.
  • If you don’t ask, you don’t receive. Whether it’s salary, getting paid to speak, vacation, title, professional development, an extension on a deadline or anything else … if you don’t ask, the answswer is “no.” Once a I was negotiating my salary to work at a startup and I said I wanted $10,000 more and the founder said “yes” and didn’t even negotiate. I was floored! If I had not asked, there was a 100% chance that I would not have had that extra $10,000 added to my salary.
  • Admit when you don’t know the answer. Of course, take this within reason, but if you’re ever asked something and don’t know, don’t be afraid to just say you don’t know and ask for more time to find the answer. Now if it’s related to the core functions of your job, maybe don’t do this! However, as a manager and CEO, I would rather someone get back to me with a thoughtfully researched answer than ramble on with guesses and opinions. I’ve even been on stage at conferences and been asked questions and said “I don’t know” if I’m not comfortable answering a question.
  • Don’t chase shiny objects. A lot of people are enamored with opportunities that produce short-term gains but don’t really act as a building block in a longer-term strategy. For example, a few years ago I partnered with a large online education company to produce some online courses for me. At the time it seemed amazing — I flew to their production studio, recorded content in front of a live audience, and I thought after that I’d see massive royalty checks come in. I was very wrong and made false assumptions that the size of their audience meant tons of people would watch and buy my courses. The amount of time I put into those courses was 100% not worth the compensation I’ve seen from that. In hindsight, it would have been a far better use of my time and energy to create my own courses, control the pricing, and keep 100% of the profit … and that’s what I did a few years later!

What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?

Focus on the impact you want to have and don’t get married to the method by which you’ll create that impact. Twenty years ago I wrote a personal career manifesto and one part of it said “I will define design.” … let’s be real, what does that actually mean!? It was a lofty, young, naive goal. However, in hindsight I can see how that guided me to be a bit of a maverick in my industry, going against the grain, questioning the status quo, and not being afraid to step out and say things that are sometimes controversial.

This might change in 5 years, but today, I see myself “defining design” by helping people in UX learn how to design and own their careers — applying the very UX process they apply to the products they design, but to their own careers and sometimes, lives. If someone had said I would be in the UX education and career services space 10 years ago, I would not have believed them, but here we are.

What advice would you give to other women leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

Given that my team has grown from 2 to 5 (including me) in the past 9 months I can’t say we are a large team, but relative to the size we were last year, we’ve grown a lot! The biggest challenges for me have been learning how and what I need to let go of, being honest about the best use of my time in the business, and finding the right people to complement my strengths and weaknesses as a CEO.

In terms of managing a team, I think the most important thing is to make sure you have clear responsibilities and ownership. My Director of Operations introduced our team to the concept of only having one pilot for each plane, where planes are projects or tasks. So now, in Slack and team meetings we often say “whose plane is that?” and it’s really helped us execute and be clear about who owns what. It seems simple, but it’s really helped instill ownership on our team which has been challenging for me because for so many years I did everything and now I have to let go.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I hope this doesn’t sound too cynical but some of the people who helped me get to where I am today were examples of the exact type of leader and CEO I never want to be! Early in my career, I had a few bosses who were extremely unsupportive, constantly pegging employees against each other, and operated purely on assumptions and data they twisted to support their causes.

Some of my friends who are also entrepreneurs often say they admire how methodical and intentional I am with how I run my business. I think that really comes from my desire to never be like those people early in my career.

I’m normally a positive person, however, I think there is value in making note of mistakes to avoid and character traits you don’t want to be known for. At one point in a startup I worked in, we had a DNR list –“do not repeat” — to remind us of what we should not do. Of course, there’s a healthy balance and I try to not dwell on negative things. But I do still think of things on that list from time to time.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

The most rewarding thing about what I do is the impact that is has not only on people’s careers, but also on their lives and the lives of their families. I never imagined that people would be emailing me to let me know that my free and paid resources helped them achieve salary increases of 25%, 50%, and even 150%. No doubt, salary increases like that are life-changing.

It’s the impact on people’s lives that’s truly special, such as this person who gained self confidence and independence:

“On a personal note…while this obviously helps my financial situation immensely it has also increased my self-confidence post-divorce in the ability to provide and depend on myself to not only survive but to thrive. Thank you so much!!”

And this person who doubled their salary after being laid off:

“My original salary was $78,500 and after being laid off I purchased your program … after my final job interviews, they called me and offered the Senior Designer role with $155,000 and an $8,000 bonus in common stock. My jaw dropped. I told my fiance and my folks. They all cried. Just .. insane!”

It’s truly special to think of the impact on people’s lives — the ability to pay off debt, buy a house, help their families, and let’s not forget the impact this will have on their future salaries over their entire career.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I think that as a society, we need more critical thinking. Through working with people as they navigate their job searches it’s amazing how many people don’t apply critical thinking to simple things like their resume, LinkedIn profile, or interactions with recruiters and hiring managers.

For example, at least once a week someone will tell me they’ve applied to over 100 jobs and have not had a single job interview. When I hear this I often wonder “why didn’t you stop after 40 jobs and try to figure out why?” To me, this is a reflection of people not thinking critically and working harder and not smarter. It’s no wonder people get so burnt out in their job search, feel like a total imposter, and sometimes even tell me (if they’re switching into UX) that they’re thinking of going back to their previous career.

To cultivate more critical thinking, it’s crucial that we slow down so we can find the context of each situation and proceed with a clearer perspective that’s rooted in fact, strategy, and mindful decisions.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite life lesson quote at the moment is “No is a complete sentence.” Earlier in my career, I said yes to everything — teaching webinars, writing articles, and rushed project timelines because someone didn’t plan accordingly. Now that I am a CEO I have to protect my time and this means saying no to a lot of things, even when people try and guilt me into various engagements.

Also as women, I think we tend to feel like we need to explain every “no” that we give out. I actually have little saved replies that I use for emails so I can just paste the appropriate “no” reply for things like “pick your brain” calls, founders who want me to give them free advice about their product, and speaking requests that don’t offer sufficient compensation.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)

I’d love to have breakfast with Brené Brown. I think we have a lot in common because we are both researchers, storytellers, run companies focused on people development, and love denim jackets. And if she wanted to play pickleball or go swimming before breakfast, I’d be down for that but truth be told, I’ve never played pickleball in my life!

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.



Candice Georgiadis
Authority Magazine

Candice Georgiadis is an active mother of three as well as a designer, founder, social media expert, and philanthropist.