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Interview with Kathryn Gonzalez

Design Leadership Interview at DoorDash

Hello Kathryn, thanks for taking time to talk! Could you start by describing your role at DoorDash?

Sure! I lead the Design Infrastructure team here. At a high level, our job is to enable our partners in design, product, and engineering to build better products faster, and to make better product decisions more efficiently.

I didn’t have the benefit of working with a team like yours until recently. Is it a relatively new discipline in the industry?

Yeah, I would say it’s still a very new discipline. There are some notable companies like Lyft, Spotify, and Thumbtack that have developed really great design systems practices, and seeing those great examples has helped us strive for an equal level of quality. But it’s definitely something that the industry as a whole is still really growing into, and I think there’s a lot of room for innovation and even in understanding the basics of how to do this well.

How did the Design Infrastructure team come about at DoorDash?

So, I joined DoorDash almost five years ago as the very first product designer, and I had previously been at another company working as both a designer and engineer. Both experiences were exciting because they gave me a lot of ownership over the end-to-end quality of the product. As DoorDash grew in the first few years I was here, I spent time focused on different areas between design and engineering, even being the technical lead of our web product for a while.

You’re currently hiring for your team. What types of skills and perspectives are you looking for in candidates?

One of the things that’s really important for us is to find people that are really strong at bridging the gap between design and engineering. That means finding people that are super detail oriented, curious about the similarities and differences between those disciplines, and are able to provide the deep understanding and perspective necessary to make other designers and engineers better, both from the daily practices of their work to the broader decisions they’ll have to make while building our products.

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“DoorDash Design Infrastructure team at the end of 2019.” — Kathryn

I’ve said this to you many times, but I take a lot of inspiration from the way you lead your team. How would you describe your leadership style?

The way I want people to see my leadership style is that I want to understand all the details to make sure that everyone is coordinated in the right way. I want to make sure we’re proactive and communicate effectively with other teams. This is especially important for the kind of role that my team fulfills, serving other teams and their interests, and how they get their work done to build a better product. And because of that need for coordinating our impact through the work of others, I feel like we have to be very collaborative and cognizant of how we affect the stakeholders that are actually using our products to build that correctly. I also think that it takes time to do anything interesting, and you need a lot of different perspectives along the way to make something great.

That helps explain your team’s empathetic and collaborative approach! Speaking of empathy, you helped drive DoorDash’s recent accessibility efforts. Why was that such an important focus for you?

So, there’s two parts to that answer. The first is that our team is uniquely situated to make an impact on accessibility because it isn’t something that happens just on a product level, and it doesn’t just happen within our Consumer, Merchant, or Dasher products. It’s a way of thinking and designing so that we’re not only building something that works for the narrow group of people that look like us, but for people with different kinds of mental and physical capabilities and circumstances. It’s about being able to serve anyone who wants to use our product.

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“DoorDash design team at the end of 2019.” — Kathryn

One of the things I appreciate the most about that answer is how it aligns with the company’s overall user-centric culture, which makes sense since you’ve been here for almost five years now. What makes DoorDash such a special place to work for you?

I’m trans, and back in December of 2018, I officially came out at work and started transitioning while here. I’d been at DoorDash for about 3 and a half years. That’s a long time, given how old the company is overall and how early I started. People knew me for a long time as another person, and because I wasn’t out in any aspect of my life, I had a lot of experiences where I couldn’t really feel comfortable being myself openly. It was hard, and it was a long road both personally and professionally to feel the courage to come out and start being me.

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“Early design team in 2016, before I came out!” — Kathryn
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“Celebration with my lovely coworkers after I came out at DoorDash in December 2018!” — Kathryn

Thank you for sharing such an inspiring personal anecdote, Kathryn. I want to ask about something else from your personal life, which is your love of cooking. What do you enjoy most about it?

There’s a saying in cooking that the cleanliness of your station is a reflection of your mind, and what that means is that best cooks and chefs in the world have a very specific orderliness to how they work and the environment that they work in. And so, for me, the excitement of knowing what the right sort of ingredients are, how they play together, the process and skills necessary to make them bloom, in the act of making something great, that just gets me so happy.

What’s your favorite dish to cook?

So, there is this dish that I love to make that is just pure comfort food for me. I’m Filipino and one of the dishes that my dad would make growing up is this dish called bulalo. It’s basically this really rich stew of beef shank with bone marrow and potatoes and corn and bok choy. It’s this really hearty soup and when you eat it, you have to be careful because the soup itself can be super hot under a placid lake of oil. Every time I think about it, I think about home and what that means to me.

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Want to see more of Kathryn’s incredible cooking skills for yourself? Follow her on Instagram @kathryncooking.

I’ve been hearing for years that Filipino food was going to be the ‘next big thing’ but it hasn’t taken off like it should.

I think it’s interesting because it’s starting to happen at certain levels. For instance, one of the most celebrated new restaurants over the last couple of years is this Filipino restaurant out in D.C. called Bad Saint. It was named the 2nd best restaurant in the United States in 2016 by Bon Appetit, so, I think it’s one of those things where there’s starting to be more respect for it within the foodie sphere. There’s a lot of more casual, home-style Filipino restaurants, but there’s a growing space and interest in fine dining and other treatments of Filipino cuisine. I think it’ll get to a more elevated position in the culinary world soon. It’s too good not to.

I couldn’t agree more. Kathryn, thank you for taking the time to chat and share your thoughts. Is there anything else you want to add before we sign off?

First thing is: Thank you for interviewing me Tae! Second thing is: DoorDash is a really special company with both an exciting mission and exciting roles that help make that mission a reality. One of those roles I’m hiring for is a Design Technologist position focused on iOS that will help us build a new design system in SwiftUI — if you’re interested in this and deeply care about craft and iOS UI engineering, please let me know by shooting me an email at kathryn@doordash.com! Thank you for reading, and please take care of yourself and others during these times. It’s the most important thing to do during all this.

If you’re interested in joining Kathryn’s amazing team, check out the following links:

Design Technologist for iOS

Learn more about the other design leaders at DoorDash:

Christopher Payne — Chief Operating Officer
Radhika Bhalla — Head of UX Research
Rajat Shroff — VP of Product
Sam Lind — Sr Manager for Core Consumer Design
Tae Kim — UX Content Strategy Lead
Tony Xu — CEO and co-founder
Will DiMondi — Manager for Merchant Design

UX content strategy at DoorDash

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