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?

We do this by making sure that we’re building the right sort of tools and patterns so that our partners have to spend less time thinking about nuances of UI design and how to actually construct the product. This means they can focus on what the product is and the problems it’s trying to solve.

One of the other things that’s important for us to be thoughtful about as we scale at DoorDash is the way we’re building things and the tools we have at our disposal on the design and engineering side.This make sure that designs can be reflected at high fidelity and quality, with less overhead in the actual products we build. It also makes all the things that we want to do much more possible.

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

How did the Design Infrastructure team come about at DoorDash?

Shortly after I switched back to design, and after a few stints of being the design lead on projects like DoorDash Drive, I decided I wasn’t happy being focused on just design or just engineering. I decided to move into a role that was explicitly meant to be at the intersection between design and engineering versus being in those two worlds separately. I started by putting in a lot of work towards building out how we think about our design process and a nascent design system that we had at the time. I both designed and built the first versions of our Design Language System, and eventually started growing the team around late 2018.

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

For instance our current open role is a Design Technologist for iOS. This person has to be deeply conscious and experienced with the nuances of how engineers build UIs and products with UIKit, the current paradigm for UI engineering on iOS. They have to know the pain points, how people feel and think when using that tool, and then come up with components that help ensure the things people need the most help with are resolved easily. But they also need to be able to love and appreciate the craftsmanship in building UIs — they help answer how we ensure that everyone at DoorDash can build with craft that is imbued in their work.

Additionally, they should understand from the design side how to engage in and shape how a component will be designed, by providing their perspective as someone building the component and shaping how other engineers will use it.

We need people that care about craftsmanship, have cross-functional/cross-discipline understanding, and just really want to build the platforms & systems that can help our engineers and designers do the best work of their careers.

“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?

At the same time, I want to foster the perspectives on our team that can help us build the bridges that we need to build between design and engineering. It takes a very particular kind of person to be comfortable sitting at that intersection, and I want to make space for those kinds of deeply skilled, empathetic people that are drawn to that. This field of design systems is so new, and I want to be part of the reason that more people can participate in this kind of work in 5 years — I want to make that space for these people, that I myself wish I had 5 years ago.

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?

I also think at the heart of it, one of DoorDash’s goals is to give everyone in our communities the ability to engage with their local merchant in a way that’s more convenient and accessible. Our service isn’t something that’s supposed to be exclusive. I think one of the things that has always been interesting, especially when I first started at DoorDash, was this idea that food delivery and other convenience services are things that only ‘rich people’ can afford, and that it’s inherently inaccessible from an economic point of view.

But I think our service is meant to actually make the world more easily accessible to more people, and I think we’re on a journey to make that possible both economically and in terms of how we build our products to be accessible. So if the ‘North Star’ of DoorDash is to make the world accessible to you no matter what, and to make your local community better connected, then I think accessibility has to be a core part of how we think about our work.

“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 think one of the things that’s been really amazing about this company, and part of the reason why I’m still here today and love and care so deeply about this team, is that the culture was part of the reason I was able to come out and be truthful about who I was. Being able to take this thing that took 25 years of my life to be able to even vocalize to a single person, and then coming out to everyone at a company of the size of DoorDash in 2018 — I don’t know if I would have been able to do it at any other company. I think that level of comfort, trust and positivity that came from that moment when I came out — all of that support and love — has always made DoorDash feel really special to me.

I was part of helping DoorDash go from being this small company where I was the only person doing product design to a place where there are 30+ people on the product design team and even more people on the engineering team that I helped personally hire and get into this company. Being deeply involved in developing the culture, the hiring process, and just knowing all these people helped me know that I would be able to come out and be me. And I was really proud the day I came out, because I knew I had made good decisions in judging the characters of the people I worked with when I was helping hire them, based on the care that they showed me in that really important time.

“Early design team in 2016, before I came out!” — Kathryn
“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?

I think this need for orderliness, structure, and precision is reflected both in my work and in terms of how I like to live my life.

What’s your favorite dish to cook?

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 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?

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

Learn more about the other design leaders at DoorDash:

UX content strategy at DoorDash

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