MvM 2: Get a Job!

In MvM1, I described how I came to the decision/realization that I wanted to pursue an industry position after graduation. In MvM2, I’ll describe my job search, which ends as a User Experience Researcher at Kaiser Permanente. This episode is going to be a little more autobiographical because I’m behind and this is a gimmee. Write what you know, yeah? I promise to move elsewhere for MvM3!

The Plan

Thanks to initial connections from my advisors, I had the good fortune of participating in two internships during my grad career. The first was at Sun in their Labs group, working as a developer on a Java-based virtual world. The second as at Google, working as a User Experience Researcher on the Docs team, which became the Drive-and-Docs team when Drive launched. Quick aside: I strongly recommend pursuing an industry internship to anyone in grad school, even if you are 100% on an academic track, but that’s a subject worth its own post.

By the time I graduated, Sun no longer existed, but that Google thing was still a going concern. All three of the other interns on my team had already joined the company on a full-time basis, and I actually considered conversion at the end of my internship. Google was definitely going to be plan A, and it was easy to get in touch with a recruiter and launch that process.

The Other

Beyond a company I’d already worked at, I wasn’t sure where else to look or even how to look. A key issue for me was my two body problem — my wife strongly disliked the idea of moving to the west coast (farther away from our family in Michigan), or to NYC which I loved but she felt was too expensive. This seemed to rule brand name Bay Area companies… in theory this would rule out Google as well, but I resolved to table that for now. My wife and I made a list of cities we’d each prefer to live in, and the only mutual top choices were Chicago, a familiar place to both of us, and the front range area of Colorado, which we had just visited for the first time for a friend’s wedding. As simple as that, I put an extremely significant bound on my job search.

I searched UX boards, I searched job sites, and I found very little! Purely research-focused positions seem to be the domain of larger companies, and especially in tech these seemed to concentrate on the coasts. Even Google, which has a large Boulder office, did not base any researchers there. Far more common than researcher positions were designer and IxD positions. I know my way around various adobe products and I am proud of my varied skillset, but I don’t have a portfolio. My parents are a graphical and an industrial designer, and I had worked with designers as an intern, so I was knew exactly how I measured up. While I could see myself as a one-man-show doing UX and design for the right kind of startup, I had no idea how to find that kind of job. Short of creating my own job, I felt like I was running out of options.

Enter Kaiser

During one of my job board searches, through sheer chance I happened across a job posting for a research position at Kaiser Permanente, the health provider and insurer. KP is a well known brand, and because of the health focus of my grad career I knew something about the organization. I had zero personal connection to the company, but their all-in-one approach to health care was extremely interesting to me. Georgia Tech does not have a medical school, so I spent a great deal of effort making connections at Emory and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta to carry out my research. Working at Kaiser, I could conduct research ‘from the inside’, with access to every side of the healthcare equation in the US! Another critical piece of the puzzle: Colorado was a KP region. I applied and quickly began an interview process.

What I learned excited me. The Usability Center of Excellence team at KP was a young team, small but growing. The group worked as a internal consultancy, meaning a huge variety of projects. The team also emphasized fieldwork and understanding users, frequently visiting sites like clinics and call centers. This was a significant reassurance for me — I did not want to end up in a situation where all I did was evaluate existing interfaces in isolation as ‘the UI expert’. Finally, the team was still defining itself. I would have an opportunity to help shape UX’s role at Kaiser with my own impact and leadership.

The fit at Kaiser was obvious, and with my very specific geographic requirements it seemed extremely fortuitous that I’d found such an opportunity. I joined KP in the summer of 2014, after searching througout the last ~8 months of my grad program. I’m on the same team today.

Next Episode

This blog has grown long enough (and I’ve reconsidered) writing my initial impressions of ‘life in the industry’, but I may revisit the topic eventually. Next time, I promise to leave autobiography behind!