If you are a researcher considering joining a tech company, or just a curious person, then this post is for you. This is a personal view of my day-to-day, which may help you find out if you’d like to do what I do. (Of course, I recommend talking to other people, too, as we all experience work differently!)
For the last 18 months, I have worked at Uber as a UX Researcher in the Global Research team covering Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) region. A typical month for me can be broken down into 4 main activities.
1. Choosing a research project
My month typically starts with several meetings to discuss EMEA business priorities as well as the Driver and Rider teams’ product roadmaps, plans for features and improvements that our designers and engineers are developing for launch. We talk about the user problems these features or improvements intend to solve and how user research can inform product and business decisions to maximize their success.
The team discusses which projects we’d each like to work on. For me, I tend to get excited about the potential impact of a project. Saswati, my manager, helps me prioritize projects and lay the groundwork with key stakeholders to align on research goals and next steps.
2. Planning for success
After deciding on my next project, I draft a research plan and get multiple buy-ins from stakeholders. Because of the nature of Uber business and its wide geographical reach, I specialize in leading foundational multi-market research studies: we want to know how different features will perform for users all around the world, in a variety of situations and contexts. Some of the topics I’ve researched are how drivers earn, what their personal and professional aspirations are, and how to encourage loyalty among both drivers and riders.
Foundational multi-market studies are complex because they are explorative and not necessarily focused on a defined problem or user segment. They normally require at least one researcher for each market we intend to cover, so I persuade and coordinate with researchers and data scientists across regions, help them find allies within their region who support the project goals, and make sure they can be equal contributors to the project. One milestone collaboration was a project I co-created with Naima Azaiz, the Marketing Manager for France, Switzerland, and Austria. For the first time at Uber, UX Research and Marketing teams, who would typically work separately, co-owned a research project in EMEA.
3. Immersing into a new culture
In the last 5 years working as a UX Researcher, I have led research in 17 countries. For many of these countries, including Saudi Arabia, India, Japan or Brazil, I had never been to the country before going there for research.
But even when a research trip is my first time in a country, it is definitely not the beginning of the research. My work starts well before traveling. I do desk research, searching both within existing reports at Uber (done by my UX Research peers, Data scientists or Marketing teams) and outside Uber on the web. I have a lot of video conferences: with local teams, other researchers who have worked in the area, interpreters, recruiting agencies, and local contacts such as classmates and other acquaintances who can help me hit the ground running.
Once in the field, I always start the week with a Kick-Off Meeting to brief everyone and invite stakeholders to observe the research sessions. Then throughout the week, I lead debrief sessions and send updates to the teams I’m working with. As for the field research itself, I like to combine different methods, from moderating focus groups to doing contextual inquiries “in the wild”. But my favorite way to research is to meet with drivers and riders in their own contexts, the places they work and live. I’m always grateful for the generosity these men and women show by opening their cars and homes to me. From a research perspective, it’s invaluable. From a human perspective, it helps me understand how the decisions we make are ultimately about the real lives of the people we are designing for: this insight is also priceless.
4. Analyzing and sharing out
The analysis starts right after the fieldwork. I go through my research notes to search for patterns, cluster them in themes, identify evidence such as user quotes, pictures or videos that reinforce emerging insights, and start to compile a deck report.
The analysis goes hand in hand with identifying opportunities for making an impact: from quick fixes on UX design, copy or communications, to building a business case for developing a brand-new initiative like offering free online university education to drivers and their families.
Once we’ve been able to analyze our findings, it’s important to share what we’ve learned. Our goal is for our research to enable everyone we work with to understand, empathize with, and emotionally connect with users. We use a variety of tools to accomplish this: traditional presentations, journalistic pieces, user personas, immersive workshops, and “day in the life” videos.
A lifelong learning experience
One of my favorite books is by Stanford professors Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. It’s called Designing your Life, and I’ve found one of the lessons it teaches to be especially true: my work and life are best connected when I am both learning and having fun. I am very grateful to work as a UX researcher because this job allows me to do both of these constantly. I get paid to learn, travel and find out about people’s lives and their interaction with technology.
Whenever I’m frustrated or tired–it can happen in any job–I ask myself what my friends and relatives would pay to get to travel as much as I can do. This always helps me put things in perspective. Still, it is undeniably a lot of travel: I spend 2 to 3 weeks a month outside the Netherlands. If you don’t like the prospect of adapting quickly to new surroundings and learning on the fly–and if you aren’t crazy about long plane rides–being a global UX researcher may not be the best fit for you. But curiously, because I travel so frequently, I feel I appreciate being home even more. And I find that flights of 10+ hours are good chances to pause and reflect on where I am heading in life. I’ve learned to be flexible when I cannot attend a family event, a concert or a football game because I am 10,000 kilometers away. That can be hard, but on the other hand, I get to travel to wonderful places and meet unique people. In the last 2 months alone, I’ve visited Jakarta, Hawaii and New Orleans.
This lifelong learning process is essentially aided and encouraged by the trust I receive from my manager and her generous leadership style. I want to thank Saswati Saha Mitra for her restless work to build and grow the Global Research team at Uber from 2 to 13 people. She supports and empowers my team members and me to achieve our own goals and grow as people. I am especially grateful to her for three major lessons:
- To give feedback with care, when the person is ready for it, and receive it with gratitude
- Research is a team sport. We (researchers) should work with people who value our work. We give second chances and do not beg for inclusion or recognition. We find allies, work more with them and recognize them in any opportunity we have (emails, reports, presentations, meetings)
- Persevere until your work creates the impact it deserves. We do this by understanding business priorities and constantly advocating for the users.
If you’ve read until here, first of all: thank you! Secondly–are you considering joining Uber or a tech company as a Global UX Researcher? I, for one, would recommend it! You can listen to this podcast by Saswati to learn about the skills that she looks for in UX Research candidates. And I’m also happy to chat– to meet over coffee or videoconference, to hopefully help you connect with other researchers and give you my perspective about doing global research.
About the author
Eduardo Gomez is an experienced UX researcher at Uber obsessed with creating user experiences that people love and that work for business. Let’s connect: https://www.linkedin.com/in/eduardogomezruiz/ or firstname.lastname@example.org