This series features profiles of some of the top women leaders within our enterprise technology community here in NYC. We hope by highlighting the terrific work, stories, and career trajectories of these women at top venture-backed startups and operating roles will continue to encourage more women to consider careers in enterprise software.
As a follow up to our sold-out Navigate 2018: Women in Enterprise Tech Summit here at Work-Bench with Salesforce Ventures, we are continuing to recognize and amplify these impressive women in NYC enterprise tech.
Sabrina Siu is a User Experience Designer and Researcher at Alluvium.
What were you doing before this current role in enterprise tech, and how did you get to your current role?
I currently work as a User Experience Designer and Researcher at Alluvium, a machine learning startup turning datastreams into insights for industrial operators. My path here was actually somewhat circuitous. I majored in civil engineering with a focus in architecture because I love the possibility of new ideas in an old industry. However, my first job taught me that turning concepts into realities is harder than it seems.
I started out in the energy industry at ExxonMobil, where I helped manage the long term remediation process at impacted sites across the Midwest and the Northeast. As I gained experience in the energy sector, I noticed that the industry loves internally established “Best Practices,” and personal innovation is frowned upon. I realized that trying to change this industry while following its established rules isn’t practical, and more impact can be made designing products on the outside. I left and picked up product design skills through an internship at the digital design agency FOUR32C (now merged with Sullivan).
I first found out about Alluvium when I received a message from a friend, Jon Ma, who wanted to introduce me to a founder with an innovative vision, Drew Conway. Jon thought my background in engineering, industry experience in Oil and Gas, and job role as a User Experience Designer would make me a good fit for Alluvium’s product team. Once I met Drew and heard the vision, I was totally on board.
What pain point is your company solving, and what gets you excited to go to work every day?
Companies across every industry, especially the Process Manufacturing industry, have embraced the digital age by increasing the amount of available data from their operations. But, seldom has anyone focused on how to get actionable insights from the data coming out of the system, or how to efficiently provide these insights to teams in real time. On top of that, companies that operate in the process manufacturing space typically have engrained corporate hierarchies and silo-ed Business Lines within the company. Cross-business line communication is hard, and institutional knowledge gets easily lost.
Alluvium’s core technology, Alluvium Primer, solves both of those problems — it provides easily digestible insights into potentially problematic assets in the operation, and it serves as a knowledge capture mechanism to allow everyone to more easily communicate with the Subject Matter Experts.
In my role at Alluvium as User Experience Designer and Researcher, I am responsible for figuring out what the users really need and how to translate that into Primer product features. I spend my day thinking through the journey an operator, production engineer, or project manager takes through our product and how to reduce any friction they may face while completing tasks. I love figuring out how to design solutions to these challenges.
What do you wish you had known earlier in your enterprise career?
I wish I had known that making mistakes is just part of the process. In a previous life, I was conditioned to be afraid of being wrong. People were punished for making mistakes and rewarded for not making any. That incentive structure resulted in no one daring to try new ideas for fear of even almost being wrong.
Now I’ve learned that mistakes are good, even encouraged, as long as you acknowledge the mistake and learn from it. I’ve learned to voice my ideas even if it’s not fully developed or isn’t guaranteed to be a success. It’s a very empowering feeling.
Give us one piece of tactical advice (small or large), as a page from your enterprise tech playbook — that you would give to another woman considering a career in enterprise tech?
I actually have two pieces of tactical advice that have helped me feel confident working as a woman in enterprise tech.
- It’s valuable to get to know the other women working in enterprise, whether it is the women in your company, in the coworking space, or at networking events. You’ll get outside perspective and better understand your own situation. I am in two UX mentorship programs in NYC — NYC UXPA as a mentee and Hexagon UX as a mentor. I’ve learned helpful perspective in both roles. As a mentee, I’m able to learn from the experiences that the talented Colleen Diez at Digital Ocean has collected over the years, and apply them to my own work. As a mentor, I’m able to help my bright mentee conquer her fears and help her on her path to becoming an awesome User Researcher.
- You should voice your opinion even if you don’t have 100% confidence in the accuracy of your statement, as long as you understand its strengths and weaknesses and can speak to them. I used to be really hesitant to speak up when I wasn’t 100% sure of my answer. I observed so many people expressing their opinions and wondered how these people knew so many things. I gradually discovered that many people who state their opinions as fact might only be X% sure of their “fact.” I’ve now learned to use a threshold strategy to help myself determine when to speak up. I don’t have to be 100% sure of something, but as long as I state that I am N% sure of Y fact, I could get my voice out there too.
What do you love about enterprise tech?
I love the ingenuity needed to solve enterprise challenges.
In consumer product design, formulaic solutions are often used to solve common product design problems. For example, the ‘checkout flow’ has been worked and re-worked so many times that the generic flow is almost guaranteed to work for all designers that want to get customers to obtain items. Additionally, the ‘checkout flow’ has a wide user base: anyone that wants to get an item.
In enterprise design, however, the flow design is much more challenging. Each customer is unique, and with so many layers of management between you and the user, it takes a while to get to the true user and find out how the product is really used. Further, the ‘which asset is potentially malfunctioning’ flow is not as common as the ‘checkout flow,’ and similar examples are even more scarce. It takes a lot of thought and good questions to get to an answer that fits both the user’s and your own company’s needs, and that inherent challenge is exciting.
What do you wish would change?
I wish I could change the incentive structures enterprise companies have around the adoption of new products. Regular consumers can easily try out new products because if the product doesn’t work out, the consumer just deletes it from their life. Companies only try new products after their Innovation team/Legal team/Communications team/Data Science team/Engineering team/Operations team have sat through numerous demos/pitches/approval meetings. And even after all that, products are adopted only after everyone’s manager has signed off on the product.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Alluvium is exploring novel ways to improve really complex industries, and we are looking for passionate individuals to join us! If you’re interested in putting machine learning to work for people in oil refineries, power generation stations, or advanced manufacturing plants, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or apply to jobs on the career page.
Know a woman leader in enterprise technology whose story we should feature?We’d love to hear from you.