Field Notes: My First 90 Days as a Product Designer

Photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash

90 days sounds like a lot and a little at the same time, doesn’t it? Things have been moving nonstop since I joined Dialexa, a Dallas-based tech consultancy. It seems like I went from daydreaming to landing my product design role overnight. I gotta say, I love every minute of it. Have there been bumps in the road? A few. Has imposter syndrome been on my back? Hell yeah, every day. But every day I spend working on something I enjoy with the coolest people I’ve ever met. It confirms I’m in the right place.

Onboarding

Ask Questions

Having never onboarded at a new company in the midst of a pandemic, I knew it would be different. I was curious about the logistics. Would I be led to an online platform to watch endless videos? Was there even an onboarding process? I received a meeting invite with our brainy IT guy Marcus and Brady, our HR representative. After Marcus confirmed my laptop was set up as needed, Brady and I reviewed company policies, tools, time off, organization chart — you know, the usual.

I spent the rest of my first day digging into the content Brady covered and making note of questions I had. I used to think you only had a small window of time to ask questions as a newbie. Beyond the third week, no more questions. You should know everything about everything, right? WRONG! Asking questions actually improves the perception your colleagues have about you. It says, “Wow, they care about the details.” They’ll appreciate it in the long run.

Pro Tip: Ask clarifying questions. We’re designers, researchers, information architects. Asking questions is part of the job. Clarifying questions will only help you in the end.

Meeting My Manager: Setting the tone

Earlier this year I went to the Dallas Black in Design UX Summitt. No joke, I heard the most solid career advice maybe ever. LaToya Hanes, HR Director at Intuit, dropped some knowledge that changed my entire career strategy. I won’t share all her secrets but a gem that served me well during onboarding. Setting two-way expectations with your manager. Here are four things to cover:

  • Confirm your understanding of your role and responsibilities
  • Establish your 1:1 meeting cadence
  • Your preferred way to be recognized for your work
  • Obligations outside of work

I loved this advice because there’s no question about the your working relationship. Because of the culture at Dialexa, these naturally fell into place.

I met my mentor/manager Stephanie, who I clicked with right away. Instantly, she understood me. She could tell I’m someone with drive, who had a plan for my career. I love that she picked up on all this and I didn’t have to say much. Here’s how LaToya’s advice influenced how we established our rapport:

  • My Role: I understood that as a designer I’ll wear many hats depending on the client’s need. My tasks would include UI design, user research, user testing, and more. Dialexa is a tech consultancy. That meant consulting. Good to get that clarification.
  • Meeting Cadence: We set a weekly 1:1 meeting to connect, talk wins, blockers, and a mental health check.
  • Recognition: We have a tool used to manage our goals and give praise to anyone in the company and share it on Slack. More public than I like but hey, it’ll be a solid repository of promotion evidence during my review.
  • Obligations: Did I mention I have 3 kids? (Yeah, I can’t believe it either.) Parenthood can be unpredictable. I made sure their existence was known.

I’m not someone who speaks up for what I want. I am determined to do things differently. Career advancement is one of my top three goals. Don’t get me wrong. I care about learning the consultancy ropes and bringing value to my client project. If you knew me personally, you’d know I have a giant kanban of my goals for the year. Either way, making my aspirations known was uncomfortable. But how can she have my back and advocate for me if I don’t speak up? She’s amazing, but she’s no mind reader. Your manager isn’t either.

Pro Tip: Set expectations upfront, so there’s no confusion about what you want out of your role.

Meeting the Crew

I’m an introvert, so socializing tends to make me anxious. In this case, I felt anxiety around how I would be received. I was the second person to join the crew since COVID-19 put everything on its ear. Was I to endure awkward Google Hangouts hoping things would be different when we met in person?

I once had a manager who in my 30/60/90 day onboarding plan, had me set meetings with people all over the company. It was a genius way to get to know people and the organization. Since I had two weeks before my client project kicked-off, I reached out to my new colleagues. I started with those who would be on my client project then onto the designers and beyond.

These 30-minute chats turned out to be one of the most valuable things I could have done. I was able to do a few things:

  • Gain a deeper sense of the company vibe
  • Establish a rapport
  • Ask questions about their experience at Dialexa
  • Get their tips for what made them successful when they got started

Had things been business as usual, I can’t say I would have had the wherewithal to set up these meet and greets.

Pro Tip: Pandemic or not, it’s important to make a valiant effort to connect with your new colleagues. Building a rapport will only benefit you when you run into blockers. Reach out, be genuine, build your internal network.

Imposter Syndrome

Sigh … imposter syndrome is a real pain in my ass. Well, not just my ass … it affects 70% of the world's population. LGBTQ, minorities, Millenials, and women are most affected. I have 3 out of 4 there. Imposter syndrome can completely paralyze you if you’re not keeping it in check.

Before I even started down the path to career transition, I doubted myself. “Will people take me seriously? Is my certificate going to teach me what I need to know? What if prospective employers think I can’t execute?” I could go on, but none of us have time for that.

To fight feelings of being a fraud, I decided to arm myself with knowledge. When I wasn’t on a Google Hangout with a new coworker, I was maximizing my time. I learned about the project, the client, did Sketch tutorials (the client was still using Sketch, pandemic and all), and absorbing internal resources. The more I learned, the more prepared I felt. In doing this, balance matters. It’s easy to overwhelm yourself with too much info. Know when enough is enough.

Pro tip: If you feel you have a knowledge gap, close it. Watch a YouTube video, read a book, attend a webinar … doesn’t matter what it is so long as there’s value.

Another coping mechanism came in the form of a brilliant, quiet designer. Quin. When we learned we’d be on the same project, we connected early on. He was gracious enough to extend peer mentorship. We set a weekly meeting for us to talk through challenges we’re facing and collaborate on the project. He’s been a major asset. It’s a relief knowing there’s a standing meeting, a safe space where I can say or ask whatever I want.

Pro tip: Identify someone outside of your manager, you can connect with regularly. Peer mentorship is powerful. Harness it.

I just dropped a lot on you guys I know. So here’s a quick recap for successful integration into your new role:

  • Ask questions
  • Set expectations with your manager
  • Make an effort to connect with your colleagues
  • Imposter Syndrome: Close knowledge gaps to improve your confidence and identify a peer mentor to create a safe space and ally.

What have you all done that helped you navigate your first 90 days?

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Digital product designer at Dialexa, advocate for BIPOC, speaker, and hustler.

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Shara Rosenbalm

Shara Rosenbalm

Digital product designer at Dialexa, advocate for BIPOC, speaker, and hustler.

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