Hi there, please tell us a little bit about yourself! Who are you? What do you like to do for fun?
Hi there! I'm Vicki, a software engineer turned Product Designer based in sunny SoCal and currently working at Contra. I went to UCSB for Computer Engineering and transitioned into Product Design right after graduation. Last year, I completed my M.S in Integrated Design, Business, and Technology at USC while freelancing as a designer. Aside from work, I love exploring new places and have been running a lifestyle/fashion account since college.
Can you tell us what you do as a Product Designer at Contra for those who are unfamiliar?
I’m a Product Designer at Contra, the new professional community for flexible, independent work. Right now, I specifically focus on Crypto payments and more ways we can include web3 technology on our platform. My day-to-day includes meeting with my team consisting of a product manager and engineers, sharing designs, and making iterations throughout the day. Apart from pure product design work, I browse our team slack to make sure everyone sharing their work or good news is getting the hype.
How did you decide to pursue your specific career? What pivotal moments pushed you to where you are now?
Since I grew up with Asian parents, my career choices were pretty limited to anything in the STEM field. I’ve always loved technology and started learning more about coding at a very young age, but at the same time, I also loved performing arts and danced competitively throughout high school. Those are two very different interests, and therefore, I had to make the decision to focus on coding for college. Even though becoming a software engineer seemed like the right career path, I felt like it limited my creative freedom and love for arts. While in college, I started a lifestyle/fashion account on Instagram and used it as a creative outlet to avoid losing this part of me.
During my first engineering internship, I met a Product Manager who introduced me to every product related, including Product design. I was immediately drawn to the idea of utilizing my creativity to design interfaces for technical products I loved, and it became my new career goal. After graduation, I took a leap of faith and joined a UI/UX boot camp, and started freelancing to gain more experience within this field. During my freelancing journey, I was fortunate enough to meet different mentors, clients, and other designers that helped me grow in my early career as a designer.
What programs & tools do you use everyday for your work? What do you like/dislike about these programs?
I’m a die-hard Figma fan and was lucky to join a design team that used it as their primary tool. I have all my plugins loaded, which makes creating specific components a lot easier. Slack is our main communication tool, and we use notion + coda to store/share all documents. We recently also added usertesting.com to the list, making getting feedback a lot faster & easier.
Any advice on how to stand out and get hired for those starting off?
For Designers - Network and talk to as many people in the role you want to tap into. If you lack a solid portfolio, create case studies for prompts that can be found online. Freelance
For entrepreneurs - Talk to potential users. Showcase your product (no matter what stage it is at) and get feedback. Be open-minded to feedback but always make sure what you’re working on is something you’re genuinely passionate about. Criticism is your best friend because you won’t be able to improve your product without it.
What are some must-have resources or skills you would recommend for your industry?
• Refactoring UI
• Daily UI challenges
• Atomic Habits
• How to win Friends and Influence People
• 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
What are 3 character traits that would make someone excel in your field?
1. Detailed Oriented
3. Curiosity! Its the best way to stay in learning mode
Most satisfying & difficult thing about your job?
The most satisfying part is definitely working for a product with a mission and goal I’ve always been passionate about. This might be the engineer in me coming out, but I love seeing designs get shipped too.
The most difficult thing is definitely getting an alignment from everyone on the team. Consolidating all feedback and making sure everyone has consensus is definitely a task that requires patience.
What would you like to say to your younger self?
Follow your passions. It's okay to explore other interests before figuring out what truly sticks out to you. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise because the path to finding your career isn't linear.
Best advice you've received/heard?
One of my old managers from my internship once told me to start the day by asking myself: "Will I do something today that moves me closer to my goals?". This advice has stuck with me since and has become a driving force in structuring my daily routine. I feel like many people definitely get stuck in a phase, but doing something a little each day can propel you forward. Whether it's spending 10 minutes looking into things you're interested in or learning new skills, the momentum will push you to achieve greater things.