Leading Design as a UX Team of 1

April 28, 2021

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"Rockset is like magic. Holy carp making query lambdas and then using them on the server is so much easier than Mongo. True story. This is my first time in here. My coworker made our previous query lambda. I'm sold now! It's soooo fast!"

Customer love notes keep me going. It is like the wind beneath my wings. I helped build query lambdas and I am so proud of the work we did - the value we created for our customers.

Our users tell us time and again how easy it is for them to get started with our product. And yes, I do a little dance and a fist bump every time I hear that :)

"It’s dead simple"

"It's easy to integrate into an existing API or Front End. It feels natural to work with."

"Rockset took our 6 month roadmap and shrunk it to a single afternoon"

It makes my heart sing when I hear that our users are able to unleash their creativity and build innovative solutions to problems that may have seemed impossible before.

"we can do things we have never been able to do before"

"Changed the way I am building my product"

"Build real-time analytics features I thought were impossible due to complexity and cost"

As I reflect over my time here at Rockset, I was thinking about how much I have grown. All the things I get to do every day, all the features and improvements I shipped to prod, the experience of working in a tight-knit team, wearing multiple hats and the journey overall. In mid-2019 when I was first considering this role, I didn’t fully realize what I was signing up for - and needless to say, it has been quite the ride!

Here is a peek into my journey thus far -

Experience-first approach

My team here greatly values design and understands what it brings to the table. This is in stark contrast to some of the teams in which I have worked in the past. This means I spend a lot less time (relatively) advocating for UX and more time on actually solving customer problems and focussing on moving the product forward.

Ownership

Everyone told me about the startup experience with a vertical learning curve and the unique opportunity to do ‘everything’. I found this to be true and extremely empowering. This was a personal goal of mine that I was chasing, and I am glad that at Rockset, I have this opportunity to grow and influence the roadmap rooted in customer insights and feedback. The exciting (overwhelming-at-first) responsibility to shape the product offering, ship continuously and iterate on immediate feedback is one of the things that really resonates with me as a UXer.

Ship ! Ship ! Ship!

My previous experiences had been at large enterprises where the pace of innovation and delivering value to customers is slow. I went from shipping twice a year to twice every week! I did have some friends that cautioned me against this fast-moving pace, ever-evolving priorities and moving finish lines. I decided to jump head first into my role anyway :) I have come to realize that I personally thrive at this pace because I can get a lot more done. It gives me way more opportunities for iterations based on actual feedback, which enables me to continuously make improvements with every release. Whilst different from the processes I was used to in my earlier roles, I learnt something about myself as a designer here :) Not only do I enjoy solving messy problems with a potential for impact, I can actually get it done in a short amount of time at a regular cadence!

Delightful developer experiences

The singular focus of the entire team is building delightful developer experiences. This means that I need to deeply understand our developer audience - their goals and quirks, what makes them tick, really all of it - so I can provide inputs when we all problem-solve together. The UX team’s primary responsibility is to be the customer’s voice and relentlessly push for their best experience. With everyone looking at the same problem with their different lenses, I bring forth a unique perspective of customer voice and my job is to champion it!

"The syntax error messages in your editor are always pinpointed to the exact problem, that is very helpful. If you know of any editors that have messages like yours, and work with Linux send them my way please!"

Learnings and Takeaways

As a UX team of 1, I am that person in the company who spends a significant chunk of my time researching our customers, learning about the space, problem solving and owning product design. Also: building our design system and product branding, building company assets and sometimes consulting on our website too. On any given day, it’s not uncommon to do two or more of these. The context switching can be intense and managing time well is a non-negotiable pre-requisite to being successful.

Here are some of my learnings -

Ruthless prioritization

And I really mean ruthless. I had to learn and re-learn the art of saying no, negotiation and prioritization. This was not something that I had done before and not something that comes naturally to me (saying no to people and especially senior people is hard!). As a single-threaded team wearing multiple hats and supporting multiple functions (is that a UX unicorn? ;) ) , I needed to hone my skill of identifying the problems with the most impact and really move the needle on those. I am learning to respect my time and focus only on problems where I can truly add value. Couldn't have done this without the unshakeable support of my team and the constant nurturing and mentoring from my manager, Shruti.

Trust your gut

Sometimes not making a decision is way worse than making the wrong one. In the fast-paced environment of a hot startup, analysis paralysis will most certainly lead to failure. Instead, I was encouraged and empowered to make the best possible decision based on the information available at the time. I learnt to bake in enough signals to learn from customers and pivot accordingly. In my first month here, I was repeatedly told “This has never been done before. So nobody really has all the answers, including our customers.” until I truly understood it and internalized it. Ask questions and go deep. Peel back the layers of the onion, if you will. Take the first step. The rest will follow. Do not be afraid to make mistakes!

OMG - Do I need to know everything?

No. In fact, when you really think hard about it, nobody can really know everything and also do it well. In one of my 1 on 1s with our CEO early on, he said to me “Don't feel like you need to have all the answers but you need to know how to find them”. This resonated with me and is one of those things that I will always carry with me.

Furthermore, I’ll add that we need to get better at asking the right questions and that comes with experience. Going deep is crucial and is the most valuable skill that’ll help. The more you learn about your users, the clearer it gets and the easier it becomes. I also found that the more I learnt and the deeper I went, it became easier to trust my gut too :)

Be better today than you were yesterday. Be closer to the goal today than yesterday.

We all know Rome was not built in a day. Sometimes, and especially since it’s never been done before, it can be hard to know where to begin. So, I learnt to break it down into small pieces. Pick one and start there. Take the first step. Along the way, you’ll learn a lot and eventually, you’ll find yourself get better at these decisions as you learn more about users, about the space, market , tech - all of it.

Believe in yourself

UX is a hard job in and of itself. Everything we do is not necessarily tangible or even visible! At times, it gets really hard to articulate the exact value of every decision you made and tie it directly to the bottom line. Whilst keeping your eye on this is important, even more so is showing up every day and keeping at it. UX investments are a long-term play and you have got to stay motivated to see it through! Soon you'll see how far you have come ;) In the meantime, celebrate each win and each customer love note, all the while learning from feedback and progressing towards the goal.

Trust - a two-way street

This is a good one. Trust your team to get it done. Like you, they too have a shared goal of making Rockset the best there is. Build a relationship with them so that they trust you too. It will take some time but is totally worth it. It is critical to find that groove and the best way I know is through shared success; invite them in and continue to work together.

What is good enough?

This was by far the hardest thing I had to learn. Coming from an enterprise background, I always had the luxury of time. We could test, iterate and improve solutions till we were confident that it’s the best it can be. In a startup, I learnt the mindset is a little bit different. Of course, we want to be the best, but the way to get there is different. Good enough is that which gets you at least 80% of the way there. It is much better to have a straw man out quickly and learn from real feedback as opposed to an endless battle of opinions where there are no winners - certainly not the user nor the product! It was challenging to go from pixel-perfect implementations to true MVPs.



As I look forward to the rest of 2021 and beyond, I am excited by all the possibilities and the opportunities that are about to come knocking. We have a kick-ass roadmap and I can't wait to get into it!

If this sounds at all like you or intriguing to you, or like a place you'd love to work at - we are hiring :) If you'd like to learn more or just say hey - connect with me on LinkedIn.

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