Interview with Fahmida Azad, UX Designer at A&E Networks

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Fahmida Azad is an alum from the Emerald Cohort. In the past she has worked as an educator, facilitator, and crisis counselor, but ultimately it was her passion to understand people and desire to bring about positive social change that brought her to study UX at DESIGNATION.

 

Where are you now working, and what is your job title?
I am currently working at A&E Networks in New York City, and my job title is “UX Designer – Mobile and Emerging Platforms.” Basically, I am doing UX work for mobile and OTT platforms (like Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, etc).

Tell us a little bit about your new job!
I work with a senior Art Director, a highly-skilled Visual Designer, a bunch of developers, couple of QA superstars and a product owner. Together we make up the TV Everywhere Mobile App team. My primary task within the design team has been to do a lot of research, construct flows, develop personas and come up with wireframes to show the functionality of a redesigned app. To do this, I have to talk to a lot of people, scavenge for information and do a lot of research through coordinating between departments. I work with the designers to create prototypes, and after that I spend time running around to show folks those prototypes, co-facilitate the user testing sessions and present the research findings back to the team with conclusions, insights and next steps.


How would you describe the DESIGNATION experience?
The DESIGNATION experience was exactly what I needed for a massive career shift. It was intense, it was non-stop, and it was my leap into a field that I did not know existed.

What was the most interesting or useful thing you learned during the cohort?
For me, as a person not from a design background AT ALL, the most useful thing I learned were the tools of the trade. I had never even used Illustrator or Photoshop before the virtual prep session in my cohort. Learning the basic tools and especially being exposed to different prototyping tools were absolutely invaluable. Because I learned and practiced in Illustrator during and persistently after the program, now working in Sketch is that much easier (and it’s what I have to use at work). Almost all of my work is in Sketch. Because I was exposed to Axure, I can work in Omnigraffle. Once you get the basic hang of a tool, you are far less intimidated by other tools in the market design to solve similar problems. DESIGNATION exposed me to so many tools, and because of that I am less afraid of trying new tools. Getting over that initial learning curve, and breaking that fear of trying new things, are the two most useful things I learned during the cohort. Tools are likely going to change and shift constantly, especially if you are a UX Designer, but establishing an attitude that you’ll be excited and unafraid to try whatever comes up next has to be a constant.

“You can craft your journey. It won’t be easy, but all you need is a little bit of fearlessness.”

What are the people at DESIGNATION like (including staff, instructor and fellow students)?
Driven. The instructors are extremely talented at what they do. And the fellow students are extremely motivated. When you have those two things, you will have to take ownership of how much you’d like to get out of the program, how you’ll bond with your cohort members, and how you’ll learn from the instructors. From my experience, the instructors were very open to feedback. Be vocal and take advantage of the resources in the program.

What were you doing before you came to DESIGNATION?
Before coming to DESIGNATION, I was working as a crisis responder to victims of human trafficking at a national hotline in Washington, DC. My background is predominantly in human rights, advocacy and teaching.

How did you hear about DESIGNATION, and why did you decide to come?
I had heard about bootcamps and loved the nature of how they work and how they are designed. They are disruptive, they are intense and they are skill-based. I did not want to do a programming bootcamp. I’m a people person with a degree in Psychology, and I was looking for something different. I honestly can’t remember how exactly I found DESIGNATION, likely through an online search of interesting events happening in Chicago and stumbling on a public talk that DESIGNATION was hosting. They had brought in a designer to speak, and I had gone to the school to see the space and to learn more about what the speaker had to share.

I decided to come because I was hungry to learn new skills. DESIGNATION made more sense to me than graduate school. I came because there was so much to learn. And I distinctly remember thinking to myself, “I’d rather make a career change and start over at 28, rather than 38, or 48 or later.” There isn’t an age obviously for when you can no longer try new things, but for me I had to get over the feeling of how daunting it would be to start on a new field. And then I realized and ultimately pushed myself through the program with a feeling of conviction that ‘now’ is the right time, not later.

How did DESIGNATION help prepare you for your new role?
If it wasn’t for DESIGNATION the program, and building my portfolio because of the program, I would not have my current role. Ultimately, I want to combine my past experiences and new skills and land in an intersection of human rights and technology. DESIGNATION has played a pivotal role in taking me towards that direction. I am still in ‘bootcamp mode’ at my new job, because I want to get better and better and want to keep learning.

What was your favorite part of the DESIGNATION experience?
This may sound silly, but discovering UX! Getting into it, having the chance to do research and having the opportunity to realize that my passion for understanding people is a good fit for this career. Getting to realize that UX is something I’ve always been passionate about and to know that I can use my senses and skills to connect dots, merge patterns, and provide effective solutions. I had done that while I was teaching, while I was doing NGO & crisis work, and to know that this has a name and that UX was a thing was really awesome.

Also – there are folks that I met in my cohort that truly made the experience so very enriching. Having the chance to cross paths with them and learn about their diverse backgrounds was amazing.

What advice would you give to someone who was trying to break into the industry?
Practice your humility skills. You’ll have to be humble enough to be patient with yourself, to stay persistent in honing in on skills to get really good at what you do, and to feel confident in the insights and solutions you’ll bring in as a designer. That could be to your product team, to your company, to your startup or agency, to an NGO, to wherever you end up. Ultimately to the world, because as a designer you’re solving problems for effective solutions for people. You have to have a very, very firm belief that you will be taken in the right direction, that you do have it in you, that you will excel if you put in the work.

Because I don’t come from a design background, I debated for a long time wondering if trying to break into a new industry was a compromise to causes that I’m passionate about. What I learned is that, yes, I am choosing to gain new skills and have decided on a career shift, but I’m still the same person with the same passions. I care about social justice, and I think in addition to organizers, and advocates, there should be designer-advocates and designer-organizers in those spaces. Similarly, the designer world also needs to be more diverse if it wants to be relevant and if it wants to have impact. It needs more people of color and more women. There is room for you. To someone trying to break into the industry – I’d tell you that you can craft your journey. It won’t be easy, but all you need is a little bit of fearlessness. You already have that if you are trying to break into the industry.

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