Learning on the Job:
The Tale of a UX Transplant

LauraBy Laura, user experience

After graduating from Colgate University in 2014 with a bachelor’s in computer science, I applied for several jobs in the Boston area. Like many recent grads, I was unsure what I wanted to do. To be honest, my favorite computer science courses at school were the ones that didn’t require me to write actual code. I loved thinking through algorithms, problem-solving with classmates, and iterating until we reached the best solution. But I could do without the many hours sitting at a computer, implementing and debugging that solution.

“Like many recent grads, I was unsure what I wanted to do.”

I eventually joined the Engineering Development Group (EDG) at MathWorks. EDG is a technical and leadership development program that encourages early-career professionals with STEM degrees to explore different areas of interest while providing MATLAB and Simulink customer support. What most enticed me about the role was that opportunity to complete assignments throughout the company, with the goal of transitioning to a specific department once I found the right fit.

Curiosity

An early project I worked on involved developing a table to help organize signals and their metadata in the Signal Analyzer app using JavaScript. Lisa, a colleague who worked in user experience (UX), usability tested the app, including the feature I was working on. She evaluated its ease of use by having users complete tasks on an implemented prototype while the development team and I observed, noting what worked well and what needed improvement.

I learned so much watching Lisa pinpoint usability issues and iterate on the design with developers to improve the workflow. The final design no longer included my table. It did, however, incorporate many of the improvements we made based on insights gained directly from customer observations, which was much more satisfying for me. I happily threw away that code, knowing the end product was better suited to our customers’ workflows.

Career Focus

Following the conclusion of that project, I identified UX as my target department. At MathWorks, UX researchers and designers work together with developers to understand our users, identify a feature’s use cases and requirements, and brainstorm and iterate on design ideas. Because I didn’t have previous experience in this area, I devoted a lot of time to observing UX activities, took on additional projects in research and design, and worked with various teams across the company to learn and build the skills I needed. To complement these on-the-job lessons, I also opted to leverage the MathWorks tuition assistance benefit and returned to school part time, earning a master’s in human factors in information design from Bentley University.

“Being a complete novice to the domain and still new to UX was a bit daunting, but that feeling of being overwhelmed quickly transformed into excitement as I got to know the development team, the products, and our customers.”

I ultimately transferred from EDG to the user experience group and began working with Image Processing Toolbox. Being a complete novice to the domain and still new to UX was a bit daunting, but that feeling of being overwhelmed quickly transformed into excitement as I got to know the development team, the products, and our customers. With many UX mentors and a supportive team behind me, my curiosity triumphed over my uncertainty as I interviewed our customers and we analyzed our user interfaces to find potential usability issues. Here my lack of knowledge became an asset as I asked questions from the perspective of a new user.

Continuous Improvement

Today, I am a UX designer for our autonomous systems products, primarily supporting automated driving with MATLAB and Simulink. I’m constantly learning new things about how our customers design, test, and build autonomous systems, and collaborating with development teams around the globe to help produce the best design we can. I have come to appreciate my limited background in automated driving as an opportunity to collaborate with so many developers, subject matter experts, and other UX researchers and designers. My goal is not to become an expert in automated driving or autonomous systems but instead be a curious collaborator as I help my teams and our customers solve formidable problems.

“My goal is not to become an expert in automated driving or autonomous systems but instead be a curious collaborator as I help my teams and our customers solve formidable problems.”

MathWorks has allowed me to pivot and grow during the seven years I’ve been with the company. As a new grad unsure of the future, I was empowered to explore job options and follow the career path that interested me. I gained hands-on experience working in UX and received the support I needed to earn an advanced degree. Looking ahead, I know each release will bring with it more bright, passionate colleagues to partner with and challenging domains to learn. I’m excited to continue acquiring new skills and knowledge while doing work that makes a difference for our customers and the world.

Related Content