Career Success Story: From Legal Assistant to Product Designer

Four months ago, Julia Feld was a legal assistant in downtown Boston. Julia (pictured above, pitching at Talent Expo) found that the industry was filled with slow-moving, clunky bureaucratic processes that made it difficult for  companies to manage clients in an effective manner.

What did Julia, do? She took it upon herself to fix this. Julia designed and built a new process for turning over cases. In doing so, she realized she loved to discover creative solutions that make ineffective or inefficient experiences better. Now, she’s leveraged this strength into a product design career at Tamr.

We sat down with Julia to hear about her new job and her advice for aspiring designers. Here’s what she had to say:#WebDesign alumna @questionablehub on making the switch from legal assistant to #designer Click To Tweet

Congrats on your new gig! Can you tell us a bit about Tamr and what you’re doing there?

Tamr is a data cleaning and curation tool. Data must first be “cataloged” and “connected” before it can be “consumed” by applications and various analytics tools. We make big companies’ data visible and allow it to become meaningful. As of now, there are three designers, myself included.Companies can leverage #data for analytics + decision-making w/ @Tamr_Inc, says @questionablehub Click To Tweet

Why did you choose design?

I have always been interested in design, but had never thought about it as a career. I was previously a legal assistant, and planning to pursue a masters in international relations—sort of a continuation of my previous career path. So, I was trying to find ways that I could study design alongside international relations, and it just became more apparent that I needed to focus on design. I’m generally better at working than studying, so I skipped the idea of obtaining a masters in design because I wanted a faster route into professional life as a designer, rather than academic (they both have a place but are often very different). I also liked how embedded SI is within the startup scene in Boston. SI’s connection to Techstars was probably the most compelling point though, since Techstars puts startup founders through a similarly intense— but rewarding—experience.More and more, it became apparent that I had to pursue #design, says @questionablehub Click To Tweet

Did you have a favorite instructor? Who was it/ what was most compelling or valuable about their session?

I enjoyed all the instructors. I was a little nutty during the program, as I became increasingly more sleep-deprived and more comfortable with my classmates, so the interactive sessions were a good place to throw my energy into. Conor Sheehan—Senior Experience Designer at Cantina—was our first instructor with whom we had an interactive user experience ideation session and it was amazing to realize that my thought process aligned with a professional outlet.

So, now that you’re a product designer, what is a “day in the life” at Tamr like?

I’ve only been with Tamr for a few weeks now, so I’m sure there will be some change to my “typical” day. As of now, the days are very flexible. Throughout the day various meetings come up based on the projects I’m working on. At the moment, I’m working on six different projects, including organizing the partner project for the Startup Institute Summer 2015 group that will be at Tamr—super exciting. We have a design standup at 10:30 every morning to check our Trello board, alleviate any pain points, and generally ensure we’re all on the same page. Depending on the day, I may then be on a client call go through a user testing session, work on my assigned projects, go into a project-specific strategy session, or critiquing work at what we like to call “Sketch o’ Clock” (not to be confused with our Scotch o’ Clocks on Friday afternoons).

What’s most exciting about being a designer?

I get to make mockups! But actually that’s incredibly exciting for me. I went from pushing a process at my old job to thinking critically about how to find creative solutions to problems. I like mockups as a conversation piece, allowing me to think through ideas and get the team unified behind a project. I was thrown into a client demo project within my first week here. We are building out a feature in the software and the client is involved in its development. Working on that piece and hearing their feedback is really exciting.#Mockups foster creativity + unify a team in a project - @questionablehub Click To Tweet

What do you find most challenging?

The environment at Tamr is very open and supportive, but people are very busy. Striking the balance of being mindful of other people’s time while staying on the assigned deadlines has been a little challenging. That being said, every time I’ve asked questions, people have been very eager to help.

Tell us a bit about your interview for this role. What should candidates expect in a product design interview?

The process took roughly a month and a half. I began interviewing with a recruiter during my last week at SI. I then spoke with the Product and Design Lead at Tamr. After those two phone calls, I came in to the office and spent the better half of a day speaking with five or six team members. Some of these discussions were very tactical—asking me why I wanted to transition into UX design, what about it was most interesting to me, how I knew that this was not only an academic interest but also a professional one. Others were more project-based: I was presented with various problems Tamr had been working through and asked how I would approach them. For the final round, I was given a take-home project to present a week later. That was a full-day interview, which began with my presentation of the project, followed by meetings with team members that I hadn’t met in the first round. Then, I waited a while. A week or two later, I got a call with an offer.

This was definitely the most rigorous interview process I went through, but it was also an indicator that the company really cared about the people they hired and the team they fostered.A rigorous interview is often a symptom of strong culture, says @questionablehub Click To Tweet

What skills are most key to doing your job well?

The feedback I’ve received is that I’m asking the right questions. I think striking a balance between asking questions and running with the information you have is most important. Tamr values quick iterations, which is great for me because it opens the channels of communication.

Did your time at SI prepare you for your work at Tamr? If so, how?

ABSOLUTELY! Well, it’s hard to tell so far, actually, since I’ve mostly been listening and asking questions. I think SI gave me tremendous baseline knowledge of UX and UI process, which I now take for granted — I might have tanked the interview process without SI. Whenever I got most nervous or had to pull an example for an experience, I could pull from my time at SI.

Do you have any advice for people who want to launch product design careers?

I actually think my background in translation [as a legal assistant and for Kids in Need of Defense] has played a huge role in my success so far, largely because translating forces you to learn the difference between literal listening and perceptive listening, and to strike a balance between the two.#ProductDesigners need to balance literal + perceptive listening w/ users - @questionablehub Click To Tweet

I also can’t stress how important it is to show your curiosity. I met my now-boss when he was my instructor at Startup Institute. I think the instructors are looking for potential colleagues while they teach at SI and that should linger in the back of your mind as you go through the program.

Be curious, listen, and be engaged, or be single. #dadjoke#Designers - Be curious, listen, and be engaged, or be single. #dadjoke - @questionablehub Click To Tweet


To learn more about Julia, visit her personal website. For more information on our web design training course, download our free course guide:

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Christine spreads the Startup Institute magic as Marketing Manager. The lead editor in charge of The Whiteboard, Christine's main goal is that our media hub be a digital reflection of our remarkable community—celebrating lifelong learners, innovators, and difference-makers. An alumna of the full-time program, Christine transitioned her career into marketing after four years of teaching high school English in the US and in Thailand. She is an avid contemporary and jazz dancer, a lover of cheese, and believes wholeheartedly that a life without risk is a life without gain. She is always cold; if you stop to visit her at her desk, she'll have a blanket with her—guaranteed.


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