Thursday, August 30, 2012

In the Office: Sarah Garcia, Usability Experience Researcher


Whenever I go over to my friend Sarah Garcia's house, I look forward to eating dinner (one night she set up a make-your-own-bruschetta bar with things like figs and goat cheese) and hearing about the latest projects she's working on. She's so passionate about her job—and does it well—which I love. I'm excited to kick off the new series with her interview.



What do you do? 
My “fun” title: Sleuth; my “serious” title: Lead Researcher.

I’m a usability experience researcher at the UEGroup. I didn't know what that meant before I got this job, but essentially, we are hired by companies to “test” their products/websites/devices for usability. I lead sessions with users to discover what the user needs and wants and how the company we are helping can better meet those needs.


What does a typical day look like?
I’m sitting more than I’d like, but my days, weeks and months have variety. I’m always at some stage of the research process—either planning, conducting research or writing reports on the results. My favorite part is definitely the research phase. Depending on the project, we will either go to the user location and observe/conduct interviews or bring them to our lab to give feedback on whatever it is we are testing. I love being with the users—really finding out what people think and why. Days pass quickly even if sometimes they are long days.

How did you get into this? 
I often tell people that if I had known this job existed I would have gone to school for it. But, fortunately for me, it just sort of fell in my lap. I was looking for a super part time job when my kids were little and through a friend was introduced to my boss and his wife. I helped with administrative stuff which led to taking notes during research sessions, which led to filling in for my boss during one session which led to assisting on projects to eventually leading projects. In some ways it seems like happenstance, but in others it really is the perfect way to blend my marketing degree with my love for people and naturally inquisitive nature.


What do you find really satisfying about your work?
I love discovering some finding that wasn’t a part of my original hypothesis. For instance, once I was doing an ethnographic visit at a doctor’s office to understand how the doctor uses a particular
software interface but watched as the doctor struggled with holding everything she needed to hold just to do her job. We were focused on the interface itself, but the bigger problem was tackling the device and environment.

What's one of your favorite work memories or projects you've worked on?
We were working on a project for a company that helps patients with Parkinson’s Disease. I got to observe a doctor’s appointment with a patient who had recently been implanted with a device to
treat Parkinson’s. To see the moment when the patient saw his hand stop moving after years of having a tremor was almost a modern-day miracle. His wife was in tears and I was humbled to be able to be there and continue work on a project that was so meaningful. Websites and devices are definitely cool, but the projects that are affecting people are the most fulfilling.


What's the craziest thing that's ever happened at work?
My co-worker and I had a project that required a bunch of travel. We literally would fly across the country for one 2 hour interview with a specialized doctor. It was winter, and during that time, there were a ridiculous amount of snow storms on the East Coast. We got stuck in at least two, and in one instance, we flew all the way to Philadelphia to get stuck in a hotel with our client for two days, only getting to speak to the doctor for a half an hour.

What do you normally do for lunch?
We almost always bring our lunch, despite working in Downtown Willow Glen with an amazing lunch option. To keep the waistline and budget down, we all usually bring our lunch and take it outside to eat, or take a walk around the neighborhood to get some fresh air.

Is there anything about the job that came as a surprise to you or was unexpected?
I’m always a little bit surprised by the caliber of clients we’ve worked with. Since a lot of what we do is confidential, I’m used to not really talking about it…but sometimes I’ll be at a client’s conference room, finishing up a presentation on work I’ve done and I’ll think, “Holy cow, people from eBay are actually listening to me.” In one sense it makes me take the responsibility that I have to represent the users very seriously. In another sense, it makes me uncomfortable and proud all at the same time.

What does it take to be successful in your job/field?
You have to speak with authority, but you can’t be full of BS. You have to be a learner, a student of people and things. You can’t pretend to know all the answers, because our job is all about learning from users and others. You have to be able to listen and draw things out of people in a way that makes them comfortable. You have to be willing to tell a company the truth, but offer constructive ways of solving the problems.

Any words of advice?
Be faithful in the small things. I firmly believe I grew into this position because I did the small things well, and they grew into bigger things. Having said that, we are a company that doesn’t really pride itself on titles, because we all do the small things to help each other out. In the end, all the small things are really what make up the big things.
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Thank you so much, Sarah!

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