“In order to reach your goals, time and sweat must be sacrificed.” Michelle Lin’s journey changing career paths from Cultural Anthropology at UC Berkeley to UI + UX Designer for Ebay based in San Francisco Bay Area.
The #SaltSessions Women in Tech #WiT interview series speaks with thought leaders from around the world to get their opinions and advice on how they have grown their career in tech and overcome challenges and adversity during their career.
Please give a brief outline of your background and development?
Growing up, I always had a knack for design. My mom was a self-taught web designer in the 90s, and she taught me much of the Adobe CS before I turned 10. Throughout the entirety of my childhood, I was designing websites and advertising materials for a variety of audiences. However, I never thought of design as a career option for all the working adults in my life were either engineers or doctors. After college, with a liberal arts and science degree in tow, I began working as an Archaeologist for an environmental consulting firm. Though the majority of work was incredibly daunting and mundane, there was one internal project in particular that exposed me to digital product design. After spending weeks researching a career in product design, I decided to take a major leap — quitting my job to take part in a full-time apprenticeship program (Tradecraft), which allowed me to design products for early-stage start-ups and build up my portfolio. From there, I began freelancing for the Gigster network, which allowed me to design for a massive variety of digital products. Currently, I am designing for B2C Selling at eBay.
What is the biggest deterrent to women succeeding in the workplace?
The lack of effort tech companies place into creating a balanced and diverse workplace. Gender-bias is profoundly evident in the tech world — simply visit a few start-up offices, as the blatant patterns of gender ratios and division are obvious. While this has been the case for many years, few tech companies are truly working to combat it. This is not something that can be fixed organically. It requires a conscious effort, and I hope to see the tech field transform in the coming years as diversity in the workplace is beneficial for everyone.
What challenges have you faced in the workplace, especially your experience in male-dominated environments?
For me, a challenge I face daily is being heard. To be specific — finding the right balance between coming off too “aggressive” and coming off too passive. This is something, I feel, is a constant struggle for women in a male-dominated workplace. Sometimes, it feels like I have to walk on eggshells in order to get the right message across and be truly heard.
In your opinion is it getting harder or easier for women in tech?
I’d like to think it is getting easier as this is finally a topic that is coming to light and become part of the everyday conversation. However, I can’t say that I’ve seen it fully reflected in actuality (beyond talking). There’s still much to be done.
What are you most proud of?
While I can’t pinpoint a particular project or event as something I’m “most proud of,” I can definitely say that I am proud of my design career in its entirety. I am proud of the fact that I had the courage to completely shift gears in order to pursue a career in design. Beyond taking drive, courage and heart, it also took a hell of a lot of work. As someone who breezed by in school because it came easily to me, I can safely say that when it came to design, I truly fought and worked tirelessly to get to where I am now. I still see a lot more work and growth in my future, but it’s something I am excited about and look forward to.
Who has been your biggest advocate/supporter in the workplace and why?
My biggest advocator and supporter in the workplace would definitely be Lindsay DesRochers. Lindsay introduced me to eBay. Throughout my time here, she has not only been the best motivator but also a great friend. I had a rough few months, which included some family tragedies and bizarre injuries, but she stood by my side and was always a mere phone call away to provide support and comfort. It’s often hard traversing the professional landscape, especially when working in a high-functioning corporate environment, and I’m so glad I haven’t had to do it alone.
Did/do you have a mentor in your career?
I’ve had numerous mentors throughout my career, but the two that most deeply impacted the trajectory is Russ Klusas, the founder of Tradecraft, and Bec Lai, a fellow designer and previous colleague. Russ was the first person in the tech world to really believe in my potential. He is always there when I need guidance or a reality check. Bec is one of my closest friends and the designer I respect the most. She keeps me up-to-date on the ever-changing world of design, is always honest with her critiques and truly gives the best advice on all things product design.
As an employer what would you recommend to other companies regarding infrastructure to have in place to develop the best talent?
I think that companies need to look beyond the resume. While things may seem fantastic on paper, I believe what really makes a fantastic designer and team member is the amount of empathy they have as humans, their passion for the product at hand and their ability to communicate and work alongside others. However, that’s not to say that an established portfolio isn’t necessary, a process is crucial for effective delivery of a well-designed product. This should allow for the first foot in the door. The rest should be dependent on the things I touched on above and an absolute thirst for growth. If you hire someone squeaky clean on paper but lacking in these major characteristics, you’re holding your product back.
In a management position, how have you found it best to promote and nurture women in the workplace?
Since we are only just beginning to actively tackle this problem, I believe that the first thing should be to allow and promote conversation amongst women themselves. Women should be given the opportunity, without judgment, to spend more intimate time together to discuss their personal experiences working in a male-dominated workplace. From there, slowly begin to include men in these conversations — perhaps over lunches or breaks. It takes a great deal of empathy for men to truly understand how different is the work environment for us.
What are some of the best and worst workplace initiatives you have seen/heard of to help promote diversity?
At eBay, the company does a fantastic job of acknowledging and respecting cultural holidays. We have campus-wide celebrations for Diwali and Chinese New Year, to name a few. The effort that everyone, including upper management, puts into these events is extraordinary. They allow for conversations regarding culture in open and safe spaces. However, the places I see genuine conversations happening are at the campus bar. This may sound silly, but having a space for everyone in the company (no matter their role or team) has really allowed for real conversations to occur beyond the typical work jargon.
Regardless of gender what is the one piece of advice you would give to someone in the midst of their career?
It takes far more than desire and drive. In order to reach your goals, time and sweat must be sacrificed. There will be many moments when you feel small, discouraged and uncomfortable — however, there’s truly no better feeling than waking up and doing work that you love and feel is meaningful. It’s worth it.
Do you have a role model/ inspiration?
Every successful designer who is doing something innovative and using creative means to solve problems for everyday people is a role model and inspiration.
Any reading/website you would recommend?
Designers to follow:
- Andrew Coyle — Head of Design @ Flexport (https://andrewcoyle.com/)
- Julie Zhuo — Product Design VP @ Facebook (https://medium.com/@joulee)
https://uxdesign.cc/ (So great!)
Design email newsletters to go with your morning coffee:
What is your biggest stress reliever?
Chatting with my mom about all other things besides work.
What is your professional mantra?
The period of my life when I spent the most time on Photoshop was in middle school, designing Myspace layouts.
About Michelle Lin
Michelle Lin is a UI + UX Designer for Ebay based in San Francisco Bay Area. Graduating from UC Berkeley with a B.A. Cultural Anthropology, B.A. Earth and Planetary Science with a Minor in Sustainable Design. Michelle started her career channelling Indiana Jones as an Archaeologist at Transcon Environmental before making the career jump into Design as a Product Design Consultant at Tradecraft. Moving into a Freelance Product Designer position for Gigster before ending up in her current position at eBay as a UI + UX Designer.
Follow her at @meesh_lin
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