September 27, 2021

Three weeks ago I shut off my work laptop for the last time, marking the end of 3 months as the ServiceNow design technologist intern. While I don't have everything figured out, the experience did expand my curiosities, and in none of the ways I anticipated. Where initially I expected to glean only concrete, technical knowledge (i.e. Figma and code), to my joy, at the core of my most meaningful takeaways were systems of work and my relationships with people. (6).gif

Note: I intend to reflect on personal – as opposed to professional – takeaways from my summer. My internship just happens to play a huge role in those learnings.

Takeaway #1 — The Design Process is a Designed Thing Too!

As a newcomer I came to appreciate the human processes that underlie products.  Factors like product maturity shaped the nature of work and collaboration — from team size, to timeline speeds, to space for exploration — in ways that student projects hadn't explored. The design process became a designed thing in itself. My team’s foresight for future scale, as well as consideration for the product's past design patterns, was a source of inspiration.

Another surprise was the real role that values played in the process. Whether they were the company-level values that molded the product (e.g.: innovation, versus consistency), or the personal values that molded community culture (e.g.: "Honest conversations over easeful communication").

These realizations prompted questions of which values, deliberate or accidental, my own actions reflected, and how they surfaced in the way I showed up. I felt inspired by those who drew on professional challenges to elevate personal skills. Skills like: listening, conflict resolution, boundaries, project scoping, saying no, honesty, fear of rejection, and other values.

There are many skills I want to expand my capacity for — a process I suspect will look slow, difficult, and endlessly ongoing. But most of all they underscored the human efforts behind products.

Some writers I stumbled on the topic include: The Overlap, David Hoang, The Manager’s Path, A Civic Technologist’s Practice Guide, and (my favorite!) &yet.

The most complex system design problem is getting a group of humans to work towards a common goal in a dynamic environment." - David Hoang, Webflow Design Director

The point is that it forces you to be clear about what you’re willing to say no to. You’re empowered to make a bold tradeoff. Without these statements, you’ll continue to defer to leaders to make hard decisions for you.” - Tim Cassasola, The Overlap

Conflict-avoidant managers tend to favor harmony above functional working relationships. Creating a safe environment for disagreement to work itself out is far better than pretending that all disagreement does not exist.” - Camille Fournier, The Manager's Path

“Get used to thinking about the value systems and power dynamics embedded in both enterprises, and where technology does or doesn’t make sense as a piece of the puzzle. Watch groups of people collaborate in healthy and unhealthy ways, and develop a perspective on how to collaborate well.” - Cyd Harrell, A Civic Technologist’s Practice Guide

"'People first' isn’t just a slogan for us; it has been fundamental to every decision we’ve made over the past 12 years (both decisions that had positive outcomes and decisions that didn’t work out so well). So when it comes to thinking about growth, I feel a deep tension between caring for the business and caring for people.” - Sarah Avenir, Chapter 1: A people-first approach to growth

Takeaway #2. The Empowerment Dynamic: Shifting to the Creator Role