UX Design— A Digital Platform To Connect Tech Career Pathways for the Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO)

Caption: Remember when networking used to look like this? People sharing the same physical space, as experts imparted career insights and inspired job skills and pathways with peers and mentors. [Pictured: a diverse group of career-minded professionals, some in business suits, some in casual clothing, both sitting and standing next to each other, and having a discussion together in the physical shared space of a room. One person is talking and gesturing with their body language, while the other people appear to be listening, thinking, and paying attention to the speaker. Framed geometric designs decorate the walls.]

Remember back when career networking still looked like this? Professionals sat or stood together in the same physical spaces, as experts shared job insights and pathways with mentees within the confines and context of physically shared spaces. The action of giving or receiving advice was met by simply attending the same café chat, coding challenge, or conference. Hiring experts might collect information about interested candidates with a physical resume in a job fair. Mentoring experts might inspire pathways to junior candidates in a candid meeting. How might we facilitate virtually network in the midst of a global pandemic?

Our Context

The Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO) in Washington, D.C. is the central technology organization and district-wide government office which is committed to providing technology infrastructure and solutions to improve services to businesses, residents, and visitors to the District (see: OCTO). The City of DC is dedicated to providing equitable access to technological resources and job opportunities while expanding their tech community, and they also wish to help their community envision a more robust future than what they currently know. Our 3-person team, which consisted of an interaction lead, a research lead, and myself as project manager, was engaged to create a mid-fidelity prototype for OCTO, in order to bridge the challenge of building equitable futures.

Original Intention: Establish Tech Career Paths

Our initial intention was to build an expert network path-building tool that helps collect insights and set up tech career paths dedicated for individuals to pursue. Yet upon conducting and synthesizing our user research, we discovered that career paths in the tech industry tended to be incredibly diverse and varied. No two career paths in tech were exactly alike.

Mission Evolution: Bridge Tech Career Paths

We shifted the lens from helping experts “establish career pathways,” towards helping experts to “build the bridge that intersects career pathways,” since our user interviews revealed that tech career pathways are not necessarily typical, predictable, establishable, or deterministic. We wanted to give expert mentors a way to intersect their current trajectory of expertise, with non-expert mentees hoping to understand the varied first-hand accounts and non-standard routes into the tech industry.

Many of the users we interviewed “want(ed) to know someone who could guide me on what not to do”. As a result, our team became highly focused on the human element, and on human connection. Networking and human connection were the facets of career transition that many of our user interviews placed great emphasis and gravity upon. Our team explored methods to foster the appropriate level of human connection needed for “Expert” mentors to connect genuinely with “Mentees” seeking tech-career transitions.

Identifying the Problem

Guided by our user research, the goals of our product needed to evolve to allow tech career mentors to match and reach the appropriate and relevant mentees, and to share insights directly with those tech job mentees.

Problem

The problem we identified was not the lack of learning resources, but the inefficiency experienced by relevant tech-expert Mentors to connect with non-expert Mentees to even begin to suggest realistic, genuine, and personal career pathways.

Our user interviews led us to believe that building bridges between two or more people with unique career pathways was critical for experts to facilitate path-building opportunities. On the advice-giving side, the expert mentors expressed the lack of a platform that accurately collected and provided insights to match what potential mentees might be interesting in learning that those experts could provide. On the advice-receiving side, the career-transitioning users whom we interviewed tended to struggle to consult career experts during the re-orienting of their career pathways, due to fears of “awkwardness” in striking up a new or delayed conversation.

User-Driven Insights to Intersect Career Pathways

Our platform allows experts to offer their talents and time to genuinely reach out and guide more inexperienced users. Our platform creates the opportunity for diverse people of different levels of experience to gain perspective from each other — for example, one expert in tech mentioned they still frequently gain guidance from other peer experts. Our platform also affords users the opportunity to get plugged in at many different levels of skills expertise and experience. Our platform further allows experts to share with non-experts a clearer, first-hand picture of the realities surrounding the careers that mentees might choose to pursue.

Our platform affords the ability of experts to aggregate and collect career insights about the people they would mentor. Our intended users, which include both 1) career expert mentors and 2) career-transitioners seeking mentorship, each complete questionnaires that inform insights into our platform. Each user indicates their professional interests, their available schedules, and their intended goals. These voluntarily-provided insights directly determine the relevancy of mentors and mentees that each user seeks to find. Those tags also inform the recommended studios and lectures that mentors can host, for mentees to attend. Expert Mentors and Non-Expert Mentees’ voluntary profile tags can be personalized, aggregated, and filtered to provide custom user recommendations for each mentor or mentee to further connect with each other, with peers, studios, lecture-style workshops, and even suggested articles to read.

In our platform, each user is further able to see which degree of separation they have from other users (other potential connections), which helps each user to visualize and manage their growing network.

UI Audit & Heuristics Analysis

Screener Survey

We drafted a test plan and posted a screener survey to find user interview testing participants. After countless hours of posting on Washington, D.C., technology-oriented, career groups (on Facebook, Reddit, Slack) we received 30 responses. Qualified respondents to be interviewed in our study were:

  • Age: 18 or older
  • Gender: Female, Male, Non-binary
  • Location: Washington, D.C. or interested in working in D.C.
  • Career Preference: Has tried to transition into a career in tech before
Caption: Screener Survey for DC Tech Work

Research Plan for User Interviews

Format: Zoom interviews, recorded with user interviewees’ permission

Questions We Asked Our User Interviewees

Part 1: Introduction and User’s Background

  1. Please tell us about your family, background, education, and current career day-to-day.
  2. Why are you interested in finding a job in the tech industry?
  3. What was your job before, if you are currently in a different industry?

Part 2: User’s career pathway and networking exploration

  1. Please describe the process of how you found your previous job?
  2. Would you please describe a bit more of the process of how you do research about the career path you wanted to be in in the tech industry?
  3. Have you tried to reach out to professionals or mentors? If so please describe what kind of feedback they gave you and how did that feedback make you feel?
  4. Can you give an example of what a genuine connection looks like to you?
  5. Can you recall 1–2 pieces of genuine feedback you have ever received and how did it help you? What about negative feedback?
  6. What are your thoughts on In-Person vs.Online interaction?
  7. Now, I’m going to show you common social media accounts for job hunting. Please select one that resonates the most with you or the one you would consider to use for changing the job, and tell us why.
  8. How do you feel about in-person consulting vs researching the career path by yourself?

Part 3: User’s Future Projection and Past Reflection Questions

  1. What is your ideal dream job like in the tech industry?
  2. If you could change one thing in the past in order to achieve what you want to achieve today, what would it be?

Interview Synthesis

Several of our interviewees mentioned that they found job pathways and secured jobs by contacting a more senior mentor or experienced peer to connect over coffee and by asking them for advice in-person. However, many interviewees also mentioned they had “fears” or felt “awkward” about even reaching out to initiate a conversation. We re-envisioned opportunities to help people to overcome their insecurities surrounding that initial “ask”. We explored the importance of genuine, synchronous interactions by live experts to suggest career pathways to curious individuals. Those interactions could be as informal as a 1-on-1 coffee chat, to genuine mentorship as structured as a small studio gathering or large, lecture-style event, but all interactions would be guided by user preferences. To further underscore our understanding of establishing remote connection, our user interviews, conducted over Zoom, were similarly “socially distanced” during this remote project.

User Interviews Informed Us of Diverse Pathways

We would like to share multiple examples that demonstrate the diversity of the experts’ tech career non-conventional pathways.

One Expert Tech Mentor that we interviewed, a D.C.-based tech Chief Operating Officer of an online, web-based virtual learning platform, did not, in fact, study a tech major such as CS or Engineering in college. Instead, this hardworking leader wisely volunteered their time and energy for many years as an educator in Teach for America, which further underscored their first-hand knowledge about the importance of how high-technology education platforms can facilitate mentor-to-mentee guidance.

Another Expert Tech Mentor that we interviewed, a renowned tech Co-Founder of a major dermatological tech company, similarly did not take a traditional pathway into tech. Instead, this successful tech entrepreneur built an innovative art portfolio that showcased 3D Virtual Reality and AI designs at a major art university, then worked hard at Ideo design agency building projects for diverse clients, before they took the brave leap to showcase ideas at major tech conferences, including TechCrunch.

The incredible diversity of backgrounds given by our user interviews of experts indicated that today’s expert mentors would not necessarily recommend, as the dermatological tech company co-founder puts it, a “cookie cutter” portfolio or a typical career pathway.

Competitive Analysis

We asked during interviews for users to help us evaluate and appraise their perceptions of several competitors, and the top three most-commonly used competitors which users identified were LinkedIn, Glassdoor, and Indeed.

Caption: During user interviews, we showed every user this list of competitors logos, and asked them to appraise their respective utility and ease of functionality. These competitor platforms are: Indeed, Glassdoor, LinkedIn, Monster, Flexjobs, Snagajob, Ladders $100K Club, AngelList, and LinkUp.

LinkedIn— 675+ million members to manage professional identity

  • Most popular among our user interviews
  • Access and engage with a professional network
  • No video conferencing in-built

Glassdoor — A website for users to anonymously review companies

  • Millions of jobs with the inside scoop
  • Ability to anonymously submit reviews and view salaries
  • No networking feature, just job recommendations

Indeed — Worldwide employment website to search jobs

  • Search options for jobs by title, keyword, company, location
  • Ability to review companies, but not mentors
  • While events for employers or job seekers exist— few are virtual

Personas

We also synthesized personas to represent our archetypical user. We synthesized commonalities gleaned from our screener surveys and user interviews to identify the persona of who might best benefit from our platform.

Caption: Persona of the archetypical user for our tech-career pathway and networking platform

Affinity Mapping

Our research lead worked to synthesize an affinity map that illustrates tech jobs in transition.

Caption: Affinity Map of Tech Jobs as a Transition

Mind Map

We further expanded our conception of the potential features we could design for with relation to OCTO’s needs in helping tech experts reach tech career transitioners.

Caption: Mind Map of our expansive ideation of a number of potential solutions including networking, picking your path, and job and career interview advice.

Card Sorting

Following the design concepts of convergence, we narrowed and defined our scope by using Card Sorting of 29 words or phrases we gleaned from our user interviews, as follows.

Caption: Card Sorting was conducted using Optimal Workshop. We provide a Participant Centric Analysis and Similarity Matrix.

Analysis of Card Sorting:

At Above Left: In the Participant-Centric Analysis, we found common themes included “Choosing a Career, Communication, Career Guidance, Career Barriers, Talk, Service, Personal Work, Company Inclusion, and Career Exploration”.

At Above Right: In the Similarity Matrix, we identified strong card groupings, the strongest of which is shown at the top among “Communication, Conversation, Meetings, Video Meetings, Connect, Meet ups, Events, Networking, and Personal Network”.

Caption: Card Sorting was conducted using Optimal Workshop. We provide a Dendrogram using the Best Merge Method. As shown in the purple merge, there was an 83% agreement in relationship among these words: Meetings, Video Meeting, Appointments, Meet Ups, Connect, Events, and Networking.

Analysis of Card Sorting, continued:

In the Dendrogram above which uses the “Best Merge Method,” we found that the purple cluster were an 83% match. In other words: meetings, video meetings, appointments, meet ups, connecting, events, and networking were 83% related with each other according to our card sorters.

Sketches

Using theories of the ‘Design Studio’ and “Charrette” (a classic design and planning strategy originating in French 19th c. fine art school) we produced fast-paced, yet thoughtful sketches to quickly convey our brainstorming concepts in a lean UX method.

Caption: These three early-stage sketches show a view, from left to right, of a 1) Live lecture-style workshop, 2) of the Studio & Lecture landing page, and 3) Studios

Usability Tests

We conducted a series of 5 informal usability tests over Zoom screen share to assess the navigation and features of our Axure prototype.

Usability Testing Process:

We identified a series of tasks to have the users complete including user navigation, exploration of various page elements, and describing their response. User testers were selected, based on whether they met the User Tester Criteria we envisioned would be our ultimate users — both people seeking career transition and mentorship, as well as potential tech industry mentors. Our User Tester Criteria are summarized as follows.

User Tester Criteria:

Demographics:

Age: 21–59 years old

Career status: Searching for transition into or within tech careers

User Testing Questions and Tasks:

While we began with an initial question list as reference prompts, our interviews were flexible because we adapted our interview to more specifically cater towards each user’s concerns or impressions. We at times asked the user tester to further expound upon their opinions about the prototype and interface, on a scenario-by-scenario basis. Here is the basic script and initial questions we started with:

User Testing Script Intro: Thank you for joining us to help us with User Testing of our platform the Office of the Chief Technology Officer. We’d like to ask you a few tasks to complete. We are sending you a link; please open that link on your desktop. Please describe aloud any reactions, likes/dislikes, and concerns you experience as you view and interact with the site.

  1. Take 3 minutes to explore the site. What impressions do you feel?
  2. Try to Sign-in, Sign-Out, Login
  3. Try to find the page to find a mentor.
  4. Try to find the page to view appointments.
  5. Try to look up appointments and follow-ups.
  6. Try to find job postings. where would you go?
  7. Any last thoughts or recommendations on improving the usability

User Testing Script Ending: We are now wrapping up our user testing, do you have any outstanding questions for us? Thank you very much for your time and experience. We appreciate you helping us to improve our product with your important feedback!

User Testing Iterations

I made a user testing report to annotate and illustrate our improvements to our initial prototype following user testing, as follows.

Information Architecture

Link to Prototype (Axure)

A live view of our Axure prototype can be accessed at this link: https://q3fzgh.axshare.com/

Tips on How to Network Virtually:

Begin with People You Know

Reach People You Want to Know

Regularly Schedule Video Meetings and Follow Ups

Engage People on Social Media

Articulate What You Can Offer Other People

Define What You Are Looking For

Opportunities for Future Potential

Our next steps would be to:

  1. Open up the discussion for tech partners and Washington D.C. organizations affiliated with OCTO, such as Byte Back and Connect D.C., to engage their existing network into the platform.
  2. Provide handoff to developers to build, iterate and test
  3. Develop a high-fidelity prototype before creation

Passionate about UX Design and listening to people