Here’s a Q & A with our very own UX Designer Sam Fraser, before the up and coming Women Techmakers event. Speaking on the panel on 6th April, Sam is passionate about encouraging more women to get into the tech industry and to address any gender imbalances.

Hi Sam, did you always want to work in user experience design (UX)?

I sort of fell into web design. Way back in school days I went through a series of "maybe I'll be this when I grow up". I was first going to go into Linguistics, but in the end decided uni wasn't really for me. I then tried to go for paramedics, but that didn't pan out, and instead I ended up studying Interior Design. I did that for a year before recognising I wasn't enjoying it and wasn't going anywhere with it. So I switched to a new college and studied Ecosystems Management (think environmental science, but simplified) for a couple of years. I loved it, but it was all very local knowledge (identify 100 native Ontario tree species!) and when Wes (my husband, then boyfriend) and I, moved to Western Canada, much of that knowledge became irrelevant. I needed a new career option and I really wanted to get back to something design related.

How did you start your career path?

I was working in retail and admin jobs and my family knew I wasn’t happy with that. It was actually my mum who went online and found me a part-time web design program; that program is what got me into where I am. I did that course for 7 months and the one other student, our teacher and I had a blast. Immediately following my course I was lucky to land a job in a small digital agency for 6 months before Wes and I moved to Los Angeles for his work. Once in LA, I ended up working for Wound Care Advantage in their head office as the graphic and web designer.  I worked there for 3 years until we moved back to Victoria - again for Wes' work (you’ll notice a pattern here…). Back in Victoria I worked for a software company as a web designer managing several sites and even designing some user interfaces for new software. I think this is about the time I started to see and get a feel for UX but it wasn't really until my next job at Helm Operations (tugboat software, how fun!) that I really got into and discovered the full value of UX.

At the time Helm was going through a major overhaul of their whole software package and I was lucky to get in and be responsible for designing a major part of it. The team at Helm are fully dedicated to user-centered design. Every design decision referenced user stories and was tested directly with our end users. Frequent feedback from customers made sure we were leading with our designs and providing solutions to actual problems. Wireframes and flow-charts were my everyday trade and I found I really enjoyed it.

Why is UX important?

I believe UX has always been inherent to good design, but it's never really had the focus and dedication applied to it that we have now. I believe this focus has come about due to the variety of items we use on a daily basis and the different ways we use each. Because of the number of tech devices a lot of us use each day (mobile/tablet/kindle/desktop) and the very different ways in which we interact with, and the very varied expectations we have for each device, it is now vital to increase effort and focus on how a user experiences everything.

We need seamless transitions from one version of a website to the next, regardless of screen shape or size. The less a user notices your design, the better. When someone can accomplish their task without conscious effort, that's when your design has succeeded.

How did you get involved with WTM?

I became involved with WTM through Claire Burn, and the Women Who Code (WWC) group. I joined WWC because I used to be part of similar group called Ladies Learning Code (LLC) back in Victoria and I knew groups like these to be excellent networking opportunities and an easy way to learn about the industry in a new city.

LLC would host workshops where women were encouraged to come and learn how to do things like make a website. I helped out as a mentor, teaching and guiding the 'students'. I really enjoyed watching these women realise they were capable of coding, and using a computer wasn't as scary as it initially seemed.

How did I get involved with LLC? After sort of falling into the tech sector, I found out just how unbalanced the industry is. Having many female friends in science and tech related industries, this seemed unusual to me, but I instantly knew that the best way to change the unbalance was to teach. I wanted to teach women about the industry, it's options, it's potential and to teach the industry about it's unbalance. I think anyone who knows me learns quite quickly I'm not a shrinking violet, and if I see an injustice I tend to be quite vocal about it (thanks mum!).

I saw an injustice in how few women there are in tech, how the women who are in tech are treated, and I wanted to change that. The best way to create lasting change, in my opinion, is education. I believe most sexism is unconscious and done through ignorance and unawareness rather than purposeful malice.

What do you think about the industry?

Personally, I love it but, I've never really encountered direct sexism, or harassment because of my gender, race or sexual orientation. I do, however, have a great number of female friends in STEM who have suffered from both or all of those. What I find encouraging though, is that more and more women are banding together and making a stand of it. Our voice is growing in strength and volume, and we’re starting to be heard. Women bring a lot to the table. We have different perspectives, different ideas, and when we get the chance to share those the whole sector grows.

I'm lucky, right now I work at an office that is almost 50% women! I would encourage more women to join the tech industry. This doesn't necessarily mean they all need to be computer programmers though. Executive management, marketing, programming, design, data analysis, these roles are all part of the tech sector and all areas women can excel in. Final bit of advice… never be afraid to move around the world, there are opportunities in every country and tech skills are always valued.

In conjunction with Belfast Google Developer Group, Women Techmakers comes to Belfast on 6th April - find out more here.

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