Finding my T leg – a career focus while knowing different things
Ten years ago, in high school, I discovered that I was good at writing mini-software programs. I was especially obsessed about brainstorming different solutions to a problem and loved making the computer do what I wanted. I also spent long hours drawing, editing, and sharing comic books in the time when a 1 MB download took 15 minutes. It’s strange that I enjoy doing things that require opposite parts of the brain.
When the time came to choose a bachelor program, I struggled between computer science and drawing. While deliberating on my choices, I learned an Australian school had opened a hybrid program called “multimedia design” that blended design, computer science, and business in a four-year degree. That sounded like magic to my ears and I packed up my bags. After graduating, I worked as a Flash developer until an event brought my career to a whole different level.
In 2010, I moved to the U.S. from Vietnam for a job with a small design firm in Maryland. At the time, I was making $1000 a month, but it felt like $100,000! True to my generalist degree, I designed everything including websites, brochures, logos, to even coded websites. Eventually, I realized that I was doing everything, but was not specializing in any area. I was a good designer, a decent programmer, even animator, but I found that I was a “T” without the leg. I needed to find a field to go deep in. I also realized that I wanted to create, not just help realize others’ ideas.
That wish to create came true when I was asked to lead the development of an easy-to-use website builder, similar to Squarespace. Having never worked on a project of that scale from scratch, I learned many things on the spot. I did the research, designed wireframes and visuals, and even for the first time produced architecture documents and guides. I enjoyed this process tremendously. I loved making the interface obvious and easy to understand, as well as defining the business needs for the product. This project sparked my interest in understanding the psychology of design, the space and movement between the buttons and the tabs. After talking to multiple experts, I found that the term I was looking for was “user experience”.
I decided that it was time to learn about this topic, so I went to Carnegie Mellon University for a Master in Human-Computer Interaction. During my course, I attended a talk by SAP where the speaker, amongst many other things, spoke about the often overlooked and not glamorous class of designers in the enterprise software field. Her talk hit all the marks, on how much effort has been spent in the enterprise, how complex the software is, and how they are bringing in a design revolution. Listening to that talk, I felt like I found the field where I can excel, where design is not valued by just how pretty things look, but also by how well they perform complex tasks. At the end of my course, I joined a design team at SAP.
I now work for the Design & Co-innovation Center at SAP (DCC) on projects involving face-to-face interaction with customers and end-users. I talk to the people performing the clicks and help them not just with improved designs, but also realize intangible benefits. Great user experience improves employees’ engagement with their job. It eases their mind about using software and contributes to their success. I feel challenged and excited knowing that I improve people’s work life through design.
At work, Hang designs solutions that tackle the “why” behind the “what” of business problems. At home, she has fun hacking together new technologies and playing video games.