Five years of delightful chaos

12 November 2022
Five years of delightful chaos

I will warn you this is more of an unfiltered stream of consciousness than a well-constructed blog post, but I thought it is important to reflect on my five years at The User Story. I have gone from a clueless graduate to a Senior Experience Strategist at arguably the best product design consultancy in the country (if not the world). How did this even happen when I had no idea what product design was five years ago? Well, it’s been a wild ride, but here is what I’ve learned along the way.

Culture is worth more than money

Fresh out of university, I think everyone is looking forward to earning a full-time salary, and I was no different. Instead of minimum wage weekend jobs and stretching student loans for months, I was ready to start making “proper” money. It was one of my aims in life and is probably the biggest thing that has changed over the past five years. Money is helpful, but culture is everything (to me, at least).

No amount of money would mask a poor culture. If I didn’t have the autonomy, support and freedom that I have at The User Story, I know I wouldn’t be happy. I’d rather love where I work than earn more and hate the place.

Katie’s top tips

  1. Work at The User Story
  2. Find a company that shares your values; it’ll revolutionise your work life and make the bad days worth it
  3. Work with people who challenge you to be better, not just at your job but as a human
  4. Communicate! Make sure your team can share how they’re feeling without fear of being judged for it

You’ll never really know what you’re doing

Five years ago, I started as a Junior UX researcher, and I write this today as a Senior Experience Strategist but y’know what? No one outside this industry has a clue what I do or what that means. If anyone asks my best friend what my job involves, she will gladly tell you “something with computers”.

On any given day, I could be a product manager, researcher, business development person, psychologist, designer, or general internet architect. It’s so challenging to condense it all down. In the end, that is what I love about UX, though, no two days are the same, and you’re constantly challenging your assumptions, beliefs and decisions and just figuring out what the next best thing to do is.

People above all else

I can now fully admit that for several years I was focused on being the top individual contributor to work. I knew what I wanted to learn and roughly how to get there, but I didn’t always know how to do it with my team. It’s a bit embarrassing how long it took me to realise that feeling successful as an individual was the same as feeling successful as a team. If my only focus were to be great individually, then the company wouldn’t be great as a whole.

What that meant in practice was letting go of my ego and sharing what I had learned and experienced so that everyone in my team ended up being better than I was. I still have plenty more to learn as everyone is a bit selfish sometimes, but it’s a goal to continue to work towards as TUS looks to take over the world.

Thank goodness I had no career direction

I can very honestly say I would be a worse person in life had I known what I wanted to do for a living and didn’t just take a random punt at a weird-looking job ad on Indeed 5 years ago.

I applied to a company run by a man whose name I couldn’t pronounce, which had one other employee whose picture on the website was a sloth (I can now see why my mother was sceptical). Five years later, that man just so happens to be one of my greatest friends (and still Mr Boss Man). The sloth person (Laura, to her friends) also ended up inspiring me and teaching me from afar over the years and even now is a client (winning). Two people took a chance on me, and I took a chance on a career I had never heard of.

It’s safe to say that whether it was luck, coincidence, looming post-university poverty or fate, I landed on my feet. Who knows what I’ll have to say in another five years…

Photo by Brands&People on Unsplash

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