Forget Networking: 4 Tips for Building Your Career Support System

By

Networking Tips Community Building

Revamp your Rolodex with tips from this pro, Andy Whelan! Illustration by Rob Goodman.

Think about the people who have made the biggest impact on your life — the friends, family, and teachers who have invested in you as a person. They push you to be better, can be a sounding board for bold new ideas, and have your back when you’re facing life’s harshest challenges.

The road to professional success can be tumultuous, and as you navigate the highs and lows, it’s equally important to have these kinds of people in your work life, too. Rewarding professional relationships are critical to your career and need to be nurtured as authentically as ties to friends and family. If you find yourself floating around solo on your jobs journey, there’s a good chance you may be doing it wrong.

When it comes to building a reliable professional community, we could all benefit by taking a lesson from career guru, speaker, and teacher Andy Whelan, a career coach at General Assembly’s San Francisco campus.

Continue reading

An Employer Guide to Investing in Talent

By and

Employer Sponsored Education

This piece has been adapted from Talent EconomyRead General Assembly and Whiteboard Advisors’ full white paper, Investing in Talent, here (PDF).

Amid complex external and economic pressures, companies must face the reality that the nature of business is changing. The pace of technological change continues to accelerate, and in an era in which the shelf life of skills is less than five years, it is critical for employers to prepare their workers to adapt to the shifting demands of work in the digital age.

The good news for employers is that current federal policy provides tax-advantaged opportunities for companies to support employees’ educational aspirations. Rooted in sections 117, 127, and 132 of the tax code, educational tax benefits are somewhat unique in that they provide a double benefit: They are both deductible for the employer, and tax free to the employee.

Continue reading

What Does It Mean to Be a Good Digital Marketer? Defining Digital Marketing Competencies and Landscape

By and

In this digital age, employee roles and responsibilities are changing as quickly as industries are evolving. Most jobs available today don’t have higher education programs, standardized exams, or textbooks that definitively tell people which skills they need in order to land them. Without this industry standardization, employers also struggle; they don’t have clear boxes to tick when evaluating job seeker’s qualifications. How can companies get a better sense of which skills job candidates and employees need? How can job seekers become more savvy about developing and communicating their qualifications?

At General Assembly, we work every day to answer these two questions. We provide job seekers with the competencies they need to be successful in today’s workforce. We also help employers understand how to evolve with their industry and connect with skills and talent that will enable them to grow. But in order to provide guidance to employers and job seekers most effectively, we must have a clear definition of each field ourselves. As the job landscape changes and General Assembly grows, we constantly refine our offerings and frameworks to better unite our product and message.

Let’s look at the field of digital marketing, which has seen exponential change in the last few years.

Continue reading

Making It in UX: New User Experience Designers Share Lessons From the Field

By

UX Design Denver Jobs General Assembly Students

Every industry — from tech, to finance, to retail — needs user experience (UX) designers. These master problem-solvers work to create on- and offline experiences that put users’ wants and needs first.

Harnessing skills like user research, wireframes, and prototyping, UX designers have a unique perspective when it comes to understanding the interactions between users, business goals, and visual and technology elements. For companies, their work fosters brand loyalty and repeat business. For consumers, it means frustration-free online experiences, intuitive mobile apps, efficient store layouts, and more.

When you have the perspective of a UX designer, “you start to see design gone wrong everywhere,” says Beth Koloski, who teaches the full-time User Experience Design Immersive (UXDI) course at General Assembly’s Denver campus. “You stop blaming yourself for not understanding badly designed software.” She says she admires when someone gets design right because she knows “how incredibly hard it is to make something easy and seamless and actually get it out into the real world.”

Continue reading

Salary Strategy: Tips From a Hostage Negotiator

By

Chris Voss Never Split the Difference Book

The tech industry is nothing if not competitive. As startups, mom-and-pop shops, and Fortune 500 companies fight for top talent, developers, designers, data scientists, and more find themselves in a mad dash to get in the door.

Once they’re there, an offer may be a testament to their technical skills. However, the true mettle of one’s professional prowess lies in securing the salary you want. When you’re in the throes of negotiating for that number, don’t sell yourself short. Instead, ask yourself: What would Chris Voss do?

During his 24 years in the FBI’s Crisis Negotiation Unit, Voss used expert verbal and psychological tactics to defuse and control more than 150 international hostage cases. Many of the high-stakes situations were a matter of life or death — with rescues ranging from military contractors captured in Colombia to journalists kidnapped in Iraq and Gaza.

Now, he empowers people with valuable negotiation strategies to contend with tough professional and personal circumstances. As the founder and CEO of the consulting firm The Black Swan Group, he advises Fortune 500 companies through their most challenging negotiations. And in his book, the illuminating Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It, he reveals how powerful language, a “pleasant persistence,” empathy, and listening can give you an edge in getting a promotion, buying a car, consulting with a partner, and beyond.

In this book excerpt, learn Voss’s concrete tips for turning an employer into an ally and negotiating your next salary.

Continue reading

How Customer Development Leads Product Managers from Start to Finish

By

It’s virtually impossible to develop a successful product without knowing who’s going to use it. Enter customer development, the practice in which product managers and user experience (UX) designers interact with customers to learn more about their problems in order to create a product that meets their wants and needs.

Customers include any current or prospective people who buy, use, or support your product. When product managers understand their customers, their problems, the environment in which those problems occur, and the value of solving them, the products will very likely succeed.

Customer Development in Action

Imagine you’ve joined a team to launch a new mapping product for field technicians who inspect oil and gas assets (e.g., oil wells, pipelines, valves, etc.). In many cases, the assets are located in rural locations far from paved roads. The initial hypothesis is the technicians will buy a mapping solution that displays an asset’s geographic location and basic information on a map. In order to test this hypothesis using customer development, you spend several days in the field with customers. During that time, you learn that the technicians already have ways of displaying asset locations on a map, making your proposed solution not valuable.

However, during your time in the field you observe a more challenging problem: the technicians driving to the assets. While sometimes an asset may be only 200 feet off the road, if it’s on the other side of a creek or a hill then it could be 10 miles or more to drive to it. Many technicians rotated through assets and didn’t know the best way to get to them, and finding a path could waste several hours in a day.

The technicians wanted a way to mark how they get to an asset on the map as they were going to it, so each technician would know the best route for future inspections. This would save time and fuel, as well as reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Based on this information, you add waypoints — the ability to mark points on the way to an asset — to the initial product release.

In this example, customer development early in the product life cycle ensured the product would solve a challenging customer problem.

Customer Development Throughout the Product Life Cycle

Customer development starts before the first piece of code is written and continues until the product’s end-of-life stage. As the product progresses through its life cycle, the tools used with customers increases in fidelity from simple sketches, to wireframes, to mockups, to code. The continual customer interactions ensure product managers accurately represent the voice of the customer at each stage.

The product development life cycle has seven phases. During the Conceive and Plan phases, customer development interactions usually consist of interviews, sketches, and wireframes. As the product moves into the Develop phase, the most common interactions are mockups, proof-of-concept code, and beta releases. During the Launch and Iterate phases, the product will expand to solve more customer problems using all of the customer interaction tools. Customer development is important in the Steady State and End-of-Life phases to make sure customers continue to buy the product and can eventually easily migrate to a new solution.

By interacting with customers early and often, customer development increases the understanding of customer problems and how they value them, and provides useful information to turn into potential solutions. By using hypotheses, the most important customer information is identified and collected. The results from practicing customer development are used to prioritize product development and ensures you build products your customers love to buy and use.

Customer Development at General Assembly

Customer development is a core practice in developing profitable solutions with product-market fit that customers love to use. At General Assembly, we cover this early in our part-time Product Management course and reinforce it throughout to ensure that students learn how to apply the appropriate tool to match the situation.

In the course, students select a product idea to use for their course project. Once they identify their target and develop some initial hypotheses, they start the customer development process. As they develop their projects, continual customer interactions ensure they are on target to graduate with a clear and compelling example of the skills learned. Many times, these projects are a critical differentiator as they make a career transition into a new field.

Students in our UX design courses — the full-time Immersive program or part-time on-campus or online courses — also cover elements of customer development through skills like user research, usability testingcustomer journey mapping, and more.

Ask a Question About Our Business Programs

Meet Our Expert

Alex McCarthy, a Product Management instructor at General Assembly’s Austin campus, has worked in product management, software development, marketing, and sales roles, at companies ranging from early-stage startups to global, publicly traded companies. Alex has expertise in areas including oil and gas, measurement and automation, Internet of Things (IoT), professional consulting services, and more. He built successful product management and marketing teams for embedded hardware, enterprise software, and web application solutions.

Coming from a long line of teachers, he is passionate about education. He has mentored in public schools and served on various school boards, committees, and organizations. He recently founded Navigate Next, a company dedicated to helping leaders navigate to new careers in which they’re more passionate and engaged.

“Product management is not only critical to a company’s success — it is the best job ever. Knowing my students will have strong PM skills and a competitive advantage in their career transition is very rewarding.”

-Alex McCarthy, Product Management Instructor, General Assembly Austin

How to Break Into a Digital Marketing Career

By

Digital Marketing Career: How to Land a Job

With digital media surpassing TV as the largest channel for ad spending in 2016, digital marketers are more important than ever. Through clever concepts, smart storytelling, and a keen understanding of audience behavior through analytics, these data-driven brand specialists move business forward through strategic email, paid search, social media, and beyond.

Recent data from General Assembly’s Credentials division — which helps companies determine the capabilities of team members and potential hires through assessments and more — suggests that digital marketing is an open playing field for anyone who can acquire the skills needed to succeed.

But once you have the skills, how do you land the gig?

Continue reading

Experience doesn’t matter: Industry veterans and aspiring talent are equally qualified to break into digital marketing

By

Digital Marketing Vs. Traditional Marketing Skills

All aboard! It’s never been a better time to embark on your digital marketing journey.

We all seek experience. Personally and professionally, experience captures what we’ve done and what we have the potential to do. In hiring, prior experience is used as a shortcut to qualify job-seekers for interviews, job offers, and higher compensation. This shortcut works well in steady fields where the practices of the industry rarely change. If someone has done it before, they can probably do it again.

But does this shortcut work in a field that is dramatically changing? Marketing is an occupation undergoing rapid change. Adults now spend six hours a day with digital media, compared to three hours a day in 2009. As consumers move social, professional, and personal interactions online, advertising has followed. 2016 was the first year that digital media overtook TV as the largest channel for ad spending. Successful digital campaigns now require proficiencies across a host of new platforms, and the question for veterans and aspiring marketers is: Does general experience in marketing still matter?

Continue reading

How to Fail as a Web Developer

By

Coding & Programming Errors: How to Stay Calm

Three months into my first job out of college, as a web developer at a financial reporting company, I wiped out every single one of my company’s client records in one command. I had uploaded a script meant to eliminate one client, but quickly realized that it removed all of them and I couldn’t get the records back. (This was in the early 2000s, when it was less common to work locally before sending code to your live website.) I went into full-on crisis mode and started getting my resume ready, resigned to the fact that I was going to be fired. I was even Googling to see if I could be sued for what I had done.

Thankfully, a tech manager saved the day by telling me about the company’s nightly database backup and we quickly fixed most of the problem. But until that moment, I was sweating bullets.

As a web developer, you’re going to fail — often, and sometimes in huge ways — whether you’re a newbie or a veteran (see this recent mishap at GitLab.com, for example). But messing up doesn’t have to be stressful. In fact, when it does happen, staying calm is key because panic can cloud your judgement and force you to make rash decisions.

Continue reading

User Experience Fundamentals: 4 Key Elements of the UX Design Process

By

Many people have heard the term “user experience” but not everyone knows what this means. User experience (UX) is rapidly growing and revolutionizing how people interact with the world around them. UX is why Google is so easy to use and how Facebook knows what article to suggest to you next. It’s why the internet evolved from Geocities homepages with blinking “Under Construction” signs to the sophisticated interfaces we use every day. User experience is practiced by UX designers — but also product managers, product designers, entrepreneurs, startups, and forward-thinking organizations.

But what does UX actually mean? Let’s break it down.

For starters, if you have ever purchased a product or benefitted from a service, you are a user. When you interact with a product, service, or company, you are having an experience. Ultimately, most companies want you to have a good experience using their product or services. In order to understand what makes an experience good, we need to define what that means from the perspective of the user.

What makes an experience “good” hinges on whether it was successful at solving a real problem or provided users with actual value. This is the core distinction between art and design: Whereas art can be aesthetically pleasing, good design must have utility. Beauty alone isn’t enough. Thus, a good user experience is one that enables the user to be effective.

For example, let’s say you wanted to find a restaurant for dinner with friends. You know that several people in the group are vegetarians, so you’d like to find a convenient location where everyone has options. In this situation, you might use a restaurant recommendation platform to narrow down options, identify some potential locations, and share them with friends. The conditions for success in this situation would be an app that enables you to do exactly that. Anything more is considered “delight” and anything less is problematic.

The Four Key Elements of the UX Process

User experience is often referred to as “the science behind design.” What is meant by “science” here is the rigorous methods that comprise the UX process and provide the human insights and hard data to support and validate design decisions.

It’s important to know that the UX process can be used as both a path (go from start to finish) or as a toolkit (select the tool you need), depending on the project goals and timeline. Regardless of how you apply the process, there are a few critical ingredients that create the foundation for a successful user experience. We’ll outline these UX fundamentals below, along with specific tools or methods that can be used.

1. Behavior

Let’s begin by stating the obvious: People are complex creatures. When designing for people, it’s important to understand how they think and what behaviors they’re engaging in to satisfy their current needs or solve their existing problem. Before there was Yelp to find restaurants, what did people do? They asked their friends for recommendations or used an online search engine (or something else entirely — let’s not forget that there was life before the internet).

UX designers work with people by learning about their habits and goals, identifying needs and constraints, and aligning with existing behaviors to create solutions that are easy to use (efficient) and solve a real problem (effective).

Some UX methods and tools used to learn about user behaviors:

  • User interviews are one of the most important ways that UX designers uncover information. User interviews are usually focused on the qualitative data, which is information that can’t be measured but that is rich in emotional detail.
  • customer journey map is a visual document that details a user’s interactions with a company or product and how they feel about each interaction. This map tells a story about user’s end-to-end experience and how successful it was from the user’s perspective.
  • task analysis is used to analyze how users perform tasks in order to achieve a goal. Through observation, designers learn about the user’s current process (and work-arounds if no solution exists). For instance, observing a user file their taxes using analog methods (paper, mail) can inform a designer how they might go about that same task online. This is a great way to learn about existing pain points that could be improved.
  • Designers are always documentinganalyzing, and communicating user insights and data with their team to keep everyone on the same page. Designers might document a user interview using a screen-sharing tool that captures how a user moves through a website to complete a task. Then, they might analyze that information by creating an affinity map with their team to identify common trends or patterns in the collected data. Finally, they might create a user persona to bring this user data to life and communicate findings with their team.

2. Strategy

User experience is a human-centered process, which means that designers don’t prioritize business goals over people. The best design solution should ultimately align both the business and customer goals to create an effective and usable solution to a real problem. Strategy in UX is also about understanding where an existing product or process can be improved and communicating this effectively to internal teams and external users through design. Fundamentally, UX is about design empathy, which means translating user needs into actionable solutions.

One of the first steps in UX is user research. In order to solve a problem, a designer first needs to observe and understand what’s happening from the user’s perspective. Asking questions is a great way to uncover a lot of information about user needs and frustrations. These user insights can then be translated into design solutions that solve the user’s problem efficiently and effectively.

Some great questions to ask when strategizing:

  • Who is our user?
  • What is the user’s motivation or goal?
  • How does this make them feel?
  • Is the process clear?
  • What do they expect when they click this?
  • Are you assuming something about users? How could you test this assumption?
  • Are you thinking of the user’s wants and needs, or your own?
  • What do we want users to do? How are we helping them do it?

Strategy is then translated into design through artifacts such as user flows (how a user moves through a system to achieve a goal), wireframes (schematics that show how a digital interface will look and function), and high-fidelity prototypes (a working model of a design) that can be tested with users.

3. Usability

Good design is ultimately determined by usability. If a design does not help the user solve a problem, or makes solving a problem extremely challenging, it is not a good design. If the user is confused or doesn’t know where to go, or you designed it for you? Also not a good design. Because design is about functionality, usability is more important than aesthetics. While designers talk a lot about designing for “delight,” the best designs are usable. Designers can add delight through sophisticated animations, friendly language, and unexpected surprises that anticipate users’ needs. However, if the design is not usable, all these delightful details don’t matter. This may seem like a simple practice in theory, but that’s not always the case.

Humans are complex, and usability is deeply connected with psychology and behavior. Digital design inherited a lot of its behaviors from things we used in our analog life, such as buttons and sliders. Thus, people come to expect things to behave a certain way, even if there aren’t the same physical or technical constraints.

Usability is about creating products that anyone can use, especially if they have a disability or impairment. Usability is also about accessibility, which means that physical constraints or disabilities don’t prohibit or impede someone’s use of a product or service. Good design is about helping humans.

How can you determine whether something’s usable and accessible? There are a ton of resources dedicated to creating accessible and inclusive designs from the ground up. Some of the best include:

  • Nielsen Norman Group’s 10 Usability Heuristics
  • W3C Web Accessibility Guidelines
  • Microsoft’s Inclusive Design Toolkit
  • Uxdesign.cc’s Diversity and Design Series
  • Airbnb’s Another Lens Research Tool

4. Validation

Finally, validation is a critical piece of the UX process. Ideally products need to be tested with users before they are deployed to the public. Unfortunately, this is not always the case with companies that are eager to launch their products out into the world. The UX process emphasizes testing with real users early and often in order to ensure that the design solves the right problem.

Solving the right problem is the most important task that UX designers face. However, testing often throughout the process also means that you’ll catch mistakes sooner and be able to adjust without losing users. When things don’t work or are difficult to use, most people give up.

Investing in UX design is one way companies can stay competitive in the market while making the most of their time and resources. Validation is proof that you have successfully solved a problem for your user. Another way to think about testing is as an experiment. When making decisions, it’s important to ask: What are my assumptions about the user? About this solution? How might we test these assumptions?

There are many ways to validate an idea or assumption, depending on the amount of time and money you can invest in the project. The important thing to remember with validation is that it removes the guesswork from the design process. Here are some of the most common strategies used to validate ideas:

  • Ideas can be tested very early in the process by putting out a smokescreen test. A smokescreen could be a landing page with a call to action (e.g., Sign up for my newsletter!) to test whether users want your product.
  • If you’re already in the design stage, you can validate your design by A/B testing two versions of the same page. This would allow you to see if one way of solving a problem is more successful than another.
  • Finally, you might want to create a clickable or coded prototype to see how users would navigate the system as you get closer to launch.

What happens once a product goes live? UX designers are constantly iterating, which is the process of continuously testing throughout a product’s life cycle. In fact, the UX process of learning about user behavior through research, translating insights into actionable strategies, and testing new products and features is designed to be repeated as often as needed. Building accessible, usable, and beautiful products is an ongoing evolution.

UX Fundamentals at General Assembly

There are many ways to learn UX fundamentals at General Assembly. For the most in-depth experience, our User Experience Design Immersive (UXDI) introduces students to every step of the process while providing opportunities to apply skills directly through project-based learning with real clients. The 10-week-long Immersive is best for career-changers who want to transform their professional life. Our part-time User Experience Design (UXD) program, available on campus or online, is a great way to gain exposure to UX tools, techniques, and industry trends, and the eight-week Visual Design course covers a high-level overview of the practice and how it relates to visual design. You’ll also learn how UX impacts the product life cycle in the part-time Product Management course. If you’re just looking to learn more about UX and opportunities in the field, there are many workshops and events (such as the UX 101 Bootcamp) that can introduce you to the core concepts and best practices.

Ask a Question About Our Design Programs

Meet Our Expert

Katharine Hargreaves is a UX strategist, educator, and facilitator working at the intersection of social impact design and education. She teaches the User Experience Design Immersive at GA’s Los Angeles campus. Katharine believes that human-centered design heals the world, and she’s dedicated to building tools and systems that empower people everywhere to be problem-solvers.

Katharine Hargreaves, User Experience Design Immersive Instructor, GA Los Angeles