Episode 112 – Learn about UX Engineering and Why Good Communication is an Essential Skill with Emma Wedekind
Phil’s guest today is Emma Wedekind. She got her B.S. in computer science at Siena College and also studied at City University, London. Emma is a multi-discipline software engineer who also has a flair for, and experience, of design. Her career started at IBM where she worked as part of the IBM Spectrum Control and Suite teams as accessibility lead. Later, she became the front-end developer for IBM’s Quantum computing initiative and went on to design and launched that network’s website. In 2018, she joined LogMeIn as a software engineer, working out of their German office.
(0.55) – Phil asks Emma to tell the audience a bit more about herself? Emma explains that she got her computer science bachelor’s degree, in 2015.
During her internship for IBM, she worked on automating the installation of a web server application using z/OS in Python. This led to her working on the IBM Spectrum Control, enterprise storage system, as a full-time employee. Emma was soon invited to join the Vice President of systems and transformation’s design team.
In that role she worked on numerous projects including quantum computing. For that role she worked as a developer. During that time she worked on prototyping and created the quantum network site. In the early part of 2017, she quit, moved to Germany and started working for LogMeIn, as a software engineer.
(2.33) – Phil asks Emma how her new role is going and whether she has noticed any cultural differences between the two companies. Emma says she loves it and is learning lots of new skills.
When it comes to work culture, the biggest difference has been the fact that in Germany the work-life balance is a lot better. When home time comes, you are genuinely finished for the day.
She has also noticed quite a few structural and logistical differences. But, this is probably more to do with the fact that LogMeIn is a much smaller company. Emma feels that working for a small company has enabled her to make more of a difference.
(3.55) – Phil asks Emma for a unique IT career tip. Emma’s top tip is to find your niche. For her that is design and accessibility.
She also points out that, in IT, there is no “one path fits all”. For example, not every successful developer has a degree in computer science. Her first manager at IBM was an English graduate. Interestingly, a lot of very successful engineers have musical backgrounds. Emma has noticed that there is a duality between those who are involved in the arts and music and many roles within the IT field.
(6.13) – At this point, Emma is asked to share her worst career moment with the audience. That happened while Emma was building the IBM quantum network site. Unfortunately, the night before the website was due to go live she was asked to make some fairly big changes to it.
Somewhere along the line there had been a failure in communication with marketing. This resulted in these last-minute changes being necessary. To get the site up and running on schedule Emma had to spend some of her family holiday time sorting things out. This unfortunate experience taught her that good communication is key to a project’s success.
Emma also spoke about the fact that in many workplaces engineering still sits in a kind of silo. Something that Emma feels needs to be challenged and dealt with because it is a barrier to effective communication.
(8.19) – Phil asks Emma what her best career moment was. Interestingly, it was the release of the IBM quantum computing network website. Emma said that it felt good to build something from scratch, using technology that she had never used before. Emma is particularly proud of the fact she was able to take her worst moment and turned it into a career highlight.
(9.50) – Can you tell us what excites you about the future of the IT industry and careers? The fact that the industry is so volatile is very exciting. It is impossible to get bored when you are working in a field that is always changing.
There is no limit to what you can build. You can learn anything and there is always someone willing to help you.
Phil agrees that is exciting. But points out that anyone who wants to work in the industry needs to be prepared for the fact that constant change is something they are going to have to deal with. Emma says for her getting used to this constant state of flux has not been easy. Her personality means that change can make her feel uncomfortable. But, over the years, she has been able to learn to get “comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
(11.14) – What drew you to a career in IT? Both of her parents worked for IBM, so they encouraged her to look at engineering. But, Emma rebelled. She wanted to be an obstetrician, but gave up on that idea when she realized that she was terrible at biology and chemistry. So, she switched her degree from biology to actuarial science. During that time she took an introduction to computer science course. On that course she learned how to convert binary to hexadecimal. It was that lesson that sparked her interest in IT engineering and set her on her current career path.
(12.24) – What is the best career advice you were given? Definitely, “be consistent”. Emma had a blog, but not many people were reading it, but a colleague encouraged her not to give up. He explained that if she posted consistently and used social media to share her posts and took the time to respond to reader’s feedback, success would come. It worked. She stopped worrying about how many followers she had and opened herself up to the possibility of growth. Soon after she did that, the success did come.
(13.43) – If you were to begin your IT career again, right now, what would you do? Emma says she would have gotten involved with the dev community, at a far earlier stage. She feels that had she done so, she would have found her career focus, a lot quicker.
Her advice is to get involved in conversations on social media and read several IT blogs. Doing this will keep you interested and feeling passionate about your IT career.
(14.39) – Phil asks Emma what she is currently focusing on in her career. Right now, it is the UX engineer concept that she is working on the most. A UX engineer is a developer that sits between engineering and design pulling the two together into a harmonious team. They help to create a harmonious team that works in a consistent and effective way. A UX engineer will typically have experience of working in both fields.
It is an interesting role, but is not yet a well-trodden career path. Emma is currently working to spread the word and encourage more companies to employ people in these roles.
(15.41) – Phil said that he would be interested to know how that goes. Emma responded by explaining that a good UX engineer will create a comprehensive component library for use from the very start of the project. When that is put together properly, everyone benefits greatly. To do this successfully, the UX engineer needs to work with the design team and the developers to produce the components the project needs.
(16.33) – What is the number one non-technical skill that has helped you the most in your IT career? Emma’s response is – communication, in particular being able to articulate your thoughts concisely, during a discussion. It is also important to realize that a big part of communication is listening.
(17.37) – Phil asks Emma to share a final piece of career advice. Emma does so by encouraging everyone to push through the hard times. It is particularly important to be aware of the imposter syndrome, but don’t let that feeling overwhelm you. When you just push through those times you will experience them less frequently, learn, grow and achieve more.
(4.03) – EMMA – “My biggest tip is to find your niche.”
(4.59) – EMMA – “Just because your career doesn’t follow the same path as someone else does not mean it’s not successful. So, there’s no one path fits all.”
(8.38) – EMMA – “I’m definitely a proponent of trying to turn your negative experiences into positive ones.”
(14.32) – EMMA – “It’s going to be a lot easier for you to be passionate about it. If you see others excited about the field you are working in.”
(17.20) – EMMA – “Communication is something that we take for granted. We need to be better about articulating what are the things that we need for this project to be successful.”