30. Laith Ulaby of Udemy

In this episode of Dollars to Donuts I speak with Laith Ullaby, the Head of Research at Udemy.

I’m really into the idea of questioning what we do. That can be the methods and that conversation about getting out of our comfort zone. It can be thinking about our relationships with stakeholders and trying to reimagine and iterate on those. And it can be thinking about the historical trajectory of the field and the legacies that that has imbued us with. And I think that being ready to iterate and question the assumptions that a lot of those things are built on, is the thing that I’d really want folks to come away with. – Laith Ullaby

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Steve Portigal: Welcome to Dollars to Donuts, the podcast where I talk with the people who lead user research in their organization.

I had a profound moment this week. I was facilitating a meeting, not a user research setting at all. But we were having a fairly open-ended conversation. One of the people in the meeting shared some very specific advice for the rest of us, offering almost an impromptu speech or pep talk, filled with passion and encouragement. It was very inspiring. But as the facilitator, perhaps because of my work as a user researcher, I wondered if maybe that wasn’t enough. This person articulated their richly-realized state of being, and it may be easy for anyone else to dismiss it, oh, that’s just so-and-so, they’re just like that. But, we’re not born with insight about ourselves, or clarity about a new way of being, so I was curious – and I thought it would be helpful – to understand more about how this person accomplished this. How did they get here? And even though I wasn’t asking followups in this session, it seemed like an opportunity to shift my role slightly. And so I asked “How did you get to this stage, where you have this clarity in your approach?” This person paused, and said, “Well, if you really want to know” and then proceeded to share very personal details about their life, from hardship through to today and what they had overcome and how that had shaped them. The details aren’t important for my story, though, and they really belong to the individual who chose to share them, not me. Anyway, it was an impactful moment for all of us in the meeting. And it reminded me about a fundamental in user research, that you don’t know what’s behind a door, it could be something banal, I mean, it usually is, right, but you don’t know until you open it. And sometimes what you’ll find is new, surprising, and impactful. But if you assume that it’s always banal, you’ll never try to cross those thresholds, and never have the opportunity to hear those significant perspectives. I’m describing this as a doorway and that what we do as researchers do is step into that space, but I don’t think that’s sufficient to capture what it is that we do. Yes, we are stepping into something ourselves, but also, and probably most importantly, is that we’re making space for someone else, choosing to ask that question, to be interested, invites someone else to take a step forward themselves. You can call this a holding environment, or a safe space, but I think the additional point I want to make is that it’s not just what you do as a user researcher, it’s what you do for someone else.

I’m putting another episode here done without the benefit of a professional editor or transcriptionist. I’m focusing in the near term on how I can contribute but of course this is a difficult time for many people including those who operate a small business. It’s a challenge right now for Portigal Consulting. If you’re in a position to consider me as a partner, that’s appreciated. I lead research projects, I help companies build a more research practice including assessments, training, and coaching. Thank you!

Okay here we go with my conversation with Laith Ullaby, the Head of Research at Udemy.

Well, Laith, thanks so much for being on Dollars to Donuts. It’s great to have the chance to speak with you today.

Laith Ullaby: Pleasure to be here excited for the conversation.

Steve: All right, well, let’s, let’s get into it. Why don’t you introduce yourself?

Laith: Sure. So my name is Laith Ullaby. I’m currently the head of research at Udemy, which is an online education platform. I have a academic background in ethnography, and have bounced around the UX research world for a few years now. And then I’m also really passionate about teaching. So for the last few years, I’ve been teaching at the UC Berkeley School of Information and at the UC Berkeley Extension.

Steve: So what does it mean to have a degree in ethnography? Not? I feel like that’s not a phrase that everyone can say exactly.

Laith: Sure. So technically, the field that I studied was ethnomusicology. Which is using ethnographic methods to look at the intersection of music and popular culture, and so my focus was on how governments in the Middle East, were using technology to disseminate national identity through folk culture. So it was a little niche. But, you know, it was fun to sort of build that foundation and ethnographic research and think about how sort of the interplay between popular culture and technology.

Steve: Do you? Are there echoes of that in, you know, your daily practice? Like, can you draw the threads back to what your what that program was about for you what that research was about?

Laith: For sure, you know, I think that the, the, you know, when I think about user research, it’s really combining the strands from a lot of different places, different academic places, different you know, parts of sort of the applied world. And one of those is sort of the design anthropology world which I think is really steeped in ethnography and for me that really raises some of these really interesting questions about identity and community and how we sort of come to understand ourselves, as well as power relationships. So working on a marketplace for education, thinking cross culturally about, you know, who feels empowered to be a creator of knowledge, I think really hearkens back to some of the core areas of exploration that you might encounter in an academic program like that.

Steve: Maybe, can you say more about, you know, the organization where you’re at? What, what, what Udemy does, and a marketplace for education as a compelling phrase, maybe you can impact that?

Laith: Sure. Yeah, I’d love to. So, um, as opposed to some other, you know, awesome companies in the space. We’re not a publisher, we’re a marketplace. And so we have a platform for instructors to come and to find learners. So just to get a sense of the scale, we have 50 million students, 57,000 instructors and over 150,000 courses. So, you know, in other models, we might say, Hey, you know, here’s sort of the Python course that we think is cool. And in our model, you know, any instructor can come on and make any variation of a Python course. And then it’s those sort of marketplace dynamics like reviews and number of enrollments and social proof and those kind of things like you might do on an e commerce platform that folks would be familiar with, in which students then get to evaluate what’s the right course for their learning need. So it’s really exciting to sort of see that that proliferation and that there’s so many different approaches to you know, finding the right student, the right course with the right instructor at the right time. It can be overwhelming you know, you there’s obviously I’m sure a lot of folks minds are going to that, you know, moment of overload of too many options. So, it We do try and help out with that. But that’s sort of the the core value proposition of what Udemy does.

Steve: And so as a researcher in a marketplace company, I’m going to guess that there’s research focused on when you describe two players in the marketplace, right, the instructors and the students credit research is, would you describe research as kind of focusing on, you know, ultimately, one or the other?

Laith: Yeah, and that’s kind of the fun part is, you know, I think sometimes if we’re thinking about sort of the very, you know, naive version of user research, it’s, you know, we’re trying to help out the one user. And, you know, for us, it gets more complicated, because you have to think about that balance. And so, you know, you can make something a lot easier for the learners, but that could put a huge burden on the instructor. And so you have to be able to triangulate and sort of balance those. Similarly, we also have a b2b offering. So in that world, there’s also an administrator role or sort of a buyer role that can enter the fray as well. So we have to then sometimes think about the the balance and trying to find Win Win wins for any kind of change that we do. So it’s definitely a bigger challenge at times, but it’s a fun one.

Steve: So in that third example, the b2b so someone, this is a scenario where that Python course might be used by like a learning development person inside an organization to bring that in for training set the scenario.

Laith: Exactly. And so we have soft skills, we have technical skills, there’s there’s a whole range and that is a subscription model. So they would get access to our courses through that subscription model and make it available to their employees.

Steve: So what kinds of research you know, what kinds of research are you and your colleagues doing?

Laith: Um, one thing that I really love about Udemy is over two thirds of our learners are outside of the United States. So we really have this global presence and as a researcher, you know, just as a nerdy researcher that that presents a lot of fun stuff to look at. But it also means that we tend to rely a lot on remote research just to be able to get that that that global perspective, that global reach for the studies that we do, so remote as a lot, but it’s interesting, you bring this up, because I’ve been talking with my team a lot about how, you know, I think sometimes both individual researchers and organizations can kind of fall into a comfort zone with where, how and when they do research. And so we’ve been talking a lot about ways to kick ourselves out of our comfort zone and make sure that when we’re designing research, it’s, you know, truly the best way to answer that particular, you know, immediate research question that stares us in the face, rather than something that has a lower logistical overhead or just is something that we’re more confident and we’re comfortable doing.

Steve: So how do you create the conditions where, when you’re talking about risk, you didn’t use that word, but outside your comfort zone? How do you create the conditions where it’s okay to go outside the comfort zone for you, your team, the stakeholders that you work with?

Laith: Absolutely. And I think, you know, you hit the nail on the head with risk, you know, it’s not that folks oftentimes don’t want to do these things. It’s that, you know, they, they are used to doing things well, and they want to maintain that that same level that they uphold themselves to, I think there’s a few things that help there. One is, as I’ve helped to build upon my predecessor, who previously lead the research team and build the team further, really tried to have complimentary and overlapping skill sets within the team. So hopefully, it’s not something that no one on the team has done. It might be something that one person hasn’t done or a few people haven’t done. So this way we can share and teach each other. I’m a big fan of when they talk about in the medical practice, they talk about See one do one teach one. And that’s kind of how you know and and, you know, a new procedure in medicine. So I really tried to embrace that and say, Hey, folks, you know, how can we teach each other because you might have seen someone do something, and then you got to do it yourself. And now you get to teach someone, that’s when you’ve really kind of got that level of mastery. So when you’re constructing teams, I think it’s interesting to think about where those opportunities are, and that you’re creating the environment for that. I think we’re also lucky to work in a place where there’s just a lot of trust in the research team, folks have just done a good job of delivering high quality research, and that that gets you a tremendous amount of goodwill. And so I think that’s allowed us to have a little higher risk tolerance, because people know that, you know, we’re trying our best and we’re trying to deliver good research and if something, you know, by chance, didn’t go super great. You know, it was done with the sort of the best faith and intent and just generally the leadership, the product leadership and other folks are trying to you know, Encourage that general behavior in terms of the features that we’re launching or the the ways that we’re interacting with our marketing messages or things like that, too. So it helps to be at an organization that generally understands, you know, that risk is something there, and that’s where you get a lot of growth.

Steve: And buried within that as a, there’s a specific nugget that you just said, I want to kind of bring back up. You know, you implicitly answered How do you build trust? And you said, like, deliver great work and paraphrasing you but is that do I have that correct?

Laith: I think that’s a big part of it, for sure.

Steve: But then you kind of talked about goodwill, and maybe that’s maybe good work in genders goodwill, which then gives you some permission to not and no, no, no, I talked about failing but you’re talking about Yeah, getting outside the comfort zone and having trust to do that.

Laith: Yeah, I think that’s part of it. You know, hopefully there’s a little bit of a virtuous cycle, you know, that happens there. And I’d say the other part of it is, sometimes research can be a black box. And so I think that as people understand the component parts that go into research, it helps to build that empathy. And I know you know, empathy is a little bit of a loaded term and has been critiqued in some ways. And, and, but I think that just sort of at that base level of having a better understanding of what other folks are doing. And I think that you know, even just having folks observing research sessions or participating or the research team, facilitating non researchers, doing research helps to build up that kind of understanding of the complexity and the nuance that goes into, you know, really high quality research. So I think that’s part of it as well.

Steve: When you when you try to move research from a blackbox to something that has nuance. You’re asking more of your audience of your stakeholders, I want to I want you to understand that this is there’s more to this than what you knew. And maybe this is the benefit of working in a company that has learning as kind of part of its mission. But you’re asking more of your collaborators, if you want them to understand what you do is more than a black box. That is, that’s more work. That’s more brain cycles that you’re asking of them. I feel like this comes up in the, in the discussion of, you know, research is a thing that everyone’s doing. You just talked about, you know, facilitating teams guiding them and doing their own research. We we’ve, as a practice, we have invited a lot of people In. And yet, we still want to highlight the difference between what a non researcher can do and what we can do. But that means showing somebody that, hey, it’s not a black box. There’s a lot of detail here. I’m probably asking like eight questions at once.

Laith: Do you know where I’m going? I think I do. And I think this is something you know, every research or guy Ben has struggled with this in one form or another. So I think I get the gist of it. Um, I think for me, there’s a few things. The first is, it’s been a bit of an evolution for me, I think coming in as an someone with a bit of an academic background. And originally being more on the consultancy side. We sort of positioned herself as like separation of church and state of like design and research. And so we really kind of saw ourselves as on the user side. Maybe, you know, the metaphor I might use is something like we were the scientists or we were the sort of the testers in a way. And I think as I’ve moved In house and just fundamentally tried to had different relationships, I’ve had to reformulate how I think about my relationship with product teams. And I’m, you know, I’m someone who can’t code. I’m not a designer, I love all those kind of things, but I just don’t have that skill set. And I think I never, for a long time, I didn’t see myself as a builder. And one of the big evolutions in my career has has been saying, Hey, I’m part of a team that are building things. And so it’s not me sort of on the outside, you know, as a referee, but I’m part of this team that’s building something, and there has to be that kind of give and take. And I think that repositioning of myself has also helped to allow folks to reposition themselves in relation to me, and and has opened up some of those kinds of things. But you’re absolutely right. You know, researchers can’t just sort of demand that everyone drop all the things that they’re doing and have all the bandwidth in the role, world for, you know, extensive kind of things, because they are very good time intensive, especially the more elaborate research projects. So there’s a few things there, you know, again, echoing that idea of, you know, not just being empathetic with our users, but being empathetic with our colleagues and our co workers, I think is super important. I think that the principles of Human Centered Design in what we asked them to do is super important as well. So if you’re soliciting feedback on a discussion guide, um, have you made that a really easy to read? guide? Have you set up what kind of feedback you’re asking for them in a really clear and manageable way? Have you have you tried to maybe anticipate their workload? You know, I think all the things that we might think about doing in terms of building products we need to be able to do for our colleagues in different ways. But I think it also just shows that you know, for research to be really supercharged and have the impact that it can you know, it’s it’s a it’s a team sport, and you know, it’s So when we think about sort of those models of UX maturity or research maturity, you know, part of it is that the organization is willing to invest in it. When I, when I think about democratizing research, it’s it’s not just about letting a designer go, and sort of being the gatekeeper and letting them go do some usability sessions, but it’s about, you know, having them more involved in the process and feeling that we’re all designers. We’re all researchers, we’re all product managers. We’re all engineers. Now. We have specialized positions within that, but we’re building together and and i think that helps, but it’s, it’s still tough, you know, I don’t mean to act like I’ve nailed it, and I have all the answers, but that that mindset shift has at least helped a little bit.

Steve: Right, because you started off saying that, you know, you never thought of yourself as a builder. And but I hear you evolving that identity for yourself. And I heard two things. So let me actually want to check in with you. One is, is the collective view right? So, we are building something and I am part of I am part of the we, and if we are building then I, in this case, you take on some of that mantle of the identity of a builder because you’re part of that team after that, and I also heard that, you know, in, in living up to the principles of empathy for our colleagues, you are designing experiences for them through the experience through the artifacts that you’re creating, and the ways that you’re, you know, trying to make it effective for them to work with you. And that’s something that’s being built, you are a builder in the production in facilitation and production and artifacts, and all those sort of bits and pieces that make research happen.

Laith: So so like a lot of tech companies, you know, we do a lot of playing off the sort of name of the company so you know, people that work at Udemy or Udemy, mates and things like that. So, one thing that my team has worked on over the last few quarters is To make a an internal self serve research process that we call a u du u, so it’s, you know, a play on the U and the name of Udemy. But it’s sort of the idea that you can do it yourself. And we approached it in very much the same way that a product team might approach it, you know, in terms of, we basically had one of the researchers act as a PM, and we put together materials and we decided, you know, what was in scope and what was out of scope. We designed out, we sketched out the user flow, and what it might be, we tried to figure out how the different pieces of the experience would fit together, and try to, you know, create a portal through which folks could do this with as little friction as possible. And we very much approached it, how a design team or you know, a product team might make a product because we wanted to, you know, sort of practice what we preach and and embrace those principles, and we’re iterating on it, and we’re doing user testing on it and you know, we’re trying to do all those things, so that it can evolve and be the best way that folks can do research. themselves?

Steve: How did it feel for the team to do that to take on these, you know, put on some different hats and kind of act as if you you were these other types of roles?

Laith: Well, I will say, just because you brought up the issue of feeling, which I think is important, is I think that, you know, for different folks on the team, this was more and less out of their comfort zone. You know, I, I know that there can sometimes be that that gut reaction when we think about sort of opening the gates and letting non researchers, you know, run wild and so there was some good fun discussions about, you know, how we saw ourselves and how we talked about research and some folks really kind of had to grin and say, Hey, I’m going to trust the process and see how this goes. So that was a fun kind of thing to go through. Um, but definitely, it was great to see folks taking on these other roles, and you know, maybe putting some of their design chops to use that they maybe don’t think of themselves as a designer, but they’ve picked up some of those skills along different ways or put some of their chops together and and kind of see you know, put into practice what they’d seen great pm doing. So it was a really fun process. And I think it was a fun bonding process, we kind of did it as part of an off site. We have one awesome researcher, but she’s located in Dublin, Ireland, so we don’t always get to be as much spend as much time with her. So we did this, the bulk of this work sort of did a sprint, when she was visiting, you know, the main office in San Francisco. So it was also just a really fun way to get to know each other and our working styles because we’re in an embedded model. And so folks are working with teams. And so it was it was just really fun to be able to work on a project together and kind of learn from each other about how we approach product design and product development. So just as a team bonding experience, I thought we got tremendous value out of it on top of sort of the the output in addition.

Steve: You mentioned empathy for your colleagues, you know, trying to do the work of a world They don’t normally hold, I think would might illustrate that as well for everybody. Absolutely. What are the so just maybe shifting gears a little bit, you know, thinking about the, the populations, the user groups and sort of this, this space of learning of teaching and learning, you know, what’s are their unique ways that you have to approach you know, beyond the the global aspect, whether it’s methods or just, you know, the, the mindset you have to bring to these particular areas that you want to understand. Was there anything specific there?

Laith: Yeah, um, I think that there’s probably a similar thing that you might find with financial services, some forms of that or the fitness world where folks have a lot of aspiration to do a lot of learning But it takes a pretty big investment to, you know, learn a new skill, especially if it’s in a more self directed environment. So, a lot of times, it’s that classic thing of, you know, someone might if you talk to someone right after a purchase, they purchase a course, they’re imagining the sort of future where they’re, you know, diligently doing, you know, three hours a day in 10 hours on the weekend, and, you know, things like that. And, you know, unsurprisingly, you know, a lot of folks struggle with that, whether it’s their current work responsibilities or home responsibilities, or, you know, they hit a stumbling block, and they’re not sure how to how to get over it. So it can be a challenge to parse between sort of how people imagine themselves behaving and then reconciling that with maybe what we see in the data analytics or or sort of what they do. You know, there’s some interesting behavioral science things about the more you can empathize with your future. The more effective you can do at helping that future state. So, you know, there was a company in Mexico and they would digitize an aged version of your face when you were presented with, like how much you wanted to contribute to your retirement fund. And sort of being able to empathize with yourself in the future made people more likely to contribute to themselves basically their own retirement fund because they could sort of imagine themselves as not being distinct in the future, but being the same person. So there’s a lot of challenges there around motivation and intent versus behavior. That’s a little bit of a rambling answer, but it’s it’s a complicated research area to dive into.

Steve: What about the you know, how do you approach the the instructor, community or segments?

Laith: Yeah, um, You know, definitely, marketplace dynamics can be a challenge. You know, if you have an entrenched instructor who’s very popular and has, you know, hundreds of thousands of enrollees, enrollments, it can be tough to figure out well, you know, what if a new instructor comes on, so helping folks to kind of feel that they have a fair shot is super important. And then also, there’s a few elements, I think, that are really important about helping instructors get the right kind of feedback in both Udemy and other places I’ve worked, you know, if you ask folks, if they want more analytics, and you start listing options, they’ll just say like, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. You know, people just feel that they want more data and they want more information. But at some point, it can be overwhelming, or if they don’t know what to do with it, sometimes folks can kind of feel guilty and you know, this numbers changing and I don’t know what I’m doing differently and things like that. So there’s a real challenge in helping to not just present in information on a dashboard. But the context, the understanding the nuance, and hopefully equip them with strategies or suggestions along the way. And they’re not just sort of twisting in the wind to sort of decipher the, the different data visualizations, you know, how they might do without that assistance.

Steve: Right. And there’s, there’s something maybe lurking underneath your stories about, you know, the gap between I mean, maybe it’s simplistic level, like what people say they want or how we can get people to agree that features are, are things that they want versus, you know, serving a serving a deeper need, which is harder to harder to extract and kind of have a deep understanding of, that’s absolutely the difference of what you’re trying to accomplish with research.

Laith: Absolutely. And, you know, that’s kind of the you know, in some ways, the Holy Grail A lot of the work that we do is is figuring out how to get at that, you know, underlying unmet need and things like that. And I’ve even seen, it’s been interesting recently, you know, a few teams working on similar product offerings or features, and then realizing, when we took a step back that, hey, these might actually be trying to solve some similar things, we might be able to combine these efforts. And I think that’s one thing that research was helpful in is sort of highlighting what the actual value people were getting out of some of these prototypes. And it helped to sort of triangulate you know, what sort of, you know, had the most juice, you know, that we thought could really deliver something unique.

Steve: You we talked about your team kind of indirectly Can you describe Kind of, yeah, what kind of what kind of skills and backgrounds you know, make up your team and, you know, in future what do you what do you look for when you When you meet prospective candidates for your for your team?

Laith: Yeah, it’s a great question. I think that we have a pretty diverse range of backgrounds, which is pretty cool. At Udemy the way we’re just organized, it’s market research and user research together. And, you know, this is something I think is really interesting in the industry is all the different permutations of org charts. And, you know, you know, where folks sit and things like that. I think sometimes it can get, you know, over indexed as something that’s important because I think sometimes it’s often just legacies of how companies grow. But it’s interesting and I think it is good to think about, so we have one market researcher, and then four user researchers and then myself and it’s actually been really fun because to to have that market research lens as part of the user research team. Because it really helps to highlight things about brand voice and brand positioning and Sort of that that more holistic experience of how someone might enter the product through different campaigns, and and sort of thinking about that broader journey. So it’s been fun to have that perspective, most of the places I’ve worked at before, you know, market research is in a different building. And it’s kind of a black box even internally. So it’s, it’s cool to have that that together. And that person tends to bring a little bit more of that the survey chops and and some of those more market research kind of things, not to say that user research doesn’t do surveys, but you know, sort of bread and butter and approaching some some different kinds of questions. And then on the user research team, you know, we’ve got a couple folks that have a, you know, master’s degree in HCI. And then other couple folks that, you know, came to the industry through through different routes, including someone who formerly used to be an engineer working on renewable energy in that kind of format. So, it’s cool to that we all bring in different things, and we’ve been at You know, some different organizations and sort of trying to figure out the DNA of those places and what we want to sort of copy and and what we hope to innovate on or what we see that you know, someone might be bringing in a different mousetrap. When I’m when I’m looking at candidates Udemy is very mission driven, even though it’s a company, a lot of folks really just believe in education and the power of education, and the global nature of what we do. So, you know, always want folks that are really bought in to, to the idea of what we’re doing. And then I think beyond that, it’s, you know, someone that can bring in something new and that can be new methods and new perspectives, new approaches, but um, you know, I don’t really see it as that there’s like a one single profile that is gonna is gonna mesh well. Collaboration, of course, is super important. And having that that flexibility To think about, you know, for each project what what sort of permutations or iterations you know is this something that’s going to be a little more quick and dirty is is something that’s going to be a little more rigorous. The last area that in hiring that I’ve sort of formulated in my mind is, I think about written communication, verbal communication and visual communication. And I really want to find folks who are really comfortable, at least one of those, like really good, and then hopefully, you know, decent at the other two, and, you know, willing to kind of work on them. But I think it’s important that you have one modality of communication that you know, you’re just really good at, because you know, so much of what we do is communication.

Steve: I want to loop back to you said all sorts of all sorts of interesting things. I want to loop back to one of them. Because you mentioned a few moments ago that that that people are embedded. But you also talked About the sources. Watch one. Sorry, see one. Do one teach one. Is that right? Yeah, yeah. Okay. So I’m just wondering about, you know, especially you got this market researcher with a, you know, a pretty unique skill set among your team. And you have all this diversity. So how the the researchers are are embedded they have product teams they’re specifically focused on. So how do you balance that focus and then harness the hardest that diversity and let people influence each other and teach each other and draw from draw from that team? You know, that you have the centralized part and you have the embedded part. I’m wondering what that looks like.

Laith: Yeah, and I you know, I think this is a challenge for for for folks in some organizations to sort of be a functional leader, but not a project. Leader, where the folks on my team are just so much more expert in the details of the features and pods that they’re working on. So, you know, sometimes I feel like, you know, oftentimes I feel like, you know, they’re teaching me or they’re, you know, showing me how things are working. And so I have to think about other ways that I can contribute or add value, obviously, you know, that can be with being a sounding board for thinking about methods and approaches. But But to your point, there’s also about sort of how I can create that sense of a research team, even though most of our day to day is kind of often embedded with, you know, awesome designers and engineers and marketers and you know, folks doing other things. So we have a few mechanisms. And, you know, I hate to say that the answer to everything is a meeting, but some of it is meetings. So we have a team meeting. We also have a bi weekly session. That’s a we call it researchers talk shop. And so we have a spreadsheet where people just throw in topics and we For a lunch and we try and dive into different research topics. So that’s a great way for, you know, someone’s been doing a lot of workshops recently, and they can kind of share what went well and what didn’t go well. And we do some of that in our research team as well. We have a office hours as well, so people can just stop in and talk with us, but we, you know, sort of hang out in the conference room. And that’s just an opportunity for us to kind of catch up a little as well, you know, because sometimes, you know, 10 people show up to office hours and sometimes it’s just one and just kind of hearing each other helping other folks and office hours you kind of get to hear a little about their approaches and things like that. Another mechanism that we have is we do try and pick some some bigger, juicy or questions that we are sort of more researcher initiated, and we do those collaboratively so that they you Edu initiative is a is an example of that. And we’ve tried to do a few other collaborative researcher initiated projects. Another thing is we have a little podcast club, so We’ll listen to podcast episodes and then just set up a quick little half hour to, to talk through it in different ways. And it’s just fun, you know, a chance for researchers to to talk about things through that lens and try and grow and get those other perspectives. For me, the nice thing about podcasts is it feels really low friction to just find like a 20 or 30 minute podcast. And, you know, folks can do that when they’re commuting to or from work and you can still have a really lively discussion, I found historically, it can be a lot harder to give folks PDFs or articles, you know, it can be harder to sort of find the time. So those are some of the mechanisms that we have to try and develop that that sense of community and exchange.

Steve: That’s there’s a lot of them. And so I know you’ve got one person in Dublin, for the people that are in San Francisco. Are you sitting in a co located or whatever the better way to say that would be

Laith: we’re all sitting on the same floor but you know, it’s a decent sized floor. So, you know, there’s folks that aren’t in visual visual range. So we’re kind of sitting near the product teams that we work with, we’re sort of the seating chart is by, you know, product teams rather than by functional teams. But you know, you know, you run into people constantly just in the halls and at lunch and running between meetings. So, definitely, I see everyone, you know, I’d say, at least a couple times every day, you know, even if it’s just passing.

Steve: And so for researchers that are embedded in these product teams, how, how is sort of the the, the plan for what they’re going to work on determined?

Laith: Yeah, it’s a great question. And shortly before I joined the company, or a little before I joined the company, the research team had switched from that more centralized model to an embedded model. And so some of this has been an iterative process. The other challenge is, you know, there’s just not infinite reading resources. So is the ratio of researchers to designers and PMS. You know, there’s usually one researcher juggling at least a couple PMS if not two, or three or even more. So it makes prioritization really a challenge. And I think before we’ve been a little reactive, and it’s hard to make sure that you’re working on the right things, if there’s just sort of like a queue coming in, and you’re trying to keep your head above water. So one of the things we’ve worked on and iterated on it quite a bit over every quarter is just to do a quarterly planning process, where folks go out as as teams are putting together their, you know, quarterly okrs. Researchers are also evaluating what the research asks will be over the next quarter. The researchers then take that all together, you know, from across the teams, you know, think about they do a little bit of a T shirt sizing, you know, what’s a small, medium and large project, think about their bandwidth, sort of think about timing And come up with sort of a proposal. You know, it’s very aspirational. But it’s still a really good, you know, exercise to go through. Now, what I think makes it has made it really effective is we then do a readout of these plans to leadership. So I’m really lucky to have a very actively involved CEO and CTO and head of product. And so it’s those folks and a few others in a room, and each researcher goes through what they’re intending to do over that quarter. Now, it’s really great for research just in terms of getting visibility, and, you know, getting some recognition because we also do a section where we sort of share what we thought were some of the winds, and do a little bit of a retro on the last quarter. So get some of the researchers a chance to highlight some of the great work that they’re doing to leadership. And then also just to get that feedback where they might talk about what they’re prioritizing, and then to get that color or get that really strategic perspective, from the CEO talking about, you know why he’s excited to hear us diving into this area or that And then the last part that I think is kind of powerful as well is then if there’s kind of push back a few weeks later, as a researcher is explaining, like, Oh, I’d really love to get to that, but I’m doing this, you know, they can kind of say, Well, you know, this is what our, you know, leadership team, you know, thought was really important. And it gives a little more gravitas to that sort of prioritization process. And, of course, we build in, you know, feedback cycles, you know, throughout as we’re developing this as well. So, it really hope hopefully gets folks on the same page. Um, you know, there can be a little overhead to this. So we are trying to make this as spelt and, and sort of low overhead. So that’s part of what we’re iterating on. And this might not scale if we were a team of 15 because there just wouldn’t be time to, you know, have the CEO sit there through 15 people’s presentations. So, at least for now, it’s been really valuable and, you know, we’re gonna have to think about as the team grows, how to modify it.

Steve: A lot there. There’s a lot. So the researchers themselves are, that are they’re the ones putting together their individual roadmaps.

Laith: Yeah. You know, going back to that question about, you know, building teams, you know, I want folks who who are, you know, I want to find awesome folks and empower them to do the work. I’m not, you know, overseeing or micromanaging or sort of telling them to do this or that, you know, they tend to bring me stuff and we chat about it. And I’m a sounding board, and we strategize and I give my perspective. But, you know, they’re the ones that are mediating the relationship with their, with their stakeholders. And so, you know, they really have to believe in whatever choices are being made about what they’re working on. And I also want them to feel that they have agency, you know, that they’re not just sort of, uh, you know, designers sometimes talk about sort of being like pixel pixel pushers. I don’t know what the what the right alliteration would be for researchers, you know, we could work on that, but I don’t want researchers to feel like they’re just sort of being dictated to about do this usability test or do this You know, the generative, you know, exploration or getting a survey, again, making them part of the process, and and they’re contributing to the OKR process, as well. So it’s really should be a symbiotic relationship. We’re not quite there, but I think we’re really moving in the right direction. And I’m excited about that, that that back and forth and the interplay

Steve: I think it’s a compelling vision that you’re, you’re illustrating, and I want to go slightly meta here. Sure. Maybe to meta I don’t know, you know, you. I mean, you said something that I think is quite common, right? The, the, the research resources are limited, or they’re, you know, to put another way, demand exceeds supply. And I think that’s common and I wonder, you know, outside of Udemy, like, if that’s sort of a truth in at least for tech, you know, in the kinds of organizations That means there’s lots of kinds of research, but in sort of tech overall, I think that’s a common, you know, you have different team sizes, you have different organization, you know, approaches to research, but in general, I hear this a lot. What do we what do we think of that like that? That’s a that’s sort of a universal truth that there’s a more there’s more needs than there are resources. You know, why? So what’s what is? Do you have any reflection on that?

Laith: I mean, there’s definitely I think we should be self critical enough to say we’re biased as researchers. So, you know, I see research need where perhaps other people don’t and I think that’s, that’s totally fair. And and I think it’s also the the tricky part is, are you optimizing for sort of peak demand load or average demand load, and that can be a hard thing to disentangle. And then Lastly, I think it’s what, where and how can research impact things? So, you know, I think, you know, are we already sort of cleaning up things and grinding out a lot of usability studies? Are we doing really conceptual, you know, blue sky kind of research? What kind of impact do those do different things have? are we are we, you know, what sets of stakeholders are we interfacing with? Um, you know, I think it’s a very different situation, if, you know, you’re getting into some really interesting things that overlap with back end engineering, and you’re doing interesting things with PMM. And, you know, local operations, you know, what I’m saying instead of just sort of the more core conventional stakeholders that you might have, I think that that exploring those kinds of things, or maybe things that I’m seeing that I wish I could do if I had more bandwidth, but the organism might not necessarily see that yet or see the value. And so it’s a matter of sort of picking the opportunities to try and demonstrate how big their menu of research is, and all the places that we can impact. So it is a tricky one. And you know, it’s probably better to have a few too many researchers, sorry, a few too few researchers then to go the other way.

Steve: And, you know, I think about I certainly when I started the field, there just there wasn’t a lot of demand. I mean, there wasn’t a lot, there wasn’t as much awareness there wasn’t as much, you know, process that includes these these tools and kind of incorporates what we bring. And it’s been interesting to see, you know, over time, how the demand is high. The, you know, the the The amount that that our work is integrated with, you know, other work that’s happening in the company is as grown and I think you’re just you’re articulating, you know, a future state perhaps where there’s even more, you know, more aspects of the work that a company is doing, are places where we can bring value. That’s like a, I don’t know what the shape of the curve is over time, but you can sort of see it evolving from, you know, who are you guys to, we have a lot of work for you to, you know, in the future, there’s way more than we can do then you then people are maybe ready for or that that, that we have demonstrated, you know, as a practice, you know, as, as broadly.

Laith: Absolutely. I mean, it as I’ve grown in this field, you know, I’ve really found that, you know, Human Centered Design has kind of permeated my life. You know, let’s say I’m trying to I set up a time to hang out with some friends. And you know, it’s sometimes hard to coordinate everything with like three or four friends. You know, when I’m typing up that email, you know, I think about, oh, a little, little visual hierarchy in, you know, as I typed this out to make people understand the options and what I’m asking for and to reduce the language and make it easier to scan, you know, that goes into me putting together that email. So I think we kind of have to embrace that, that philosophy of Human Centered Design is really powerful. And it’s been fun to your point of seeing some of the bigger companies where the internal, you know, human resources team, or the you know, real estate team might have a user researcher because they’re thinking about that that’s a product you know, how people access the benefits internally or what workspaces are like at a company or all these different kinds of applications. And that whether we call it user research or service design or you know, any of these kind of but that that that fundamental approach Can can benefit organizations in so much of what they’re doing. It is fun to think about that, that that future state and all the places that we can, you know, deliver value.

Steve: You know, and use that up top, you know, you came from academia, you had sort of just a variety of things that you’ve done along the way, in research and kind of before research, and I’m wondering if you kind of look at your history, but also, as you you know, have you as you grew into the field, you I think learned about the, the history of the field of user research. Do you see? I mean, are there seeds of what we’re talking about? If you look backwards in, you know, where research had been applied, how it kind of evolved or, you know, what you see when you look backwards?

Laith: Yeah, this this is a topic that I’m just continually fascinated by, and I would love your perspective on this, because I’m sure you know, a lot of this very well. And it’s been interesting. You know, I think sometimes When I’m doing my teaching, I almost get the sense my students kind of feel like this is how it is. And this is how it’s always been. And you know, sometimes I kind of have to remind them a little and be like, this is actually a very rapidly evolving and changing field. And you all are going to have a huge say, in sort of what this, you know, ultimately looks like or sort of what it what it might look like in a more mature state. And it really has undergone these different shifts in thinking about all the different strands that go into it, at a very, very simplified level. And not to say that these phases are not overlapping or exclusive, but it feels like, you know, previously there had sort of been the innovation labs, the Xerox parks, and that that had been sort of where a lot of this kind of work was being done. Obviously, there’s a older history when you’re thinking about World War One and two and human factors, and that’s another sort of strand in this. And then it feels like some of this work then became a little more focused around agencies. You know, you’ve got your radios and things like that. And we started to see that shift to in house research happening and calling it UX and things like that. And I think around then is also when we saw this shift to much more consumer oriented products. Before a lot of it, you know, had been very enterprise e or, you know, business oriented, where maybe someone, all their exposure to human computer interaction would be the one computer at work or something like that. And so we over this time, we’ve evolved to this place where technology is being much more omnipresent. And you’re not just dealing with a technology one manufacturer, but you’re starting to have to think about that the design changes on your phone are affecting the design changes on your computer, and those might be made by different software companies and hardware companies and all these kinds of things. Now, I think originally, a lot of those in house teams were embedded, or sorry, we’re centralized, like I sort of talked about a little before and then we’ve seen Seeing the shift to the more embedded teams and the real just tremendous growth that’s happened over I don’t know, the last five to eight years, and weaving together all these different strands from psychology and design and Information Science and anthropology and you know, more than I could sort of a name. And we’ve also seen the pipeline really emerged at these really great masters programs, you know, a lot of programs in library science, or have rebranded themselves as an Information Science program and are contributing to this. And of course, you know, human computer interaction programs and things like that. So it’s interesting to think about sort of what comes next. I started to see some more innovation labs kind of things popping up. So it’s funny how that might be coming back into vogue. And then the sort of rage of democratizing research and, and sort of figuring out how to scale the impact of research teams beyond just embedding more and more researchers interesting. As well as you know, sort of the the global nature of this, you know, feels like there’s a bit of a different UX culture in some parts of Europe, and you’re seeing emerging UX culture in in other parts of the world too. So that’s kind of my take that I’ve gathered through just a few articles and chatting with folks. But I’d actually be curious if that aligns a sort of a very rough arc with sort of your take of the field.

Steve: So this is the part of the interview. This is the danger of interviewing an interviewer. Yeah, I mean, I would love to sort of, maybe someone has done this, but I’d love there’s a visualization, it’s kind of it’s kind of a timeline you know, around with some of these major things happening and you know, as you talk about it, you know, the the emergence of design and consumer products as has elevated to design, right? The, the way the jobs for designers changed once there was an iPhone, I mean, going back the jobs are designers change once there was like a Macintosh computer, but and that, you know, we’re, I have felt for a lot of my career that and not necessarily a bad way but that that research is kind of following in the wake of design. And so when I joined the field it was it was following in the wake of industrial design, because that’s where all the innovation was happening. And, you know, they kind of they kind of weren’t, they were the innovation labs. But then the web comes along, and there’s just so much growth and you know, things that you talked about. And so, you know, user experience comes along as a phrase and suddenly we’re user experience researchers and researchers because we’re, we’re working on that in those industries. We’re working on digital stuff more exclusively. You know, and I think we, I mean, in your narrative you are, you’re any good history has to do it includes a lot of different as you call them strands. And sometimes I feel like it makes, it’s necessary, but it’s hard to see the research strands like you don’t want to decontextualize it. But I also I do want to decontextualize like I want to how do we talk about research without talking about anything else? Just as a you know, as a, as a as a thought exercise, like just to look at how research has changed, even though these other things have changed, and that’s why research has changed, but I’m certainly interested in the like, I think you’re going to your point about, you know, a lot of the work moving in house and as someone that’s still a consultant, I can tell you that’s that’s definitely true. It really has changed, my professional life changed dramatically. As that trend took hold, so I feel that one very specifically. And that’s a very research specific one, even though I think you see lots of creative professions that were historically done, those consultancies are done as agencies got moved in house. I feel like there’s that Apple caused some sea change in the ad industry when they Yeah, brought something in house. And I don’t know if that was sort of the the change point that led to what you’re describing with, you know, research overall.

Laith: I think that if I were to focus a little more on the research strand, because I think it’s a fair call out, I would say there’s two things and one is thinking about the position that the researcher has these of either product or what they’re working on. And it’s funny because I think Yeah, back in the day, and I’ll contradict myself a little about not about focusing on research, but you know, if you were a designer, you’d be like, Oh, I want to go work for fjord or tea handed lax or You know, these kind of big design agencies and they all got either acquired or Accu hired not all of them, but a lot of the really prestigious ones. You know, and and you saw that happening a little with research too, with with bolt Peters, you know, and things like that getting brought in house by the big companies Adaptive Path and things like that. So it has been interesting to see that, that that that transition, but I think we’ve inherited certain ways of approaching things, or at least I have, I know, coming from that consulting side, it was kind of a formal relationship that I had with the product and with the product teams. And you know, it’s sort of like having the big, bloated deck, you know, that Edward tufte A would, you know, you know, shake his finger at me for putting together and I’ve had to think about ways of thinking about like, Hey, you know, I don’t really need to go through a lot of that front matter that I might have had in this very formal deck for clients, with people that I have a much more casual relationship with. Similarly at Udemy when we first transferred from that embedded sort of Central To embedded forum, they’ve been sending out surveys, sort of satisfaction surveys to see like, how did the research project goes. And ultimately, you know, there are people that you’re in meetings with all day and you’re sitting next to them and all these kind of things. It feels kind of odd and distancing. To send that satisfaction survey. Now, we still need to have mechanisms for feedback and to figure out ways to do better, but we kind of needed to adapt the ways in which we work to reflect these different, you know, relationships. And I guess the other way I’d flip it around is to sort of to take a research, design thinking approach, which is, you know, if we were to redesign, design research today, and could somehow throw away the baggage or sort of the history of all these things, how would we design it differently? How would we redesign the way we work and our relationship with products, you know, allowing that there will probably be a spectrum of those things depending on the company and those kind of things. You know, it’d be, you know, as a further thought experiment, it would be kind of fun to think about, what are the things that we’ve carried forward? Because of these histories coming out of industrial design and out of human factors and out of these sort of evolutions? And what are the things that we might do differently if that if we’d been on a different path, or we’re just starting a new today?

Steve: And one of the, I think, one of the legacies and you know, whether it’s a strength or a weakness or both, is the the, the diversity of paths that have led people to research? You know, it’s still true today. And it was, yeah, like, I think, you know, if you go back in the olden times, there were few sort of credible paths, they had to sort of invent a path and now there are, I think, many paths that are somewhat credible, but it’s So lots of people have to find their way in from something else. Right. And I think there’s there’s, we’re the field welcomes more people from more places, it’s still a struggle to get in. And then I guess, just there, it was a different struggle in the past, but the that lack of definition of like, what background does a researcher have? Or what backgrounds plural does a research team need to have? I think that’s very exciting. But it also, it also seems like a huge amount of legacy code that we spent a lot of energy and emotion on that if we were looking at things to sort of toss away and reinvent from scratch. That would be that would be one that I would I would lobby for.

Laith: Yeah, it’s tough. And, you know, I think a consequence of that is the research culture at different organizations can be so different, you know, if you have one place A lot of the folks are master’s degrees in human computer interaction and not saying that that’s a bad thing, but it’s just a set of things. And you have another organization that, you know, more folks coming out of sort of design anthropology or applied anthropology, you know, they’re gonna have very different ways of framing problems and approaching things. And you might have another organization where it’s a lot of designers and engineers, who you know, learned and got into research, you know, through work experience, those would all have very different flavors. And yeah, to your point, it’s kind of like a great thing and it’s an exciting thing and it’s an enriching thing. But it can lead to folks talking past each other, or, you know, getting in over their heads in certain situations. You know, I do sometimes my main concern can be about the ethical conduct conducting of research, and that, you know, I really hope that everyone who gets to do this awesome line of work has the the proper you know, ethical, you know, You know, training to sort of keep their eye out for getting into situations that are not good for them or not good for the industry and are not good for the research subjects.

Steve: And where does that? I mean, I think this this speaks to the multi discipline. I guess that’s what you’re saying. So I’m just reiterating your point for you. Sorry. But like, yeah, where does that come from? How do research teams work, regardless of what their you know, what their composition is? How does? How do we mature the practice of the ethical aspect of the work?

Laith: It’s tough. I mean, I think that there there needs to be a degree of self policing, you know, whether it’s on slack communities or email listservs You know, I think it’s it’s okay to discuss things that have popped up and say, Hey, you know, I’m seeing the survey coming out from this or invitation to participate in research like this. And you know, I don’t know how I feel about About that, definitely, I’d say larger teams, which I think is where a lot of more junior folks are able to get their start. I would love to see them have a sort of a formal cadence of doing some some ethics training. I think it’s super important. And But yeah, I think there there is a bit of a vacuum there. You know, there’s some good articles and it does get covered in you know, the, the seminal, you know, works like the Baxter courage cane understanding user needs. You know, there’s great discussions in there about, you know, ethics and things like that. But um, I definitely think as an industry, we could be doing more.

Steve: And this is goes back to the strands thing, like the conversation about ethics in user experience, progresses a certain way and it’s easy for us as researchers to get sort of swept up in that but the issues are different. I think there are specific things as you’re kind of getting at.

Laith: Yeah, I think that the the things you’d watch out for if you’re doing academic psych experiments in grad school would be very different from if you’re doing anthropological field research, you know, let’s say with a marginalized community, but yet in industry, because of the wonderful interdisciplinary Enos, you know, you might have those folks sort of doing the other kind of research and not being fully abreast of the, you know, you know, if they have very advanced ethical training and research ethics training in their home discipline, you know, as they move and sort of get to experience the other strands, they might not be totally, you know, up to speed on on those other kinds of areas. So, even as folks that think they have really great you know, you know, Human Centered research ethics training, as we move into this UX research world, there needs to be something sort of specific for us. I will say that that you know, the UX pa has guidelines market research organizations have ethical guidelines. And I think those are a really fantastic starting point for the work that we do, because they’re, they’re focused on sort of this more applied or industry setting. But, um, you know, there’s a lot more that I think we can do collectively.

Steve: What do you see in your students in terms of their awareness or, you know, hunger for this kind of guidance?

Laith: Um, you know, I, I don’t know how representative Berkeley is, you know, I think it tends to approach sort of attract a little bit more of the mission driven or idealistic kind of folks. So, I know that whenever I’ve mentioned, you know, doing work with different kinds of communities or crossing socio economic status, you know, sort of working with folks in a broader spectrum, you know, not necessarily just, you know, Bay Area folks that have an iPhone, you know, 11 You know, I think that they really get excited to think about Those kind of things, and they really embrace the responsibility and recognize the privilege that they have. I have to say, I’m just so impressed and blown away by how sophisticated the students are, you know, I feel that they that they’re really attuned to some of these kind of things, and you just have to open the door a tiny bit, and they tend to really, you know, jump at the chance to sort of think through some of these really complex issues. And think about the ramifications of, you know, sound design of people that, you know, have different accents, or AR VR for accessibility and things like that, you know, they’re they’re connecting the dots really quickly. I just think it’s really important to give them sort of the frameworks through which to process these kind of things. So that’s kind of what I see to be my challenge.

Steve: Your challenge is to give them those frameworks.

Laith: Yeah, exactly. So they think it kind of helps. To see like the bigger picture a little easier.

Steve: Yeah. Well, this is super interesting. And we could obviously dig into all of this two times more than we already did. I guess, just to throw it to you like, what did I ask you about? Or do you want to talk about that? We didn’t get to?

Laith: I don’t know. Uh, you know, I’m a nerd. I can talk about anything for forever if you can’t tell from the conversation. But, you know, I appreciate you give me the chance to talk about some of the historical stuff. And just quite frankly, like outside of the interview would love it if you had any more perspective on that to share just because I think it’s interesting to think about that legacy. But I don’t really have any other you know, access to grind or anything. If you feel you you’ve got enough.

Steve: So I’ll throw one more question at you and then I’ll try for a perspective on you know, on the strands conversation I guess so so. So if this was, if our conversation on dollars to doughnuts was going to end up in podcast club, what would you want people to get out of it?

Laith: I think I’m really into the idea of sort of questioning

what we do. And, and, and again, that can be the methods and that conversation about getting out of our comfort zone. It can be thinking about our relationships with stakeholders and trying to reimagine and iterate on those. And it can be thinking about the historical trajectory of the field and the legacies that that has imbued us with. And I think that just sort of being ready to iterate and question the assumptions that a lot of those things are built on, is the thing that I’d really want folks to come away with.

Steve: Excellent. Can I said I would, I would try to offer something else. I’m the sort of looking forward looking back on the field piece. You know, and so, my, my perspective is both informed and I guess hampered by just time. Like I have been doing this for, you know, more than two decades, which is weird what to say when it comes out of my mouth, but it’s, it’s true. And I have just been feeling for the last little while that, you know, we’ve been on this trajectory, that sort of this gentle upward slide in terms of, I don’t know, skill building, like figuring stuff out building best practices, like a lot of things that we were, you know, making up as we went along, have been formalized, have been shared have been documented. There are, you know, for a talk I was doing, I just tried to gather up as many books about research that are out there and there is a lot like There’s so many of them. And that’s when it’s a good thing we’re, we’re talking about this expertise is being documented and shared. And I’ve just been feeling in the past year or so. And, you know, again, this is a stone, it’s only my perspective, it’s not a declaration of what’s real or true, but I’ve been feeling like that we’re like any sort of, I mean, maybe you have a better take on this as someone who helps people build skills or do learning, right, you, you advance at a certain rate, and then you kind of reach a plateau, and then you and you sort of you cruise at that plateau for a while, and then you hit the next, the next rung or the next, you know, movement upwards. And I feel like that in you know, in, in the profession that I’m part of, as I see it, I feel like that’s what’s about to happen or is happening. It’s happening in little pockets, and we’re just starting to to be bring it into the mainstream. And I mean, I am I mean as as as, as the day we have this conversation or a number of days away from a conference I’ve been involved in called advancing research. That’s part of the Rosenfeld media, advancing research community, which anyone is welcome to join. And I’ll put a link in. And I think the name is really great. And you know, that we we talked about, how do we position this conference and what does advancing research mean? And, you know, what are all there’s lots of great stories and great work that gets shared. But we’ve also heard it a lot over and over and over again. And you know, yeah, if you’re new, maybe you haven’t heard some of this, but there’s so much stuff that we haven’t heard that we need to be talking about, and you brought up ethics, you know, earlier in this conversation as one that like yeah, it’s here. It’s there, but it’s we haven’t really made it part of our it’s not part of the the baseline, it’s not part of the kind of the core fabric of what we all practice, it’s like a thing we need to do. And I’m, I feel like, you know, as we move from the plateau to like the next incline, that we’re making a collective concerted effort to bring these under recognized pieces in. And what’s exciting for me is you don’t have to look very far to see, oh, that thing that we’re not really doing well, somebody is working on that somebody has a point of view, somebody has built something or built a process or built a framework and that it brings me at least an opportunity to to, you know, to iterate or to to move to that next, you know, that sort of 2.0 3.0, whatever. I don’t know what the numbers are, but I feel like we’re on the cusp of that. And again, that is such a, that is my perspective. I can’t say that anyone else would feel that way. But it’s something that I am drawing a lot of excitement from, because I feel like oh yeah, I know how to do a lot of this stuff. And there’s things that I didn’t even know that I didn’t know how to do, that I should be doing. I don’t even know where considerations I’m not talking about, like, you know, our ever shifting library of tools and infrastructure, but, you know, really the, the, like, read like an iteration of best practices to be more inclusive to be more empathetic of our colleagues. And I feel so I feel very excited about the near term because I feel like that stuff is is coming out. Yeah, I don’t know if that if that how that matches with your own trajectory, which is obviously different than mine.

Laith: It’s so interesting. I’ve been having some really great conversations with do you know Steve Fadden.

Steve: Yeah, yeah,

Laith: yeah. So um, in you know, I think this is something that like organizations have struggled with where Like, what’s after a senior researcher level is a little bit like there be dragons, you know, it’s like kind of easy to articulate like an associate to a researcher to a senior researcher. But you know, if you don’t go the management route, you know, what makes you you know, what a principal or a staff researcher or whatever that organization calls it, you know, the language tends to get a little mushy. And what would distinguish that senior researcher from that next level, I think it’s something that we as an industry are like, to your point, we’re still we’re getting closer, we’re kind of grappling with it. And it’s a little tough to, to talk about, you know, what are those those things that really go into having that impact? That would sort of denote a level beyond senior. And you know, this is a little beyond the, I think some of the title inflation that might happen in the in the in tech as well. But there’s some real interesting challenges there. And I think there’s also a set of unmet need here where I’ve met a lot of folks that have kind of hit that plateau and it’s can be a little hard, especially if they don’t have a really involved manager to know about to figure out on their own, you know, what are those things are? How do I get the training? Or how do I get the experiences, to get out of my comfort zone or try the new things or be aware of the things that I don’t know that I don’t know, to figure out how to get to that next level, it can be a little bit of a glass ceiling. And to your point about inclusiveness, I think that that’s also an area where we’re bias can really creep in, in terms of, you know, allowing people to express what they bring to the table and make a case for themselves, that they’re having that impact or however they would be measured to sort of go on to that next level. So it I like that you brought that up and it’s a it’s share the perspective that’ll be exciting to sort of see how we collectively grapple with some of that.

Steve: I know that just today and again, our today is not the today of the person that’s hearing this but anyway The research ops community just published. I think it’s called like a research skills framework. So I saw that it was posted I haven’t seen what it Oh cool, what it consists of but I think at least it whatever it contains, it validates through another source the the issue that you’re identifying, and that this is a this is a thing that’s being considered and, you know, worked on by the research community at large.

Laith: Yeah, that’s awesome. And I love that, you know, a lot of times companies can’t share these kind of frameworks externally, which is which is a shame. But I love that that they’re able to come up with something that they can share publicly and it’s one thing I do love about this community like the the listserv is so helpful. People pay it forward, people pay it forward to me like yourself when I was first coming into this, this field, and I’ve been really lucky to help a few folks here and there as they have tried to enter the field and things Like that, and I just love that there’s such a propensity towards knowledge sharing, and I think it’s just going to benefit us all in the future. So that’s one thing I am very proud of, in terms of our community.

Steve: I think that’s an extremely positive up note too. So yeah, thanks late for taking the time and sharing so much interesting stuff and really for a great conversation. I really appreciate it.

Laith: Thank you for the invite. Really fun conversation and I appreciate the opportunity.

Steve: Thanks for listening! Tell your colleagues about Dollars to Donuts, and give us a review on Apple Podcasts. You can find Dollars to Donuts on Apple Podcasts and Spotify and Google Play and all the places where pods are catched. Visit Portigal dot com slash podcast to get all the episodes with show notes and transcripts. And we’re on Twitter at dollarstodonuts, that’s D O L L R S t o D O N U T S. Our theme music is by Bruce Todd.

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