34. Amber Lindholm of Duo Security

This episode of Dollars to Donuts features my interview with Amber Lindholm, the Head of User Research at Duo Security.

That’s the sign of a really good researcher – it can never be just about research for research’s sake, like this is a cool project, this is a neat thing, I really wanna go in-depth and understand perceptions of XYZ with these people, if you don’t have that ability to understand the organizational and business contexts and the types of decisions that are having to be made every day by the rest of the folks in your organization, your research isn’t going to have an impact. – Amber Lindholm

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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 read recently about a new genre of TikTok videos that featured people applying makeup, while lip syncing to standup comedy routines by John Mulaney. I believe that TikTok has it roots as a platform for lip-sync performances, and of course makeup tutorials and demonstrations are their own thing on the Internet. But how do we end up with the combination, and not just one but a whole series? How did this come about, why are people doing it, and are there other niche sub-genres or patterns that this relates to? Even if we are tempted to dismiss these behaviors as just a bunch of people being weird, we need to be doing the research to understand how, and why this is happening.

Sure, people at TikTok should know how people are using their service. But insight about this also is valuable to other platforms like YouTube and Twitter and Instagram. How could this information give you a new perspective on user behaviors if you work at Dropbox? Or if you work for Michelin, either their travel department or their tire division? How could Nationwide Insurance make use of this?

Our culture swerves and leaps and when these emergent behaviors poke their head up through into the mainstream, it’s an invitation to take note, and to be curious.

This is what clients hire me to do, whether it’s to be the one that leads the investigation, to unlock the motivations and desires of current and prospective customers, or to be someone who helps their team as they themselves dig into the hidden behaviors and objectives of users. I help companies look at their own organization, their culture, and their processes to help set the stage for this kind of discovery work to flourish and have impact.

If you’re a fan of this podcast, then remember you can support the podcast by supporting me and my practice. Please reach out to me at Portigal dot com and let’s find a way to work together.

Okay it’s time for my interview with Amber Lindholm, she’s the head of Design Research at Duo Security.

Steve: Well Amber, thank you for being on dollars to donuts. It’s really great to get to speak with you.

Amber Lindholm: Hey, Steve, it’s great to be here.

Steve: Hey, I guess I should have said, hey, hey, Amber. So I’m gonna ask you to introduce yourself.

Amber: So I’m Amber Lindholm. I’m currently the head of design research at Duo Security, which is part of Cisco. And my background is in design, both kind of traditional print design, moving into interaction design, and then design research, which I practiced before, you know, moving into more leadership positions.

Steve: What does do a security to

Amber: do security, we provide various security products that help protect our customers basically access to data. So our core product is a multi factor authentication product. So when you’re going to, let’s say log into, you know, a tool that you use at work, you know, after you do your password, you get some sort of maybe a push notification or something that verifies that To you, so we help protect organizations and their data as well as individuals.

Steve: So if I am a consumer and I go to my bank and they said, oh, we’re going to send you a text message to prove that you’re you before we can let you access your account, is that the kind of tools that you’re providing?

Amber: Yeah, that’s, that’s a great example a lot of folks are familiar with, with us through like financial institutions. And we basically have created a product that’s super easy for organizations to roll out and get folks enrolled in. But it does that where it’s it’s verifying through a second method that you are actually who you say you are,

Steve: eventually, let’s get to talk more about the work that you are doing to a security but since you said a little bit about some of what your background was it be great to just hear more about like you mentioned, print design. So what’s kind of the arc or the history for you from when you got into figuring out your profession to you know, how you move to where you are now.

Amber: So I started out as I was mentioning in graphic design, so I was trying I went to University of Illinois we did really kind of what I would call more classical, like Bauhaus, you know, educational style, learning all about formal typography and form and color. And so after school, I followed that path, I found a work with a PR agency at first and then in house at a nonprofit called Rotary International. And this was up in Chicago. And I spent my time you know, designing brochures, you know, reports, invitations, billboards, all kinds of print materials. And during that time, I just remember there was this particular project I was working on where we translated most of our materials into nine languages. So it was going out around the world. And I was creating these, they were kind of these little packets that had a CD that had files for the different rotary clubs to produce their own kind of marketing materials. And I worked with the translators to you know, translate the copy in the on the files and the file names, but after that, I Didn’t know when those things were sent out in the world if they were going to be used properly if they were going to meet their needs or expectations, and at that time, I started searching around and trying to think, you know, I feel like something’s missing. And I came across, you know, the terminology then was Human Centered Design. And it was just a revelation. For me, it seems like, you know, you can create these things, but if you don’t understand how people are going to use them and what they need, you’re really gonna miss the mark. So that was a catalyst for me to continue like my education. So I found a grad program at Institute of Design in Chicago where I went and I learned, you know, how to do research. They taught all about human factors, all kinds of approaches pulled from social sciences, very qualitative in nature, learned about design strategy, I learned more about interaction design, and that was really I really felt like I found my sweet spot. I loved the research side of it. I loved going out and talking to people. And trying to understand you know who they are and how they behave and why. So when I graduated actually, right before I graduated, I did a couple of things. So one of the things was I wanted to do a little bit of living abroad. So I went for a year to New Zealand and I worked inside the government there so did a project looking, it was more like a service design customer experience project, which was really great, because it neat to get that government experience came back and my husband and I moved to Austin, just sight unseen moved down here. And I’ve had a couple of different jobs here in Austin. I started out at frog and I was still mostly focused on design. I was doing interaction design, like mobile, tablet type design, but then I started adding in the research projects, and that again, really flourished there and love doing that work. Got to do some research in China and other places. And this was more contextual work like going in people’s homes, spending a lot of time with them to understand their world and A couple other things I did after that I went and worked in healthcare for a year trying to do similar kind of research understanding. For instance, I did a project about the new parent experience. And then I went back to consulting to a consultancy called Project 202. So spent, you know, quite a few years actually being more of a consultant role working across many industries, which was fun and started leading a team that project to research and Insights Team. So we would work on, you know, tons of projects, looking at really large customer journeys. And then after consulting for so long, I decided that I wanted to really understand the other side, so to go more in house to work at a product company. So I worked at Atlassian and led a design and research team for a product called stripe, which is a video and chat tool. And then I moved to do where I’m at now. And again, I lead the research team there love helping our team grow love the side of research that really has an impact and provides value. So that’s kind of my story

Steve: to talk about today. There’s two sort of vectors that I hear one is in house and consulting as different perspectives. But you’ve also talked about research and design. And it sounds like over the course of your career, your title at least has. Well, I guess you also said some of the work you’re doing might lean more heavily towards one or the other. It’s hard to ask the question in an open ended way as I want to. So I’ll just try the leading version. We think of research and design, like they’re different words. We call them different things. Sometimes they’re different kind of career paths. But one of the threads of your narrative that is compelling to me is that you’ve kind of worked with both those pieces of research and design. I guess I’m wondering when you think about for yourself at least and where you’re contributing where you’re adding value or how you put all these pieces together? What’s the relationship between the kind of the R word research and the D word design in your makeup and your skill set.

Amber: I think they really complement each other. I think it makes me as a designer, it made me a stronger designer to have that you know, research mind and as a researcher, it made me stronger because I can Really make sure that the research I was doing was framed around and presented in a way that provided information relevant to the folks having to make decisions. So I always think about that. It’s like when we’re trying to figure out what to research and what to prioritize. There’s always a whole set of questions. And there are decisions that are having to be made that some are more ambiguous questions where you really don’t have a lot of information. Some are really high risk questions. So you want to make sure you’re understanding those and providing that information because people are having to make big decisions and tactical decisions and thinking about how you frame that research and present it back to folks or include them in that process is really important. So I think understanding how designers work and also you know, now knowing how product companies work, understanding the questions that product managers are trying to answer engineers are trying to answer and helping them actually articulate those questions is something that I use strive to do. So I think they just really complement each other.

Steve: The way you describe how you want to make sure that the research you do connects and supports, I hear an echo of your brochure project where you were, you wanted that context to make sure that you knew that the work you’re doing was gonna have the outcomes and have the results. It sounds very similar, that kind of questioning of, Hey, who’s doing what and how do we make sure that we help them do what they’re going to do that that applies to your quote users as well as your quote, stakeholders or colleagues?

Amber: Yeah, absolutely. We spend a lot of time like when I’m working with the researchers on my team, and we’re looking at a new project, or we’re looking across the projects that we could support over quarter whatever it is, we’re looking exactly at that like where can we have the most impact? Where’s the greatest need? Sometimes we’re looking at is there a new project spinning up Is there a new product manager coming in is there you know, a team that’s just starting out that’s never gone through this process. before. We really like to prioritize those kind of things as well so that we help get them off on the right foot so that they do frame those questions really well, we help show them a good process to follow. And those are really, really fruitful projects.

Steve: What’s the split between proactive you identifying what research you want to do versus something that’s more reactive, where there’s requests coming in? Hey, can you help us do this?

Amber: That’s interesting to try to assess out. I think it’s so it’s a little bit hard, because so at duo we have, we’re part of the product design team. There’s about 30. Folks on that team, research team. I have four researchers on a team and a research coordinator who helps Do you know all of our recruiting and scheduling and all kinds of stuff. And so none of the researchers are dedicated to a particular product because duo does have multiple products. We kind of stay as a little bit of a hub, but we start to embed like I was saying, Okay, let’s kind of embed over here on this team. Let’s embed over this on this team for this particular project or this time span. And so the researchers are communicating with the designers, I’m communicating with the design managers and product managers to learn, you know, what their roadmap looks like or what kind of questions they have coming up. So I end up really driving the prioritization of the work we’re doing based on all those conversations, looking at the priorities of the business and you know, kind of larger trajectory of where the business is going and make the decisions of like, where we can actually prioritize our time and where we’re going to have the most impact. But we do also get requests. So we work with folks outside of the kind of r&d process as well. We’ve been working with our creative team on website design. We’ve been working with technical communications folks in our like knowledge community, so those people will come to us with requests. We hold office hours every Monday, so sometimes, we’ll just provide some support or advice or kind of review things and other times we’ll decide to take on a full project.

Steve: Can you maybe reward And a little bit and talk about how you came to do and what was research like there maybe what was the context that you that was established when you joined and what some of the progress and evolution has been since you’ve been leading the team?

Amber: So do I guess the design team was formed about five years ago. And so Sally Carson’s, our head of design, so she was hired to come in and, you know, build up this team. And really early on, she wanted to make sure that research was part of it. So one of the maybe the second or third hire was a researcher, and His name’s Mark Thompson Kohler. He’s still with the team. And he came in and at that point, because design was so new and research with some new, the focus was, you know, on really rapid, like usability testing, right. So like, every two weeks, we’re going to do testing. We’ve got people, you know, what do you want to test and so the company was a startup, it was a lot smaller. And the idea was just sort of this like rapid, more evaluative type research. And that went on for a while. And then The team, Mark developed a set of personas that got embedded across the entire dual organization. You know, as a team continue to grow, we’re still kind of like a one person research shop, do the way the design team has grown though designers are hired that also have an interest and skillset and research. So designers also do research. When I came in, another researcher had been hired. So there were two researchers, and there wasn’t what you would call like a research team yet. So when I came in, we decided, Okay, let’s sit down and really talk about you know, who we are, what’s our mission? What’s our value? What are the strengths that we have going for us and the gaps and how do we want to move this team forward? And we did you know, some kind of off site exercises and that kind of thing. And we started at basics. So there was a ton of knowledge. There was a ton of things had been done, and we’re like, let’s make sure like we have it right. So that first quarter was a lot of poetry. together in a place where people can find all of the research that’s been done, document some of the tools and templates we have so that other people, you know, on the team can can use this stuff. And then we wanted to make sure that instead of just focusing on the evaluative work, you know, we were allowing the designers to really pick up a lot of that and that we could move into more foundational kind of generative type research projects. And so that’s what we did after that first quarter, getting all those foundations in place doing some additional trainings with the design team, the researchers, then were able to focus on these more larger, more strategic type research projects. And then we added in research Ops, we hired a research coordinator to help us so that the researchers weren’t spending you know, half their time coordinating, recruiting, maintaining our database of participants and all that good stuff. So she came in last summer. Her name’s Annie fan, she’s been just a fantastic value to the whole team. And then I hired two more researchers this spring, and now everyone, you know, sort of has their own area that They’re working on right now. And it’s been great. It’s just been fantastic.

Steve: you’re describing some of that, I think is a pattern and a lot of organizations that give the designers the tools to do some of the evaluative work and you know, a shift in what the research team itself specializes in. What’s been the outcome for the designers or the design work that they’re doing as you’ve empowered them to do that evaluative work?

Amber: I think it’s great. I mean, I think rather than, you know, us being like, No, we can’t help you and know that, you know, those questions aren’t going to get answered, the designers do have the toolset available. And we, you know, depending on somebody’s comfort level, or you know how much they’ve done this in the past will provide more or less support, right. So, like I said, it’s kind of like reviewing the plans, reviewing the script, doing test runs, maybe we’ll moderate the session, and then they pick it up after that, or some folks, you know, they’ve done this many times, and they can run more fully, but they are the experts in sort of this area that they’re working on. And they have the belief With their product manager and their engineers, and they can take all of that, you know, directly back into the work that they’re doing. So I think it’s I think it’s great, you know, I always have some some hesitancy if it’s the subjectivity that might come out of somebody who’s testing, you know, their own work. So we do kind of talk about that, keep an eye out for that. But so far like, it’s it’s been great and allowed our researchers to, like I said, focus on not just like those larger research projects, but a researcher on my team was Donovan right now is helping kind of consult across six or seven teams for this larger project. And so she has really good line of sight around the different questions being asked and helping people, you know, make sure that they’re all kind of sharing the insights they’re learning across those teams. So it’s allowed us to really level up our scope of influence.

Steve: That’s a great explanation and I feel like there’s an implicit value judgments around what kind of research is cool and fun and worth our time and then We can offload some of these tasks to the lower value tasks to other people, then we can work on the cool stuff. Not that anyone has ever said that. But it feels like that’s lurking underneath this move to kind of, you know, empower people to do the value of work. But I think what I’m hearing from you is, in a lot of ways, those people are better positioned to do that work, because they’re very close to the problem. And they can kind of zoom in on how they can get the most actionable results, and do do so maybe more quickly. And that research, I think your point about having influence. So the work that you’re doing is is more around the organization and more strategic. And that’s kind of what you’re positioned to do.

Amber: Yeah. So besides, you know, helping bring those designers together, Liz is helping to align pm as well are kind of like share across the hims. And she’s running a set of like metrics workshops across those teams like a created as a standard sort of workshop to help us to find UX metrics look like For signals and define those metrics, and so she’s bringing those to each of those teams. So now again, like it’s a more kind of strategic view across those, but then we’re still able to weigh in on and influence the the type of research, the type of questions and even the synthesis of the research that’s happening across those teams.

Steve: What are some other things that you’re doing to whether it’s around influence or you know, kind of bringing the customers into the organization?

Amber: When we set out on our kind of mission and the things that we do, you know, obviously sort of like executing and running this kind of product focused or foundational focus research is really important. But sort of the other half of it that we wanted to make clear about was like our role and helping to get folks closer to the customer to bring that context to them, to keep the customer Top of Mind, and I do frankly, it’s pretty easy because the organization across the board is extremely customer centric. We’re not like begging for people to listen to us. The value of research is really understood. It’s, it’s asked for actually, like, people are really interested in hearing more about the context RPMs. You know, they’re fantastic. They out there out there, they do tons of customer calls, but they’re still, as we’ve continued to grow. The risk that we identified a couple of things like early on, I mentioned that there was a set of personas that were created and these get referred to all the time across the board in big meetings, you know, big call hands and all of that. Salespeople reference them, our customer success, people reference them. But as people join the company, as we were kind of in hyper growth mode, the real deep understanding of those personas may not have persisted. Right. So we wanted to take a step back and say, you know, how do we, as a research team, help other folks have the type of context that we have. So Mark, who developed the personas, we have a program set up where, you know, as new hires come in, he presents something called personas one on one to make sure that those are really top of mind and understood and we do a deep dive session on one of the more key personas. He also does something called these fireside chats. So we just chat with different folks. So for instance, different IT administrators or help desk managers or helped us folks or CSOs, we’ll set up you know, an hour long chat to just learn about their day. And that’s open invitation for folks to learn. Listen and on. And then we also with the whole of our research sessions and things, they’re open for folks to come and listen to. So it’s very much accessible. We have a research Condor, everyone can see and they can pop in on different things. And lots of folks take advantage of that. And then I think another thing that we wanted to do was make sure that we had created additional sort of artifacts and frameworks for people to think about when they’re making decisions. So we took all this data that had been collected over across, you know, about four years of tests and interviews, and ran these large workshops, and Mark, you know, synthesize all that information into a set of design principles that are persona specific. So they’re not these like really super high level principles that are hard to make decisions with. They’re very applicable to making, you know, decisions on UI on making decisions on copy you might be creating. And so those principles are referenced by You know, designers, they’re used in critique sessions. They’re referenced by product managers as they’re talking about their roadmaps, folks like technical communications and things like that. So the personas and the principles, they’re not just an artifact that just kind of sits on the table, we bring them to the forefront and a lot of different ways.

Steve: Could you genericized one of the principles just to give a sense of the granularity of it?

Amber: Yeah, so for our IT administrators, for instance, one of the principles is around the ability to take action. And so anytime we’re making a decision about something in our UI or a flow, if there’s a dead end, that that person cannot actually, let’s say they’re seeing some kind of thing that may alert them to a security problem. If they cannot immediately take action on that item, then we’re not meeting that principle. It’s very important for folks to be able to move from information that they’re seeing directly into action. And then like for our end users, one of our principles is reduce friction to the extreme. So we’re not in the kind of product where, you know, you’re trying to create a sticky situation where someone’s in your product, you’re trying to actually minimize their interaction with your product, because what they’re actually trying to do is they’re, you know, get into their work application. So we think a lot about that, like, how do we reduce friction to that extreme?

Steve: So those are specific, as you said, and meant to be actionable. Yeah. And how many principles in a project like this, how many principles should one be trying to come up with?

Amber: What a question Steve? No, I think we narrowed it down to five principles for our two main personas and that I think is a good number like three is too few eights, too many kind of a thing. But five has been like the perfect number. And when we first rolled these out, we we did some fun things to where we created some really neat posters. We put out in all the offices, you know, we socialize them with people. We brought them around to meetings, we personified the principles even, which was really fun. But yeah, I think you got to, you can’t have too many.

Steve: How do you personify a principle?

Amber: So one of the designers on our team name, Andrea actually came up with this idea to, you know, get designers more familiar with all of these. And so each of the principles, one of us was given, and you had to basically just act like that principle. So we had to create a character. And in this sort of mock critique, we had to just care about that particular principle. So it’s actually ended up to be quite fun to do.

Steve: Sounds like a good improv game was very fun. Just going back to one of the points you made was that this is a an organizational culture that believes in research and she said asks for research. Do you have any perspective on for duo how that came to be?

Amber: I imagine it’s a couple of different factors. I mean, I think that the folks, Doug and Johnno, who co founded the company, that was like a big thing. Like they really cared about the end user experience. They cared about creating a company that was different than the other security companies out there at the time. Their whole mission is about democratizing security. So making it easy and effective was there from the beginning. And it wasn’t just, you know, something they were saying was something they really believed in, they saw how complicated you know, so many security products were and they wanted to make sure that when these products are out there, and it’s, you know, an IT administrator, it’s not somebody with, you know, a cybersecurity background or anything that these more generalist folks can protect their organization. So I do think a lot of it came from the founders and then the folks that they hired. So like our head of engineering, Chester, who we product design actually reports up through engineering. He’s completely supportive of design. You know, we hire engineers that have that kind of mindset also have like customer experience. So I think it just kind of permeates through the culture, because as you said, starts at the beginning and starts at the top. I think so. I mean, that’s that’s just my impression. I mean, I wasn’t there at the beginning. But I see that legacy. And I see that through the people that were hired on that continued to be in leadership.

Steve: I have so many interactions in so many different venues where somebody who maybe is at an individual contributor level sees that their culture is not like the one that you’re describing. And they’re being blocked in a lot of different ways. And the question is often, like, well, what can I do to succeed this way when these things are kind of arrayed against me? I don’t know if you’ve encountered that or heard that question. I personally, I find it challenging to give them super actionable advice when I feel like you’re describing you know, hey, it starts at the top that says how this company was founded. You know, they’ve grown and hired and supportive that and if you’re in a situation Well, that hasn’t happened. It’s an interesting challenge for people that aren’t embedded in those kinds of organizations to make those kinds of changes and advocate for that.

Amber: Yeah, I think especially like, to your point, if you’re not at a leadership level where you have a, if your scope of influence is just with your immediate project team, it’s gonna be really hard to sort of like, level that up through the organization.

Steve: You’ve named some of the people on your team and the kinds of contributions they’ve made. And I’m just wondering how you think about, but I think you said, you just you hire two people not that long ago to join the team. Yeah, yeah. Can you describe a little bit about your approach to finding people what that looks like in terms of saying, Hey, this is someone that would fit with our organization?

Amber: We have a probably what’s it fairly standard interview process, but I’ll just describe that and then sort of what kind of questions I’m asking and looking for, but I typically, you know, reach out to folks I have like an initial conversation with them. Just to understand what they’re looking for in an organization, or what their kind of career goals are just to make sure it aligns with, you know, the kind of goal we have open, then we do a longer interview. And we use, again, pretty standard, like behavioral interview questions to ask people to describe real scenario. So behavioral interviewing, it’s kind of like doing user research or like doing design research, where you’re really trying to get somebody to give you very specific real examples like to tell a story, because you want to understand what the situation was, how they thought about it, and how they reacted to it versus like a generalized answer. So we follow that I put together like a set of questions. And then once folks kind of go through that, they go into like a two hour we do a bit of a portfolio review. And then a final round interview is more like a four hour thing. And we have designers in there. We have PMS come in, sometimes engineering managers, so different folks who they might you know, interact with. than their day to day, participate in that more long kind of final interview. But some of the things that I’m always looking out for like, obviously, you know that they can do the work, but the way that they present the work is really important. So, you know, coming from a consulting background, I am design background, I do a lot of emphasis on how people share their work and how clear it is and how compelling it is. How do they tie that story together? How do they tell high level insights, but get into enough details to really support and paint the picture of why that insight matters? So that’s a big part of it. And then the behavioral interview questions I’m always looking at, can someone learn from a situation like can they I don’t want to say like, admit they’re wrong, but if they encountered something where it went wrong, how did they go about learning, growing and kind of improving for the next time? I’m also looking at people that are willing to ask questions, so I really love hearing the questions, I always leave a lot of time for folks to ask me questions. So do they have really good questions? Were the kind of topics they’re thinking about? Are they people who are going to come into an organization and be really curious and willing to ask people questions and not just kind of sit and be scared if they don’t know the answer, trying to think what else? We ask questions, you know, around working in diverse teams that’s really important to us, and just how they kind of collaborate and work with others.

Steve: Yeah, I want to ask about one of the things you mentioned, telling a story about an insight and you know, help it come to life. And you’ve worked in consulting. So you’ve experienced some version of this, I think, I mean, I, in some ways, I think I’ve grappled with this for much of my career, that there are things that happen over the course of a project that are galvanizing that just change everything, but to tell somebody else outside that organizations, that’s a harder story to tell. So I’m wondering, what are the best practices for that? How do I make a story about an experience I had In the past come to life for an audience that didn’t have the assumptions, the biases, the worries, the you know, all the sort of things that make it so impactful. How do I help somebody else understand that part of the insight?

Amber: Well, so what you just said is exactly what I would expect is that, you know, folks that know how to tell a story upfront, they give me enough context about the organization or the problem, or the assumptions that were there in the beginning, and what kind of impact their research had, and setting the stage of that context. It’s not just about the project, right, exactly what you’re saying, like, every single organization is unique. Every single set of people has different assumptions about things, the challenges that someone might be up against within that organization are going to be different. So a really good researcher is going to help you understand that context of why the thing that they’re telling you matters. I think that’s the sign of a really good researcher is that it can never just be about, you know, research for research sake like this is a cool project, this is a neat thing I really want to, you know, go in depth and understand perceptions of XYZ with these people. If you don’t have that ability to understand the organizational and business context and the types of decisions that are having to be made every day by the rest of the folks in your organization, your research isn’t going to have an impact. And so I really listen for that. And interviews are people able to help me understand how they made an impact and how they understand that larger ecosystem that they’re working in?

Steve: So back to the archetype, I was describing the person that approaches me and I think all of us with here’s why I’m unable to have impact. Here’s how my culture says doesn’t support me. If that person comes in to speak to your team and tell stories about the research they’ve done. How do they highlight the impact of their research when there’s forces arrayed against them to have that impact?

Amber: Yeah, I mean, I think that is a really challenging and I have had interviews where folks have revealed some of those more negative challenges, I would say like, it can sometimes feel like a person puts up all the barriers and just those like I couldn’t really do anything versus somebody saying like, this was the situation. This is how I tried to take my work and have influence at the level I could influence right. So you know, maybe it’s getting the one person to shift their perspective and get them to like, listen in on the interview, I don’t know, whatever that small measure of change or influences I think focusing on that is better than just saying, you know, there’s all these constraints and I couldn’t do anything.

Steve: That’s good. I’m gonna use all these because we are we’re always doing storytelling and I think it just to kind of reflect on how we can most effectively communicate overcoming challenges, having success, success at different levels, all that context. Yeah. It’s a really good way of putting it. What are you seeing in terms of where people are coming from to research,

Amber: maybe it’s helpful to describe like the folks on my team just because that’s, you know, who I’m interacting with. So one of them was actually in journalism for most of his career before transitioning into user experience research. One of them was working in academia for a while doing all kinds of different unrelated, you know, research around philosophy and and other things and then transitioned into technology actually, being a technology director for again, publication before transitioning into user research. One was a designer before making a transition. And one of them was actually doing market research for consumer packaged goods companies. So all of them had career changes before coming into the research side.

Steve: She’s interesting. Would you include yourself under that umbrella?

Amber: Yeah, absolutely.

Steve: It’s just a fascinating artifact of what makes up our field. Mm hmm.

Amber: Yeah. And my so I have an intern coming this summer. And she, again was more she’s been in the writing field. So she’s been a professor like an English professor and now working on her master’s to transition into research. So yeah, a lot of I think folks who come from like that, writing journalism, storytelling background, it’s a really neat transition to see. Do you

Steve: have any theories as to what is it about research that pulls people in from these different backgrounds?

Amber: I think in that case, like, there’s a easy connection there where journalism folks, they are trying to uncover information. They’re trying to understand people, they’re trying to tell stories. So that makes sense. I think other folks like the woman who was working more in technology, and then the woman who was working more in design and same with me is that you find yourself drawn to the beginning of the process where you’re really trying to understand the problem or you come into a project where you’re delivering something where you didn’t under And the people or the context, and you’ve gone through that yourself, and you want to, you’re really drawn to like, how do I make sure this doesn’t happen again? Or how do I learn more about this? And then people kind of stumble into it sometimes. You know,

Steve: I’ve been identifying as a researcher for a long time. And I always felt like yeah, I stumbled into this. But that was more it felt like that was more common because the professional wasn’t defined. We didn’t have, let’s say, the program, instead of design that that you went through, like, I don’t think that existed. If it did, no one knew about it. So I feel like oh, I came from this sort of prehistoric era where field was nascent, and so we had to kind of stumble into it. That’s how it was being formed. And it’s just fascinating to be many years later, decades later, and programs like yours and so many more, and yet, you’re characterizing a bunch of people with amazing skills and oriented towards different work and kind of transitioning into this. Yes, still what’s going on. I don’t know if that may be how careers happen. Regardless of what discipline or business you’re in, but I guess I always thought it was gonna change. And it’s just so curious that we still have this happening now in this field,

Amber: at least from what I can see, like from the, you know, folks on my team and other folks I’ve interviewed recently, I think having that other kind of background or perspective, as gives them an upper hand in some ways, because they bring a whole nother set of skills and perspective into the work they’re doing. I’ve just found, yeah, just the way that people can craft those stories or the experiences that they can share, help build like a bigger picture of just different perspectives, kind of bring them to this work and help them have kind of a point of view around certain things that is very interesting,

Steve: if you’re saying this explicitly, but I’m thinking as part of a team when you have a range of other contexts or other skill sets that people bring in even more so even better, because you have some just diversity of frameworks and superpowers.

Amber: Yeah, absolutely. It’s, it’s awesome because the other team can build on you Other, they have these different experiences. And right now I’m actually like the next kind of skill set I’m hoping to bring in is somebody who has pretty solid background and mixed methods. So bringing in more of the quantitative, somebody who’s done a lot more quantitative work, but still really understands the qualitative approach as well, because I think that’s an area I don’t have a lot of expertise in on quantitative research. And so I’m hoping to continue to add to the team in that way.

Steve: So just a slight topic shift here and pulling in some of the things that you’ve talked about when you’re kind of giving the story of different roles that you’d had you described at one point moving into, I think it was a project 202 like moving into leading a team, and then that being, I think, a defining characteristic of the work you’d been doing then and since then, research, leadership is new ish, relatively speaking, it was kind of the impetus for me in this podcast, like, Hey, here’s kind of a new role that we just didn’t have. Again, if you go back a number of years, do you have, you know, a perspective on what research leadership Looks like is it different than other kinds of leadership?

Amber: Yeah, I don’t know that it’s different than other kinds of leadership. I think there’s all the similar aspects, right? You’re trying to sort of set a vision of you know, who you are and what value you provide. You’re working with folks who I love being a manager, I love understanding people’s goals and their career paths and the things that they’re trying to do, and figuring out how do we match that with the needs of the organization? How do we help someone sort of grow and get the opportunities that they want, at the same time that we’re providing, you know, the value that we need to provide to a company. And so that’s one of my favorite things. And then thinking about, I guess, as a leader, you need to really, again, understand the business understand and keep in contact with a lot of different folks know how to grow your team, how to think about, I guess one of the big decisions with research that might be a little bit different, but is similar to things like data To science or QA, it’s like you can have a centralized team or you can have a distributed team. There’s something about how you organize yourself and how you work with parts of the organization that the leader really has to have a vision around that. And the kind of, again, I would call it like principles, but like, what are the values or principles for how your team is going to operate? So like, one of the things we talk about a lot is we don’t want anyone to have any barriers to interact with us. So we don’t require you know, somebody to go through a forum or put in a request or anything like that. We do office hours, you can ping us on slack. You can, you know, there’s all these different ways that you can interact with us. So I think kind of setting those values for how your group operates is really important.

Steve: Given that you’re someone who’s done research many points in your career, does that influence or help define the way that you approach being a manager for research?

Amber: That’s a good question. I mean, I think just trying to About I don’t know if this is a good example. But when we were a little bit over a year ago, like helping figure out what we wanted to do our goals for the next year, this was actually driven by one of the researchers, Liz, she created a survey and went and did you know, one on one interviews with everybody on the team? So we actually kind of researched the situation that was happening in order to determine let’s say, do we need to provide more education around, you know, writing a discussion guide or something like that. So we kind of used our own approach of research to understand our own situation, come up with ideas and prioritize them. I guess that that skill of listening and talking to people and being able to analyze a lot of information and synthesize it is a skill set that I find valuable every day. The ability to kind of like take that synthesis and make a plan, organize it and prioritize things has been very handy as a leader.

Steve: So there’s an example of superpowers that researchers have that you have given your career that influence support your management work. Do you have other superpowers? Or things in your background that maybe that we haven’t talked about that you find yourself drawing from?

Amber: It’s a good question. I don’t know if it’s from my background, or just like, my personality or what exactly I just say, like being able to simplify complexity into really clear communications, whether that’s written or you know, a slide deck or whatever it is, is something that I’ve honed over time, right? It’s it’s something that I especially like, being a consultant, and then you know, research like how do you how do you take all this information and how do you put something in front of somebody that they’re going to be able to remember or respond to, or, you know, kind of take in? So thinking about that. And then I think to just like, researchers have to have to have a plan. Right, like you’re going in to do research. You have to, there’s a lot of like logistical things. There’s a lot of strategic things too. And I think being able to both think high level and also think, you know, tactically are really important. So, okay, we need to get you know, in in six months, we need to understand the answer to this huge question. How are we going to get there? I think researchers, you know, have to figure out how they’re going to get to that end goal. designs the same way, right, you have to kind of break things down into manageable chunks and kind of make this plan. And I think that’s, that’s a really good skill, like, a lot of people, I would say a lot of people but I think some people have, you know, visions of something they want to get to, but don’t have a way to kind of break it down and figure out how to move to that vision. And I think researchers and designers are skilled in that.

Steve: It just makes me wonder, you know, if we sort of go see researchers and they’re off work lives, like what kinds of life skills what do we see or what kinds of applications so some of these researcher strengths would we see in the non work parts people’s lives. Because I think you’re right that we’ve talked about things like storytelling and complexity and planning and just to those things manifest, or do we shut those things off? Or are there other things that kind of come to the fore when we’re quote on the job?

Amber: I mean, I guess the other thing I see from a lot of researchers and I love is just their curiosity in other areas. So what obscure thing, are they off kind of looking at reading about learning about that they then, you know, take something from and bring it back into their work. Like, I always find that fascinating. I think that’s what I loved about school, you know, grad school, undergrad, where you’re learning about all these different subjects and all of a sudden you find that something about acupuncture and the philosophy like applies to a design project that you’re doing. So I think, you know, having those curiosities and finding those connections are really important.

Steve: So there’s anything else that you think we should talk about that ask you about?

Amber: I can’t think of anything to be honest. I think that was really fun to to share all those different things. I’m trying to think if there’s anything else,

Steve: I’ll throw another one at you then. Okay. When you think about whether it’s the field or you and your team at duo, what do you sort of look forward to in the future? Where do you think things are heading? Maybe if we say five years, do you have any vision or anticipation for where we might be at that point?

Amber: Wow, five years is a long time. I don’t know, I find those questions really, really challenging, I guess, thinking about where my team at is, that is one thing or just the field in general. You know, I do see you know, there’s so there’s so many evolutions around different aspects of technology that are happening right now that I don’t think we quite know how they’re going to play out, you know, around like, augmented reality and voice assisted technology and all these things that I don’t think we’ve quite embedded in how we do our work. Like I don’t know if there’s going to be some Different ways of us interacting with people. I mean, just even thinking about the current climate right now, you know, we’re trying to figure out how to gain contextual information when we cannot be in context with people. So is there a way to get that kind of closeness or realness with people in a way that is different than being on site with someone or different than, you know, like a diary study tool or something like that? I don’t know what that might look like. Cleaning. That’s one thing. I think I’m also, you know, there’s a lot of folks who practice like mixed methods, that’s still an area that I feel like we still have quite a separation between qualitative and quantitative specialties and not quite figuring out how to bridge that gap. So that’s something that I want to watch for in the future, like how do we really take advantage of lots of data that we have access to that could help us make decisions and learn to think what else? I don’t know. I don’t know if those are very good answers, but

Steve: they’re great. answers because my question was a terrible one. It said, what’s the future going to be? And you said, Well, here’s what I’m going to be looking for, which is a good researcher response. Yeah. here’s, here’s the signals I’ll be paying attention to.

Amber: It’s interesting. I really, I just, I don’t know. I mean, I think research is so needed, I hope that we evolve where we are not. There’s always there’s kind of like, you know, UX research. And then like my team, we call it design research. There’s research that’s, you know, in the service of sort of like product UI versus like research that’s, you know, much more looking at, you know, the customer journey and the customer lifecycle more holistically. And there’s a lot of areas that have been developed in other countries, I would say like in service design aspects in like the UK and Australia, New Zealand that just aren’t quite here in the US. So that’s something that, you know, I hope that researchers are included more or we we get that influence in other areas like public works. Like government departments that really impact people’s lives. Like I think there’s a whole spectrum of things that researchers could have a big impact on that we’re just not. There’s just those areas just aren’t really built up here yet.

Steve: So it’s it’s a demand issue, not a supply issue. Yeah,

Amber: for sure. Yeah.

Steve: This has been very interesting and lots to think about. I just really appreciate you sharing so much about, you know, your own path and all the great work that you’ve been doing it to security and thanks again for being on the podcast.

Amber: Thank you, Steve. I enjoyed the conversation as always, and guys record to next time we get to catch up.

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