Dear Future SendGrid UI/UX Team Member

What kinds of questions should you be asking in your search to find the right job fit? Let Katrina Lindholm, the head of UI/UX at SendGrid, explain the value in knowing what you're looking for.

Hi there!

If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you might be thinking about a change. You’ve probably already researched to get a feel for a company’s financial health, culture, and leadership. But as someone in the UI/UX field, there’s so much more that you need to learn about a company to know if it will be a healthy and positive fit for you.

Gauge your personal passion for the company’s vision and product.

Signing-up and test driving the product that the company builds is a great first step to see if it’s something you truly want to work on and evolve. Is it solving an interesting problem? Is it serving a set of customers for which you can build genuine empathy? Will it provide enough challenge and variety to help you grow and stay engaged over time?

Be clear about joining a team versus being a “team of one.”

It’s important to form a clear (and honest) point of view of whether your working style is more suited to working within a team or leading as a team of one. Here at SendGrid, being able to appreciate and value working within a team - learning from others, helping others grow, and optimizing for the team and company first - are a must. But there are many extremely talented designers that love the satisfaction of starting with a blank slate and creating something new and unique every time.

Team Work

SendGrid strives for brand consistency and a seamless experience scross teams. Maybe you prefer being on a team of one. We might not be a right fit!

Joining a company like SendGrid that strives for brand consistency and a seamless experience for our customers across multiple delivery teams and charters may or may not be the right fit for you.

Ask crucial design culture, process, and organization questions in your interview.

Beyond this preliminary homework, there are a few questions you should absolutely be asking in the interview process. Below are the top questions that I get asked in interviews and the honest responses that I give candidates.

#1 Do you have a culture that supports design?

This is, without a doubt, the question you should be asking of any potential employer. If you’ve ever worked in design before, you know how much of an impact a design-agnostic or design-skeptical culture can have not only on the quality of your work but on your very soul. I know — I’ve been there. At a previous company, I invested more time than I should have in a culture that didn’t truly value customers, usability, aesthetic, my role, or my work.

So, what does it look like for a company to truly value design?

First, you need to find out if the company has at least one leader at the VP or C-level who is an advocate of design and customer-focus. They must understand UI/UX as a craft, know how designers think, feel and work, and believe, unequivocally, that the success of their product utterly and completely depends on differentiated design.

You need to find out if the company has at least one leader at the VP or C-level who is an advocate of design and customer-focus.

As an example, SendGrid’s CEO and Chief Product Officer talk about customers and their experience in every employee All Hands. Twice a year at our big company alignment events, we bring a customer to speak to the entire company about their experience. It’s such a huge part of our culture that our product mission statement includes the phrase “experiences that customers love and value.” It’s even up on the wall in huge letters in our offices. This is the kind of stuff that makes me happy to come to work everyday.

SendGrid Office

Another thing we're passionate about at SendGrid is our 4H's: Happy, Humble, Hungry and Honest.

If design advocacy is missing at the top level, it will materialize as a lack of funding for UI/UX headcount. Headcount may seem mundane, but if there aren’t enough UI/UX professionals in the company to be able to keep up with the product development process, it creates a negative domino effect on engagement and quality.

If design advocacy is missing at the top level, it will materialize as a lack of funding for UI/UX headcount.

The symptoms you might observe are 1) team members becoming pigeonholed into cosmetic-only design and feeling frustrated that they aren’t being involved earlier, 2) team members only having the time to work on some projects, resulting in other projects being released with alarming usability or UI issues, or 3) team members leaving the company after short tenures because they feel burned out and lacking pride in the quality of their work.

Beyond having advocacy for investment in design at the leadership level, a true design culture not only allows, but insists, that employees have the time and space to truly understand the customers they serve. Our UI/UX team members have a direct line to our customers. And I don’t mean a conversation here or there.

Last quarter, our product designers averaged 10 customer sessions a month. That’s 2-3 a week. By continuously interviewing customers, deeply understanding their problems, and testing solution prototypes, we allow our team members to be fully accountable and proud of the solutions that ultimately reach customers.

Last quarter, our product designers averaged 10 customer sessions a month.

#2 What does it look like for a designer to grow their career here?

There’s a reason that designers ask about career growth in their interviews more often than members of other disciplines. Engineering is a mature field with organizations that often scale to the hundreds even in a small company. This type of scale necessitates granular and clear career-leveling and growth expectations. Within UI/UX, getting to a similar scale of people has been more recent. As such, there are fewer references for how to do it really well. It’s common for designers in small teams to experience ambiguous role responsibilities, uncertainty about what it takes to reach the next level, and clarity of the next level altogether.

You should know that at SendGrid we are passionate about supporting two paths with UI/UX - a manager track and a principle individual contributor track. We have several designers today on our team that are true experts in their craft. In other organizations, they would have had to give up doing design, and take on people management responsibilities, in order to feel the satisfaction of professional progress. At SendGrid, you can chose to stay an individual contributor and provide indirect leadership role to the team without having to directly manage people.

At SendGrid we're passionate about supporting two paths with UI/UX - a manager track and a principle individual contributor track.

We also have what’s called a career development framework that helps all employees understand key behavioral competency expectations for each level. For example, all of our entry level employees are expected to demonstrate being collaborative, self-motivated, focused, and accountable. As you move up, additional competencies such as persuasive and strategic are added.

Within our UI/UX team, we’ve invested time in augmenting the SendGrid framework with functional competencies that are expected at each level of each job family within UI/UX. For the product designer role, qualitative research, low-fidelity/concept design, and high-fidelity design are some of the functional skill groups that we defined. This helps us as managers have constructive conversations with each employee about where they are excelling, where they have gaps, and where they have growth potential for the next level.

#3 How is design organized within the company?

Our team is called UI/UX and within it, we have the following job families: product designer, researcher, research coordinator, design technologist, web designer, web developer, and technical writer.

One principle I believe in is having product designers partnered with a product manager, product charter, and delivery team. It takes time to get to know a particular domain and the needs and behaviors those customers. By being associated with a team, we allow product designers to develop deep product and customer knowledge. They are also able build a strong relationship with their colleagues so that together they can quickly and effectively research, design, implement, and release value to customers. To facilitate these critical relationships, we always invest time in facilitating a working agreements meeting between the product designer and product manager, as well as the product designer and front-end engineers.

Team Reviewing

Partnerships between product designers, product charters and a delivery team are vital to understanding the entire end-to-end process of creating a product.

Another area we care deeply about is design technology. Having a shared style guide / design system is critical for teams to scale customer-facing UI in a coordinated and consistent way. It is also a tremendous multiplier for development - with front-end engineers across multiple teams and products - being able to pull in existing components and bulletproof CSS into a new experience saves time, reduces code duplication, and allows our design team to make important style adjustments without requiring tedious rewrites across the codebase.

Investing in research and research coordination allows us to follow-through on our ask that all designers and product managers interview customers. Coordination allows us to set up customer interviews quickly and regularly (which, if you’ve ever done it yourself, you know is very time consuming). And having someone capable and passionate about research education and training helps everyone deepen their interview skills and adopt new techniques.

You may have also noticed that we have web design and development on our team. In SaaS businesses where customers sign-up and start using software on their own, the website isn’t a digitized brochure - it’s an integral part of the product experience. Organizationally, having the website within the product organization allows us to follow the same customer-centered research, design, and agile development practices that we do for all products.

#4 What’s the team like?

When you work with people everyday, it really helps if you genuinely respect them, value their skills, and enjoy working with them.

Every person on SendGrid's UI/UX team is unique, amazingly talented, and always hungry to make our team, our processes, and our customer experiences stronger.

Every person on SendGrid’s UI/UX team is unique, amazingly talented, and always hungry to make our team, our processes, and our customer experiences stronger. We have 4 moms and 3 dads, an expert rock climber, a singer, a fisherman, 3 runners, one mountain biker, a nerf gun sniper, an abalone diver, 2 avid gardeners, 2 motorcycle enthusiasts, 2 New Yorkers, and a bunch of crazy people who think a hotdog is a sandwich.

Each quarter, we have a hackathon day, a team building day, and a quarterly retro and goal-setting meeting. For team building, we’ve gone hiking, mini-golfing, Top-golfing, skiing/snowboarding (3 times - we are headquartered in Colorado after all), and pontoon-boating. We’ve volunteered to restore local hiking trails, crafted cutting boards in a woodworking shop, and watched the premier of Star Wars the Last Jedi.

Team Building

This summer we rented a pontoon boat out on Lake Dillon!

We work from home most Fridays and we set aside and protect meeting-free “deep focus time” so we can do our very best creative work. Our offices are abundant with whiteboards, couches, comfy chairs, plants, and modern interior design - all great ingredients for collaboration.

Find a way to talk to us, even if there’s not an open role.

I’d say we’re a pretty amazing team, but you know I’m biased. :) Come talk with us and find out for yourself! Regardless of our currently listed jobs, we’re always interested in getting to know the most humble and talented design and research professionals out there.

Yours truly,
Katrina