I moved to Cambridge UK in the summer of 2015. A bit of an Anglophile, it’s lived up to all expectations every Jane Austen book gave me of England. A hop, skip, and a jump away from London — it’s everything you need in a city, with its beautiful colleges and the River Cam as the cherry on top.

UX design

Colleges and cows everywhere

I moved to one of the UK’s fastest growing tech hubs

Considering there are only a hundred or so thousand people living here, I was surprised to find it booming with tech opportunities. Dubbed ‘Silicon Fen’, my friend compared it to Silicon Valley’s startups (jokingly, but with a pinch of truth) saying something along the lines of:

Silicon Valley is trying to figure out how to change the way we deliver artisan chocolate to your door.
Cambridge is the home of startups actually changing the world.

Like SimPrints, a non-profit who invented bio-tech software and rugged hardware to identify people for medical treatment in third world countries.

These high-tech companies are sprinkled everywhere throughout Cambridge, thanks to many of them being spun out of the University. But there’s a big software presence here as well, also doing cool things. Microsoft, Amazon, IBM, HP, ARM, and Redgate to name a few.

I chose to ‘specialize’ in UX

UX was something usually followed by a slash (or series of) in my title. But I always felt like it was an append and that I was an imposter. Sure, I’ve read a ton of UX books and even taught an introductory course on it at Treehouse. I designed user experiences, but not explicitly with intention or with the mindset that they were hypotheses that needed to be validated.

Ultimately, the output expected of me as a professional designer so far was a revolving door of design assets and code, not more questions or research. I knew this wasn’t right, and it was my job to evangelize UX, but I needed to do it in practice, not in theory.

I created a criteria (and didn’t settle)

I was eager to find a job that would allow me to focus entirely on the user and really understanding and improving their experience. I wanted to perform research, talk to people, learn how to test and validate my designs, without feeling guilty for not sitting in front of a computer designing.

So I started my search for the right company. One that had the culture and energy of a startup, but with a bit more professionalism. One that wasn’t busy and constantly crazy for the sake of it (because that’s how you get burnt out). One that would provide the time and support system for learning and growth. And one that valued its employees and users above the bottom line.

I put myself out there to set myself apart

I’ve landed most of my jobs through mutual connections and networking, or just sticking my neck out. In a previous application, I’ve even made a website entirely about why I wanted to work there. (I got that job, by the way.)

A little harder to do in a country where you don’t know anyone — I asked people at co-working spaces, networking events, and looked for software companies on LinkedIn that seemed to value design. I looked for companies that employed designers with similar experience to me, or boasted the experience I’d like to have one day. I looked for companies that fit my ideal of the ‘right company’, and lastly, was looking to grow their team of designers.

It wasn’t long until I stumbled upon Redgate.

I reached out to the Head of Product Design directly through LinkedIn and asked if I could pop in and say hello. He invited me in that week, gave me a personal tour, treated me to lunch, and told me a bit more about Redgate. He introduced me to some UX folks, showed me what teams were working on, and how they like to work. (Spoiler alert: Open spaces with lots and lots of whiteboards and post-it notes!)

I saw what it was like to work there firsthand

What was appealing to me about Redgate right off the bat was the size and age — not a corporate behemoth, and far from a bootstrapped startup. With 16+ years under their belt, they have a strong identity and a dedicated user base they know intimately.

They had just kicked off a huge effort to establish and scale their design system, Honeycomb. And they have an insanely talented, seasoned team of user experience designers I knew right away, I could learn a ton from. They exuded a professionalism and mutual respect I wasn’t really used to.

For me, it was the perfect opportunity to grow and mature as a designer.

I interviewed the company before they interviewed me

Before even applying for a job at Redgate, I made sure it was the right fit. I talked to the people who might be my co-workers, I visited the office that I’d cycle to every day, and saw the type of work I might do. I made sure it was somewhere I truly wanted to work before starting the interview process.

It’s not just the company choosing you from a pile of papers after all — they need to impress you too. And Redgate did just that.

And look, they’re hiring again. Ask to drop by and say hello. Maybe they’ll have the chance to impress you too.

Stay tuned for part 2 where I talk about what it was like interviewing with Redgate, and my experience working there.

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