Category Archives: Work

Long term, I am in you

I’m on a train, headed home after three days working in our Cambridge office, to which I’m assigned. This morning I had my end-of-probation review, in which I received the news that I will soon be receiving a letter congratulating me officially on moving from probationary to permanent staff. Just as with my visa, I wasn’t seriously worried about this hurdle from a realistic perspective, but my inner catastrophizer was as active as always, and I am immensely pleased. I really like my colleagues and the company culture, and I think it will be a great pleasure to work there for another five years or even longer.

This afternoon I gave notice to my landlord, who said he’ll be sad to see me go. It turns out that my tenancy has to end on the 8th of the month (not 30 days after my notice) because it started on the 9th, so I’ll have a couple of weeks more rent to pay than I had expected (silly me for not checking the rental contract), but I’m very pleased with the house I’ve rented in Cambridge. I wish it were a little better served by buses — I’ve been totally spoiled by Newcastle’s excellent local bus system — but it’s not in a complete bus desert. (I am going to buy a car, but I’m not going to drive into the city centre, so I care about being able to take a bus into town.) The house is a bit larger than my current flat — separate dining room, much larger kitchen, somewhat larger bathroom, a 4-foot-wide unheated but covered space running alongside the kitchen, containing some shelving and (wonder of wonders!) a chest freezer! and a large back garden with a shed and raised beds — although it has no front yard/garden at all (the house fronts right on the sidewalk/pavement) and the main bedroom is only 2/3 the size of the one I have now and probably won’t be a place I’ll want to spend time in during the day. Except for the stairs and the smaller bedroom, the house has wood or tile floors (good for my dust-mite allergy). What makes it really special is the wood-burning fireplace in the living room. It was built as a coal fireplace but the owner has been burning wood in it, and I’m salivating in anticipation of doing the same. I’m looking around for where I might acquire some peat, as I am desperately in need of a peat fire. (Cambridge, like many UK cities, has an ordinance against burning fuels that produce smoke, but this house is outside the prohibited area and I’m going to do it as soon as I can.)

I’m also discovering Chinese and Italian eateries in Cambridge. This week’s prize was a new Italian place next to the train station, where they were delighted to talk with me in Italian and I was delighted to hear one of them say I have almost no foreign accent. It’s been a few years since an Italian has said that to me, and I was afraid I had lost my touch.

Friends, I think it’s going to be a good few years.


It’s been quite a week

It’s been quite a week.

First, the best news: I got word that Sigma UK‘s application for a visa sponsor licence has been approved. That’s a big step in the process of my getting a work visa, and I’m delighted! Now they have to issue me a Certificate of Sponsorship, and then I can apply for my visa. Not sure exactly how long all that will take, but I’m confident I’ll have a work visa before my student visa expires in mid-February.

Next, the mixed news. I had my mock viva this week and got really helpful feedback. Both supervisors said it was extremely well written (it’s always nice to receive praise, but I confess I place greater value on feedback that’s actually news to me); the panel said the contributions to knowledge are sufficient for a PhD but I need to convey them more fully. My primary supervisor and I met afterward, and he had a brilliant idea for how I can fill in that gap. The reason this news is mixed is that I won’t be able to make all the changes in time for a mid-December submission of my thesis. I’m going to make as much progress as I can in the next three weeks, and at the end of the month we’re going to regroup and see where we stand. But this feedback and my supervisor’s idea filled in a space that had been worrying me for a while. Clarity is good.

Finally, the horrible news. I’m sure you know what that is. I won’t say much about the US presidential election here because I’ve said a lot on Facebook and this blog is about other things — so I’ll just write this one paragraph. I’m horrified and disgusted. I know that a lot of people voted for Trump because they felt themselves to be in more and more dire straits economically and wanted a change, and some trusted his promise to go “pro-life”; but his election has unleashed a backlash (or a “whitelash”, as some call it) of bullying and violence against people of color and LBGTQ people, and I refuse to let Trump voters pretend they didn’t know that that would happen. I hope we can stem it.

I also want to say that I’m glad I was already making moves to stay in the UK. I’ve heard a lot of Americans say they want to leave the US, and I like to think that if I hadn’t already been planning to stay here I wouldn’t have done so purely because of the election.

So I’m a foreign employee

This week the news came out that the UK Home Office is considering requiring employers to report the numbers of foreign employees they have. (See news report in The Guardian.) Today I made my first visit to Sigma UK’s headquarters, in Macclesfield (20 minutes by train from Manchester, where I had come to attend the fifth Northern User Experience 2016 conference, NUX5), and we were talking about this. I think, and the boss agreed, that this sounds like a step toward requiring visas for EU workers and that a lot more companies will apply for visa sponsor licences. She said Sigma got their application in before the announcement so we’ve beat the rush, and she thought that getting the licence would be fairly straightforward now. I’ll be glad when things are settled and I can make longer-term plans.

On the other side, it was a great day. I met people I had spoken to but hadn’t seen in person before, and everyone was pleasant and helpful. I learned some more things about the company (part of my induction) and we talked about some ways I can contribute even before things settle down and I can move into a permanent role. It’s all good.

UX Cambridge: A good debut with Sigma UK

I’ve just returned from the UX Cambridge conference, having had a wonderful time. I attended interesting, high-quality presentations and gave two myself that were very well received. I met fascinating people and had exciting, energizing conversations. All in all, a great experience.

My major presentation was a one-hour tutorial on designing for older adults. Titled “Older adults: Are we really designing for our future selves?“, the tutorial discussed the common slogan “designing for our future selves” and teased apart the two types of issues that people face as they age — challenges due to changes in our bodies, and challenges due to unfamiliarity with newer technology — and discussed the implications that those two types of challenges present for the design process. I used examples from my own experience of aging (I’m just shy of 64 now) to illustrate and personalize the issues. For example, I didn’t need reading glasses until ten years later than most people do, and I’m still using a low-power magnification; but I’m probably a little early with the challenge of dexterity and stability of my hands, as I have both mild osteoarthritis and essential tremor. The tutorial elicited a lot of great questions, and the exercises saw lively discussion among the participants. People said (and tweeted) a lot of nice things about it, and I had some great conversations afterwards. The slides are on the Sigma Slideshare.

The other presentation was one of the “lightning talks” that these conferences run at the end of the second day. At one of the talks the first day, I had asked a question and raised some objections based on the answer, so the organizers asked me to do a lightning talk. Rather than speak about that objection (which would have taken me longer to prepare), I spoke against the oft-stated idea that a product “should be usable with no training”. Here are the slides from my lightning talk. The Sigma team are planning a blog post about it, so stay tuned. This talk elicited some great questions as well.

This was my first foray into representing Sigma at professional events, and I’d say it went rather well.

It was also my first visit to Cambridge, and I think I’ll enjoy living there.

I have a lot to live up to! :-)

I’m into my second week with Sigma, and on Monday they published a blog post with the news. I wrote the bio (the middle part), and they wrote the first and last bits. I feel really honoured and grateful to be so well thought of, and delighted to be working with such great people. If I weren’t already highly motivated to finish my thesis, the knowledge that I’ll have more time to spend with these folks would put me there. Can’t wait to make this move!

I’m returning to industry — in the UK

A year and a half ago I wrote a post about having decided to return to industry after my PhD instead of trying to stay in academia. I had realized, I explained, that at my age and with my experience I’d find more opportunities in industry — and it would also pay better. Well, I am delighted to announce that my efforts have borne fruit: as of today I have joined Sigma Consulting Solutions Ltd. as a Senior User Experience Consultant. I’m starting on a limited part-time basis while I finish my thesis, and after my Tier 2 General visa comes through I’ll switch to a permanent role in the company. When my three-month probationary period ends, I’ll buy a car and move to Cambridge. My permanent role will have me working three days a week, and I hope to spend the other two doing further research on my PhD topic (with the occasional extra-long-weekend excursion thrown in). I’m savoring the idea of being only an hour from London — close enough to go into the city for an evening event, and much more convenient than Newcastle for flights to (most of) the rest of the world.

This is a wonderful opportunity for me. I’m looking forward to returning “home” to UX consulting and to exploring how I can apply what I’ve learned in doing my PhD. I’m really excited about collaborating with a great group of UX folks who are interested in both my consulting experience and my PhD research. I don’t think I could have asked for better.

I’m also acutely aware that I’m going to miss the North East of England. But this will be arrivederci, not addio; I’ll be back for semi-regular visits. You’ve grown on me, Newcastle.

Back to the drawing board, work wise

A few months ago I wrote of my delight in joining a great small company that was willing to sponsor a work visa for me a few months down the road. Now I must let you, gentle reader, know of my disappointment that it didn’t work out. Distance turned out to be a much bigger issue than any of us had realized. It just wasn’t feasible for us to collaborate remotely to the extent that would enable me to get up to speed with their way of doing design, especially because for the first few months I was to work only one day most weeks (occasionally two). I’m focusing on my PhD for the next few months and then will renew my efforts to find work. (If, however, something comes along before I turn my attention in that direction once again, I will of course consider it with pleasure.)

Hi ho, hi ho — it’s back to work I go!

Dearest friends and colleagues,

It is my great pleasure to inform you that you are reading the blog of the new Principal User Experience Consultant at Natural Interaction Ltd.

I will start on 16 October, initially working one to two days a week under my student visa whilst finishing my PhD. Then, some time after the company get themselves registered to sponsor Tier 2 visas we will switch to that and I’ll be a permanent employee. I could not be more delighted about this. Chuffed, even. :-) We are all very excited about the great work we can do together.

Here’s how it came about: A year and a half ago I gave a talk at World Information Architecture Day 2014 in Bristol, about a technique I had learned during my PhD research that I saw as useful for IA practice. One of the attendees came up to me afterwards to ask me questions, saying he thought the technique would be useful on one of his projects. Adam Babajee-Pycroft and I have kept in touch, and prompted by the success he had with it on that project we have developed a workshop to teach the technique. We will give a short version of this workshop at UCD-UK 2015 next month and are preparing a longer version for other venues. Last week we had a Skype call to discuss the first workshop. I had already decided to ask Adam about the possibility of working for his company, and before I could get a chance to mention it he brought it up. He said he knew I was coming to the end of my three years and asked if I had any availability to work. I explained that my student visa does not allow me to work for myself and asked if he would consider sponsoring me for a Tier 2 General visa — and he said yes! We have been working out the particulars in the intervening time (during which time I was trying desperately not to count my chickens); and now, in less than a week, I have a firm offer letter and expect to have a signed employment contract tomorrow. There will, of course, be a probationary period (UK standard of six months), but every time Adam and I talk we discover something else on which we are very much in tune, and I am confident that this collaboration will work out well for all of us.

After I switch to a Tier 2 General visa I will of course be allowed to work more than 20 hours a week. What we plan is two days a week as a base, with more as needed for client projects. I envision continuing to do some research on techno-spirituality, probably on my own time because I doubt my visa would allow me to do sideline work that different from UX consulting. Client work will be done mostly at client sites and internal company work can be done mostly anywhere, so I will have the flexibility to live anywhere in the UK that has adequate access to air and rail transport. I’m open to staying in Newcastle — especially if I end up doing a fair amount of work for clients here and points north — but as much as I love the area during the day I have to confess that it doesn’t have enough Renaissance music to satisfy me and the Toon nightlife is a bit rowdy. Plus, I’ve always fancied living in London. I’ve got lots of decisions to make in the next few months!

When I came to the UK, almost three years ago, I was going to do my PhD and return to Maryland at the end of the three years. After about a year here, I decided I wanted to stay. And now it looks as though I just may be able to do that. And unless I end up in central London, one of the first things I’m going to do when this goes permanent is buy a car.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you may have seen my musings about staying in academia or returning to industry, and in particular my decision that I would return to industry. I am still slightly sad that the academic route didn’t turn out to match my dreams, but industry really is where I belong — where I feel most at home and where I can make the biggest contribution. And now that I have an even better grasp of research, I am excited about making even more of a connection between the two than I managed to do before.

So if you have any UX consulting needs or just want to explore and discuss the possibilities, please contact me. I’ll have to start out slowly, but if you have a substantial need we can always consider having Adam take the lead with me supporting him in the time I have available.

Stay tuned!

Extending my student time

I’ve just received word that my application for a one-year extension to my PhD program has been approved. I’ve known for some time that I was unlikely to be able to finish within what the university calls “standard duration”, but I finally managed to convince my supervisor that I would need an extension. Some of the delay is due to things that were beyond my control (health issues that have involved doctor visits and sick days), some that I could have controlled (mostly due to travel), and some that might have been within my control if certain things had been otherwise. Regarding the third category — I’ve had a really difficult time getting my head around qualitative analysis, given my highly quantitative background; and sometimes it has come into my head that this whole thing would have been a lot easier if I had done it in an Informatics department. But I’m stretching myself more by being in a Design program, and that was a large part of the point.

Next I have to start the process of extending my student visa, but that should be fairly straightforward. I am still looking for a job (and a work visa sponsor), but extending my student visa will give me more time to make that happen, as well as less stress about the urgency. The sooner I can do this, the better — the five years I will have to work before I can apply to settle in the UK won’t start until I get a work visa — but since I love what I do and can’t see stopping altogether as long as I am capable of working in user experience, I don’t mind a bit of a delay. (When I do start work, I will switch to part-time student status to complete my PhD.)

Officially retired from CSC

About three weeks ago I made a decision and took action on something I’ve been thinking about for a couple of years: I decided to leave CSC and start drawing my pension. I worked there full-time from 1977 to 2005 and part-time from 2009 until now (with VERY little work since I’ve been in the UK, as I was on the government side and those projects all require you to be physically in the US while working on them). I met and worked with Antonio there (that’s my late husband, for those who met me less than 14 years ago today) as well as many other wonderful people, some of whom are still friends. I learned a lot and gained an incredible amount of invaluable experience, and CSC management was incredibly supportive when Antonio and then my mother needed me to help care for them in their last months. CSC was not my first job, but it might as well have been — I grew up there, professionally — so this feels like closing a major door. (If I had waited until I was 65 I could have worked for them again, but since I’m doing this before age 65 I won’t be able to work for them again, ever.) But since I’m Doing What Needs to Be Done to stay and work in UK/Europe after this academic adventure of mine, I shouldn’t need the US-based work. So today was my last day as a CSC employee. It feels like ending a relationship; and in a way it is exactly that. So I am feeling both up and down about this. But I tell myself that it’s time.