Hi Tiffany! Can you tell us what you do and what you’re working on currently?
I work as a product designer for a startup in Santa Monica called BloomNation. We have a small team, so as the only product designer, I get to do a variety of design-related tasks from user experience to visual design. It’s also my first job working in Los Angeles, so after 7 years in San Francisco, it’s exciting to experience a different part of tech outside of Silicon Valley.
When I’m not working, I also enjoy studying Japanese, photography, travel, and playing with my pets (I have a dog and two guinea pigs).
What has been the toughest challenge you’ve faced working in tech and how have you dealt with it?
The toughest challenge I’ve faced is the lack of diversity in tech (especially in the design world), and the feelings of isolation and uncertainty that come with that. I am a self-taught designer with an unconventional education background and career path. I am also a Black woman. I didn’t finish college and I worked my way up to a designer position in my first startup after being hired as an office assistant.
Sometimes, I’ve felt that I’ve really had to prove that I deserve to be a part of the design world because I am not what a designer usually looks like, and my path to tech was not typical. When I looked at a companies during past job searches, no one else working there looked like me. That can be very disheartening.
So the way that I have dealt with it is to make sure that my work and portfolio speak for themselves. One way that I’ve done this is by finding design mentors and communities that can support my design goals while relating to my experiences. My mentors and support communities share insightful advice with me. In addition to general career and design advice, they also provide advice for coping with sexism, racism, classism, and discrimination — all things that can pop up while working in a world where you don’t match the mold.
An example of a supportive community is Tech Ladies! It’s been so helpful for me to have outlets where I can get career guidance and feel safe expressing my worries and concerns, so I really suggest anyone feeling isolated in tech to seek out a support system.
I read in another interview that you gave that you initially got into tech after designing websites and playing around with CSS and HTML when you were younger. What advice would you give others who are just starting out and aren’t sure how to turn their passions into a career?
My advice is to be flexible and to find side projects. While knowing HTML and CSS was extremely beneficial for me becoming a designer, it’s not how I actually got into tech.
At the time, I was an art school dropout who loved writing, drawing, and photography but couldn’t afford to stay in school. So after I was hired as an office assistant, I saw an opportunity to use a skill I had (HTML/CSS) to provide a service to my job (designing pages for projects the actual design team was too busy to take on) and leapt at that chance.
Take a look at the things you’re passionate about, as well as your natural strengths and skills. Once you understand what you are passionate about, be proactive and offer your services to help fulfill a need. It doesn’t matter if you’re unemployed, in school, or already working — you can find side projects anywhere.
Things like redesigning part of your company/school/friend’s website, researching how to help a friend’s personal business improve their SEO ranking, or learning how to fix a coding error on your site that no one else in your office or job has time to fix are all examples side projects that could help you start understanding what you enjoy, what you’re naturally good at, and what you don’t like.