Tamara Hale, Lead User Experience Researcher at EffectiveUI, is a laidback, reflective woman who is driven by her convictions about diversity in the tech industry and has approached her own career with an ethnographer’s ethos: Building from the ground up and not the top down. Her professional story is one that shows her not following a clear and well-worn path, but rather is one where she forges her own path and is influenced by immersion in new contexts, belief in the power of empathy, and driven by service.
Immersion in New Contexts
Tamara’s career journey demonstrates how she used her experiences and intuition to guide her career decisions. Although she was originally interested in industrial design, when the opportunity to spend a year on an anthropological project in Peru presented itself she jumped at the chance. This choice shaped her future steps: changing the focus of her undergraduate studies from industrial design to anthropology. Later when she was faced with another big decision to join a start-up ethnography consulting agency or pursing a doctorate, she trusted her intuition and chose working in a consulting agency (despite others urging her to pursue a doctorate). At this time the use of ethnography in private industry was new, uncharted territory and yet the chance to find out how ethnography could be applied to real world problems was too enticing to pass up. From there she went on to work for 10+ years in the tech industry; working with tech juggernauts like Microsoft and national financial institutions like Wells Fargo. Her work has also taken her all over the world from work in North and South America to Europe. She also finished her Ph.D. along the way. Dr. Hale’s path is demonstrative of her willingness to explore and be immersed in an industry that was not familiar to her. In doing so she has been able to make space for the kind of work she is interested in, rather than trying to fit into a pre-existing mold.
Belief in Empathy
She believes that the biggest edge her training has given her is a deep sense of empathy. Although empathy may be a popular buzzword, it is uncommon for many to have a thorough understanding of how operationalize it in private industry. This is not the case for Tamara. She exercises her empathy on a regular basis as lead user experience researcher by taking individual stories and “expos[ing] the [underlying] assumptions” and translating individual stories “through multiple perspectives.” Her empathic nature gives her a knack for finding small insights that have a big impact (like changing referring terms from “customer” to “member”). Moreover, her experience in narrative writing (no doubt honed through writing extensive field notes) gives her tools to communicate insights from individual stories to larger audiences with diverse backgrounds in the tech industry. In this way empathy has given her an extra layer of rigor compared to many of her counterparts from more traditionally tech oriented fields and is her most valuable tool.
Driven by Service
Probably the most remarkable way her ethnographer’s perspective emerges is in her deep seated belief in service to others. When Dr. Hale approaches her work her focus is service to real people using digital products in their everyday lives. She uses her research to give people a voice and represent their experiences and perspectives in an honest and well-rounded way. This approach contributes to shaping deliverables that are richly descriptive and insightful. Beyond Tamara’s work at EffectiveUI, she contributes back to her field by advocating for diversity in the tech industry and shepherding others who want to dive into the world of user experience research. In letting her professional life be driven by service she builds strong relationships in her industry and the people for whom EffectiveUI is designing.
Tamara’s experiences in user experience research are emblematic of how an ethnographer’s training can be an asset that goes beyond specific methodologies. It is a perspective that is beneficial in multiple aspects of your professional journey. Her journey is marked with openness to new experiences and exploration, the use of empathy to inform her work, and a desire to serve others all of which is reflective of building from the ground up, in this case choosing to build a career path that suits her strengths, interests, and values; rather than the top down, choosing a pre-determined path.