This month’s Tech Inspirer is Robin Klaus, who shares with us her very personal journey of struggle and rethinking her career direction. Thank you Robin for your courage and openness in sharing your story and being your authentic self.
Robin, it’s been a big few weeks for you. Can you take me through what’s been going on?
I have a background in IT through network engineering and desktop support. And then I was a vet nurse. And when I moved to Australia, I thought – nursing is exhausting mentally, emotionally, physically, and I’d have to get re-certified. So what else can I do? I always thought about doing web development and coding. And both my brothers are software engineers, and I thought, I’ll give it a go.
I did a boot camp, and if I’m completely honest with myself, I really struggled, but I said to myself – I can do this. I can push myself and get a job.
Transpire came into the picture because my wife is a UXer and she’s met Kira through meetups, and Kira said I’d love to talk to her if she wants to see what we can do. And then I talked to Anki, who said – I’d love to bring you on as a graduate developer.
I started with Android development, and I jumped on to a couple of projects but I just continued to struggle mentally, and my confidence was crashing. I was wavering between – no, I can do this / I just need to push myself harder / I can’t do this. Sometimes I’d think I just don’t have the brain for this. My mental health was suffering, and because I have ADHD, I found myself spending a lot of my days relearning what I’d learned the last few days on top of learning new things, and it was a cycle that was getting me nowhere. When it came time to roll off my project, I spoke to my wife about my mental health, and she finally looked at me and said, “I think it’s your job”. And I said, “you know, I think you might be right”.
Okay, this is big. Coming to terms with my decision was hard, but I decided that I can’t do it – I’m going to quit. We made the decision that it’s not worth it.
My wife has asked me several times, if you could do anything, no obstacles, money, financial, whatever, what would you do? And I said, I’ve always wanted to write. I started looking into writing, to figure out what I can do as a writer. She’d mentioned UX writing before, but I didn’t think too much about it. But I found a couple of introductory courses, and I thought, okay, I think I could do this. I rewrote the copy from the project I was on and the client absolutely loved it.
But then I had to brace myself and tell Anki. She said: “Do you need some more support? Do you need this or that?” I had to say “No, I just can’t do this. And that’s okay, it’s not in me.”
I felt like I failed Transpire, because they gave me this opportunity. It was really hard. She said, “what do you really want to do?” I said I want to write. And she says – “okay, how do you think you could do that at Transpire?”
I thought – you’re not going to kick me out the door?!
I had a talk to David about the design team, and I spoke with Kira and she was once again a fantastic champion for me. We decided to do a trial run on the design team and here I am. There’s not enough work for a full-time writer, so I’m very happy to be a generalist.
As soon as it was made official, my mood has improved tremendously. I have energy again! The whole thing has completely turned around, and I feel like I can be productive. I feel like I can be a contributor. I feel like I can be really good at this. And that’s a huge revelation.
How did it feel to have that response from your manager, after all the difficulties you’d been going through?
It was amazing. Transpire could’ve easily said, okay, it didn’t work out, you were going to be a developer, but now you don’t want to be a developer so see you later. I’m still kind of blown away that it’s all happened the way it has. I can’t imagine a better place to have gone through this. Because I don’t think there’s many places that I could’ve been this open.
So when you decided not to continue being an Android developer, you were just closing that door, not all doors?
Definitely. And the door is only closing partially because the experience that I’ve had is going to come into play in UX. They’ve never had a developer on the team, and that’s going to be huge because developers and UXers work really closely together.
Anki said to me, “You are a developer. I don’t want you to ever say you failed. You didn’t fail at becoming a developer. You became a developer.”
Transpire sees that these are the skills that I have as a developer, and this is how I can use them. Now, I bring them with me.
How will having been a developer help you as a UXer?
Developers and UXers work very closely together. Think back to the days of error messages being completely cryptic. And apps and software not being user friendly, because they were built entirely by developers. UX has come out of that need to make things better for the user, and take that off of the plate of the developers.
I think something I can bring as a former developer is to say – that’s not really going to be feasible with the budget or the time. I understand what is involved in building a feature, or the number of pages, and I have that grasp of the workload that’s involved. And just be able to speak developer-speak, and to bring that technical knowledge into the fold to help the UXers without a strong technical background understand better.
Now that you’ve opened the door to being a UXer, has that stimulated new thinking in you?
My wife and I make jokes all the time – that’s bad UX, that’s bad UX. So I think I’ve always had that focus, but now I’m just seeing it even clearer. Now I think – I can fix it, I can improve that.
Another thing I’m really keen to get more involved in is accessibility, and to be the accessibility champion at Transpire. I’ve always barracked for the underdog, and I’ve always been a diversity champion, even before it was a buzzword. I love the idea that I can help make websites and apps better for everybody, especially those marginalised people that don’t always get thought about. I want to be that person to make things better.
I almost feel like the reason I wasn’t really connected to being a developer was that I was already thinking like a UXer. I was speaking to someone recently and they said you already have a human centred mindset. So it hasn’t felt like a weird shift.
Obviously there’s been some difficult times, but it sounds like overall this is a really positive transition. What do you think it is about the Transpire culture that meant this could all unfold as it did?
The first thing popped into my head was human centred.
Transpire doesn’t look at the bottom line, the budget, the corporate image – they look at the people here at Transpire, who they are as humans.
Diversity & inclusion isn’t just a buzzword that we put on our website, which I think some companies do when they actually aren’t that invested.
Feeling safe to open up and to be honest can be a struggle, but I almost immediately felt that at Transpire I could be completely myself and be open. No judgement, no ridicule – it feels like a very psychologically safe environment. I think this is the first workplace I have ever been in, in my long career, that has that.