Saturday, July 02, 2005

Ask your employer these questions - Freshers

In the past few months, I have been asked a million times about how to choose a suitable company for a usability job. Most people who have been asking me are fresh graduates from NID, IDC, or from a US university. In India, the choices are few, and making a choice is very difficult. However, each company offers different usability jobs and has a different hidden job description. Here I want to demystify some of these things.

Companies looking for freshers dont expect freshers to contribute from day one. They want bright freshers who can learn and can apply usability principles in projects later. So, show that you want to learn, want to experiment, and can ask questions. You also have to show that you are willing to do any kind of usability work that is given. Anyway, you will not be pushed into a big project in the beginning. The company will not take that risk - however good your academic scores or academic projects are.

There are two types of companies that offer usability jobs in India - usability consulting companies and software companies. In India, you will may not find financial companies, insurance companies, call centers, or manufacturing companies offering usability jobs. So, which type of company would you choose? Ask all these questions, I am sure you will be able to find answers yourself.

1. Mentor As a fresher, you would need a friend in a mentor to help you learn the ropes of usability. During your first interaction with the prospective employer, you must find out who may be your mentor:

a. how many years of usability experience your mentor has? Usually more years the better, however, more experienced people are either hard to find or are not accessible. So find a mentor who has good work experience and not a fresher. A person who has worked in a software company as a usability engineer may understand "ground-level" usability. A person who has worked all her life in a consulting company may not relate to ground-level implementation issues. On the other hand, people who have worked with a software company may not have any usability testing experience.

b. what is the type of usability experience does the mentor have? Check if the mentor has complete lifecycle projects experience - from contextual inquiry to real-life usability testing. I am sure this is going to be a tough one, but this is really important for your first job. The wider and more project experience your mentor have, you will be productive quickly.

c. how accessible is your mentor? Many organizations boast of best people in the field of usability. And, freshers fall for their credentials. However, these people are never accessible. You will never learn anything from them. They are as good as not being there. You need to find mentors that are accessible regularly. In some organizations you may find mentors who have relatively less experience but are very accessible - that's what you may want to look for.

2. Type of work As a fresher, no company will risk putting you on bigger projects. They would rather start you with small projects and judge you periodically. But, many companies promise you with big projects in the beginning - dont fall for those promises - they will never be met! Find companies that promise you good learning and put you on projects progressively as you perform better.

I know of some companies which will only make you perform "heuristic evaluations" for years (and I really mean it!). They will not let you do any other kind of work - no contextual inquiry, no design, no testing, no nothing. They work on low cost India model for getting heuristic evaluations done - they will not move most guys to design or testing. Beware of such companies.

Usability consulting companies are good if you already have some years of usability experience and you want to broaden your experience. However, they may not be a right career choice while you are starting your career. The reason is that you will never get to see the light of day of your projects.

Find software companies that are usability focused. They are ideal breeding ground for budding usability engineers. However, find out about your mentor(s) and find out if you will be able to talk to users and do usability testing.

3. Access to development teams A complete architect is the one who can visualize the building and can supervise the construction too. However, in Usability, most projects go out of usability person's hands after usability testing of wireframes or mocks. You never get to see how programmers develop the mock. You never get to see what problems are coming up because of design. You never get to juggle between technical difficulties and usability issues. So, find out about access to development teams and how much access you may have with them after you create mocks or prototypes.

4. Location Some people say location does not matter. I say, it does matter a lot. Cost of living in Hyderabad is half of that in Mumbai. Quality of life is better in smaller cities because you can stay within 5 minutes of your office and not spend 2.5 hours one way just to reach office. You can work more or meet up people more often in smaller cities. And, you can catch up with films without waiting for the weekend.

5. Travel Entry level jobs will NOT have travel. If someone tells you that there will be a lot of travel involved, take it with pinch of salt. Travel will happen only if you can show that you are capable of doing projects well.

Some words of caution for experienced usability professionals - Some usability consulting companies in India will require you to travel to the US on a business visa. They send you on pretext of "training." However,they will expect you to "work" on projects there. They dont want to spend too much money on work visas - as long as no one gets caught by US authorities, its perfect by them. If you travel to US on business visa and "work" there, you are very likely to be "caught" by authorities. So insist and ensure that you go only on a work visa to work. Business visa is only meant for meeting clients, meeting users, and training.

If you have a spouse in India and you are required to travel for longer periods, please ensure that the company you join must have spouse friendly policies. Ensure that the company pays for your spouse's visa application fee, return airfare, and provide decent accomodation for a couple. Also ensure that the money that you get (per diem) is sufficient for both of you to "survive" in expensive countries like the US and UK.

6. Remuneration Yes, your favorite subject! Someone told me if she gets Rs. 6 Lakh (0.6 million), she will join a company. I asked her why do you need 6 lakhs? She replied "If my friends at Veritas and Oracle can get 6 Lakhs, why can't I?"

Good remuneration is good for you, however, if a company can offer you good learning at the beginning of your career, you can sacrifice remuneration. You will have ample opportunities to earn more - better you are at your job, better remuneration you can command later. You must strive to learn and perform in your first job.

12 comments:

shipra said...

Wow!
Sure its going to help many around.
Guess the next post shud be to help choose a good diploma project.
Most of the dips are messed because people have not much idea about how to, when and where to start from.

Sowndarya said...

A Real Good one! Though I have minimal knowledge of the Usability industry, many of the points stated hold good to Freshers thinking of building their career, in any industry for that matter. Because I feel that a person who has just started his/her career needs a Mentor:
1. Who is accessible & obliging
2. Who is well experienced, equipped & informed
3. and more importantly, who believes in your abilities and passes on Confidence to you.

This blog gives an idea to the Freshers as to what they should be looking for in their Mentor.

Mayank Shekhar said...

Great Article Ripul. It surely is of great Help.

Just want to add a couple of points to what you have already published.

The first point is that apart from the mentor that is offcourse very important the fresher also needs to look at the Design Team that he/she is going to work with along with the history of the Design/Design Team in the Company (this is imp for a software comapny). I will elaborate these two seperately.

First you need to look and see if the Design team is of a single genre (e.g. Usability Analysts) which can the case for a specialised consulting company or the Design Team consists of a mixture of people specialised in Visual Design, Usability Analysis, User interface etc. It is advisable to work (as you begin your career) with a Design team with a broad portfolio as it gives a wider exposure.

Secondly the history of design team gives one an idea whether the design team is in infancy or has matured. A mature design team will have comparatively more say in different policies/projects and less distractions. Hence as freshers mature Design Team may be more preferable.

My second point was regarding the renumerations. Along with being a favourite subject I think this is also a very touchy issue. One needs to balance renumerations with other things like /company/mentor etc. I am saying so because going for very less renumeration also may not be healthy as in the Industry (esp. Software comapnies) the renumerations are negotiated by the HR of the company and there the renumerations of your previous company play an important role. So a balnce is advisable.

It might be a good idea to put up a priority list of all these parameters and then see how you want to go about it.

In the end its a like a bargain and It will depend on the individual how they prioritise and then negotiate on these parameters to get the job they want.

mayank

ripul said...

Mayank, both your points are valid and do play an important role in selection of your "first" job.

Design team is critical in a software products company and its maturity definitely can be measured by how much say it has in policy matters.

I have seen and worked with many software product companies. In most companies, the design teams (or usability teams) are a mix of designers from NID/IDC who perform "usability" functions supported by some graphic designers. I dont know any usability team in a software company in India that has ethnographers for user research, psychologists as expert reviewers and usability testers, and designers who can convert user research findings into efficient layouts and can test the design without bias. Finding such a combination would be a "dream come true."

Remunerations is definitely a personal matter. However, when freshers only want to talk about remuneration and not want to show what they are capable of and their willingness and eagerness to learn - I worry about if remuneration is the first attibute that freshers worry about?

I have been fortunate to conduct interviews on behalf of many of my clients to recruit freshers from prestegious design institutes. You know what Mayank, out of about 40 interviews that we conducted, we found only 2 people willing to learn and show their work passionately before talking about remuneration. I fear this trend, I am worried about this trend in the Usability industry in India.

Do anyone of you have suggestions?

anu said...

Good one!
From my past experience i feel it is very important to have a good mentor who should not only be accessible but also helpful in real terms.
Ripul I completely agree with u regarding remuneration, whether it is your first job or a new job. What is important is the amount of learning because when there is a good amount of learning the level of satisfaction is more, which is very important these days.

Sowndarya said...

Very true about remuneration! When a person is just starting his/her career and is keen on building it, learning is what matters the most. Once they gain the knowledge and the experience, they can quote their remuneration which they would as well end up getting if they have that potential in them.

But at the same time, there should be recognition for the enthusiasm the Fresher is showing to learn. A steady growth in remuneration, even at minimal quantum, would augment the thirst and makes the Fresher feel that his/her abilities aren't really going unnoticed.

The Balancing act must be from both sides.

sonal said...

hey ripul,
reading your blog has definitely helped me to put things in somewhat better perspective... lets see what happens if i apply the same principles during mi dip project...... waiting to hear more of this kinds soon.

Anonymous said...

Ripul

Good posting - i'd hired some interns in Bangalore and as a first time experience, there were certainly some hits and misses. Found your article quite insightful.

-Amit Pande

Anonymous said...

Myself am a fresher and have joined company on last mon.over the past few days i have been very upset as have not being given any work as of now.sitting in the office entire day doing nothing doesnt serve my purpose.but after going through this reading have got a boost in some way or the other.if not whole but it has helped me partially to get a mental back up of lasting in the office, giving my best performance.
thanks and regards
X

Digithought said...

Thanks a lot... Really helpful..especially for a field like this ...its very difficult to find resources talking about such details

rajesh said...

hi thank you very much... it helped me a lot.. bye

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