Computing Applications Career Paths in Computing

From UX to Product: An Intentional Career Route

Foolproof Experience Design Director Hina Elton

Technology has been a part of my life since the age of six. My father was a hardware engineer, fixing all sorts of computers and building various custom hardware solutions for commercial applications. In the late 1980s, he brought home our first family desktop—the IBM 5150. And then came the Apple Macintosh Classic. I was fascinated by the possibilities and tried to learn as much as I could about how these machines worked. None of my friends had computers at home; I felt so lucky.

My mother, a stroke-sufferer since her early 20s, is challenged both physically and cognitively. Thus, I was compelled at a young age to study technology and learn how it could improve the lives of everyone—not just the able-bodied.

I chose to study human factors at Loughborough University, and during this time, I gained experience at IBM Hursley and joined the user-centered design team. As a usability engineer intern, I volunteered at HCI conferences to explore potential Ph.D areas of study, ultimately choosing a CS doctoral program at University College London (UCL)—the first university to admit women on equal terms with men. Under the supervision of the esteemed Angela Sasse, I developed a framework for the security industry to optimize operator performance in collaboration with the U.K. Home Office and the Metropolitan Police Service on the design, configuration, and usage of digital CCTV video to detect crime. My time at UCL coincided with the July 7, 2005 bombings and ended up being the reason I was drawn to the field. My research results were timely and hugely impactful to the security industry as well as the public.

Since graduating, I’ve spent 15 years predominantly within product and design agencies. I chose the industry route over academia as I found university life quite lonely and wanted to work with international businesses. I gained practical experience, working closely with engineers to learn about various applications of technology. I began to understand the complexities, constraints, and dependencies that come with software development.

As a user experience (UX) researcher, I’ve had the opportunity to conduct thousands of hours of research with customers worldwide, observing user behaviors and workarounds, and translating these findings into rich insights to empower design change. It’s been so rewarding to see the impact different products have on peoples’ lives. But as organizations started to train teams about product, slowly shifting away from waterfall to agile processes, my level of influence as a researcher became limited.

Over the past five years, I’ve spent time learning about product management in greater depth. In my last few roles, I transitioned from UX researcher to product manager and now experience design director. As a product lead, my greatest enjoyment has come from positively influencing design. Following formal training and practice, I learned that having a product mindset is essential for organizations as they foster a customer-centric approach, facilitate an iterative product development process, and cultivate a culture of experimentation.

Solving challenges for people and businesses is what I enjoy. I currently head up the insight and data practice at Foolproof, a Zensar product and service design company. Every day is different for me, and I love the variety, change, and challenges in my work. I could be leading research to inform a product strategy, facilitating research to inform ideas and a new product proposition, or leading cross-functional teams in executing customer research, analytics, design, and running experiments to optimize products. I work with a wide range of clients, across many industries, maturity levels, and throughout the product life cycle, which makes my work so interesting. If I look back at my career so far, much of it was intentional due to personal perseverance, passion, and encouragement from my family. The opportunities offered through my professional network didn’t hurt either. Technology and people are ever-changing, and the possibilities are endless. By intentionally changing roles, you can forge fulfilling and rewarding career routes.

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