Thinking About Transitions

In articles I have written for Boxes and Arrows, I have spoken about the designer, the individual contributor making the transition to management. I now find that I am in a position of transition in my career and am seeking advice and words of wisdom.

We recently went through a reorg at work, as I mentioned earlier, and I now work on the Yahoo! Developer Network. In this reorg though, the path I was on, leading several design teams across a wide variety of platform initiatives and systems designs, has dramatically changed. I now manage a much smaller design team and a technical documentation team. Additionally, I have the opportunity in front of me to figure out what I want to do with myself beyond this.

I am leading a large redesign project right now that involves remaking the Developer Network into a robust, active toolset and community for developers. This is very exciting to me as I am coordinating designers, engineers, product managers and others as we define what we think this experience should be.

This transition away from design into the larger product development / management process is something I have been craving for awhile but now that it is here, I wonder how does one actually go through this. What happens when suddenly all the things you were good at is not your job anymore and the things you are responsible for are generally unknown?

In management classes, this is a classic scenario to watch for when someone is promoted to a new role. But it’s easier to manage this with others than with yourself – especially when transitioning domains.

For the 5 people who read this blog – how are others dealing with this? How do they educate themselves and come up to speed quickly? How do you become efficient and capable and not let on to others that you have no idea what the hell you are doing? When does it become less terrifying?

Perhaps this is the beginning of another article for B&A…

obligatory end of year post

it’s the last day of the year and I think I should be reflecting on things from this past year. It was a year of constants and change at the job – lots of expansion of the Platform role and the team. I hired 13 awesome people to the team. The end of the year saw another reorg and the team I built split up across the company. For me personally, it means a change in roles and focus towards the Yahoo! Developer Network – a role I am extremely excited about.

On the personal side – this year has been one of kicking photographic ass. I had goals and was focused. I did a lot of shooting this year – working on various projects – some of which are still in progress.

I set my sites on joining the Bay Area Photographers Collective – and through a series of portfolio reviews and meetings – am now a member of this group.

I was diligent in submitting my work to several juried shows and had work in eight shows, one of which I was honored to receive prize money from. I also have my first solo exhibition which will come down this week.

I launched Without Lenses – an online quarterly journal for lensless photography. Trading in my experience from Boxes and Arrows and my love of photography and my insane need to create things – I launched this on pinhole day 2007.

It’s been a good year and I have met a ton of of amazing people through the f295 forums, through Without Lenses, through flickr and through my work as a design director.

I am proud of what I have accomplished this year both professionally and personally and am making goals and plans for 2008 to be even more interesting and hopefully as successful.

IA Summit 2008 Here we come

Christian Crumlish, Lucas Pettinati and I submitted a pre-conference workshop and we just got notice that we were accepted.

Watch for more info but we will be conducting a full day workshop with hands on exercises. You will learn how to build and care for a pattern library and how, with that library and a code library, like the YUI, you can easily and quickly pull sites together.

Should be a fun day for all!

Seeking the future through the past

My friend, Alex Wright, an IA at the NY Times, recently published an article, Friending, Ancient or Otherwise on the NY Times. The article looks at the recent trends in social networking and friending, through the lens of ancient tribal practices. It’s interesting to see that technology is unconsciously manipulated to still meet basic human interactions. And that despite everything we aspire to, we can’t get away from these unconscious behaviors.

YDN Theater and Patterns

Christian Crumlish, our Pattern Library curator, over here at Yahoo!, was recently filmed giving a brownbag on the pattern library to Yahoo!’s UED organization.

It’s a good talk on the history of the library and how to create patterns and why we want to create patterns and the publishing process we use here at Yahoo!.

After a few weeks of editing and passing through legal hoops (sensitive information scrubbed), the video of his talk is now available over at the Yahoo! Developer Network.

Check it out – and if the topic interests you – join the group and talk to more like-minded pattern people including Christian and I.

How to Submit a Proposal

I just finished as a reviewer for the IA Summit submissions and I have a whole new respect for how difficult it is to select and craft a program for a conference.

That said, I think I also learned a few things about how to better create a proposal for a submission. I think these thoughts would be applicable to any conference proposal. These thoughts come from reading a host of ill-prepared and unclear proposals.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind for the future:

1. What is the point
Be clear about the point of the presentation. Stick to one major theme. Not 10, not 4, not 3. Don’t ramble on aimlessly about the kind of work you have been doing and the articles you have been reading unless there is a point.

2. What will the audience learn
If you can’t clarify what your audience will learn from the presentation—what they will take away—then the likelihood of acceptance is slim. A conference committee isn’t going to accept a presentation without knowing what the audience will take away from it. Your presentation must complement or even support others and knowing this is critical to putting together a meaningful program.

3. Be Original and Interesting
You may give the best presentations in the world, but chances are the reviewers are reviewing in a blind review process. That means we don’t know who you are. Your submission must stand on its own. Allusions to your style of presenting must come through—if you generally keep people entertained through lots of images and a quick style—say so. Give an example. It helps.

4. Do Your Homework
Have presentations on this topic been given before? Are there experts in this area already and have they contributed to a large body of knowledge for the community? Be clear on how your presentation adds to that body of knowledge, challenges or builds on what has come before. If your idea caters to a beginning audience, because you, yourself have just overcome this particular problem, then chances are someone has already presented or written extensively on this topic. I am sure your excitement for the idea is real, but will several hundred others who may be quite senior in their experience feel that same excitement? Justify it, explain how this is different or challenges the status quo and you have a better chance.

5. Give enough detail
I can’t tell you how many submissions I read that barely scraped the surface of what the presenter intended to talk about. There was not enough information to make an informed decision on whether or not the submission should be included.

If you want your proposal accepted make sure there is enough information to stand out from the pack and to truly inform those reading it as to why it should be included.

I hope these tips help others in the future. I know that for me, they will help a lot when I want to put together a submission and will make my proposals stronger. Let me know if I have forgotten anything important.

the importance of a common language

I am working on writing a set of use cases for a new project and as I am writing it occurs to me that the team I am working with calls all the different parts of the site and the content different things.

I have been struggling with how to write these use cases because of this and it drove home the point that before we move any further we really need to come to an agreement about a set of common terms.

This sets up a common language, sets expectations so we all know what each of us is referring to when talking about schedules and deliverables and generally removes the struggle for clarity.

And hopefully, this clarity will become apparent in the language and design of the end web site.

New job, new blog

As of this week I have new and different responsibilities at Yahoo! I now head up the ued team responsible for the Yahoo! Developer Network.

Having been the creator and driver of the Pattern Library, this is a nice logical next step. Open is a big bet for us and creating a great environment for the development community to learn about and find useful tools and code is going to be a great design problem. Can’t wait to get started.