A common theme on Revision Path is that there's no set path to being a part of the design industry. Will Miner, the senior director of UX at the education company 2U, is a prime example of this. As technology helps level the playing field for a number of different areas of study, professionals like Will help make sure that experience is simple and user-friendly.
We started off talking about Will's work at 2U, including building and leading teams while keeping diversity and accessibility in mind. He also shared how he first got into design via plant science, why he decided getting an MBA would help further his design career, and even shared news about his next big move. Will is a prime example that there are lots of ways to succeed in this field!
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Maurice: Alright, so tell us who you are and what you do?
Will Miner: Alright, so my name's Will Miner. I am the Senior Director of User Experience at a company called 2U. So for those of you that don't know what 2U is, and a lot of people get it confused with the band U2. But yeah, that's a really good way to get your resume not looked at if you spell the company's name wrong.
But yeah, so 2U is a education technology company. We got started around, I think 2008, and it was started by a couple of guys that were veterans of just the education space. A lot of them came from the Princeton Review. And back in 2008 there was a lot of companies, or there was a lot of universities rather, that saw that education was moving online. But really wanted to do it in the opposite of the for-profits base. They really wanted to do high quality degrees. They didn't wanna diminish their brand but they still wanted to bring their degrees online so these universities didn't have a lot of the technical expertise to make that happen. So 2U is a company merged to partner with these universities to bring their degrees online, so for the past 10-plus years that's what we've been doing so we have partnerships with schools like USC, Yale, Georgetown University, California Berkeley, NYU, places all over the United States.
Many many many brands that you've heard of and so I joined the 2014 .... actually as a individual contributor, designer and really quickly I got promoted into actually running the team. So for the past almost five years now I've been leading design and research for-to Yale. Just for the software technology.
Maurice: Nice, how many users right now does 2U support?
Will Miner: That's a really good question so we actually ... it's funny we don't call them users they are actually they're literally students and faculty at these schools. And I think we are over 20 to 30 thousand at this point so that's-
Will Miner: That's how many students we have enrolled in our programs are in the programs we partner with.
Maurice: Yeah I think it's so interesting how more education particularly traditional education that big venerable institutions are started to move online. I think at first it was just in the way of doing maybe an online course or something like that but then partnering with companies like 2U. Really moving all of that curriculum and everything online I think, that's kind of the future.
Will Miner: Yeah.
Maurice: Right now where education is going.
Will Miner: Yeah for sure. I mean we joke about it here but we feel that education is taking a similar act to online dating. If maybe, seriously like in the 90s maybe if you had told somebody is like, “ Oh I met my significant other online.” They may had looked at you funny and realize that's kinda weird, but today I don't know anybody who doesn't online date in some capacity.
Will Miner: Like I met my fiance on Bumble and I think education online is slow work as you know eduction always moves a little bit slower; higher education especially. But it's getting to the point like there's things that just make sense to do online like in college. I sat in gigantic 300 person lectures and that could have very very very easily probably preferably been a video. So, what we are trying to do is find the places [inaudible 00:03:54] the degrees that make sense to do online, that we can do online well in a lot of cases we can do better online than what happened on campus.
Maurice: What are some of those degrees, are they mostly tech-related degrees?
Will Miner: No they're all over the place so we do have some tech-related degrees for our program or our partnership at UC Berkeley, [inaudible 00:04:14] science degree but we actually a lot of kind of our bread and butter as a company right now is education and social work degrees so we have a very big program at USC. We have a big program at Simmons College in Boston, we also have a number of nursing programs. So we have a nursing program at Georgetown so it's really over the place.
Maurice: Nice. What is a typical day like for you at 2U, I'm really curious to know what design looks like in a company like that.
Will Miner: Yeah so we are technology department which in terms of the company's head count is probably only 20% of us. We have a lot of the people in a lot of the different service roles. But the technology department runs a lot of traditional product, software product companies right. So we have product managers, we have product designers we have UX researchers, we have business analysts, we have engineers. So if you worked in a tech company in the last five/10 years it should feel pretty familiar, we have stand up everyday, we have design review. We have a chapter meeting, we have retros. I think specifically to me, my day is just meetings now. I say I see that kind of ironically but I actually do like it.
So I'd probably start the day going to a stand up or dropping in on a stand up that one of my teams is in. We have our own separate design sync which happens around 11 which we all pop into. I'll go out to lunch with somebody in the afternoon, we have a road mapping meeting or steering committee meeting that I'll be a part of. So it's all over the place, I go where I'm needed but as a whole it runs kind of like you put your traditional kind of tech shop.
Maurice: Yeah I'm the Head of Media here at Glitch and that's probably the biggest change from what my work days used to be like. It's pretty much all meetings now for the most part, [inaudible 00:06:32], I've got one one-on-ones, I've got catch up meetings, I've got meeting with this team and ... I have sometime in between to get things done. But I'm finding that was a lot of meetings, a lot of delegating, I'm still getting used to it I'll be completely honest.
Will Miner: Yeah, it takes a [inaudible 00:06:51], takes some time, there's meetings that i really like having like running, brain-storming meetings, [inaudible 00:06:57], sketching meetings, we do designs from time to time. Those are so much fun to run. But then those other meetings when you're budgeting, I do it but it's not fun for me.
Will Miner: [inaudible 00:07:10] what else some of the meetings that have, probably budgeting and that kind of stuff is probably my least favorite things but yeah. You get used to it. I've been doing this for a couple of years I think a lot of people ... I was reading article on Hacker News the other day about somebody talking about the transition from going from being an individual contributor engineer to managing engineers. And yeah it was a huge huge thread of people just like complaining about how terrible it is and how they miss [inaudible 00:07:42] stuff.
And it's exactly the same for design, when you are an individual contributor designer there's nothing better than getting in, get your coffee sitting down, opening up sketch just like cranking out some stuff.
Will Miner: That's where you really really derive a lot of your value as a designer and then when you switch to being a manager you have give that up. It's typically pretty painful, it's pretty painful for me.
Maurice: Do you do anything on the side to still keep that design muscle flex in a way?
Will Miner: Oh yeah, I think you have to or maybe you don't have to but I have to so I do a [inaudible 00:08:24] like random stuff. Nothing ... because it is inherently my leisure time, I let all my design bad habits come out right so I'll start projects and I won't finish them. I'll pick up stuff that I worked on a month ago and start again, I actually do a fair amount of programing all the sides so I end up building a lot of random applications that never see the light of day.
Will Miner: Photography, painting, I always have this dream of getting ... in college I took a couple of classes on wood working and I just have ... I live in New York so I just do not have the space for it. But my dream one day is to get back into wood working a little bit so yeah I mean that's a lot of how I scratch the edge. If you also ... if you talked to a lot of design managers they scratch that itch by giving really really good [inaudible 00:09:21] Power point DEX.
Seriously, that's when I have a presentation to make I crack my knuckles and I'm like, “Here we go, let's do this thing.” So yeah you get to do what you can.
Maurice: Oh my God that was a shot to the heart `cause that's me right now.
Will Miner: Yes.
Maurice: I'm putting together DEX I'm like, Oh boy I get to put on one page together, [inaudible 00:09:43] together. It's a kind of have a chance to flex that design muscle again so I feel you there.
Let's talk about teams now, as you mentioned you are Senior Director of [inaudible 00:09:53] 2U. You lead ... how many teams do you lead?
Will Miner: So I lead ... I have 13 designers that [inaudible 00:09:59] so the UX works in a matrix capacity. We have product [inaudible 00:10:05] who own obviously individual products and we loan out [inaudible 00:10:10] the designers to a product manager or to a project so I don't actually like the team I'm managing. I don't actually own any products.
Will Miner: I'm just responsible for hiring designers, mentoring designers, making sure everybody's playing nice and working together on the individual project. But I guess if I was to break that up in the teams, there's probably three kind of discreet groups on UX team.
Maurice: Okay, yeah we've had Asia Ho who you probably know she's a designer; US designer to you.
Will Miner: Yeah Asia used to work for me, Asia's great.
Maurice: Yeah, but to go back on teams, I'm really curious to learn more about this `cause as I mentioned earlier, I'm the Head of Media here at Glitch, we're starting to build our team right now and so I would love to pick your brain a little bit about what is it like. What's your process with building a team starting from zero, what do you take in consideration?
Will Miner: Yeah so it's actually for me to do this maybe in hindsight because I got very ... I know maybe this happens a lot in tech but I joined 2U in I'm gonna say it was June 2014 and I was looking back to my E-mail and there's an email saying “Welcome to you 45 day, sign up for your 45 day check in right with HR." And then I saw another E-mail three day later being like “Congratulations on your promotion to senior director.” So basically within forty five days I got put in charge of managing the whole team so to put it [inaudible 00:11:45]. I was totally thrown into management so all the decisions that I made were very in the moment things. I don't think I really approach it with a [inaudible 00:11:55]. You be looking back there's a couple of things, one of the most important things about basically starting a team from scratch things is really you right?
The team is gonna become an extension of yourself. For better for worse as much we try to cut out bias it's for humans, it's inevitably gotta break through so you're [inaudible 00:12:21] probably gonna start by hiring people that you like. I can't imagine people literally hiring people that they don't like, so you're probably gonna hire people that you like. So they are probably in some capacity going to be similar to you so be conscious of that and understand it like all of the good habits that you have and all the bad habits that you have and a all the good personality traits that you have and probably some of the bad personality traits that you have.
You're very likely to sort of replicate those in the people that you hire. So I think it's really important to think about that, be aware of it and at least to some capacity defend against it. How you present the team, how you look for people maybe how you interview folks. So that would be the first time, After that the next most important thing is like the first person you hire right. They're gonna set the tone for everybody else that joins the team, because if you think about it you traditional interview process, they are gonna meet you, they're gonna meet maybe some other folks that aren't on your team and they're definitely gonna meet the other people that are on your team.
So when you hire this first person like that is, that's you telegraphing to any candidates like this is a type of person that is on the team. This is what this team is about, this is your peer right? So making sure that first person shares the same value as you speaks well about the team. Has the skills that you maybe wanna replicate in a new person. I think those are really important.
Maurice: That's so interesting you mentioned that about how the team is an extension of you. It's something that really as I was doing my interview process hopefully I'm not giving away any sort of secret sauce by saying any of this but certainly yeah you do wanna make sure that the people that you bring on are folks that you'd like and I try to be objective to also make sure that they can also really do the job well. Actually my first tier ended up being two more people, which threw me [inaudible 00:14:34] a little bit because I was like oh I've got more than one person now so. Making sure that they can work well together, they play well off each other and make sure that I'm hopefully serving both of then well.
Also it's kind of key but I see what you mean about how they set the tone because you wanna make sure that of course they can work together but also you don't want to rock the boat. You don't wanna bring someone on that might be able to do the job well but then they clash with everyone else that's an expensive mistake to make.
Will Miner: Yes, something that I read early on is that as a manager hiring is literally the most important thing you do, it's `cause hiring well either will make or break the team that is probably the riskiest part of running the team because like really. You don't get to know what a person is like, the three maybe hour long conversations you have with them. I think about that, if we were to like make any other sort of decision based of three one hour conversations. You're gonna spend like 40 hours [inaudible 00:15:47] person every single week for the foreseeable future, so it's definitely a challenge for sure.
Maurice: One thing that I saw as I was going through your website of course learning more about you and I think this also plays well into teams is this concept about a user manual.
Will Miner: Yeah.
Maurice: Can you tell me how you stumbled across that?
Will Miner: I didn't stumble across it, somebody in my team stumbled across it and I showed up to one of our team meetings and she was like, “Everybody we're doing this.” So we went out and filled out and I was actually pretty skeptical of it when I first did it. But it was pretty game changing in terms of just how I understood people to perceive me and also just like putting to paper things I really cared about. So yeah the user manuals I just came across it.
Maurice: Yeah there was a part there in your user manual that I read that I really liked which was about how people. About what people misunderstand about you, you say people mistake my stoicism for indifference, inattention and judgyness. People mistake my introversion for hostility and I think that is so important to put out there because often times we can be misunderstood in the workplace for qualities that can easily [inaudible 00:17:12] misattributed to things we can't control like being [inaudible 00:17:16], can't control that.
Will Miner: Nope.
Maurice: That's how you show off the work everyday and there may be certain just ways about you that are your personality that people could easily misattribute to you because you're a black guy. You know what I mean?
Will Miner: I totally know what you mean, I don't know ... pretty sure every black man has experienced this but yeah, I'm 6'1 [inaudible 00:17:43] small person and I'm conscious about scaring people on the street if I walk too close or if it's dark out right so. My stoicism might come across in a work setting as me not caring or me being checked out so that's something I am always always always conscious of.
Maurice: Yeah I started doing one-on-ones with my team and I kinda heavily borrowed from the one on one concept from Laura Hogan. About asking them what makes them grumpy, what are the pains I need to be aware about [crosstalk 00:18:17]. Your working style and your working preference because what's different with the way I'm working with my team is that we're remote so they're in New York city, I'm in Atlanta.
Will Miner: Yeah.
Maurice: So were communicating through either Slack and Google Hangouts and Zoom and such and I was actually up there the first week that they started so they were able to work in person together. But the default mode is remote so that adds another later of complexity to it because we're not seeing each other really everyday and so I think there has to be a large level of trust there. Well there is a large level of trust to make sure that they are doing the right thing and of course they trust me to make sure that I'm setting them up for success.
Will Miner: And this is something we haven't even approached yet is [inaudible 00:19:03]-.
Will Miner: That's just something we haven't even broached yet, is remote teams, because that's one of the things that as we're growing as a company really, really, really quickly. New York I think is ... Just for a lot of reasons isn't probably a sustainable place for us to be forever. Like we'll always have an office here, but we need to just grow into other geographies.
That's I think kind of one of the next challenges for the team, is like how do we pivot this culture, which is very focused on getting in the same room, whipping out a whiteboard, hallway conversations. How do you pivot that into a remote inclusive organization, right? Because we have offices in Cape Town, South Africa, we're going to have an office in Denver. We have offices in California, but we don't have any designers there yet, and that's something that we're going to have to figure out.
Maurice: Yeah. It's a interesting challenge. I mean with ... Here at Glitch, I think we're about half remotes. So I think a lot ... I think pretty much all of the leads are remote, with maybe one or two being an exception, being in New York. So it's a interesting challenge definitely.
I think what has to happen above everything, of course, is just active communication. We have a gradient of communication in our employee handbook, which is available online so people can check it out as to sort of what the modes are of how we communicate to make sure that we're always kind of staying in check with each other or staying in touch with each other, because for some people that start at a place like this, and they're working remotely, it may be their first ever remote work experience.
They're used to being in an office, seeing someone every day, being able to check in, and it's like now you're working from home, and you have to exercise a large amount of self-discipline to focus on the work at hand. Sometimes people can do that, sometimes maybe they have to go to like a coworking space, or just somewhere else that's not their apartment or what have you. Their apartment or their house or something.
So it can be a big challenge, but communication I think definitely is key, and making sure that you have different modes set up so people can know that just because you're online doesn't necessarily mean that you are available. That you may be heads down working on something, or if you put something out there for review, maybe we can get to it right away, maybe we won't. It's a delicate balancing act I think and it's not something that I think comes easily. It certainly takes a lot of work to kind of accomplish that.
Will Miner: Yeah, for sure. We constantly are ... Maybe a lot of design teams suffer from this, but our tooling, whether it be communication, whether it be design, is changing every six months. So it's a ... It also just the norms on those tools, right? We instituted a no @ channel rule, right, in our UX channel or our UX private channel and my people are really strict about that. Like you'll get your hand slapped if you @ channel the whole team anymore. So yeah, that stuff is a ... It's a challenge for sure but I think we have teams actually @ to you that are fully remote, and it seems to serve them really well.
Like I ... So I run our UX organization, but in our marketing or we have a more traditional call for a quote unquote creative team. Who, they have a creative director and she has a whole bunch of in title graphic designers and copywriters that report to her. And they're, I think completely remote. And it's really interesting how every once in a while I'll go drop into their side channel and see just how they're working together. And they're making it happen. I think it's definitely in this market where hiring really good design talent is just always a challenge. It's a good kind of lever to have in your back pocket, if you need to pull it.
Maurice: How do you ensure that you're keeping diversity in mind when you're building teams?
Will Miner: So how do I keep diversity in mind? I think ... I mean the first step is to keep it in mind.
Will Miner: I think because hiring is so difficult, you kind of have to have a certain amount of grit and perseverance to actually build a diverse team. If your goal and your not ... And also let me be clear with it. I'm not building a diverse team for diversity sake or just to say I have a diverse team. There's a lot of value specifically to our business to having a diverse team. Our students are very diverse. They come from all over the United States. All races, creeds, whatever.
It's important for the team that is researching and designing for that population to in some capacity represent that population, and I think in a lot of ways maybe share some of their experiences. So for ... That is my business reason for having a diverse team. I also just think it makes it a better workplace to have a diverse team, but in terms of keeping it in mind, yeah it's being thoughtful about it, right? I know with my team I was intentional in, I wanna build a diverse team and I'm gonna really actively push my recruiting team, seek out, tap my network to find people that are diverse and get them into the pipeline. And I think that was kind of the biggest thing for me is just being intentional about it.
Maurice: Now one thing, of course when we talk about diversity, we're talking about racial diversity, gender diversity, et cetera. You heading up UX, I think there's a lot of also diversity just within that profession of UX. Of course, you've got the huge rise of UX design which I think is come up over the past five to seven years, but then there are a lot of other kind of UX positions that are cropping up that I'm hearing about. One in particular, the UX researchers and we've had some UX researchers on the show. We've had Melissa Smith over at Google, we've had Jordan Green, Shaw Struthers, just to name a few. And it seems like this is another position that has been on the rise. How do you work with UX researchers within your team?
Will Miner: UX research ... They ... How I would describe what they do? So they do kind of two things in our team. There's an exploratory aspect of their work and there's a tactical aspect of their work. So I'll explain what that means. Exploratory means that we have a really kind of sprawling business that does a lot of different things. If you talk to our investors, a lot of times your just ... Were described as tech enabled services, right? Where we have a service that is enabled by technology. So there's typically a person that works to you and we have built technology both for the user and for the employ it to you to facilitate that relationship and facilitate that service. We have tons of these different services.
So from a product understanding perspective, or from a user perspective we have tons of blind spots in terms of what it's like, for instance to be placed in a hospital when you're getting your masters degree in nursing. We have blind spots in terms of in this one degree ... We have 35 plus degrees at this point and this one kind of degree that nobodies really thinking about right now. How is the admissions process being facilitated? What is it like to be a student going through that process. So we have UX researchers going out, really just uncovering those blind spots for us as a product organization and that's a combination of just talking to the people at the company that do that work. It is obviously speaking, just doing interviews, doing connectional inquiries with folks that ... With students and faculty that are in those roles or in those programs. And then what they do is they bring back those insights, kind of bundle them up, and we present them to our product organization as this is an area that is right for a product opportunity. Right? And then it'll be on the product management team to figure out how do we service that need, or how do we solve that problem. So that's the exploratory side.
The tactical side is ... There's a lot more collaboration with designers. And tactical really means just usability testing. So when we have a product that is in development or in design the UX researcher will pair with a designer to either run the usability testing process themselves or help recruit students and faculty or maybe just guide the designer through testing his or her design. I think it's ... And what I'd say to is the reason research is a part of UX, and the design team specifically is I think there's a lot of really good knowledge sharing that happens. When you have these people that are out in the field, collecting insights, talking to students and faculty constantly, percolating those insights back to the UX team. Even if it doesn't directly affect their product, it's helping to build empathy and understanding with the rest of the design team.
Maurice: How do you include accessibility as a part of that design process?
Will Miner: Yeah, so as an education company, accessibility is ... We're both legally required to do it, but also morally required to do it. Right? So it's a huge, really important part of what we do. So accessibility works its way throughout our process on the exploratory side of things. We have researchers. We actually have people on the accessibility team that do this full time now, but they're just going out into the community to the people with disabilities community, talking to them, understanding their needs, seeing what are the opportunities for building software that would assist them. These folks are also typically experts in assistive technology so this is screen readers, zoom text type stuff. We have a designer on our team who's huge, huge, huge evangelist for accessibility so he's constantly on the lookout for patterns that were ... Designs and components that we're building, making sure that they're hitting all the WCAG 2.0 guidelines, but also just making sure they make logical sense from an accessibility perspective.
So we're doing reviews. That's something that we bring up in design cred. We do trainings on accessibility probably once a quarter with the whole team. And then on the engineering side of things, those same trainings are happening for the engineers, but also we're doing QA when something is actually built to make sure it syncs up correctly, is intelligible to somebody using assisted technology. And then once it's released, we get feedback and role it back into the product development cycle. So it's a pretty ... It really affects the entire process for us.
Maurice: Yeah, sounds like its a pretty iterative process. I'm really excited to hear that it involves engineers to 'cause so often when you hear about accessibility it's strictly from a design perspective, which when I guess you think about it, of course engineers have to be a part of that as well.
Will Miner: Yeah, they're building the thing so if they don't get it right, it's not gonna be accessible at all.
Maurice: Yeah, it's not just about certain color matching things, it's also can a screen reader go through it properly.
Will Miner: Yeah, I mean is a heading structure right? Is our links properly set up, do images have all text? Like all that stuff is very developer intensive.
Maurice: So we've spent a good bit of time talking about your work at 2U which I think is amazing, but also I wanna shift to just talking about you Will Miner, as the person. When did you know that this was what you wanted to do for a living?
Will Miner: It took a really, really long time. So let me go way back. When I was growing up I was a creative kid, but I never really ever considered a creative profession as something that I could do. My father, I guess is/was, he's retired now, but he was an architect by training and by profession. So he's ... I grew up, he had all these different architecture books and design books all that kind of stuff. And I would page through them and I always thought they were super cool and he's a creative guy so I was always really exposed to that, but maybe a lot of other [inaudible 00:32:30] could relate to this, but my father was just like, "You are not going into architecture. You can do biology, you can do engineering preferably". Yeah, so they were definitely trying to push me into way more STEM things. I remember my father saying there is no way your mother and I are going to help you with college if you get a degree in architecture. Do not get a degree in architecture. So-
Maurice: Wow. Where'd that come from?
Will Miner: I think he just like ... I don't know if you interview architects, but architectures, it's a hard industry. It's a ... People like architects don't get hired in the way that they were I think 40 years ago. It's just definitely changed a lot. But anyways so I always had that in the back of my head and something that ... So like I said I was always creative though, and I would end up weirdly, not weirdly but applying design, but I didn't know it at the time to a lot of the different hobbies that I was in. So this is like ... I don't know if other people share this experience, but I remember playing video games, right? And I spent so much time in the customization areas of every single game that I played, right.
I played the Sims growing up. I don't think I ever actually played with the characters in the Sims. I spent my entire time building houses in the Sims. Yeah, I would build houses in the Sims, I played Gran Turismo and I would spend all the time customizing the cars. And then one of the hobbies I had in high school, I was really into biology and I got really into this gardening and plants. It was crazy. We had a deck at our house and I just have some many different plants growing in the back of the house and so naive 17 year old, well Miner was like, I like plants. Let's go get a degree in plant science.
So I applied to Cornell, I got in in plant science which was thinking back, it was kind of a crazy major to be apart of, but I was like, "Sounds like a good idea." And I got there and the first semester I made a friend. Her name was Carla and she was in the design program. She was in the interior design program and we became friends. We'd be hanging out and I was seeing the stuff that she was doing in class versus the stuff that I was doing and I was like, "Oh, no, no, no. You don't actually like plants. You just like Bonsai and you like horticulture and you like the aesthetics of plants. You don't actually like growing plants." So I started taking classes in the design major Cornell and by the end of freshman year I was like, "This is what I'm gonna do". So I switched over freely with just knowing that I liked design more than I liked plant science.
So I didn't really have a career in mind at the time. When I was in college, your relatives ask you, "What are you going to do with design? That's weird". And I would tell them, "Oh, I'm going to become a lawyer or something". That was my way to end the conversation about that. So I did that up until I really didn't start thinking about the jobs until junior year of college and I had a bunch of random internships not related to design. And by senior year I was like, "All right. We gotta get a job." So I actually started looking for a job my senior year. And one of the things ... I guess I got lucky in that I ... One I realized that all the jobs that I wanted to get at the time that were related to my major actually required a masters degree. So I was a design major, but I had a concentration in something called human factors and ergonomics which is-
Maurice: Oh, yeah. I'm familiar with that.
Will Miner: Which is like the precursors to UX in a lot of ways. So I was looking for human [inaudible 00:36:42] ergonomics jobs and they were like masters degree minimum. So I was like, alright you need to get a master's degree. Luckily my program had a plus one year where you could stay for an extra year and get a master's degree. So I was like, "Perfect. What I'm gonna do is I'm going to stay for this extra year and get a masters degree." So then my kind of job search senior year switched from looking for full time jobs, looking for internships. It's interesting looking back at the crossroads that you encounter about like my job could have been this or my job could've been that. So when I applied for internships I got two call backs. I interviewed at two places. I interviewed at Boeing for an ergonomics job. So like literally walking the floor of a Boeing factory in Seattle and making sure people weren't hurting themselves. Or I got a job as a human factors engineer at Intel, which was gonna be essentially a UX researcher. Helping to research some of the products they were building internally. Needless to say, I got the Intel job and did not get the Boeing job and that's kind of the first time that I realized okay, this is a thing that I can do. And yeah, I went out to move to Oregon for the summer-
Will Miner: And yeah, I went out to...moved to Oregon for the summer. Did a whole bunch of usability tests, you know, worked with the probably one of my favorite bosses, her name's Faith McCreary, on her team. She's like a principal engineer now at Intel. And I learned a ton about research, ethnographic research, usability testing. Came back to school to get my master's and the woman who, not Faith, but another woman who was actually my manager, called me. Was like, "Hey, we got open position starting next to June. Do you want it?" I was like, let's do it. So, that kind of launched me into it. So I guess to answer your question, when did I first know?
I think I first knew when they called me and they offered me a job, to be a human factors engineer. Cause that was the first time that it felt real. Like I, before that I just...there wasn't... I didn't know anybody else, in my friend group or in my family or in my network, that was going into this industry. I just kind of, you know, it seemed like something that was there and frankly I'm really happy and lucky that I made it here cause I love it.
Maurice: Yeah. I mean it certainly sounds like it's a field that you are really passionate about and that you certainly put a lot of thought into, not just kind of your role in it, but also how you can like mentor your team.
Will Miner: Yeah.
Maurice: And bring other people into it as well. You talked about a master's, you also have an MBA, from the University of North Carolina. Why did you decide to get an MBA and not say an MFA or something like that?
Will Miner: Yeah, so, so not yet. I'm almost done. I have one more semester.
Maurice: Okay. Well, I mean knock on wood, you know, it's coming-
Will Miner: I know it's coming. So, why did I get an MBA? The really simple reason why I got an MBA is that, to you, one of the amazing benefits that they give us as company, is you can take any of the master's degrees that we partner with, for free. They reimburse you for the tuition.
Will Miner: So, of course I was gonna take advantage of that. But here's what I say is, yes you can take advantage of it, but like getting a master's degree is not a joke. Like it is-
Maurice: Oh, it's not. Not at all.
Will Miner: This is a lot of work. So, it wasn't something that I entered in kind of casually. I think the reason that I got it was actually, besides it being free, there's two fold.
One was, I'm the...I was and still am the head of UX at our company. So, you know, you always read about like don't trust a product manager who doesn't use their product, right? Like, this was me using our product and I made sure when I did it, like I'm gonna be immersed in this, right? I didn't take any shortcuts. I just like... I went through the exact funnel that a student would go through. I applied the way a student would. I took all the classes the way a student would. I really have experienced what it means to be a student in our programs firsthand. And I have...like you don't, like, you can say you have empathy, but until you really do that, you know, exam at 9:00 AM on a Sunday when you wanna do anything else, you have not felt what it's like to be a student in one of our programs. So, that was the first reason.
The second reason why an MBA specifically is, I think especially at my level, and it may be a lot of other design leaders can kind of emphasize, empathize with this. People like to keep designers in a box. You know, I can't tell you the amount of times where I've been told by like, you know, business quote unquote business people that, don't worry about that. Like, just don't worry about the numbers. You know, just focus on the design, you know, like don't worry about the constraints, right? And I think, you know, one design is about understanding the constraints and you know, designing within them, right? So obviously I do wanna know the numbers. I do wanna know, like if this design decision is gonna make, you know, this thing cost a lot more money or if it's gonna save us a lot of money.
And I also wanna credit for that, right? So, I wanna understand kind of a business side of, you know, the products that we're producing and also just kind of wanted the seat at the table, right? Like I want, you know, I wanna be able to, you know, look at a balance sheet and understand what it means. I wanna understand, you know, why our company, you know to use a publicly traded company. Being an MBA in taking corporate finance has explained so many of the things that we do, just even down to the tactical, like, why do I have to help with capex, right? Like it's short for capital expenditure, but it's this huge finance thing, which is really important to the accountants in our company and to Wall Street.
But as a designer, I'm like, I don't know what capex is. Like why should I care about that. As an MBA, I understand why I should, why I and the team should care about capex. So it's just been a really interesting, you know, experience in terms of learning how our company works, how businesses work and how I think design fits into that business and how it can contribute.
Maurice: Yeah, I totally understand the thing about making sure that you kind of have a seat at the table. There's someone who we had on the show a while back, his name is Douglas Davis and he's a designer to create a strategies. He's in New York actually and he has a book called Creative Strategy and the Business of Design. And one of the things that he really tries to preach and let designers know about is that it's not just enough to kind of show up at a company and do like an in house role or whatever. And that is not to say that's not important, but if you want to level up your skills and you want to go further in your career, like you have to consider the business of design and that includes, like you said, knowing marketing, knowing you know, finance, knowing those things so you can be able to speak with conviction about design decisions that you might make. That it basically comes from a place of authority and less about I guess just feeling or anything like that.
Will Miner: 100%. Yeah, I couldn't agree more.
Maurice: What advice would you give to somebody that wants to follow in your footsteps? Like someone's listening now through this interview and they're like, man, I'm trying to be where Will is at, what advice would you give them?
Will Miner: Where Will is at? I think a couple of things. One, don't say no to things. Like I think there's a... I've read on Twitter like people both giving that advice and both being like, that's terrible advice. You should say no to a lot of things, right? Like, say no to things is what defines you, right? I think for me though, what has helped me be, kind of get to where I am, it's just being open for new opportunities. I'm a really deeply curious person I think, and just being excited to chase down whatever leads, you know, present to you and saying yes to things, is one of the best ways to just get exposed to more opportunities. I think like example this is like when even the job, right, that I got at 2U.
I came as an individual contributor. I got the job and I actually, to be honest with you, I didn't know anything about this company. I never heard about it before. I just took it and I said yes, you know? I was like, let's go do this. Let's see what happens. Like we keep our options open. If you wanna leave, you leave. So that led to me coming to the New York, which was kind of the first step. The next one was when they offered me a promotion. I had no idea what this was gonna be. I was actually at the time interviewing at other companies and I kinda just blindly said yes to it. I had no idea what I was getting myself into and that kinda happened. All of you know, all the speaking engagements that I've done or all the writing that I've done or things that I've been on, you know, I just kinda said yes to them.
I'll say like this podcast is a good example. You reached out to me and I was like, it seems cool and I just said yes, and we're doing it and I'm really happy that I'm doing it now, right? So it's, I think just being open and being ready to, you know, take opportunity, seize opportunities when they're presented to you, I think is really important. And I think also, I think for me too is... I would call it like lateral thinking.
Will Miner: So I, you know, I think in terms of like knowledge, right? Like you could have really deep knowledge in one subject or you can have a lot of knowledge and in a lot of different subjects. I am like firmly, I think, in the latter category. I have some, I have deeper than most knowledge in design, but like I am not as a person just like all in on design.
I am not an expert in typography. I do not know, actually I do know what the ligature is, but like a lot of those terms just like I don't know about them like extra, and don't really care that much about. But I do have a lot of horizontal knowledge in a lot of different things and I think that's where a lot of my value comes from, is like I can't talk to you about, to a certain extent typography, but I can also talk to you about, you know, the CAPM model for finance or I can talk to you about, you know, how our marketing analytics funnel works, right? And I think, you find the value at the intersection of those things, right? You find value in being like, talking about capex earlier, right? Like it's a huge pain point for our accounting department.
Or what if you brought a designer in that understood capex and could help them redesign that process? You know, in a human centered way. We're actually doing that right now and it's been a really cool project that's both been really good for our employees but also saved the company a lot of money.
Will Miner: I think having a lot of broad knowledge that you can find the intersection of those things is, has been one of my keys to success, for sure.
Maurice: Where do you see yourself in the next five years? Like what comes next after head of UX for you? What do you think is the next thing?
Will Miner: Yeah, actually when I wrote that or when I wrote to you about this, I was at the beginning of the interview process for a new job and it actually just wrapped up on Friday and I actually am happy to say I got the job.
Will Miner: So I'm actually-
Will Miner: I'm actually gonna be leaving, running the UX team, saying it to you. I'm switching to becoming a general manager for one of our programs. So basically it's an operations role where I am gonna be responsible for kind of the P&L for an entire degree program. So it is not design, it's not technically not in tech. It is like firmly in the business part or like quote unquote the business part of our company, right? The reason that I'm doing this, cause I think someday I do probably wanna come back to tech because that is kind of where my heart is. But, the reason I'm doing it as a designer, especially in a company like ours where software is a part of it, but like we're, like I said, we're a tech enabled services company.
So the services aspect of it is really important. As a designer though, like you kind of, hopefully you aspire to like design everything, right? You want to design the whole thing. I don't just wanna touch technology, I don't wanna touch how people relate to the technology. I wanna touch how people were communicated to about the technology. I wanna own kind of that entire customer experience. And from my kind of vantage point in the UX team, in the technology department, I was always in our...my team was always gonna be barred from kind of breaking out of the box of tech. Right? So what I, kind of my mission with this new role is, you know, bringing design to a part of the company that, or bringing a design mindset and the design background to a part of the company that has never had design applied to it before. Right?
So, when you hear like maybe it's a buzzword of like design led companies or like a company like Airbnb, right? Where I think either CEO or a couple of the co-founders were like... they were designers. But they're CEO's now and they're like obviously squarely pivoted to business. I think that's in a lot of ways what I'm doing, right? Like Airbnb, their whole DNA is, you know, at least what it appears from the outside. Their whole DNA is about creating these incredible experiences for their customers. And I think that comes from, you know, having a background in design. So I think, kind of the next step for me is like, honestly breaking out of design and getting to a place where you have even more influence. I would say, probably even more influence over the entire experience that you can actually design it, right? I think it's sort of this like...it's kind of ironic I guess, right? That in order to really design you have to stop being a designer. But I think that's the case that in a lot of companies.
Maurice: That's pretty profound.
Will Miner: Yeah.
Maurice: No, no, seriously. It is. I mean, of course, like I said before, congratulations-
Will Miner: Thank you.
Maurice: On the new gig. But no, it's really profound about design cause that's something that I keep bringing this back to myself but, I mean, I technically don't really design that much anymore. I mean, I've been the head of media here now at Glitch only for just a few months, but even before then, the work that I was doing was sort of less discrete design and I was doing more business development things, where I was doing some like sales related things or marketing related things. And now, I mean, we're hiring designers and I'm gonna be, you know, managing those designers. But it's such a interesting thing. Like, yeah, I feel like I'm... I feel like it's designed in a different aspect. You're less about designing a digital or a physical kind of object, but you're designing a team, you're hopefully designing an experience designing a department.
I'm trying to abstract this as much as I can to kind of justify that I don't have like design in my title, you know what I mean?
Will Miner: Yeah.
Maurice: But yeah, it does feel that sort of way. I liken it, this is a really geeky metaphor, I liken it to building like a team for a role-playing game.
Will Miner: Yeah.
Maurice: Like you need to have a tank and you need to have a healer and you need to have, you know, your DPS or whatever. So you wanna make sure that, you know, you can't just have a team full of tanks-
Will Miner: Yeah.
Maurice: That's not gonna work. Like you gotta balance it out.
Will Miner: Is that a geeky metaphor?
Will Miner: I totally understand. I played way too much World of Warcraft. So, I totally get it.
Yeah, no, it's a... and I don't wanna say this is true for every company, but yeah. When you're, like think of any designer who works at a tech org, that has product managers, like the product manager is the one that like sets up the constraints, right? If design is about constraints, why wouldn't you wanna be in control of those constraints, right? That is, the constraints are what are gonna drive what is possible.
Will Miner: So if you're in a position that you can control those things and define like where the guard rails are, I think that is a place of, like of true, maybe not true design, but maybe for me it's true design.
Maurice: Just to wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more about you and about your work online?
Will Miner: Yeah, so to the two best places, our Twitter, so it's WGMINER is my handle on Twitter, or my website, which is williamminer.com. So williamminor.com.
Maurice: All right, sounds good. Will Minor, I wanna thank you so, so much for coming on revision path. And first of all just telling kind of a lot about the work that you do at 2U and around UX. But, also really just sharing your personal story about how, I think it's important for our listeners to know that there's more than just one way to get into design. You don't have to have taken this particular route of, say going to an art school and then landing at a big company and that sort of thing. You can, that's sort of one of the good things about design. There's many paths into this industry and it's really up to you to kind of determine, you know, the best way for you to succeed. So I think your story certainly illustrates that very well. So thank you for coming on the show. I appreciate it.
Will Miner: Yes, it was great. This was also nice. Really appreciate it.