From Intern to Researcher: Finding a New Career Experience

One-on-One with projekt202: Experience Researcher Jessie Webster

In this projekt202 conversation, Jessie Webster talks about discovering her passion and turning it into a career as an Experience Researcher.

Can you tell us about what you do at projekt202?

projekt202 Experience Researcher Jessie Webster
projekt202 Experience Researcher Jessie Webster

I'm an Experience Researcher, which I like to think of it as a “User Translator.” We're the ones who go out into the field or bring the users in, and understand what their motivations, what their needs, are. Even if they can't articulate it, that process of observation and interviewing helps reveal those things that can be especially useful in design and development.

You have a really interesting story. You started as a Marketing Intern and then came aboard as a full-time Experience Researcher. What led you to make that career move?

I had just transferred to a new university in Arizona and I knew that I wanted to come back to Dallas. I was looking for internships and I was a journalism major, so I thought, OK, marketing's not too big of a stretch, but it makes more than journalism. I was reaching out to family friends, seeing if they had anything, and a current client of projekt202 said, “Hey, you should check these people out." She put me in contact with [projekt202’s Vice President of Customer Experience] Jeremy Johnson and that's how it all started.

I had a wonderful time working with our Marketing Manager Hayley Parham and it was great. My very last week as an intern, I got to participate in the very first research boot camp.

What was that like?

We had a week of activities and classroom-type learning about projekt202’s research process, because it's really what makes us unique. They put together this big week-long boot camp for some people and I just loved it, everything about it. I immediately – I think it was the same day that it ended -- reached out to Jeremy and said, "Hey, next summer, I want to do this. How can I do this instead?”

Fortunately, I was able to come back and do that, and it was incredible. So much hands-on experience. Interning for projekt202 was great because they don't treat you like a normal intern. It’s more of, How can we help you develop professionally, but also how can we utilize you to do work for our clients? You're able to jump right in and do some really cool stuff, so that was awesome.

How have you made the move from your intern role to your full-time research role and what's that been like for you?

Honestly, the internship really prepared me for it. Like I said, it was real work from the get-go of the internship. I think it's funny that my first day of the internship and my first day of full-time work were almost identical, except with a different client. We were doing affinity diagramming, I walk in and they're like, "Hey, we can use you. Come here, help us with this." I was able to do that starting full-time back in January and it rolled onto that client, then another one and then another one and then another one, being able to get my hands in almost everything up to this point.

I don't think there's been a research project that's come through that I haven't touched since quarter one.

What project are you currently focusing on?

It's really kind of cool. It's a company that's pretty unique in the space. It's educational content management, basically. Not quite a website, but it manages the course and the exams and the students, but it's a lot more broad.

They're really focused on that exam and assessment part, because that's so important and that's space that user experience hasn't really touched yet. How can they go from that very physical process of a student sitting down in a classroom and taking an exam with a pen and pencil, paper, and they can do that digitally now? How do they translate that?

They had a nice product, it was really dominant in the market, but they just wanted to make it better. They just had this really strong, internal desire to be a better user experience company.

So they had the foresight to understand how important UX is, to involve the users and the actual people who were going through this training, right?

They actually extended the generative research. They kept doing more and more and more contextual inquiries because they kept finding such great stuff and they just couldn't get enough of it. Now we're into the design phase. Our typical research sessions have ended for the most part, but now we come back in and do validation work. We're able to spot check: Are we doing the right things? Are the designs going the right way? So far, it's been really positive.

Have you had any challenges?

I think the biggest challenge has been, I didn't come from an academic background that specializes in research or psychology or anthropology or any of that, and it's not really necessary for this particular role. You just need to have a desire to understand people and be able to empathize with them.

The other team members are helping you get to the level of that education so you feel more comfortable in the future running these types of things, correct?

Absolutely. This client was my first time running a validation test on my own. I'd been able to see them and aid in some of the other ones over the internship.

The ESI [Experience Strategy and Insight] team is just the best. We're small, but we're mighty. They're so helpful and so gracious, not just for helping me, the junior member, but for helping each other.

Everyone's an expert in one thing or the other, and they're always willing to lend a hand. If anyone reaches out on the communication platform and says, "Hey, does anyone have bandwidth? Can you give me two hours to talk through this with me?" there are always people who are raising their hands and jumping in. It's awesome.

What advice do you have for anyone considering a similar career change?

I think you’ve just got to start with having a love of people and a love of stories and you just want to go find them.

You wouldn't think that journalism would've been a natural fit, but you break it down to its components: What are you doing? You're going out, you're gathering information about people and you're weaving it together in a story that other people can understand.

Just finding those connections, no matter what you're trained in or no matter what you've done in the past, there's some connection back to user experience as long as you care about the people that you've been working with, or the people that you've been studying.

It all comes down to the people. If you care about that, then you can do this work.

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