According to Girls Who Code, 74% of young girls express interest in STEM fields but only 26% of computing jobs are held by women. In our Women in Tech series, we dig into what drives some of our most driven employees to lead successful tech careers.
“Am I in the right room?” she asks uncertainly. Ni Ha’s patterned skirt and smart blouse speaks to her affinity for design before our conversation about UX even starts. She sits down and we dive right into a lively conversation about how she transitioned from a world-renowned broadcast media company to an Atlanta-based tech startup.
“My first job was at CNN as an online artist, creating graphics like quotes or maps that would flash across the screen as a story was being reported,” she laughs a little. “I started doing coding and animation for VizRT, a program that does real-time animation. Seeing things like the election touch screens and holograms we used for interviews with people who couldn’t be present in-studio were mind-blowing for me. A lot of designers don’t like to code, but those things made me want to try it out.”
Ni originally went to Georgia State University for education, switching first to mathematics and then settling on graphic design. She graduated with a graphic design degree and basic HTML skills, which led her to the job at CNN. However, it wasn’t until she started working on side projects for Lila King and Kelly Byrom, who went on to create HLN Digital, that she was able to explore the world of user experience design.
“When there was a position open on the HLN Digital team, I applied and they accepted me because of the work I did on a previous project for them.” Ni explains that she thinks of UX like a puzzle: “It’s new, challenging, and ever-changing. It’s a combination of design, which I love, and connecting the pieces of a puzzle so that the user has fun and becomes involved beyond just accomplishing their goals with your product.”
Her role at HLN Digital did more than just define her career trajectory, it allowed her to work under influential mentors. “Kelly was like a role model to me. She was a mom of three, and when you’re a parent you don’t have a lot of time, but she was able to balance that and have a life with her kids while maintaining a high-level position in the company.”
One of the biggest obstacles Ni faced transitioning into a more demanding role in UX was finding enough time to get everything done, especially after the birth of her daughter. “It is possible to have a career and be a mom, but there are things you have to give up.”
For Ni, the key to successfully balancing motherhood and a career is clear communication and cooperation with her partner: “My husband is also a UX designer and he understands the challenge. We split things like cooking or childcare when we’re working on projects. It’s hard to balance out having a family and learning something new. You can do it, but you have to have help.”
Ni joined the CallRail team in March after seven and a half years at CNN. She tells me that making the jump from a long term position at a large media corporation to join a tech startup was daunting. “It was kind of like a breakup, and it was scary. I took a risk going to a smaller startup, but I’m glad I did it. You get comfortable with what you know how to do, so coming here and taking my second serious job was hard but good for me.”
Ni’s approach to UX design starts with getting to know the user. She spends hours doing research on her audience before beginning any design work. “You have to have a nice foundation before you decorate the house,” she explains.
Her passion for design is clear as she talks about companies whose websites she enjoys using. They’re clean, easy to use, and feature a splash of color. When asked about the best piece of advice she’s ever received, she pauses for a minute before answering. “It would be something Stan Anderson, a graphic design professor of mine at Georgia State told me. He said ‘Think about what you like to do, and once you’re good at it, the money will come. Never think about the salary. Think about the quality of your happiness and what you like to do.’”
Although Ni recently made the move to tech, her advice for designers pursuing their dream job is hard-earned wisdom that applies to any industry. “Get your name out there. Especially when you’re young and don’t need childcare, it’s so much easier. Get to know people and how good they are at what they do so you can see where you need to be. Go to Creative Mornings, visit different design firms and companies. People like to talk about their company and see curiosity. Even if nothing comes out of it job-wise, it helps you set goals to get the job you want.”
From teaching herself UX design at CNN to joining our team here at CallRail, Ni works hard to achieve excellence in her craft. “I wish I started earlier. Especially before having my daughter, I wish I had jumped in and used my time a little better to explore and research.” Ni finds balance now by taking advantage of working remotely when she can and completing projects after her daughter is in bed. As a working mom who has learned how to prioritize both career and family, Ni minimizes external distractions in her life as much as possible. The one thing she does allow downtime for though, is binge watching the HBO futuristic thriller, Westworld.
“To minimize distractions, I canceled cable, made my husband cancel Netflix, now we only have basic cable. But a recent one I watched was Westworld since it’s on Amazon Prime, and we have Prime because of the baby so we can get next day delivery diapers.”