February 4th 2020
I can't wait for you to meet her. This is what my brand new colleague said to me, after I told her that I was meeting with Mariví (@marivinadal) during my very first week at SuperHi. It's now been months and she has become a familiar face: we "meet" as she contemplates dinner (tacos if it's Tuesday) while I contemplate breakfast on the other side of the world. On this particular day, she was working out of a castle in Stockholm (to be clear: a coworking space) - and we chatted about something other than work but not too far from it. This is a conversation about work in the context of change, ambition, love - how all these things interweave into the story of our lives. From almost dedicating her life to law and then to space exploration, to user research and CX, how ambition used to look one way but life is a series of second chances you give yourself. Now I can't wait for you to meet her too.
What do you do?
I’m the CX person at SuperHi. Customer Experience is a relatively new concept in the industry. Through user research and data analysis, it keeps track, and makes sense of all the information - both qualitative and quantitative - that pours in. In our case, it’s from students, but also from any person who has contact with SuperHi at any touchpoint. This industry is booming because it helps to gravitate towards a truly user-centric approach when making strategic decisions or to inform the team on possible pain points or opportunities that can be developed.
My end goal is that whenever you interact with SuperHi, you have a pleasant experience.
Tell me about your career journey. Where did things start?
Originally, I was in Mexico studying to become a lawyer, but I realized midway in my studies that my heart wasn’t there, and that I should pursue my true passion of becoming an astronaut and being involved in the space exploration arena. So, I applied to a university in Texas for an aerospace engineering program and got admitted. I thought that I was going to move there, but at the same time, I also got accepted to one of the top law firms in Mexico to start an internship. Only 6 people out of the entire country get accepted every year and I thought: maybe, I’m actually good at this. I’m already halfway there, I should finish it. That was a big decisive moment in my life.
At that same time that I went to Texas, I met a guy from Sweden, fell in love, and when I finished my law degree, since I was not very convinced about being a lawyer, I moved to Sweden.
What happened after you moved to Sweden?
When I arrived, I struggled to get a job. All the jobs I could find were sales jobs, and local people had an advantage because they spoke both Swedish and English. (At that time my Swedish was beginner’s level).
So for almost a year I was working in sales: yes, phone stuff. I considered going back to law. That was my backup plan: to be a lawyer. But I didn’t want that! I wanted to explore something else. So I endured, while I was looking around trying to figure out a new area that was interesting for me. And I’m glad I did not give up and went for the ‘safe’ option. I found out about Hyper Island, enrolled, and that put me on the path to startups and tech. It was a very practical and out-of-the-box learning experience. This was another big decisive moment in my life.
Hyper Island was great for networking, and I ended up being accepted for an internship at a renowned startup here in Sweden. I was there for a while, and transitioned to be head of social media.
Around this time, my new boyfriend - who I met at Hyper Island - and I, we started talking about the potential we had to set up a design studio together if we combined our very different and compatible skillsets (he’s a digital product designer, me gravitating towards user researcher). After some thinking, we decided to quit our jobs, and went on to found Nitevision, a digital product design studio in Stockholm.
What was that like?
We struggled a lot at first; it’s hard work putting together a business, getting out there and getting clients. We had the theory and some of the practice, but having to piece the entire puzzle together was another story. But the hard work paid off eventually, and once we landed our first client, it gave us confidence, and the process to get more clients became easier. The studio is still up and running and is going really well!
From there, how did you go from running your own studio to now also working full time at SuperHi?
I wanted to keep learning to improve our professional skills and better our offer, so I enrolled in SuperHi’s Foundation course in 2017 - and loved it! The support was phenomenal, and it was really motivating (fun fact: I really thought for some time that Rik was a bot, he always replied back so fast!). A year and a half later, I saw the job ad for the CX position, so I applied, and here I am.
In all honesty, I was not looking for a job when I applied. The studio was going well, but I was a fan of SuperHi because of the fantastic experience I had when - finally - I was able to connect the coding dots. So I told myself: if it’s meant to be, great, if not, it’s not the end of the world. Today, it’s been almost a year as a SuperHi team member, and I’m very happy here. Being a multitasker, I like to get my hands dirty, so I tend to find more motivation in a startup environment than one where I just have one path or feels more bureaucratic.
How did you end up learning the skills you needed to make these career changes? Specifically, how did you get into user research?
At Hyper Island, I was very focused on analytics. But when I joined the startup where I first did the internship and then where I became Head of Social Media, I stumbled upon a new area of interest: user research.
I had one hour for lunch, so there was this extra time where I was snooping around to better understand the product I was working with. I started noticing that they had a lot of archived data that I found really interesting, but it was so overwhelming to go through it. I tried to figure out what they did with that information but I didn’t receive a clear answer. A lot of people didn’t even know it existed. It was a lot of data stored from years from - at the time - more than 300 million users around the world (more than 400 million when I left). So, I started putting it together, making sense of it, and making it visually digestible. And started noticing patterns that were really interesting.
There’s something about been within a controlled, or framed environment, that makes you think creatively ’outside inside the box’. That’s why I think that providing the team with parameters of pain points or opportunities, to be “fixed” within an environment of certain constraints (time, resources, etc), enables the mind to work harder and sparks creativity.
So I asked the CEO if I could present my findings to the team on one of my last days as an intern. So I did, and it was a big hit. They loved it. When they came to me and offered me a position, I wanted to be in an area where I could be more in contact with this type of information. It was a challenging work, tedious for a lot of people, but once they were able to make sense of it, it was very valuable for the team. It helped to inform future decisions for different teams.
From law to aerospace engineering to user research, that’s quite a span. Can you talk a bit more about those initial career interests and how, if at all, they impact you and your work today?
I’ve always been interested in science and space. But I got this fixation of what success is and what people consider it to be, and somehow created this archetype of it being a female lawyer. In retrospect, I think that most of that decision was rooted in wanting to impress others. It’s such a young age to make decisions like that (neurological connections aren’t even completely forged yet!).
Here in Sweden for example, there are people my age just starting their degree. It’s very okay that they take a few years sabbatical because they really want to figure out their lives. Time is there. In Mexico, it’s a constant pressure: the younger you are in achieving success, the better. If you take one sabbatical year, it’s like what the fuck are you doing with your life? I got caught in that societal paranoia.
I always said that I hated being a lawyer, but having studied it, I can’t not think like a lawyer and write like a lawyer… and it has come in handy in all my jobs. I’ve been able to jump in and help doing changes to terms and conditions, create contracts, and negotiating with clients. It definitely has grown in me. I feel safe ‘lawyering’ around.
You’ve done the whole “quit your job” thing now and are here at SuperHi with a full-time role. What do you think you get from a job that contributes to what fulfils you at work? Why are you here?
I couldn’t be working at a casino, or a cigarette company, something that doesn’t align with my core values. It just doesn’t sit right with me, I wouldn’t feel proud of it. Of course, I can work with something that might not be completely my passion but it’s an interesting product (for example, it doesn’t harm our world or people’s health). But when you combine something that’s good for people, and you get to see how they flourish with it, that’s very special, and I think SuperHi fits that description.
Oh! And also the team. At the end of the day we are social creatures. We thrive from communication and contact, and having people that you can learn from and that you respect is important.
It’s important to have healthy relationships at work (we spend a considerable amount of our days -our lives! - with these people). And this can be especially challenging with a remote team. Knowing that I am working alongside good people, that I respect, makes a huge difference. It motivates me to do good work.
I hear that. Remote work, in my experience too, can actually be challenging. What have you learned about communication?
I think that no matter the industry or type of job you are doing, communication is key. I would say that not being afraid, or at least being more conscious about trying to overcome the shame of asking for clarification, has made a huge difference in the efficiency of the teams I work with, and the tasks that I personally have to accomplish.
Even what might seem like the most simple and clear things to agree on as a team, in a lot of cases, will be interpreted differently by other team members. The saying “every single person is a different world“ is true, and it reflects in how scenarios and words can be interpreted. So having everybody on the same page, starting with the basics, will help things run smoothly so that everyone can actually enjoy the ride.
You’ve had an unconventional career path. Has it been hard selling yourself in job interviews? What do you think has helped you?
Before, I used to be more stressed when applying to a job. I measured myself by whether or not I am accepted or not by the employer. And, I wanted to be accepted, of course. Now, I’m convinced that it should be an honest conversation between both parties, and if it’s not a good fit, that does not necessarily reflect in your personal or professional capabilities; it’s just not a good match.
So the most important thing for me, so far, has been the process of understanding who I am and what I want. You shouldn’t be intimidated by your interviewer, because that process is a two way thing. You should also be very comfortable in acknowledging what you bring to the table. And when you think you don’t know something - sometimes, you’re not the only person in the room that has that feeling, and I think we forget about that.
The fact that you don’t know something, doesn’t make you incapable, if you’re willing to recognize that and go ahead and learn new things and overcome that. I mean, that’s the way careers are built.
You don’t know everything to begin with, you just continue learning, that’s what we are here for, that’s life.
-As told to Ana Wang, December 2019. Transcribed and edited for clarity.
This interview is part of our Work in Progress series, a raw and real look at modern dream jobs, the often winding paths of career journeys and the job hunt process, as we explore the questions: what does it take to build a successful career as a creative? How does the marriage of creativity and employment work together? What does the path to fulfillment at work really look like?
We’re looking to share more stories of people employed in roles and jobs in creative industries - technology, design, art - around the world. Email [email protected] and tell us a bit about yourself and what you do.