My guest for this month's episode is Doug Collins.
Aside from being one of the most positive and generous people I’ve ever met, Doug’s UX work spans a variety of industries ranging from the financial world to sports entertainment.
He currently works as the sole UX Engineer at Trust Company of America, in charge of directing every aspect of the company’s online design and user experience presence.
And when he’s not working to make the world an easier place, he can be found hiking, cooking, coding, or writing about his experiences on his blog (URL below).
They say necessity is the mother of invention, and in Doug’s case, as you’ll hear, that’s true. You’ll also hear how he overcame some extremely difficult circumstances through belief, positivity and sheer will.
Here’s where you can find and follow Doug:
Speaker 1:0:08Hello and welcome to making us work to give you X podcast. I am your host Joan Anatoliy and our focus here is on folks like you doing real often unglamorous Eurex work in the real world. You'll hear about their struggles their successes and their journey to and through the trenches of product design development and of course user experience. Today my guest is Doug Collins. Aside from being one of the most positive and generous people I've ever met Doug's you work spans a variety of industries ranging from the financial world to sports entertainment. He currently works as the sole U.S. engineer at Trust Company of America in charge of directing every aspect of the company's online design and user experience presence. They say necessity is the mother of invention and in Doug's case as you'll hear that's true. You'll also hear how you overcame some extremely difficult circumstances through belief positivity and sheer will.
Speaker 2:1:06Here's my conversation with Doug Collins on making us work. So how are you.
Speaker 3:1:12I'm doing great. Thanks for having me on. It's great to be here always happy to get to make some new connections. And this is the first time we've had a chance to actually talk. We've had a lot of chatting online but always good to put a voice with a face so to speak.
Speaker 4:1:27Yes same here. Same here. And you know it's always a pleasant surprise to meet somebody who's sort of as vocal as you know myself I always feel like I talk too much but I really feel like you know we're sort of like minds when I see your commis and I see the advice that you give people in New York's mass community.
Speaker 5:1:49And so I don't know.
Speaker 3:1:51I just try to recognize that when I see it yeah you know for me at least you were actually one of my very first Buick's Twitter followers. One of the first people I found on my that was following when I first got into Twitter and you know was very pleasantly surprised to find you on the U.S. Mashriq community when I was over there seeing someone who actually set a good example of being open and available and looking to help people out was very good for me. I certainly have some experience but you know I'm not overly advanced so to speak certainly not to the level of career that you yourself are at.
Speaker 5:2:27You're not like you said you're not new I mean if they ruled on line is correct. I mean you've been doing this for 18 years.
Speaker 3:2:35Yeah well so I started doing web development when I was 15. Wow. And just kind of tinkered with it on and off since then I've been doing freelance projects work and that type of thing hasn't always been us focused. It's really only been over the last probably seven or so years they've really got a focus on on us. So you know very good. The velvet experience was kind of all over the place too. It's been a very varied career.
Speaker 5:3:06I mean you started out in development you started out on the technical side of things. How did you sort of transition over or slide into as the case may be you ex work.
Speaker 3:3:17Oh goodness well so initially I just picked up web development and sort of a hobby and did some freelance work. My very first Web site was for one of my friends dads that was a Web site that was so bad it was probably not even worth the money that he actually paid for one or two.
Speaker 6:3:37Yeah. We'll talk about that with any more.
Speaker 3:3:42But I kind of stuck with it and actually 2004 I got a job working with the Denver Broncos. Very cool. Yeah it was very fun. That was kind of my very first experience so because I was a writer for them but I also did web design work I helped out actually designing some of their newer sections that at that point in time that was very much the world of sort of the new open Internet where things were really changing you still wasn't really talked about or at least widely talked about as a discipline but it was something that you know making the site accessible and easy to use was a very big important part of the work we were doing back then. And I kind of actually tried to make it as a journalist for a while from about 2004 to 2009. I was out there writing and doing freelance work and that was a lot of fun. But in 2009 the economic crisis hit full force and in Denver the Rocky Mountain News shut down which meant that the market was flooded with these writers that were very talented had 20 years of experience and really willing to work for the same prices. So I ended up working at a call center at Nordstrom bank. Actually at that point in time which is the credit division of Nordstrom and it was just an interesting job. I was taking phone eye opening.
Speaker 7:5:01Oh yes.
Speaker 3:5:06Well I done customer service work before. I'd never really worked on the phone so I'd always were kind of in-store I had been an operations manager for Circuit City and that worked retail jobs at Sears and J.C. Penney's and that sort of thing. And those sort of interactions you know you're there face to face with someone and there's a certain level of respect for the most part that you get even that sort of base level of respect sort of deteriorates. Sometimes when you're talking to somebody on the phone and they don't have to look you in the eye and say these things and you hear the terrible thing.
Speaker 7:5:38Yeah I can believe that.
Speaker 3:5:42I will say to you though the Nordstrom customers were generally really really quite nice and actually I think because the clientele that they normally serve we probably have less of that than some call centers that. But we are still a credit card company. And that meant that we had to follow all the banking rules and regulations and get and receive very specific information to make sure we were making good notes on the accounts and sort of following all of these rules and at the time what we had kind of help us guide that was the site that was made and Microsoft front page 2004.
Speaker 5:6:17Wow blast from the past. I remember that.
Speaker 8:6:20Oh my goodness. Yes. And not a good bus.
Speaker 3:6:25The person who made it had had obviously they had done their best but it really worked fine and really help us with their job it took forever to find even the most basic information. You know we had certain types of notes that we were making on account the routinely that we'd have to type from scratch every time certain procedures we'd have to follow that you know if we couldn't find them quickly we have a customer on hold for you know four or five minutes what we were looking for these procedures do this. NEARY Yeah. A quick book so what I did was I started to make a tool to make my job easier. That would allow me to quickly find the things that I used most commonly access the sort of workflows and different pieces. And originally it was just for me I wanted to be good at my job. I wanted to keep moving up but I ended up showing it to a friend who said hey this is great can I use that. And mind you I was building this tool between phone calls using notepad and nothing else.
Speaker 3:7:24So it was a great learning experience because I had to find all sorts of different ways to code things with only notepad. You're a pioneer. Oh it was oh it was wonderful it was fun because they got to work on a really unique project and is actually something that over the course of about three or four years I showed it to my manager and eventually got a chance to pitch it to Nordstrom bank CEO who liked the idea so much you said OK go do it now which I really wasn't prepared for the right milliwatt Yeah I was like oh OK well I was quite ready for that and they put me in charge of creating this sort of new operational replacement for will be a cold or Quick Book which was the front page guide. So we ended up doing a custom coding sort of version of that for all the different departments for customer service and collections and fraud and that sort of thing which was my first real big shift from doing that sort of customer service type work to getting into the world of Unix because it was all focused on how can we make things faster for the customer.
Speaker 3:8:29And in the end we were able to knock off about an average about thirty four seconds per call which when you take thousands of calls per day that adds up to huge. Yeah. Millions of dollars a year in cost savings. So I have no idea if it still uses Nordstrand bank was sold I think last year too. I forget the large credit card company and most of the staff that I worked with was was laid off or left so I have no idea if it's still in use back there but I hope it is with a really good tool and something I was very proud of.
Speaker 9:8:58It certainly sounds like a pretty massive shift between where you were where you started right and especially the kind of work that you were doing in your accum and up to then that's a pretty huge leap. Yeah directly into not only coding and design on a different level but thinking about. Usability accessibility and user experience issues on a whole different level and what's really interesting to me about that is that I swear to you this is the third conversation I've had in about five days where someone has told me a story about how sort of in the wild west days of their their careers they happened upon a situation where what they needed didn't exist so they said OK I guess I'm going to have to build something right.
Speaker 3:9:43Yeah. And you know I think that's one of the main reasons why you see such varied backgrounds. Now it's starting to get into US rules because these great ideas can come from anywhere. And learning to code and learning to design to a certain extent. Yeah there are some natural born talent involved but a lot of that can be can be nurtured and can be learned. Absolutely yeah. There's a really wonderful opportunity for the people that are the problem solvers of the world to get involved and that's why I'm always encouraging people that I see out there to say you know who say oh you know I want to get involved I'm not really sure what I want to do. Get out there find a problem learn to solve it start working. Don't wait. Start now.
Speaker 9:10:19Absolutely and that's and that's the key right. That's one of the things that frustrates me endlessly is how discouraged people get about approaching design or approaching us because they say well I don't have the experience for that. I don't have the education for that. Of the chops for that and I think that's because the messages that so many people receive are all about the skill set they're all about the technology they're all about checking these boxes of OK I've taken these steps and now I can be a professional. Right. And the thing that you're talking about right the story you just told is the core of doing this work. It's how you think.
Speaker 3:10:55Absolutely and you know I think there's such a culture of education especially in the United States these days where you know you look at these job postings say oh you have to have a B.A. HCI or you got that data analytics experience that people look at and they just you go kind of immediately throw those job openings up when to say well I don't have that I can't do that. Right. But it's entirely possible to get into this line of work if you're willing to put in the work yourself. I have never taken a formal coding or web design class. Everything that I've learned has been entirely self-taught. And I'm very lucky. I acknowledged to be in the position that I'm at. But I think that my personal basis of being someone who likes to find problems likes to solve problems likes to make life easier for people and likes to see very good high quality design is what made me successful with kept me learning and those skills are out there and that drive is out there and so many people have wished that they would just take that step back and say yeah you know I can do that.
Speaker 3:11:59It's entirely possible for me to get into it because it is. You don't have to have that sort of you know set in stone education. If he can prove that you can do the work and understand the concepts and be successful you there's absolutely room for you in the industry. And you know I think kind of what you're saying with finding different stories out there. You know these great ideas can come from anywhere within the organization. That's kind of an incumbent on our employers out there to be listening for those folks as well. Because you know I mean what if the CEOs say oh this is a call center represented them I'm not going to listen to him. I'd still be back taking phone calls at Nordstrom bank. Right.
Speaker 5:12:38And it's a big part of the reason he's personally OK.
Speaker 9:12:41It's a big part of the reason why I try to chime in on the Mashriq community is the reason I wanted to do this private Facebook group that I have just feel like there's so much talent out there and some of it is sort of undiscovered unknown talent. You know if I hadn't been in situations where people with a lot of experience and in some cases very sort of high profile designers in particular took the time to talk to me and sort of dispel all the myths that I was carrying around in my head about what I was allowed to do. And you know based on my experience so far. Had it not been for that. I don't know that I would have done any of the things that I have done. And that's just never left me right. And like you I see a culture right now that is very intent on putting people in boxes.
Speaker 3:13:30Yeah absolutely. And you know as far as putting people in boxes. Absolutely. And even within the U.S. world there are somebody sort of different boxes that you can try and put yourself into the researchers you've got you know you see you designers you've got you know people that are very specialized and you know doing us testing us testers and even sort of within that there are all these different sort of niches and subjoin Rozum you know you want to focus on the virtual reality. You want to work for us with automobiles that don't have a lot of that sort of writing and attention around them but have huge growth potentials as well. So I don't think it's always bad to put yourself in a box. But there's there's a lot of opportunity out there if you want to focus on something but you never let somebody else decide for you what you're going to do with your career or what you're going to design or what direction you're going to be totally totally selfless.
Speaker 5:14:26Yeah I do you think for instance in your case what do you think was the combination of I don't know personal attributes that led you to this was the wrong word the sort of fearless in saying you know I'm going to do this and try this and you know you went to school for journalism. You had a job in a call center you sort of invented this piece which was your way into us. I mean what does it do you think this part of your personality that sort of allows that.
Speaker 10:14:55Well I think number one then I think the surprise to really any based sort of skills you need for us is you have to have a desire to make life easier and to help people not just yourself but really to help the world around you.
Speaker 11:15:09And I think at a base level that's kind of the basic thing that sort of led me to get into it because I saw a system that simply wasn't working. You know I decided that I was going to make something better and something that I could not only use myself but share with my co-workers. And beyond that I think there's an intense curiosity and a willingness to always be learning. As with anything in the tech world are our paradigms are constantly shifting everything's constantly changing as people. If you go on twitter and search for us you get a thousand articles just and you know the top 100 results. There's always new research being done there's always new writing. So that curiosity to learn and dedication to stand going to learn and teach myself and sort of stay at the forefront of technology to learn you know the best ways that I can help people and to keep my my skills and my career fresh. And I think finally just a determination that you know you have a good the need to stick with it. You know this idea that I had was killed officially for time by people at Nordstrom.
Speaker 3:16:19And I just refuse to take no for an answer. I didn't skirt the rules and I wasn't doing anything I wasn't supposed to be doing. But it was very determined that I knew that I had something that was valuable to add and I wasn't going to give up until I was able to make other people see the value. I know the way that I put it it first made it sound like an overnight success but it was not an overnight success. Nothing nothing ever. Yeah no no no. I think a lot of people especially see people that are new in the next world and they'll say oh you know this person got there without putting in a whole lot of work must be super easy. It's not easy but it is worth it. It was one of those things where I stuck with it. And it took probably three years four years before it was finally approved and I was given the OK to go ahead with it.
Speaker 7:17:08CONAN Did you hear what reason that was given.
Speaker 3:18:07So we did have a sort of a home for it to live on. So I was essentially sharing it from my computer giving people my IP address and saying if you go to this IP address flash fashion platform is what I ended up calling in. And you know going there you can use the tool whenever I'm I'm in the office and my computer is turned on and they didn't like that very much. Again I understand that but that was as much of a way to share that tool and get some eyeballs behind it and get some momentum going towards it and get people to really buy into it. So they kept going you know from there it became an issue of wealth if not everyone can use it and nobody should use it yourself included.
Speaker 7:18:49So sort of you didn't bring enough chewing gum for everyone.
Speaker 3:18:55Yes. So and then I think the the last no escaping me. But it was more along the same security lines of what I had talked about before.
Speaker 4:19:05Sony's one of these businesses you just got back up and said yeah but I was always able to find a way to sort of weasel myself back in.
Speaker 3:19:14And that wasn't because well I was a little bit because I was just sort of determined about things. But it was off because the value of the idea. Right. Everybody who saw this tool in practice liked it loved it wanted it work. They just couldn't figure out how to get it to work. And part of that was because the call center rep. I didn't have access to the people in our I.T. department to our development managers that sort of thing. So you know this was an idea that came up by this failed journalist in Haïti sitting there on the phone making between calls. So there was a lot of a lot of reticence with this. Yeah exactly. And the funny thing was is that my dad had actually worked for Nordstrom bank for probably 20 years before I started working there was very close to 20 years. I think it might have been 20 when he finally passed on but there are people in the building that had known me since I was knee high to a grasshopper. So while I wasn't totally unknown and I think maybe that helped a little bit. I still didn't know the right people in the organization to get this idea sort of up the ladder.
Speaker 9:20:19Yeah. How much curiosity do you think any of that is you.
Speaker 3:20:25Yeah I think so. You know technology is seen as kind of a young man's game. And now that my hair is starting to fall away a little bit especially with the I've got I've got a five month old at home who is accelerating the process.
Speaker 7:20:39But it's absolutely an adventure right.
Speaker 3:20:42Oh absolutely. He's a wonderful kid and a great adventure. But you know the hair is sticking around. I'm starting to starting to think about that and I've had conversations that my mother in law has a Q A tester for a medical device company companies she's in her 60s. There are people that most of the people that I work with here at the Trust Company of America are or are older than me and our development team. So I think there's this sort of view that as a young man's game but as sort of the younger and that sort of started the game are getting older were starting to become a much more receptive to the wisdom of a change is certainly right.
Speaker 10:21:20But I still think if you have two people you know somebody on the job is 20 and somebody on the job is 60 times you know the the job is going to go to that 20 year old. And I think that's the perception. You know technology is being something for a younger generation. I don't think that that's that's right by any stretch of the imagination. But I think that that's the reality that a lot of people face. And that's one of the reasons why people who are getting to us I say push as hard as you can on your career because by the time you want to be where you want to be by the time you get to 40 because there is no guarantees that you're going to get promoted on you know Paston security you know the way things used to be.
Speaker 5:21:59Certainly isn't there anymore. There's a large part of the early days of my career that I attribute really to sort of the concern of youth.
Speaker 9:22:10You don't believe that believing that you're right because I was at an ad agency when this little thing called the Internet came along and I could not convince any of these old men who ran the place that this Internet thing was anything more than a passing fad. Right. Right. They just they just weren't buying it. So I just sort of felt like well OK I'll show you this.
Speaker 7:22:38I jumped off the cliff. In retrospect I probably would have done differently. About 900 ways but. Oh absolutely.
Speaker 9:22:45I think that that belief to your point is tremendously important. And there are days you know I was pursuant to me answering questions or trying to fuel e-mails. I don't have nearly enough as much time as I would like for that stuff man. I just feel like. I always want to be a voice out there saying no. Do it. Believe in it to believe in it and believe in it do it right.
Speaker 3:23:10And any you ask yourself the question Well you know I don't know if I should know the answer is yes just go right here and here in Bronco's country we're all we're all Elway fans in his famous saying when he brought Peyton Manning on board is that there is no Plan B. Right. We're going for the Super Bowl. We're all in on Peyton Manning and if it doesn't work out it's going to be a rough few years. Right. You know fortunately having grown up in Denver and worked for the Broncos being a prophet and it worked out. But I think you have to have sort of that mentality sometimes you know especially when getting into a creative field that you need to go all in. You need to have that. OK. I'm going to make this work or not but I'm going to give it my best shot. And I don't have a fallback plan. And that was certainly something for me when I was at Nordstrom where I was I was in my fallback plan poison ivy.
Speaker 10:24:04So I knew that I was either going to succeed with what I was doing and sort of this new test you X or Elmore or I was just going to stay where I was I didn't really have have any other choice. And in the end I really didn't have any choice but to succeed. And I think that that sort of you know plan B mentality really helped me push my idea forward because I knew that if I was going to make it into sort of the better life that I wanted for myself that that was the most likely route and the route that I had the skills and opportunity.
Speaker 5:24:39How much fear was wrapped up in that. At least at times where you were sort of in transition or couldn't quite see the road ahead.
Speaker 3:24:46Well a lot of fear. You know for me that aspect of the story I don't always talk about and employment interviews is that I was I was homeless for part of it was part of that time when I was working at Nordstrom.
Speaker 12:25:01No kidding. Yeah.
Speaker 3:25:01It's not that I had you know any sort of drug or substance abuse issues or a mental problems was a lot of people associate with being homeless. I just made some bad choices. Sure I should say that that ended up being good. I actually met my wife shortly after I created my first version of this project and I didn't know obviously she was going to be my wife at the time she was in Colorado studying Divinity at the school of theology and decided that she didn't want to do that and about six months after I met her she said I'm going back to California. Fortunately for me Nordstrom had another office in California that was about an hour and a half away from where my future wife was living at the time. I just sort of picked up and left thinking OK well you know I'll stay with her for a couple of weeks and you know find a place to be out there not knowing just how horribly expensive it is to live in California. Yeah. And was just never able you know had someone working a very low paying low wage job with living expenses and that type of thing was just never able to save up enough money to actually get into place.
Speaker 13:26:07Being homeless is expensive and often those realize just how expensive it can be. Where did you stay. I slept in my car quite a bit.
Speaker 3:26:17It was a 1998 Ford Escort. It's not exactly the roomy Ed.. Yeah I slept in my car quite a bit. You know when I could afford a hotel which was maybe about half the nights I'd stay there and and if I was lucky enough to be able to go see my girlfriend and stay her place which didn't happen often our work schedules were kind of crazy and she was an hour and a half away from where I was working. I'd spend a night or two at her place but it was you know it was something that there was a lot of fear involved with it. And there was a lot of this sort of. I have one chance and one opportunity to make this work. And I saw that that tool and that trade is the ticket out of what I was doing and it would have been very easy for me to say no I'm going to focus on just making up the call center you know make a few extra dollars here and you sort of advance that customer service career.
Speaker 10:27:09But I have the will to stick with it as I'm not proud of obviously of the time that he's been homeless. I don't think anybody ever is. But I think it's a good story to share to tell people that you know regardless of where you are now you know things can work out. That's right. You know obviously I made it my career the woman that I chased to California eventually chased back to Colorado or at least drug her back to Colorado and and we ended up married we had a kid.
Speaker 3:27:36The I'm I'm in an excellent career now with a great company and wonderful peers and a great future in front of me and I own my own house which is great.
Speaker 9:27:46So all of this I mean it is an obvious testament to to belief to sticking with it. I mean you know you say maybe it's not something to be proud of. In a way it is OK because there are plenty of moments in life in general not just talking careers in life right that will knock the wind out of you. Oh absolutely. And the only way you ever get anything good is by finding some way to sort of hang onto that belief and work through it and push and say no this is it I'm going to make this happen. And it's the most cliche thing in the book right. The only time you fail is when you give up. But I think it's a really important lesson as well because it's easy to get disheartened it's easy to get frustrated it's easy to feel like this is never going to happen for me. But I think as long as you sort of power forward by and large is just not true what you want is out there right and you have to take advantage of those opportunities around you even in those moments that knocked the wind out of you.
Speaker 3:28:49Is there's still opportunity there's still a chance for you know for me. Yes I was living out of my car and not in that position wanted to be in but I had a ton of time on my hands and I spent that time working on what was a 7 year old laptop. In 2000 9 2001. You know building up my web development skills I go to Starbucks or McDonald's and sit on their Wi-Fi and probably know the staff for you know three or four hours learn what I needed to earn and study what I can study when I was at work to try and still sort of the next step of that piece.
Speaker 11:29:24So if you look around you and say even in these moments of darkness so to speak there's there's those those pinpricks of light that you can see and those opportunities that you have. There's always a way forward and you need to stick with it and you need to believe in yourself. And if I take anything from that time in my life it's that lesson of. You're absolutely right. Nobody can stop you but you. There's always a possibility of success until you give up.
Speaker 5:29:55That's right. And that's been certainly been my experience as well and if you do anything long enough. Right. I mean you've been doing this for a while. I've been doing this for a while but you also meet a great number of people in my case from a lot of different countries who have overcome some unbelievable circumstances to short of finding themselves in the professional world and not only get there and make it work but excel OK become you know the top of their game.
Speaker 10:30:25It's a be the variety that's out there in that respect isn't it. Yeah yeah and you know I'm sure much better than I do. You know I had the opportunity to travel to different places and speak in quite a few different countries. I'm sure you've seen quite a bit more for me. I'm a bit hamstrung because I'm stuck in Denver and I'm a I'm a team of one. There's nobody else on my team. It's just me down with one of the reasons why I got involved with the online community and found you and found your mastery and found all my you know my Twitter friends. And you know what users do in their community.
Speaker 4:31:02Sure. What a gift that is.
Speaker 3:31:04Oh absolutely. It's so it's so different learning a skill these days because there's all this poured out there. You know if I was trying to learn a new trade back in 1960 1970 it would be probably whatever books I could find at the library and whatever people within a few mile radius that I have and skills to teach me and build that up. Now there's so much that's out there. There's no excuse for not learning on your own. I mean you have that support and you have that guidance.
Speaker 5:31:28I agree. And I think there's also a trait that people carry from designers to actors to developers to everything in between. There's a natural hunger that's built into these folks and you know where they're just not resting. And I think that's important. You know it's it's just never feel like OK when I got this right I've been doing this long enough and I'm established now. And well I got this I don't need to know anymore.
Speaker 10:31:57I mean you can't you have to keep learning now and you have to keep pushing yourself to learn. It's not easy to say I'm going to learn something new every day. But if you're going to be in this sort of industry where the technology behind what we do is constantly evolving that the best minds at the forefront of where we work are constantly new people emerging with new ideas. If you make that decision that I'm I'm fine where you're going to stagnate and your skills are going to get old and you know eventually it'll be hard to keep your product and yourself sort of relevant. Which is why you know the first thing that I do I'm very lucky in that my my morning standups for work are about almost exactly an hour after I come in. And that first hour is always dedicated of course to catching up on emails and whatever else has built up overnight.
Speaker 10:32:46But also finding something that I can learn that day and whether it's an article that I read or somebody that I talk to some sort of communication interaction. I always make sure that I find at least one new thing every day. And you know that's that's the dedication I've made to myself to keep learning at least a 15 minute investment if I'm lucky and have nothing else to do. What's happened very often. Right. But you know maybe I could spend you know 45 minutes an hour on it if I'm lucky that day. But that's built into part of my routine and that's something I always recommend that people build in that time to build your toolset so that you are staying in front speaker routine.
Speaker 5:33:25How much of a set structured routine do you follow during the day and during the week.
Speaker 3:33:31Well it's sort of interesting here at Trust Company of America. The only U.S. engineers. So a lot of my routine is very much determined by me. I have a lot of freedom which is great in some respects and terrifying in other people a lot of people don't realize how hard it is to be self directed. It's a challenge. And I think having that routine is a big part of it. So you know we have certain meetings that come throughout the week that are always scheduled. But sort of the nature of what we've been doing. We had an old product that essentially was a desktop application that we were porting over to this new web app that we have that we're almost done with that we're literally finishing up sort of the last few features on that we're getting done. So a lot of this work I've been able to sort of be routine and say OK this is work that is coming from our old system where a lot of usability knowns.
Speaker 3:34:26So to speak or are there we know what our customers like we know what our customers don't like. We've been able to talk with them. It's not like building a new feature where you're starting completely from scratch Home Ground Zero. Absolutely. So you have built in those processes to say OK when we were bringing a feature over from you know our old application what do I need to do I need to talk to our customers talk to our relationship managers find out what they like what they don't like what's necessary to bring over and then get into my design process. Really going anywhere from the low skilled design all the way through are you know supporting our development and the appointment process sort of steps within there. But I've said that routine for myself just based off of what's worked well and it's certainly been trial and error with our new features we're starting to get quite a few of those. And it's it's been a challenge because we are working on new functionality. You have the unknown unknown you don't know you don't know what else is up there. Yeah and especially in a financial app world there's so much competition that there's a lot of differing theories on what works best and why that it becomes hard to sort of separate some of that out and you have to spend some time doing it and it's harder to have that routine.
Speaker 5:35:39So how do you get to the truth in those instances.
Speaker 3:35:41Well you know I think the first thing is I always ask why are you doing this right now. Because I was reading one of your Facebook posts about portfolios last night. And you know answering that first question of first and foremost why was this work done in the first place.
Speaker 7:35:59Why should I care about. Right
Speaker 3:36:00exactly. Why should I care about this. And you have to ask yourself the same question Why should my customers care about this. Why are we doing this. What goal are we trying to sell. And then you have to figure out OK well well how are you going to do this. What with tools and resources. Do I have available at my disposal. They're going to help me towards that solution. And sometimes depending upon you know your text back or where you're working you'll have quite a few more tools in them where you will have in other places you know for me I'm a bit hamstrung in that we don't have much in the way of of analytics so I can't go into our old application and say you know look at some of the analytics and say you know this is a potential place for pain. It has to be a lot of by necessity getting in front of users and talking with them which I still think is the best way to do it anyway because that's a big Blindspot otherwise.
Speaker 10:36:50And I don't think you can do us really without getting in front of your your users. That has to be part of the core of the process. If you're not talking to users they're really doing you iWork and you're guessing right.
Speaker 7:37:04You are right. You really are. No matter what you call it's definitely.
Speaker 10:37:10And it's one of those things where you know especially when we talked about working ahead in our organization what's been a big drive for us is sort of get ahead of our backlog and try and figure out what the features they have coming down the pipe. If I'm not involved early enough and they're coming to me you know a day before we get into our refinement areas and saying hey you know we have this particular issue that we've run across or you know we didn't think to involve you. Now we need your opinion and I can make an educated guess about you know what sort of might work. But I'm always there to tell them. I really appreciate being involved that got to get this Dimmy earlier because I can't do the research and work that I need to make sure that I'm giving a good suggestion unless I have enough time to actually work on it. Realistically for new features one or two days is not nearly enough time especially given the scope and size of what we work on.
Speaker 5:37:59Now when you do get the chance to interface with actual users how does that happen. How does it work.
Speaker 10:38:04So we have about 180 different registered investment advisors that are direct clients. And they talk directly with our relationship managers which is a group that's kind of responsible for helping them with our web app and answering sort of any questions so we get a lot of feedback you know coming from our clients through our EMS and if there's something in particular there that I find relevant to a project that I've been working on or you know perhaps a future feature that I know will be we'll be working on it's very easy for me to go to my arm and say hey really appreciate this feedback. This is something that's very relevant to what we're doing. Can I get some time with the client to dock with them and they'll help me arrange something where we can actually go in and talk with those folks.
Speaker 3:38:46That's excellent. Oh absolutely. It's a huge advantage in this industry that we have a very captive audience. We have people in a very small captive audience. I mean 180 yeah.
Speaker 5:38:58Rias we have certainly thousands of users but 180s sort of different organizations that have bought in to us and very specific as well because obesity is very specific and very contextual and very targeted.
Speaker 10:39:12Absolutely. And the people are with us because they want to be with us. You know they chose us and chose for a reason. So it's very easy for us to reach out and say hey you want to be a part of making this better. And the response is almost always a resounding yes. And I'd love to be involved. You know I think sometimes especially in business there's that sort of a thought that you know maybe testing is annoying our customers.
Speaker 11:39:35You know it's it's going to detract from our relationship and it never does. People want to help. They want to make those pieces of their life.
Speaker 9:39:42They've bought into better could not agree more and I'm going to tell you even at this point I still don't understand what that reticence is really about. There's a year to go across that line and involve customers and like you said I think there's fear that it's going to somehow damage your relationship and I got to tell you I still don't get it.
Speaker 7:40:03I'm pushing 50 and I still don't understand that.
Speaker 10:40:09I was it's and I don't really know what it is either. I think you know for me in one aspect or another pretty much throughout my entire career I've been talking with people you know I've been obviously back talked about working on the phones with Nordstrom. You know I worked as a customer service for a long time so have those communications skills to talk with people and sort of get my point across and I feel very comfortable with that. But I think people who haven't had that sort of getting in front of the clients experience them at any level are hesitant because they don't want to hack off their customer base. I understand that because you know obviously Lessingham when a deal is upset your customers. But I think that there's this equation especially in American society that they sort of ask for handing over some of your your personal private time is necessarily something that's going to be negatively received. It is a kind of theory that's sort of embedded in and in our society. And it's not always that way. But you don't know that it's not that way unless you actually are going out and trying to stop it Cuthbert yeah right.
Speaker 5:41:18I think people are you know in most cases people are itching to tell you what could make their lives easier. I mean it's interesting that you're talking about financial industry. For instance I had an experience with a very large insurance organization same situation they had agents all over the country and we suspected in the very first meeting what I usually do is I make them walk me through a process in boxes and arrows like tell me how someone gets in. Then they do this. Take me through their day and we did a real quick rough diagram.
Speaker 9:41:50And we needed to erase the White Board three times in order to complete it. And I thought OK this is this is only one workflow it's a very basic part of this person's work day because we wanted to start with the theme that they spend 80 percent of their time doing it. And three of us sort of looked at each other and said OK there's there's a story here. And they were reluctant about it but they did finally say OK we'll set you up with you know different agents in different areas and you can have these conversations some of them in person and some of them were remote. To a person when they described the process to us we're able to use the same white board to map it out. You know what they were after and what they really needed. It would have been a quarter of that space.
Speaker 7:42:35Now you know once not 3.x life through the competition you have to that is ok. Think about how much money and how much effort how many people are involved.
Speaker 9:42:46In all these extra steps. From a purely financial perspective had we not asked this question OK here's where you are. And when that happens the sort of light bulb goes off and I guess what I'm getting to is in your opinion. How do you go about telling that story upfront before you have that interaction before you can prove to a client hey this is worthwhile is really going to benefit you. All right. In some meaningful way how do you had that conversation in a way that they're more receptive to it right.
Speaker 10:43:19I mean you have to be able to show some sort of tangible result and you have to be able to have shown some sort of historical success or at least potential for historical success that that's relevant to the client. I think you U.S. is similar groups in sort of the same sort of want a lot of times is a lot of artistic work at and there is certainly some artistic work that was done with us but it's seen as sort of the sort of very floaty ethereal thing that that sort of hard to pin of value to you but if you can show that there's a value to it and not just a subjective value and an object of value that's the way I've found to get the by and in the end. When I was working for Nordstrom bank and pitching that that first system I was you know came up with the calculation I did some tests on my own to say you know based upon how fast I am and what I'm working on when I use the system I averaged 24 seconds per call faster than when I don't use the system.
Speaker 10:44:19And if you extrapolate that out over our 300 call center workers you know 365 days a year whatever the hourly rate was it was a multimillion dollar timesaving proposition and that took it from being you know this idea of a guy that was sitting there at his computer and between phone calls just working on something they had been told not to work on and moved it from.
Speaker 3:44:48From that to being something that was worthwhile doing and showing that value especially tonight CEO is what got them to say OK that's it. That's what we're looking for. Go do it go make it happen.
Speaker 5:44:58Right. And this is always my mantra. OK. You have to find a way to have a conversation about dollars and cents. Absolutely right.
Speaker 3:45:07Because it changes the temperature in the room almost instantly that that realization that what you're doing affects their bottom line is a very stark one. Yeah. And it's one of those things where you're right you can. You can feel physically feel the mood of the room change when you start talking about dollars and cents especially with with stakeholders that are really involved with you know looking out for those sort of bottom line numbers.
Speaker 4:45:32Yeah I mean I can't tell you how many times I've seen that right you a room and you've got and let's say you know maybe four or five stakeholders executives usually at the beginning sitting at the table right. At least for them are not paying attention to a word that I'm saying OK look they're looking down at their phones they're scribbling on a notepad. You know I'm walking around the room so I can see what they're doing. Right. Whatever are we done yet.
Speaker 9:45:58And the minute the minute I trot out a figure that either represents cost savings or potential profit or potential market share pursue and as you're all of a sudden the three heads go up right like what did he just say. And I also believe that one of the things that a lot of us don't think about often enough and I learned this much later in my career that I wish I had. But there's a high degree of self-interest in everything that's happening within an organization. So for every one of those folks at the table yeah they're all there for the business certainly at the same time. I think you also have to figure out how it connects to their world personally. Right. Right. What's hanging over their head. What pressures are they dealing with. What problems are they experiencing that they personally just would like to see gone so that their stress level impresses me.
Speaker 10:46:52Yeah I think that one really good way to kind of reflect that was there was a Dilbert cartoon I used to read Dilbert when I was in my early teens which shows you how much of a nerd I could be but hey we got that thing a go.
Speaker 8:47:05That's great. I love it.
Speaker 10:47:06Got Adam hilarious at any age but there was a script that I remember reading that was essentially saying that employment used to be like a Christianity model where if you were good in your employment life you be rewarded in the afterlife of retire.
Speaker 13:47:22Now it's more of like a Hindu model that if you're good at your current job you'll be reincarnated into a better job.
Speaker 7:47:30That's right.
Speaker 3:47:32And that's that's stuck with me because you have to make these things relevant to individuals. It's the lack of loyalty that some companies have shown to the individual that's really been reflected a lot in the workforce. Whether or not we like that is completely another conversation entirely. But unless you're able to make things relevant to the people sitting in front of you and not the business of the whole you're never going to capture their attention.
Speaker 5:47:55I agree. I have another question for you that I probably should have asked myself better but it just hit me and then I want to get to some some hotseat stuff but I see since I looked at your profile before this I know that you sort of came up in journalism and writing. What I'm interested in hearing your take on the connection between language and good design good user experience and also the ability as a as a creative professional. Any kind and I include developers in this to be able to write okay to express yourself in that way. In your mind do you think that there are. Threads that run through all that where the journalism background the writing background the command of language. Is an asset. And if so how.
Speaker 10:48:42Absolutely. I think you know there's kind of a core skill set that you need in order to be a and effective technology professional and specifically if it's an effective U.S. professional and one of those real set of sort of courses being a good communicator we are in such a unique position because we sit at sort of the middle of so many different pieces of our business we're talking to a variety of different stakeholders so we might be talking to the people directly talking with our customers or people they're looking out production area whatever the case might be and we're talking to our our developers and we're talking to our associates and we're talking to our customers and we have this sort of unique opportunity to sort of synthesize all that information and be that sort of a communication warehouse and really move things forward within the organization for our customers. So you know you have to be able to do that to be successful.
Speaker 11:49:43I think that that that communication skill that ability to synthesize that information handed off to the right people and keep things moving forward is what really separates good professionals from great professionals. You know I also think that studying journalism was important for me because it taught me how to write and so much of corporate life is unfortunately writing e-mails. It's my job before this I was working for a company called Hollin Square Group which was contracted out permanently to another company called for wins interactive may make interactive digital signage. So if you've ever gone to a a hotel and walked up to the big touchscreen sign that showed you where you could go for breakfast or you know when flights were leaving and that sort of thing. That's the kind of design I was creating and the kind of signage it was I was developing and they would have us working at any given time. I think the fewest amount of projects I ever had. Once they got fully ramped up was 40 and the most I ever had was approaching 100 with 100 different clients.
Speaker 3:50:54And so on any given day I was spending six hours writing e-mails in two hours designing developing actually doing work. And it was great because they had so much practice getting in those those communication skills and learning how to communicate more with sort of those high value high class customers. But obviously quite a bit of challenge and especially a challenge. If I was good writer and wasn't something that I felt comfortable doing so. Absolutely. You need to be comfortable writing and you need be comfortable expressing yourself or you're going to find yourself in some really hard situation.
Speaker 5:51:35Yeah I agree. I think the connection is sort of apples to apples right. I think that you have to be able to have some command of language and I don't mean you have to be you know Ernest Hemingway of user experience. You simply have to be able to speak plainly and clearly in a way that people understand it right.
Speaker 3:51:55I think the best rule that you can give anybody for writing those e-mails is five sentences or less. Yeah. If he can't explain what you're trying to explain in five sentences or less it shouldn't be an e-mail should be a conversation right.
Speaker 7:52:07It's a good rule to adopt that because I write for bowse e-mails.
Speaker 5:52:13I mean I really do catch myself and I think oh my god no it's going to read all this.
Speaker 8:52:17No. Yeah. It's sort of the nature of e-mail we get.
Speaker 3:52:22You know you get those five minute e-mails you go OK x y z i know what I need and I'm doing. You get the e-mail are two pages long and you revert back to that sort of web mentality of I'm going to scan through here to find out what I need and discard the other 90 percent of what's on that page. Exactly. So yeah I mean it's one of those things where the rule that I follow that and I was taught by one of my co-workers when I was working at at Nordstrom that has served me tremendously well it's the one that I always pass on to anyone who's asking you about skills for writing business emails and in business communication in general.
Speaker 5:52:58It's an excellent rule. And honestly I'm going to adopt it from this point forward.
Speaker 7:53:04I'll hold you to that if I get an email that's more than five sentences from me I'm just going to pick up the phone and give you a call. We need to talk e-mails. You know Joe what's the bill.
Speaker 3:53:23Do we need to talk.
Speaker 8:53:24Like when you get your graded paper back and as a frowny face on it please see our the big the big red question mark was the one I always got. What do you mean Big Red quested bark.
Speaker 7:53:38How to fix that.
Speaker 5:53:41I went to school with a guy and I'll never forget this. We had one instructor particular who would just throw out the strangest sort of non sequiturs when you'd ask for feedback or direction. And I remember he came back to table one time and he goes my favorite kind of comment is the uncomment and I was sure what I'm supposed to do with this. There's just a weird situation you know you never knew how to react or what it was you're supposed to do.
Speaker 3:54:12All right well especially when you're supposed to fix those those mistakes right the first draft and they give you back that rough draft with those sort of you know a great question marks I don't allow them to do on it and you go OK well I guess I could give it a try. I was very lucky to go to a school that Devlin high school in Denver which sat out to the Jaguars out there but it was a school that was very very deep in teaching students how to write and how to critically read and evaluate information which I think is excellent is you know kind of on that communication thing. You know what are the pieces that we need to know and never start too early on that.
Speaker 5:54:51Agreed agreed agreed agreed. So let me ask you some quick HASI questions for you on the spot a little bit.
Speaker 9:54:59Absolutely. Acronyms yes or no.
Speaker 8:55:01Oh I can't send acronyms. We have so many I mean especially here and are in our universe.
Speaker 3:55:11We have acronyms for everything in the tech world and everything in the financial world. And when those two worlds collide. I had no idea what but he was talking about my first probably three weeks here because nobody would tell me what the acronyms were it was probably a little more vivid than I should have been and asking about them and how I should know this.
Speaker 5:55:27So that's my problem with them in general. You instantly make people feel dumb and embarrassed to sort of ask what's going on it's like you know you're in some exclusive club that they're not.
Speaker 3:55:38Yeah and you know for me I'm someone that hates ask for help which has been both a blessing and a curse. Keeping with that that it always takes me probably three or four times of hearing the acronym before I go. I don't know what this is.
Speaker 5:55:52Yeah. No kidding. What word or phrase do you say way too much.
Speaker 8:55:59That's not a bad choice. When my mom pointed out to me the other day I say that a lot.
Speaker 3:56:06If I had a catchphrase that would be a bad choice I wanted my day just say it's a good choice of life. Well it may not be a good choice but it's not a bad one.
Speaker 7:56:14As for diplomatic.
Speaker 3:56:15Absolutely. And that's one of the things that you know communication wise I'm very good at being a diplomat. Being a peacemaker and finding areas that you know we all have common ground on which leads to a lot of phrases like That's not a bad choice.
Speaker 7:56:32One down to two things from you Doug this is fantastic.
Speaker 14:56:38Well I think you're slowly closing the gap between things I learned from using the word for me.
Speaker 7:56:43Have a few thousand more to go with whether or not bad habits tell me something that you are not good at at all.
Speaker 3:56:53Oh man. I mean the list of things I'm not good at would fill several thousand books.
Speaker 13:56:59Let me rephrase something that you've had to do more than once that you're not good at that stuff because we were just talking about I want to talk about that asking for help that we already kind of talked about.
Speaker 3:57:12So for me I'd have to say it's basketball I'm a terrible basketball player. I'm usually good at just about any sport that I pick up. I have always had this kind of natural athletic ability. I can not make a shot to save my life. And I'm I'm five six and three quarters. It's important to get that three quarters up there in my life.
Speaker 8:57:31And that does not make itself very good for basketball.
Speaker 4:57:37I'm 5 foot 6 inch shrinking and I am infinitely worse.
Speaker 8:57:41Ever be at best if I ever play a horse.
Speaker 7:57:45A game of horses leads we know we have a way to kill off a couple of hours so I'm going through a day.
Speaker 8:57:52I mean all your strengths right know what you're good and do it and for you and I will stay will stay away from basketball has great strength.
Speaker 5:58:01What is one thing you do. One talent that you have that nobody knows about you.
Speaker 3:58:07I share my talents a lot and probably more than I should. I'm sure people are. There are people out there my friends and family who probably want me to stop trying but I think by my talent that I'm most proud of that I think that few people know about photography. I was a video journalist when I worked with the Broncos. I was down on the sideline for the game with the camera which was a lot of fun in that sort of sparked an interest in me and it actually took years actually. When I got this job I was able to buy my first real professional camera and start working toward getting better at that crap. For that was whatever I could do with my phone. Essentially we don't always lend itself to great pictures but with a lot of practice composition and looking for those those opportunities would certainly help build some skills. So I've got my I've got my nice little now. I think I'm actually listed on Instagram as a crappy Denver photog. Yes because I guess I just how much I a skill in regard. But I know pushed by my photos up there and have a little community of people that follow me around and occasionally like what I do which is which is always heartening yeah very cool.
Speaker 5:59:21Yeah that's pretty cool. So last question. What is your prediction for the Denver Broncos this year.
Speaker 8:59:28Oh my goodness. We're going downhill in a hurry. You know I'm a Cleveland. Yeah well that's true. Well hey we've got the we've got the guy is our backup who might be our starter soon who wasn't good enough to be the Cleveland Browns starting quarterback. Brock Osweiler. So I mean you know that's that's never a good sign. What is it.
Speaker 3:59:49And I should say Trevor Trevor Symeon a bit hamstring the offensive line has been rough especially we lost a couple of offensive tackles and a backup offensive tackle against San Diego. We were down three out of our five topflight out so I told my wife before the season started we'd be lucky to get to 6 and 12. And you know when we got up into the power rankings you know after the first four weeks were a number three or four in some of those power rankings I said we're going to go downhill in a hurry.
Speaker 14:60:18We've been so I'll stick with that 6 and 12 prediction as much as I don't like it. But I think given where things could end up that might be optimistic.
Speaker 3:60:27So fingers crossed. Go Broncos. I still love them always love them but that's that's what I have to predict. We must have hoped. Yeah there's always the Cleveland Browns are proof there's always hope there's still that any fan in that Cleveland Stadium.
Speaker 14:60:43Hope springs eternal.
Speaker 4:60:45I consider myself you know saying that we'll see I'm teaching my kids a lesson. You know when you're loyal to something and to you have to stick to your convictions and you know win or lose you can't just only like winners and all that good stuff right. I don't know if I believe it. But that's what I say.
Speaker 3:61:01Well you know with the five month old in the house I'm starting to think about all those different lessons I need to learn to teach.
Speaker 14:61:07And so this year I just want to completely turn off the Broncos and for that reason I'm like No this will be a good I have older they flip on the TV and scream it for an hour and a half two hours before the apathy sets in. It will be missed Bermel. Yeah exactly.
Speaker 3:61:22Hopefully hopefully I can really use myself some of that extra extra screening to the TV. Pretty sure that doesn't make for a very healthy environment growing up out of work.
Speaker 14:61:32I get rid of this one. Yeah exactly.
Speaker 5:61:35Well sir I truly enjoyed this conversation. I enjoyed talking to you. And I think that you are absolutely a positive force in the online communities that I have seen in in general I think there is a definite shortage of people in the world who are willing to be overly generous with their time with their stories with their experiences and with their advice. And I salute you for doing that.
Speaker 3:62:00Yeah. Thanks very much for having me on. This was a great conversation I really enjoyed. And I hope we'll get a chance to talk a bit more. You're a wonderful fourth year self forgood. And you know I'm great to be associated with that and kind of along the same lines of anybody you know once ask me any questions or get involved with me or if I can help anybody out there who is looking to get started or grow their career feel free to reach out to me. You know Doug at Denver you Exter dot com my e-mail address you can find me on Twitter at 52 80 underscore C S and obviously on the U.S. gas mastery community which is community out U.S. DOT Dotcom is just Doug. I really want to be as helpful as I can and hopefully after listening to me for an hour I feel a little bit more approachable feel free to please feel free to reach out with whatever I can do for you and Joe. Thanks again for having me. It's been an absolute pleasure and to be involved with somebody who's as experienced and knowledgeable as you and to receive such kind words a real gift to me. I appreciate your time and thank you so much just for inviting me to be a part of this.
Speaker 4:63:04Absolutely. Pleasure was all mine.
Speaker 14:63:06Thank you very much Joe. All right take care my friend. Thank you.
Speaker 1:63:11That wraps up this edition of making us work. Thanks for listening and I hope hearing these stories provides some useful perspective and encouragement. Along with a reminder that you're not alone out there. Before I go I want you to know that you can find shows and links to the things mentioned during our conversation by visiting give good you X.com slash podcast. You'll also find links to more US resources on the web and social media along with ways to contact me if you're interested in sharing your own story here.
Speaker 2:63:40Until next time this is Jonah Toli reminding you that it's people like you who make us work.