Clare: Hello and welcome to Making Tech Better: Made Tech’s fortnightly podcast bringing you content from all over the world on how to improve your software delivery. My name is Clare Sudbery, my pronouns are she/her and I am a lead engineer at Made Tech.
On Tuesday 7th of December 2021, I spoke to Catt Small. Catt Small is a product designer who’s gone from creating games at the age of 10 to a highly successful career in product design and strategic vision. She has so many inspirational stories to tell and she’s also a damned nice person and I love getting to chat to her. Hello, Catt.
Clare: Hello. It’s great to have you here. I’m going to leap straight in. I’m going to ask you, who in this industry are you inspired by?
Catt: Oh gosh. I’m going to go with a person who has continuously modelled excellence and has also uplifted others, while she’s grown in her own career. I’m going to say Lara Hogan. For those of you who don’t know who Lara is, she is somebody that I know because she was an engineering director at Etsy. I used to work at Etsy at the same time she worked at Etsy before she moved on to being the VP of Engineering at Kickstarter. Then she moved into coaching work that she is currently doing on the leadership side. I feel like Lara is the kind of person who walks the walk, talks the talk, she’s sharing what she’s learning, she just makes leadership growth accessible to pretty much everyone. Like, I’m not a VP of anything, and I still learned so much from her. And that’s the kind of spirit that I want to bring to the industry as well.
Clare: Fantastic. I love it. Okay, so your journey in IT started with you coding websites and games at the age of 10.
Clare: Can you tell me a bit about that?
Catt: Yeah. So, I am a 90s kid, and for any other 90s kids out there who had access to the internet during the time where it was growing and taking the world by storm before the dot-com bust happened. It was very accessible in certain ways to learn how to code. My story specifically is that I was a big anime nerd and I stumbled upon this website that had a bunch of dress-up dolls that people were making to be able to express their fandom of certain characters. And in this case, I found some Sailor Moon dress-up dolls, and I was like, “Oh, cool. I think I want to do that. I’m really into art. I’m really into technology. I think I can figure this out because I also really like fashion. What better way to combine all the things than to make some dress-up dolls?”. And you have to actually program the dolls from scratch in this random scripting language that nobody uses anymore.
Catt: But this website taught me how to code and showed me the joy of being able to type something into a text editor, save it and then load it up in a program and see it happen live.
Catt: So that was mind blowing for me. And then after that, I started to make websites because in order to showcase your goals to the world, you actually needed to have a portfolio. So, I have dolls from like the year 2000. And that was around the age where I was 10. And I started to collaborate with other people, and we actually got to chat online as well as the community group. And yeah, it just kind of kickstarted my whole career really.
Clare: That’s wonderful. I love hearing stories like that because finding ways of getting children engaged in tech and doing things that they want to do; that are meaningful to them, being able to see the effect, being able to be creative. It’s just… it’s gold dust. It’s brilliant.
Catt: Yes, I would say that part of the reason I was able to do that was just my brain was very open at that point in time, to being able to jump between different languages.
Catt: So that’s definitely the value I think of being a kid is that it was an open landscape, and I was just absorbing as much stuff as I possibly could.
Clare: Yeah. But then you were able to build a website as well. So.
Clare: Were you using one of the frameworks?
Catt: I remember some of my really early websites were AOL home
Catt: I don’t know how many people know about AOL home. It’s America Online. They had this website maker that existed before Dreamweaver, I think, and you could drag and drop to make your own site. But I remember being around the ages of 15 and 16, playing on MySpace and eventually Tumblr as well. And I think that’s where the earlier experiences of “Oh, like drag and drop, that’s cool.” kind of turned into “Oh, how do I actually customize my cursor?” And then I would be able to find these little snippets that I could put into these blog editors. So, there were a lot of ways that people were making the programming aspect feel really simple on the HTML and CSS side, at least?
Clare: Yeah. So, if we fast forward a few years, we find you in 2013. You graduated on the Dean’s List
Clare: With your BFA in Graphic Design degree, and you’ve worked for a few companies, and then you and two friends set up a game development studio. Tell me a bit about that.
Catt: Yes. Brooklyn Gamery. I have a couple of friends named Dennis Liaw and Chris Algoo. We mostly at that point liked to go to hackathons and see if we could get close to winning. And one time we actually won Best Game as we like to call it. We were second place overall, but some people made games, some people made other stuff. So, for us, it was a pretty big deal. We also won a little bit of money from that specific hackathon because we were in second place. So we decided to put that into starting up a company. And then we went down the rabbit hole of trying to figure out how to actually roll out a mobile game, and I believe that was a really transformative moment for me because it helped me understand my relationship with games, with friends, and work. And we ran the company for several years. We did actually release that game. It’s hard to say, it’s called “Prism Shell”. And you have to say it very specifically because sometimes it can sound like prison. It’s Prism with an M. We rolled out this game and from that experience, we learned that we weren’t super into the concept of building mobile games for the purpose of microtransactions and things like that. But it was a really fun experiment. And what we ended up doing was pivoting to organizing gaming events where people could actually make their own games. So, we started to run game jams, which are basically hackathons for gaming. And that was really great for us because it helped us connect to a lot of folks within the New York gaming scene. We got to learn a lot about what exactly we liked in terms of being connected in the industry or not.
Catt: And then ultimately, that turned into running the Game Devs of Color Expo which essentially came out of a feeling over time that there was a clear divide in terms of the amount of effort that you’d have to put in as a white cis male developer versus being a person of colour working in the gaming industry. And that, it’s just a known thing, like lots of people. Similarly, to tech, but I think at a faster rate will churn out of the gaming industry,
Catt: And you’ll see more people leaving who are marginalized, like women, people of colour, especially women of colour you can imagine. And we wanted to provide a space where it could be a platform.
Catt: So that people could use it. Essentially to jumpstart any other potential awards or recognition that they would need to get funding. And we have now been running the Game Devs of Color Expo for several years and a lot more people have joined. So we have Shawn Alexander Allen, who joined the organizing team. We’ve got GJ Lee and Brian Chung who have joined the team and I think they’ve just been a huge value add, because now we’ve actually spun off, become Game Devs of Color Expo in its own separate entity as of as of this year it’s a 501(c)(3). So, it’s been a huge journey over the past six years. We’re going into our seventh event as of 2022. So, I’m really excited because we are very clearly making an impact. We actually are giving out grants at this point.
Clare: Oh wow.
Catt: Yeah, it’s huge. So, this year, we gave out I think 620 $5,000 game development grants.
Catt: That are essentially, we love your work. We just want to see more of it. No strings attached generally. And some of them even come with support from actual game publishers. So, it’s been huge. We’ve made a lot of impact on people’s lives, and we just want to be a support beacon for people.
Clare: Yeah, I mean, that’s fantastic. I’m trying to stop using the word fantastic because I listened back to a podcast episode the other day, and I realized that I just called everything fantastic. I’m trying to think of other words to use,
Catt: I mean, but it is!
Clare: It is fantastic. And amazing. And wonderful. So, to be able to give something back based on your own experience from being a woman of colour in this industry, how does that feel that you can actually do something to help other people and bring other people up in a similar position?
Catt: It feels really empowering for me. I’ve learned a tonne also during this process. I better understand my relationship in terms of the kinds of games that I want to make, and how I want to make games. Being able to enable other people to be financially independent from either publishers or employers and being able to make the kinds of work that they want to see feels huge for me, because I think that’s the major thing that was missing for me when I was younger. And my hope is that over time, more and more people will see the work that’s coming out of the Game Devs of Color Expo and ultimately that it will make them feel more comfortable “taking a risk”.
Catt: Even though many of the times these folks are really talented. They’ve got a track record already, it’s just a matter of giving them the funds to do the good work. So, I feel great because I have been able to turn an experience that I’ve had and that other folks have had into something that is much bigger than myself. I think that ultimately the thing that I’m learning more and more about these days is how do we scale this to a point where I can still be able to have that time to focus on my own game development, because of course I got a full-time job also over in that corner, and I’ve got this whole giant Expo which like has blown up to a really amazing point. And then, I’ve got my own side projects that I want to be able to do. So, I think now it’s just a learning lesson of how do we make sure that this amazing work can continue and that I, as an individual, can also make sure I have the headspace to create my own stuff.
Clare: Yeah, I think that’s really important because I think it can sometimes be a bit of a millstone around your neck that if you set up something amazing and you become the center of that, then you can’t necessarily look after yourself. You’re looking after other people, but you have to put on your own lifebelt before you can look after other people.
Clare: That’s so important. It’s not fair that you should have to carry everything on your shoulders. So it’s really good to hear you saying that. So, speaking of the job, you’re now an experienced product designer and you’re working for Asana and I know that when you started at Asana, you designed and built a product in six months. So, I mean, how do you do that? What are the key techniques that allow you to move that fast?
Catt: Yes, yeah. It has been a really fun ride working at Asana. I joined in January of 2020, 3 months before things got really interesting and essentially, what happened is that we had this new team that was going to work on this thing. Nobody knew fully what it was going to be quite yet but the opportunity that we saw, to be able to not just prioritize your work but to also be able to create purpose for it. So Asana’s mission is to help humanity thrive by enabling the world’s teams to work together effortlessly. And a big part of making sure that you’re working together properly is to have this concept of alignment, for example. The big question was how we were going to go from knowing that it’s an opportunity to actually creating a product that we could release in the world.
Catt: And we generally knew at that point that we had a certain amount of time because Asana wanted to do a public announcement in the summer approximately, so we had to figure out by working backwards. How are we going to get something out there into the world that meets customer’s needs? So, the first thing that we did, we sat down with a variety of stakeholders and customers out there in the world who are actually doing goal management practices right now. And what we learned is that goal management is generally very, very far from the actual work that people are prioritizing.
Catt: So, what that means essentially, is that you probably have spreadsheets where you’re tracking your goals, and then you’re in some kind of tool like Asana, and you don’t update those goals pretty much ever. It was quite challenging for people to keep that information up to date. And so, the value of Asana is that everything is always kept up to date. It’s very fresh, and we had a strong feeling that if we could connect that feeling of everything being as up to date as possible, that there would be something really big there. So essentially, what we did next is we had a design sprint after we’d gotten a lot of feedback from folks and I think that was a really big moment for us because we were able to actually get all of the stakeholders in the room from within the company, the whole team. And we very quickly within the span of three days essentially, because we did a fairly compact sprint followed by some concept testing. That was a big thing for us. So, my recommendation is, as quickly as possible get everybody who needs to be on the same page into the same room.
Catt: And have conversations very early about what you’re hoping the outcome is who your target audience is, because it’s really important as early as possible to to align on that.
Catt: So we had a lot of conversations about “What are people feeling and thinking about when they’re managing goals?” “What are some of their main pains?” and all of that essentially turned into something that we could present as solutions, potentially to customers. And so, we tested those solutions as ideas and essentially from that we were able to actually prioritize what features we don’t want.
Catt: And then from there, it was a process of “Now we have the features, how do we put those together into something that is usable?” And that was within the first month. We’d done the discovery research and the design sprints, so the remainder of the time was figuring out how to prioritize that as the teams we were working with were actually building the experience itself. And it all came together by July of 2020. So, we had like a little internal release period that was in like June and then by July, we were ready to actually publicly release it. So yeah, it was a lot of fun. And I definitely learned a lot from the experience about coordinating across teams because it was a major effort by a variety of people. And I also had just joined the company. So, I learned a ton about the company itself and the different corners of the company. I find that taking on those kinds of zero to one projects can be really valuable because you get to learn so much about how a product works very quickly. You get to meet so many people. And I feel like those relationships that I’ve built within that point in time have just grown even stronger within the past year and a half since I joined.
Clare: Yeah, I think there’s a lot to be said for a bunch of people achieving something together. And how that can build relationships which then creates more positivity and more achievement later on down the line, because you’ve bonded, and you’ve got those relationships of trust.]
Clare: And one of the things that was really interesting about what you said was that you started by getting everybody in the room.
Clare: You had an interest, you had a voice and you needed to be a part of it. And that can be one of the things that’s very challenging; getting the right people in the room because people are busy.
Clare Did you need to be quite strict with people and say, “We need you, you have to be here”?
Catt: Yes, yeah, I definitely had to make sure people understood the priority of those conversations. I will also say that Asana has been extremely supportive from day one and has understood the importance of this work. It’s something that they view as being a core part of the product. Because, without the ability to set the outcomes that you want to achieve, why are you doing the work, you know? So, we were able to come to those conversations pretty early with stakeholders and say, “Hey, you know, and I know that this is really important to make sure that you block out this day”. I think it’s really easy in these cases to prioritize things when your leadership team is on the same page.
Clare: While I’ve got your attention, let me tell you a bit about Made Tech. After 21 years in the industry, I’m quite choosy about who I work for. Made Tech are software delivery experts, with high technical standards. We work almost exclusively with the public sector. We have an open-source employee handbook on GitHub, which I love. We have unlimited annual leave, but what I love most about Made Tech is the people. They’ve got such passion for making a difference and they really care for each other. Our Twitter handle is @madetech. We have free books available on our website at madetech.com/resources/books and we’re currently recruiting in London, Bristol, South Wales, and the north of England via our Manchester office. If you go to madetech.com/careers you can find out more about that.
[Music begins to fade]
Clare: Before the break, we were talking about how a key element to building products quickly is to get the right people in the room and build good relationships. I’ve seen you mentioned elsewhere that for you one of the things that allowed you to move faster was to have the right relationship with tools and process. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Catt: Yes. Yes! So in terms of the design sprint, for example, I’m the kind of person who is generally focused on using whatever is necessary to get the work done. We really focused on exactly what we needed, in terms of the information that we were trying to pull out from people to move the process forward. And that’s my general relationship with tools, workshops, and so on. It’s really not thinking about exactly what they say in the book, for example, it’s more about, what are you trying to get out of it and is it helping you or not? Because if it’s not helping you then there’s not really a point in doing it. So that’s my definite advice to anybody when it comes to pretty much anything. My mantra has definitely been “focus on the outcome that you’re trying to achieve” which is very meta because working on goals, right?
Catt: But that’s the kind of person I am and I think that’s why I’ve also been drawn to this kind of work.
Clare: Yeah, yeah, I think outcomes are so important. People can get really distracted by outputs, and forget about outcomes, you know, what are you actually trying to achieve? What’s your end goal?
Clare: And whatever you do to get there, the reason you’re doing it is because you’re trying to get there.
Catt: Yeah, I’ve got to remember that also, when it comes to working on my side projects. Like my games, for example. It’s funny, I actually spent five months just working with different game engines, because game engines also are essentially frameworks that you can use, or programs that you can use to make games. And I’ve, over the years, dabbled with a variety of them. So, I’ve used Unity. I’ve used Game Maker. I have this one web game framework that I really like, it’s called Phaser. And I also tried Godot, I think it’s pronounced. Not “good dough”. It’s spelled Godot. But I think it’s pronounced “go dot”.
Clare: Yeah, that’s a really good point. Okay, so another thing that I know you’d like to talk about is how to avoid designing harmful experiences.
Catt: Oh, yeah.
Clare: What can you tell me about that?
Catt: I feel like this conversation has evolved so much in the past couple of years. And I’m so happy that so many people are making great strides in this conversation. I think for example, one person that I always love to read thoughts by is Sara Wachter-Boettcher for example, she’s really smart and has said a lot about this. But my thoughts on this generally are that I have in the past, not thought very deeply about the kinds of experiences that I was designing. Like, I worked on ads at SoundCloud, for example. Sorry to any SoundCloud listeners. But I think from that point in time, I made a decision in my career to not work on ads. I then had the ability to kind of take some of my thinking around “Who is potentially being harmed?”; “What questions are we not asking that we need to ask?” And instead of being optimistic about the results of our experiences, thinking a lot about “What could happen if things went wrong?” “Who is the 1% that we are saying doesn’t matter?” For example, a lot of people will have data science conversations. They’ll say, “Oh, well, you know, 99% of our user base does blah” and it’s like, cool, but we have 250 million users or whatever. So, 1% is actually quite big. So, I try to be that person, as often as I can. I try to create spaces where people can trust each other enough to actually ask those questions. To be honest with each other. Because I find that that optimism can lead to intense harm.
Clare: Can you give an example of the kind of problem?
Catt: I think a good example is when I was working at Etsy. I had the benefit/ experience of working on some really big changes to the product. One of them was their payments platform that they now use. Previously, the way that it had worked if you wanted to purchase anything is that you would have to go through PayPal, and PayPal is a separate system. So, if anything went wrong between your purchase and the seller’s experience, you were basically out of money and Etsy couldn’t do anything in those cases. So, I essentially helped to create this new system. I mostly was working on the onboarding experience and helping people to transition over. But one of the biggest parts of this is that you had to have a bank account. And so what I did is I asked “Well, what about people in countries where they’re eligible for Etsy payments, but they don’t have a bank account?” “How many people are there? We’re going to be affected by this, and how are we thinking about helping them?” So that’s an example of trying to ask those questions that most people aren’t thinking about. Because, in the United States, not everybody has a bank account. Many people do. But I know people who don’t. I know what it was like to not have a bank account and to rely on those kinds of prepaid cards, etc. So, I think just asking those kinds of questions more often is really helpful because in that case, specifically, we were able to actually figure out a way to help those people to give them more time. To be able to support them through that onboarding process in a different way. And then another project that I got to work on was a Seller Dashboard, where if you had a certain amount of negative customer experiences, we would essentially warn you / remove your ability to sell for a certain amount of time. And so, I started to ask questions around “Hey, what happens if you’re in a disaster of some kind, and you’re getting negative reviews because things are going wrong in your life, which in the United States is happening more and more because climate change is real?”
Catt: So, I’ve been asking those kinds of questions a lot. And then that was an example of “How can we make sure that we’re not hurting the wrong people?” There are sellers on Etsy who focus more on earning money and don’t care about their customers. So, if we’re trying to create an outcome where people care about the customer experience, let’s make sure that we’re thinking about ways to do that without hurting the people that we care about supporting?
Catt: So that’s ultimately the point is to not just be hyper optimistic, but to also think about “What is our outcome?” and “What are ways that we could potentially end up somewhere different?” because if we don’t think about that, then you end up with what we’ve seen a lot on Twitter, Facebook, etc. And it’s really important to make sure that we don’t do that as designers.
Clare: Yeah. So, you mentioned that you tried to avoid working on ads. So why is that?
Catt: Yeah, my feelings on this are very complicated. I think that personally, I didn’t find a lot of joy or value in working on advertising. Most of your clients, or the people that you’re supporting are pretty large businesses. I wasn’t personally interested in designing containers for Saks Fifth Avenue to be able to reach more customers. I know that there is a lot of opportunity for advertising to improve and I now have had to advertise as part of Game Devs of Color Expo. So, I think my feelings about it in some ways have actually shifted. I want to support more small businesses in being able to reach the right customers. But I think personally, I found much more value emotionally and learning experience wise in building the systems that people are advertising within, or around, if that makes sense.
Catt: Like, let me work on the core platform. And then, like, I’m happy to talk to people about how to monetize the experience because whatever I’m working on it’s still a business, right? But yeah, I think that’s been a huge shift for me personally, and I’ve learned so much.
Clare: Yeah. I mean, I think the problem that I have with advertising is that it’s in the interest of advertising to persuade people to buy things that they don’t actually want to or need. And there’s so much effort goes into getting people to part with money that they maybe shouldn’t be parting with.
Catt: Yeah, I don’t want to do that. You know, I think that it’s been really really interesting advertising for the Game Devs of Color Expo because we’re running an event. And we really want to make sure that we’ve reached the people who actually want to learn how to make games. And so, I think that’s been an exercise in “Oh, there is a use case where it feels really right to be an advertiser”. But there’s a lot of definite manipulation that has happened and is happening and I don’t feel comfortable with that at all. And that was a big reason I moved away from the space, for sure.
Catt: And at the same time, I wish that for those cases where it did make sense, that we had better systems in place.
Clare: Yeah. And obviously there’s all the stuff about data privacy as well for you know, mining data purely so that you can…
Catt: Creepy. Yeah, it’s really a space that I personally don’t want to be involved in because I would just be so against 90% of it.
Clare: I won’t come shining through with that and other things that you said that you care about people. So, another good thing to talk about in that space is, I know you’ve got involved with some sponsorship and some mentoring. Do you want to talk a little bit about that?
Catt: Yeah, I mentioned Lara Hogan before. I really think it’s important as I’m growing in my career to be able to share as much as I can with other people. Sometimes I’ll do that by writing on my blog, but one of the things I love to do is directly meet with people and mentor them. I think this is where it gets interesting because I’m an independent contributor so even though I’ve been working in design full time for about 11 years at this point, I am not a person who manages people. I tried it. It’s not something I want to do. I want to do the mentorship and the growth portion of the job without some of the other stuff.
Catt: But I think what I’ve learned through the years is that there’s so much value in working with other people. And there’s a little bit of coaching that sometimes happens where you’re essentially saying “Hey, here are some things that I’ve tried, do you want to try these things?” And I’ve learned a lot myself through that process of guiding other people. But then in addition to the mentorship portion there is this concept of sponsorship, which is really important for marginalized folks. For example, women are under sponsored and over mentored. And what sponsorship specifically means is that you’re as a leader putting your name on the line for somebody else.
Catt: And I actually do this some of the time for sure. When it comes to hiring conversations. If I see somebody who I think is going to do great because they have the right mindset, for example, then I’m willing to put my name on the line and say “Hey, I think we should hire this person because they have the right way of thinking”. “I know that they don’t have the years of experience, yet. But if we give this person a chance, they’re going to be amazing.” And I want us to be the people who discover that person, you know? So, if you’re somebody who’s managing folks, you can actually be in those conversations where your leadership team is thinking about where to place people on projects, and you can actually pitch for that person to take on this project because you know that they need that extra step. And that’s the thing that is missing for a lot of people especially women of colour, for example. They are in these situations where they’re getting a lot of suggestions about what they could do. With personal or professional relationships. So “Hey, have you tried talking to your PM this way?” “Hey, have you tried running a workshop?”, but they’re not getting those big opportunities for those career jumps.
Catt: And I think that’s really important. If we’re going to see more people who look like me in the leadership space, we have to actually give them those opportunities to have those career jobs.
Clare: I think it’s so important. I think it makes such a difference. When you can actually be on somebody’s side, be advocating for them, holding their hands. It makes such a difference as well. If you’re in a minority, to feel like you’re not alone.
Clare: To feel like there is somebody on your side. There’s somebody rooting for you. There’s somebody who really wants to help you make a difference.
Catt: Yeah, I’ve really benefited from people who’ve been that for me, and so I’m 100% committed to doing that for as many people as I can. I’ve done that a couple of times and it’s been huge for them. Once you see the changes and the growth in their career, it really shows the value of “taking risks”. But I think if you get the right people in the room, you can be confident that they’re going to succeed. They just need the right set of situations.
Catt: So, I’m trying to do exactly what people have done for me and it’s been really valuable for my emotional professional journey.
Clare: Fantastic. Okay.So we’re almost out of time. So, I’m going to move on to the questions that I always ask people at the end. So, the first one is just a little game that we play. We are a bit sneaky; we don’t let the audience know which is which. They have to subscribe to our newsletter to find out. So, tell me two things about you, which may or may not be true.
Catt: Okay. So, this is like a spicy meatball. Okay, so I once biked 590 miles in a day is one thing.
Catt: And then the other thing is that I have a driver’s license.
Catt: Yeah, spicy.
Clare: Of course. I know I’ve seen on your profile that you were born and bred in Brooklyn. I think in America, people tend to drive, don’t they? Whereas in London, it’s not unusual for somebody who’s lived in London now, they may well not drive.
Clare: Because it’s just not that easy to drive in this city.
Catt: Oh, that’s true. The roads are so small.
Clare: And there’s nowhere to park, and the traffic’s terrible.
Catt: That’s a vibe.
Clare: So, the second to last question is “Where can people find you, and do you have anything coming up that you’d like to plug?”
Catt: People can find me at I’m on Twitter @cattsmall My name starts with a C not a K, my website is the same cattsmall.com. Asana design team is asana.design. We are hiring pretty much all the time for some really cool roles, because we’re growing pretty quickly. So, if you want to look into what it’s like to work at Asana on the design team, definitely check out Asana.design. We’re also hiring for a bunch of other roles as well across the world. So definitely check out Asana’s jobs page.
Catt: And then the Game Devs of Color Expo is at GDC Expo.com and it’s the same on Twitter GDC Expo. So definitely subscribe to our newsletter to hear when our next event begins. And we’re really excited for what we’re going to put together for 2022.
Clare: Yeah, okay, and so we’re gonna end on a high again, I’m going to ask you “What is the best thing that happened to you in the last month or so?” and it doesn’t have to be work-related, but it can be if you want.
Catt: Yeah, I’m gonna say that the best thing that’s happened to me recently is that I saw my grandma for the second time in two years. Oh, it was so nice to see her. She’s like 95 and she’s amazing. She’s got a long and storied life. Full of adventure. So just getting to see her was really beautiful. And I think that’s one of the biggest things I’ve learned in the past couple of years is just the importance of connecting with the people that you care about a lot and making sure that you’re getting outside and seeing them. So that was huge for me.
Clare: That’s really nice to hear. Fantastic. Okay, well, thank you so much for speaking to me.
Catt: Thanks, Clare. It was an absolute delight. It was so fun.
Clare: As always, to help you digest what you’ve just heard. I’m going to attempt to summarize it. Catt learned to code by coding Sailor Moon dress-up dolls using a little-known scripting language and then building websites to showcase her work. After that, she started a games company, Brooklyn Gamery, and she and her friends created the game Prism Shell. Then they pivoted and started organizing gaming events, which led to the Game Devs Of Color Expo, which they were using to try and redress the balance for people of colour working in the gaming industry, and their seventh event will be in 2022. As well as that, in the meantime, Catt’s career as a product designer has been going from strength to strength. She’s now working for Asana where she started out by designing and building a product in six months. So, shipping it sooner. How was that done? Well, first of all, they got a lot of feedback. They had a compact three-day design sprint where they got all the stakeholders in the room: everyone who needed to be on the same page so that they could have early conversations about the hoped-for outcome and the target audience. After that came concept testing, which allowed them to prioritize features and then it was all build, build.
One of the things that Catt highlighted was these Zero to One projects are particularly valuable because you learn a lot about how your product works, but you also build really strong relationships across your organization. Another thing that Catt talked about was making tools work for you in the way that you need. Not fetishizing them, instead focusing on the outcomes. We also talked about avoiding designing harmful experiences by thinking about the circumstances of the people that you’re designing for, and carefully considering whether there’s any possibility for unintended harm. And finally, it was fantastic to hear Catt talk about helping marginalized people to get a leg up by sponsoring them, and about understanding the difference between sponsorship and mentoring. I thought it was really interesting what Catt said about women being under sponsored and over mentored. She talked about not being gatekeepers by insisting on years of experience, but instead giving people the chance to gain that experience by advocating for them to have a chance to prove themselves. And specifically helping marginalized people to get the opportunities for those career jobs. Because otherwise that glass ceiling is going to remain right in place. Okay, that’s everything from Catt but stick around for some extra content.
Clare: Every other episode, this last short segment will be devoted to Storytime. Storytelling is useful for teaching, for unlocking empathy, for creating a sense of shared connection and trust in your teams. I love telling stories to both children and adults. I’m actually a lapsed member of the UK Society for Storytelling. So, the plan is that I’m going to be using stories to illustrate various points about effective software development.
This Christmas for the first time I made pomanders, which are oranges with cloves stuck into them. You can use the stick bit of the cloves to stick into the orange and then the heads of the cloves make these really pretty patterns on the oranges, and they smell nice. Well, I mean I can imagine not everybody might like the smell of cloves, but I do. Still, it’s not the kind of smell you expect to find in a nine-year old’s bedroom. And that’s what this story is about.
So, this happened a few years ago when my son was nine. I walked into his room. He was lying on the bed reading and I could smell cloves. So, I said to him “It’s smells of cloves in here” and he just said “Yes”. So, I said, “But why does it smell of cloves?” And he said, “Because there are clothes in here”. So, I said “But why are there cloves in here?” And he said “They’re everywhere. I’m wearing them”. And I said, “What, why are you wearing cloves…?” And then I heard what I just said.
So, I’ll give you a minute to work out what was going on. If you haven’t worked it out already. Well, it happened he thought that I was saying clothes with a “th” in the middle rather than cloves with a “v” in the middle. And as he had been speaking, I was like scanning the room trying to see these hidden cloves that were apparently everywhere. I was wondering has he got them stuck into oranges. And I was trying to imagine how or why you would wear cloves.
In fact, I distinctly remember imagining that for some reason he had them in his shoes. And my favourite thing about this story is on mutual confusion. I couldn’t understand why he was so blasé about having a room full of cloves, and he couldn’t understand why I was making such a big deal about having a room full of clothes, or why I thought that clothes might have a special smell, or why I was surprised that he was wearing them. We never did find out why his room smelt of cloves.
So, I could attempt to say that there’s some kind of special lesson or meaning hidden in this story. Something to do, I don’t know with paying more attention or not taking things at surface value, but to be perfectly honest the reason I told this story is because it makes me laugh.
Jack: Hi, I’m Jack, Made Tech’s Events Coordinator. Now, working in the public sector means that at Made Tech we really care about making a difference. So, for this final Making Life Better segment, myself and my colleagues will be sharing small pieces of advice to make the world a better place. Today’s advice comes from me on helping people who are struggling.
Ask. Don’t ignore the small signs. It’s too easy to get lost in our own workload and life. Easier still, to completely miss when someone else in our teams or families, who are dealing with their own struggles. However, it doesn’t take much to notice when someone isn’t quite themselves and it takes even less to take a moment to ask. Especially after the year we’ve had; families separated months at a time, the world changing and shifting every week. It’s become more important than ever to let people know that we’re there for them. Now when I say the small signs, it could be something as small as not appearing fully engaged or not being quite themselves. Very often people may just be busy or having a long day. However, in my experience, simply asking if someone is okay is by itself more than enough of a reminder that whatever is going on, someone is there and someone cares.
Nobody will ever feel 100% every day. However, I was once told that there is indeed something worse than feeling sad, and it’s feeling sad and alone. And by checking in, it’s a powerful reminder that you’re not. That’s all for me. Have a good one.
Clare: That’s the end of another episode. If you’re enjoying the podcast, please do leave us ratings and reviews because it pushes us up the directories and makes it easier for other people to find us. I’ve got a few talks coming up. You can see the details on my events page on Medium which is linked to from my Twitter profile. And you can find that at @ClareSudbery, which is probably not spelt the way that you think: there’s no I in Clare and Sudbery is spelled e-r-y at the end, the same as surgery or carvery. You can find Made Tech on Twitter at @madetech and do come and say hello. We’re very interested to hear your feedback and any suggestions you have for any content for future episodes. Or just to come and have a chat.
Thank you to Rose, our Editor, Gina Cady, our Podcast Coordinator, Fiona Egan our transcriber, Richard Murray for the music, there’s a link in the description. And the rest of our internal Make Tech team: Kyle Chapman, Jack Harrison, Karsyn Robb and Laura Plaga. Also in the description is a link for subscribing to our newsletter. We publish new episodes every fortnight on Tuesday mornings. Thank you for listening, and goodbye.
[Recording Ends]Back to the episode