Tag Archives: hci

Seriously Serious About Grad School

I’ve put off going to grad school until my 30s because I wanted to wait until I was ready to make the commitment. Given my interests are so varied it has been difficult to determine what exactly I should pursue in further education, especially as I’ve moved up the corporate ladder and, without an advanced degree, started to make a six-figure salary. So right now it isn’t about the money. I don’t expect to make more by earning a graduate degree. What I expect is that I will open all those doors that are tightly shut on my face right now that I desperately want to open.

For the past 10 years, I’ve wanted to go to graduate school for human computer interaction or interaction design. While my ultimate goal is to become a VP of Product, I’d rather approach this from the more scientific and design side over the business side. I know people who clearly are the right type of people to get an MBA, which was, until recently, another option I was seriously considering. But as much as I’d love to better understand how a business works, I have no aspirations to be in charge of business operations at a company. If I ever want to be in charge of a business it will be in a very tiny startup that I founded and I learn more about how to manage this type of business by spending my time in actual early-stage startups. So I think this is the right decision.

My goal is to somehow score well enough on the GRE to get into a graduate program in fall 2014. I think this is ideal timing too because at this point I will have been in my current role for over 4 years (if I can make it that long) and I don’t think anyone would hold it against me for wanting to shift career paths. I still have a few goals to accomplish in my job today, such as working closing with a colleague on a project where I am getting some product management experience, figuring out how to iterate on our website so I fully understand a/b testing aligned to generating quality leads, and honing my semi-executive presence over the silly person I really am.

But it feels good to have a goal again. I could easily just keep plowing along as I’m doing today, and finding jobs in marketing/pr, but this would never make me happy. I value my experience in this field, as I think it’s always good in product to have a solid understanding of not only your customers but also how the overall market would respond to your story. I wouldn’t give up this experience for the world, even though had I gone to grad school 5 years ago I might already be in a senior product role by now. It has taken me a long time to accept that life is not a race and there really is no destination for the journey. There are many things that come up along the way that you don’t expect and the best you can do is let life teach you its lessons while doing some soul searching in determining what makes you happy.

I’m pretty clear on what makes me happy — building a product with crazy good user experience from the ground up with a team of people who care about the experience as much as I do, but who bring their own unique ideas to the table so we can collaboratively kick ass. I like to build products that help people, whether that be improve efficiency, make it easier to learn new things, or help people lead healthier lives. I could see doing my graduate thesis around education and social user experiences, possibly somehow tied to wearable technologies.

I’m fascinated by the future of mobile devices — while google googles are terrible from a design perspective — the future is a connected one, where we measure so much more than we do today about our daily lives. I’d be very interested in designing learning experiences for children with ADHD which are designed to capture a short attention span and help these students memorize information. Some tie in with psychology, learning, and computer interaction. This is my passion and this is what I’m going to do. I have no idea how I’ll make a career out of it, as I don’t want to end up in the R&D wing of some giant corporation slaving away at projects that never see the light of day — maybe I’ll have to start my own educational technologies business. Who knows. But it all sounds extremely exciting, compared to spending the next 30 years begging reporters to give my company a smudge of virtual ink.

The real challenge, the biggest challenge, perhaps the ONLY challenge, is getting a high score on the GRE. I don’t know for sure if I could get into my top program choice, but there are a lot of good HCI/Interaction masters programs out there and I’m very confident with my experience in technology, even on the business side, I’ll be able to get into a good program as long as I can achieve reasonably high scores on the GRE. Easier said than done. Despite being a writer and philosopher of sorts, I’m a terrible academic. Studying has never been my forte. So I need to somehow come up with a way to motivate myself to learn and retain knowledge. It’s crazy how I’ve never really learned anything in my life past basic verbal skills and arithmetic. Or, I should say, I’ve never been taught anything. I always figure things out for myself. It’s pretty crazy looking back on my education and realizing that I never let myself actually be taught anything. The good thing about graduate school is that I’d be taught about things I’m very interested in, and a lot of it is about teaching yourself and doing your own projects/research, which is how I learn.

Needless to say, I’m very excited about this plan. It does put a huge damper on my $50k per year savings goals, and any trace hope of early retirement, but I don’t really want to retire early, I love working, and I’m miserable when I wake up in the morning with nothing meaningful to do. I need to work on that as well (doing nothing is ok) but ultimately right now I know I need to set myself up for a career that is going to fulfill me not just for a few years, but for the remainder of my professional career. Design-thinking product management, especially in the area of learning technologies and connected devices, is most definitely it.

jumping off the career plank

I often write about how I have a great job, yet I still feel like I haven’t found the position where my talent can best contribute to a company or cause. I can get by in marketing… I’m decent at telling a story about a product, understanding how people might want to use it. But I’m by no means a brilliant marketer. In this career, I can only go so far, and it really shows everyday at work.

Every year, every month, every day, I come back to wanting to be on the product side of tech divide. I highly value my experience in marketing and know it will help me in the long run, but I honestly do not want to spend the rest of my career as a marketer.

While I’m dedicated to my marketing role at my current company, at some point things will need to change. I’m 27 now, and I’m dedicated to this role until I’m 30 or 31. At which point, I need to figure out what’s next. And that time will be here before I can count 1. to. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. Continue reading

How long would it take to save $150k?

All of the graduate programs I’m looking at will cost about $150k for 2 or 3 years. Thus, I want to save $150k before applying. Is that possible? How long would it take to, realistically, save $150k?

If I cut out things I don’t really need… voice lessons, dance class, gym membership, etc, I could get my monthly expenditures down significantly. Still, $150k is a lot of money.

I don’t want to take out loans. I don’t want to graduate from grad school in debt. That seems counterproductive to fiscal growth.

I have $30k saved now, though half of that is my retirement savings. Do I want to touch my retirement savings? At least that doesn’t count towards my FAFSA AGI.

Ok, so to save $150k …

$12500 / month for 12 months (1 year)
$6240 / month for 24 months (2 years)
$2500 / month for 60 months (5 years)
$1250 / month for 120 months (10 years)

I bet I could save $1250 a month, but that means I won’t be going to graduate school until 2020. And by then, tuition will cost much more. So this saving up for my tuition seems impossible.

Right now I’m taking in between $3,000-$4,000 / month.

Cutting out all extraneous costs, $1250 / month would be possible to save.

But then… I won’t be saving for retirement in the next 10 years. I won’t be saving for anything else. And I won’t be living life. Oh, and I won’t be able to afford to have children. Which all kind of sucks.

How on earth does anyone justify graduate school (unless it’s all paid for?) How does anyone justify any education (I can’t believe how much my parents paid for my undergraduate degree!) Then again, at the time my dad was making over $200k / year, which, even after taxes, made it possible to cover my $120k undergraduate education. They really should have made me go to the equally–good state school that I got into that would have cost a lot less, but I’m glad they didn’t.

Now, looking at my future, I’m trying to balance how much my career is worth versus being in debt for the rest of my life. I realized that I missed the mark in terms of my undergraduate major, though even with the right major I lacked the maturity at the time to make the most of my education. Not that I partied a lot or anything, I just didn’t want to be there. I didn’t know what I wanted. I felt like I had to be in college because that’s what you do after high school. I didn’t really know WHY I was there. To get a liberal arts education? To get a technical education? Yea, it wasn’t clear. I got a taste of a few different things, but now I really need some sort of focused trade-school-esque education to get where I want in my career.

Speaking of, I’m contemplating seeing a career counselor to help me figure out where that is. I went to my career counselor in college quite a bit, but he wasn’t much help. Maybe the ones that cost $100/hr are better? Apparently it’s normal for an INFP like myself to spend way too much time thinking about all the possibilities without ever acting on them. So I just need some guidance. An adult guidance counselor. I’m starting to think I need that more than therapy. I mean, I know my issues. And yes, I can work on them all my life. The daughter of an upper-middle class everything-is-fine-with-our-family sociopath and a narcissist is bound to turn out a little messed up, right?

I’m just SO TIRED of living my life afraid of failure in the eyes of my parents. I’m looking forward to paying for my own education because then, even if they look down on me for my choice, or roll their eyes at it, I know it’s coming out of my wallet. It’s my education to make the most of, not theirs. Not theirs to waste, either.

I went to a new therapist this morning… a first meeting intended to place me into a group for group therapy. I’m very interested in group therapy because much of my issues, especially those relating to my ability to succeed, are rooted in my complete lack of ability to communicate. It is painful because I know I come off like this conceited bitch because I’m terrified of giving compliments even though in my head 99% of what I’m thinking is a compliment and 1% is “you could just tweak this one thing and everything would be even extra special great.” How on earth do you say that without coming off like a suck up? Agggh.

Well, I know I’ve completely failed on the communication end in my current company. I’ve learned a lot from my mistakes, yet I still make them, and no one really wants to hear my thoughts anyway. Because they are often inspired by a gut feeling more than solid research, so their standpoint is beyond fair.

I just have concluded that ultimately I need to be in a job where I am a problem solver. I am always bursting with solutions and to not be allowed to say them (even though I often do anyway, to the disappointment of my coworkers) is suffocating. I know my ideas are not always right, but I love to collaborate and throw ideas out, bounce off other people, turn an idea into a solution.

I’ve spent my free time this week reading about countless masters programs. MBA programs. HCI programs. ID programs. Design masters programs. With a foundation year for people who didn’t major in design in undergrad. International programs. Online programs. Part-time programs. Dual degree programs. Weekend and evening programs. Programs that can only be completed if you stand on your head and clap five times while hunting wild boars. (Okay, okay, I haven’t found that last one… yet.) I am overwhelmed by all the options and the potential cost of all those options. Any of those options.

All the stress is enough to have me retreat into the status quo forever. And maybe that’s what I’ll do. Or maybe I don’t need grad school to do what I want. Maybe if I can just believe in myself enough I can take a few design classes, get a portfolio together, and shift my career trajectory. I don’t know. I’m obviously more confused than ever. It’s the typical quarter life crisis. Except I kind of know what I want. Or at least I know I want to be solving problems. To be in charge of solving problems. Creatively. I’m most comfortable as a leader, not a follower, but I need a team of equals. I wish I had some realistic support. I won’t get any from my parents and my boyfriend doesn’t understand the financial consequences of grad school… his mother is going to pay for him to get a graduate degree if he doesn’t get a full ride (his undergrad education was much cheaper than mine, so it makes sense that his mom still has money left over for his graduate education.)

I just wish someone sat down with me in senior year of high school and forced me to take a year off and work before going to college. I wish someone explained why despite “liberal arts” magical allure, ultimately you should be using college to get the skills you need for a job. A job that you’ll actually like. Not just one you’re qualified for because you have a BA.

Anyway, that’s enough rant for tonight. I hate that I always sound so spoiled. I just want to pay my way through graduate school, work hard, and feel like I own my successes and my failures. I want to own… me.