Things I Learned While Running an Engineering Talk Series (As a Designer)

And So It Begins...

Shortly after starting my position as a product designer here at CBRE Build, I realized that my design work might benefit from a deeper understanding of the perspective of my engineering coworkers, but I wanted to do this in a way that wouldn't be intrusive to my primary work.

Thus, I decided to run a bi-weekly learning session which I called “Liz’s Learnings” because I enjoy speaking in the third person. The format was quite casual: One hour, with the presenter choosing which points to cover for their topic, and no clear action items. I planned ten topics and found ten volunteers to present them.

Here are the topics that we covered throughout Liz’s Learnings

  1. Model View Controller
  2. Web Apps
  3. API’s
  4. Accessibility
  5. Front-end / Javascript Frameworks
  6. Databases
  7. Continuous Integration, Continuous Deployment

Some highlights from the sessions include:

  • The great conversation we had during the MVC (Model View Controller) session where we even tied the conversation back to OOUX, a design approach we’ve recently incorporated into our process.
  • This slide from Lars’ API’s session.

Screenshot of API's presentation showing three different methods of transportation that phoebe, carlos and arnold from The Magic School bus , take to school when they can be more efficient by taking one method.

  • And this really cool website (Empathy Prompts) that Lena showed us during her session on accessibility.

screenshot of empathy prompts site displaying a prompt encouarging to unplug your mouse.

Responding to Feedback

About a few sessions I started receiving feedback about new ideas for the sessions and things people liked or didn’t like about it. To confirm these comments I sent out a short survey.

Short survey image. Questions asked are: How many sessions have you attended?  Have you learned something that is relevant to your day-to-day work?  Do you like the current bi-weekly cadence?  Do you find the length of time (1 hour) to be appropriate?  For those who have presented, do you feel you spent an appropriate amount of time preparing for your session? Here's a list of upcoming topics. Select any which may be of interest to you.   Thanks, that's it! Feel free to elaborate on any of your above responses.

I knew that I needed to continue in order to complete my learning objective, but depending on the feedback, that I would potentially have to pivot my approach. I thought that if people wanted to continue, this would have to be either much more structured so that we weren’t spending precious man hours on lack luster or non helpful content. Or, if people did not want to continue that this would probably become a more casual one on one thing, with no upfront presentation and no invites out to others.

11 builders responded to the survey or about 20% of the total team. From the response group, most people were familiar with Liz’s Learnings, had attended at least two sessions and said they had learned something! However, some criticisms I got were that many people preferred shorter sessions.

And so I decided to continue, but with some changes.

  • Sessions would now be 30 minutes.
  • I would work with the presenter before the meeting to make sure there was some great content in there for the attendees. Also, we reserved the last 10 minutes for a discussion point or Q+A.
  • Based on survey results of which topics people were most interested in, I added and dropped a topic as well.
  • I began sending out surveys after each session as well so that I could collect feedback to give to that week’s presenter as a thank you gift.

It seemed like people were enjoying the sessions more.

Reflection

On average each session totaled about 12 people - 66% eng 33% product

Picture of Learning Session - roughly 66% engineers and 33% product people present

I did this after the fact so this isn’t as accurate as I would like but from what I could see in the recordings it was ALWAYS very close to 66:33%

Many people have questioned why these sessions seemed to be more engineering heavy. I think the main reason for this is that our full team is made up of 60% engineers : 40% product which include pms, designers and researchers. Most teams only have one dedicated designer, project manager or researcher (if that). This means that these people are less able to step away from their work to join these sessions than a person who is say, one of five engineers on a team. Therefore, I was actually quite pleased at the makeup of the group.

What’s Next?

As of now, Liz’s Learnings was just a two quarter learning objective. I learned a lot during that time like how do databases work, what’s an API, how we use CI/CD to continuously push out updates to our product and much more, but I also learned how to run an effective talk series - ask your audience for ideas, if your target audience isn’t able to attend are there ways to help this? Work with your presenters to create content and give something back as a thank you.

As for my next learning objective, I will be focusing on how to communicate better through both my writing and in person.

This piece was written by designer and noodle enthusiast, Elizabeth Kim.