#InterviewSeries | Chad Gowler
The #InterviewSeries is a collection of intimate discussions with people who identify as a woman or non-binary in the technical & digital spaces. They are entrepreneurs, developers, students, cyber-security experts, managers, designers, researchers and social media queens. The aim of the series is to increase the visibility of women and non-binary people in tech, to prove that no person's journey is linear & to celebrate their successes. Chad is my first non-binary person to be featured in the #InterviewSeries. I'm disappointed that it's taken two years to have a non-binary person featured, so I'm particularly honoured that Chad felt comfortable participating. I believe it's important that I use my privilege and platform to improve the visibility of those traditionally marginalised. So please enjoy the read and share this article far and wide.Their journey is particularly non-linear, something I really want to highlight with the series -- there's a lot we can learn from Chad's answers.
Tell us a little bit about your journey into your role.
I’ve been all over the place to be honest. Started out in retail, went to uni to do Software Engineering at 24, worked as a developer in various places. I first got exposed to the more UX side of the industry when I worked for a small software agency. I discovered that I really enjoyed talking to people; from codesign workshops up to usability testing. I started going to a lot of UX conferences and found I resonated a lot with those topics instead of development. I’ve also done a lot of public speaking and training on how to design for transgender and non-binary people and that was how I got onto the UX speaking circuit.
I tried quitting my job and “making my fortune” out in the UX world, but with no experience and no relevant qualifications I got exactly nowhere and so ended up getting back into development. It was at this job I started getting into accessibility testing and advocacy. After about a year I decided to pack it in and do a Masters in HCI in York and after that got my current job as a user researcher.
How do you personally use technology in your day to day?
No matter how much I try, I pretty much live on Twitter. I use my laptop a lot for various things, and games consoles, but really I don’t trust a lot of “new tech”. There are no “internet of things” or “voice assistants” in our house. I have a laptop I use for work as well. My favourite thing about current tech is being able to use my iPhone to Facetime my cat when I’m out overnight for work!
How do you use technology in your role?
I’m working quite hard at the moment to get myself out of using paper and in to using the laptop. Everything work-wise happens on here; recording interviews, doing analysis etc. I work in a different location to the rest of my team so being about to use Slack and video calls to communicate is key. I’m quite a disorganised person so I’m trying to use Trello to help me plan my work and after some wrangling it’s starting to help out.
What have been the best learning resources for you?
I read a lot. I highly recommend Design for Real Life by Eric A. Meyer and Sara Wachter-Boettcher, Just Enough Research by Erika Hall and Articulating Design Decisions by Tom Greever. I also go to usergroups and conferences where I can, Sheffield has a good tech scene and Manchester and Leeds are close by as well. I find I learn best by teaching so I do a lot of public speaking.
As a developer there were lots of online tutorials I used (CodeAcademy etc) but research isn’t something you can learn in the same way! I’m learning a lot by observing other user researchers and asking questions all the time. We have a good user research community at work, people are always willing to help or answer questions about pretty much anything. I also use Twitter a lot if I have general questions I want to throw out to a wider audience.
As a non-binary person, do you think you have faced any challenges that others would not face in your position?
I’ve been lucky in that the jobs I had since I came out have been really supportive and understanding. It can make joining a new place daunting as I’m never sure when to bring it up; like I don’t really mention it in job interviews in case it’s the thing that gets me rejected (non-binary people aren’t protected under the Equality Act). I’ve encountered a lot of challenges due to looking like a woman, or during times when I identified as a woman. I think one of my biggest challenges is finding a support network of like-minded people. I don’t particularly like going to women in tech groups as I don’t really fit in, and even groups that are welcoming of non-binary people still slip into assuming everyone in the room is a woman. (“Good evening ladies”)
What has been your biggest challenge to date?
Identifying sexism in tech is really hard, especially when I was new to the industry. I used to work in game retail where all the sexism is really obvious and explicit. Tech is more insidious. I’ve had more than one job where managers have been disparaging of me when I call them out, or when I’m assertive about an opinion. It becomes one of those things where I only really realised how abusive it was years later. Experiences like this have an effect on you for so long. As an example, I had a manager who was horrendously sexist, and this meant he rarely listened to me except to demean me. If I wanted to be heard I had to be loud and obnoxious myself, and it’s taken me a long time to get out of that habit and have meetings in a constructive way.
With regards to technology/ digital, what do you think will be our biggest barrier to success in the future?
I think we’re about to hit a huge problem with ethics as AI and big data get used more and more. The industry does not have the expertise to fully understand the ramifications of its actions. The workforce still does not reflect the demographics of the world it works in; it is still very much middle-class white people which is why we are still seeing issues with wearables and facial recognition not working properly with people of colour. We are going to be living with the effects of the Cambridge Analytica story for at least a decade and there are going to be many more scandals of a similar nature about to come out.
Who makes up your support squad?
My friendship circle is 99% techies, mostly developers. My girlfriend is always a massive support, without her paying for my living costs while I was doing my Masters I wouldn’t be in this job at all! Twitter (again!) is a big part of my social circle and that’s where I connect with my non-binary and other queer friends.
How do you manage/ prevent burnout?
I don’t really. I’ve had various mental health difficulties for years and they all come with their non-helpful “coping” mechanisms. We have a big problem in tech where we talk a lot about mental health but I’ve never worked at a place that knows how to handle it in a practical sense. I’m lucky in that I can afford to pay for therapy privately, and I highly recommend it if you have access to it.
In a lot of ways, it’s hard to know what burnout is until it actually happens. Plus side is you know what to look for next time. Listen to your body. My only migraine experience so far was during a period of high stress, and that’s how I know that time was one step too far.
What’s your favorite piece of advice to offer people entering the industry, in particular non-binary people?
Trust your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right don’t doubt yourself, but look after yourself. Speaking out can be costly but if you can then you can help so many people. I once got an email from a nonbinary person who wasn’t ready to come out, but they said they saw me talk and were inspired by how open I was, and that they are not alone. I won’t ever forget that. I went to a talk at Alterconf by Qa’id Jacobs about how diversity is a superpower, and being part of a minority gives you a perspective that tech really needs, so please share it. Bring as much of yourself with you as you can.