March 31, 2021

An Interview with Fatimah Richmond, #Tapia2021 Scholarships Co-Chair

Fatimah Richmond is a UX Researcher at Google and the Co-Chair of the 2021 Tapia Scholarship Committee.  We spent a little time catching up with Fatimah on how life has changed over the last year.

What new projects are you working on this year?  How is your new job?

This year, I went back to practicing user research after spending some time in people management the last two years – leading a team of UX Researchers (UXRs) at Google, and leading a team of Research Program Managers (RPMs) at Linkedin. RPMs enable and empower UXRs to execute high quality research, also known as Research Operations in the industry. I learned a tremendous amount from that pivot in my career. Research Ops is truly the unsung superhero for the UXR practice (at all levels of UXRs) and it’s extremely critical yet ever-evolving. After reflecting and discussing with mentors, I decided that returning to Google and the practitioner role was the best path forward to contribute to the UXR practice in a meaningful way. Now, back at Google I work in our Payments product area, the area that produces the Google Pay mobile app. I focus on enabling a secure and safe digital identity and verification experience for our users to exchange payments on Google.

Working remotely has been a challenge for everyone, how have you and your family adapted?

First off, it’s difficult for everyone. We are fortunate to work for companies that are flexible and provide adequate resources to navigate our challenges. I understand this is not the case for everyone, and can only hope that companies continue to prioritize employee well-being, and employees continue to be kind to yourself – especially working parents. We’re in this together!

For family, we enjoy the additional quality time with each other, however, it was important to re-establish boundaries and reprioritize family tasks.  So, we created new physical spaces and new routines that aligned with that goal. The ability to adapt, be flexible and move forward is something that is important to us, so remote work/school became a means to reinforce and teach this trait.

For work, I also accepted that context switching would impact my productivity, and I incorporated more transparency with team members about availability. A few techniques that helped; blocking off time for family/work/desk time, rethinking my bandwidth for projects and decreasing video fatigue by disabling my video when appropriate.

What did you think of last year’s virtual Tapia?

My schedule was hectic the week of Tapia. I liked that it was virtual and I could multitask.  Switching from a physical to a virtual conference is no easy feat, so I appreciate our team finding an awesome platform and the attendees being super flexible. We could see people moving around the booths and chatting – it seemed very seamless and enjoyable.  There are always ways to improve and I’d love to see us improve on even more delightful features.

What do you think are some of the important issues and topics we should be addressing in our community?

My younger brother is entering his senior year at the university and I think students are overwhelmed with uncertainty on how to navigate the workforce and academia in a creative way.  One of the big questions that we could reflect on for students is:  How might students and professionals leverage all of their skill sets to brainstorm a path forward – not just your degree?  I have personally been inspired by observing Founders of small business during this time, especially in fields that were directly impacted by pandemic like travel, restaurants, etc.  I think successful founders have a natural hustle and creativity that lends itself to navigating rapid change.

I think we also all need to address how we can raise more money for scholarships and sponsoring Tapia students. One of the big questions that we could reflect on as conference organizers is: How might Tapia increase sponsorship and find more support during a time where the desire is high for supporting these efforts? 

As always, we should continue reflecting on ways to create safe spaces for members of our community to be able to speak freely about what they are experiencing in the world right now.

This year is the 20th anniversary of Tapia?  What are your favorite memories of Tapia’s past?

The most profound memory was during the preparation for the 2019 Tapia Conference, with my friend and colleague, Shameeka Emmanuel. Shameeka leads Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) efforts at Google. While we have known each other for a while, I was able to observe her DEI perspective in action while preparing for the conference. Her mentorship helped me form a more refined point of view on DEI topics that I use for both personal and professional goals.

The most rewarding memory is meeting the people.  Along with being on the committee, I manned the Google booth at the Career Fair session. Exchanging stories with the attendees allow me to share strategies and learn areas of need when navigating the industry, especially as a woman of color. Hearing the personal stories of challenges, and concerns and exchanging strategies is the most powerful part of participating in the Tapia Conference.

What do you hope to see for diversity in computing in the next 20 years?

I think we, humans, are all being deeply moved by the collective experience we’re going through, on multiple fronts – a global pandemic, awareness of systemic injustice, balancing work/home contexts. According to “Google’s Year in Search 2020” one of the top search trends was “What is empathy?” What I am looking forward to from computing are more product solutions that supercharge this desire for empathy – and how to take action more efficiently. Computing today is playing a significant part in quickly dispersing stories that were once hidden, via video and social media platforms. Computing in the future, could strengthen our empathy muscle and take empathy to the next critical phase of action. Action could be at the individual/self-level, an organization or enabling a specific group/demographic.   I find it exciting (and geeky) to imagine humans 20 years from now will ask, “So, what did we do with the empathy we acquired in 2020?” My hope is that computing, especially User Experience, can “level up” its contribution to that question.