Taking a Shortcut: Connie Chau
Welcome back to Taking a Shortcut, a series where we interview our colleagues. The order in which we run these interviews is random, but that randomization is based on a process in which our Director of Creative Marketing buys a talking parrot from the talking parrot store, spends several months raising it while introducing it to his co-workers on Zoom calls, sets it free to live with the other parrots that fly around his neighborhood, waits several more months, and then interviews whoever’s name his parrot teaches the other parrots to say.
This week, the other parrots flew by and said “Connie!” And so that’s who we interviewed.
These interviews are meant to provide a glimpse into what it's like to work at a remote first company, while also exploring the topics of Human-Computer Interaction, Nicole Byer, and really missing being able to go to a theater to watch movies.
Who's that that you got there with you?
My dog, Auggie. She's been actually really great during work from home because I have her on my lap sometimes, sometimes she is just next to me, next to my desk. When I'm cold, I hug her and I steal her warmth. It's been really good having her around during quarantine.
Behind you I can see you have the old New York office as your Zoom background. Once the pandemic has subsided and we have an office again, how do you think she's going to handle not having you around all day?
I don't know. She might be happy, she might be sad. When I was working in an office I had a dog walker come every day and chill with her, walk her, go outside, and stuff. She might be sick of me.
That's true. My cat, well, I mean it doesn't really matter because I'll be working from home regardless since I’m in San Francisco, but she's absolutely gotten used to me being home. She’s fairly needy and follows me around everywhere when I’m awake. I think she would be very sad if I started leaving the house on a more regular basis.
Bring her with you!
Hopefully I'll be able to visit New York for work purposes before the end of this year. Maybe I should just bring Sasha in her carrier and let her free in a hotel room to roam wild. I’m sure they wouldn’t mind.
Do you miss being in the office?
I actually do. I've never worked remotely before Shortcut. Even before COVID, I would go into the office at least three times a week. I think I like the energy of being in a room with different people, with that casual, bouncing ideas around kind of thing. I miss that and I had to adjust to working from home and finding a way to replace that through Zoom and Slack. I do like the flexibility of working from home because I can run errands, or do things, or do my laundry in the middle of the workday, things like that but I do miss the energy of being in a room with people.
Especially for working in design, hearing other ideas and feedback feels pretty important.
I used to sit right next to Andrew (co-founder and CDO) and it's nice just to turn my chair and ask him a quick question. Like why did you do this this way? Or, what do you think of this design? Things like that. I think the design team has been better at setting up regular catch-ups and design meetings that replicate the in-office thing. At least we have time where we're talking to each other and showing our work. I think it's been good.
How long have you been at Shortcut?
Almost exactly two years. January 28th was my two-year anniversary.
Perfect. That was my one-year anniversary. I guess January 27th specifically, was my one-year. How many people were at Shortcut when you started?
I can't remember. I think maybe below 30. I think it was below 30 people. I started in the office. I think there were maybe like 10 to 15 people in the office and then remote people, maybe also 10 to 15. It was pretty small then.
How did you find Shortcut or how did Shortcut find you? How did you end up in the role?
Well, I had been in my previous job for like four years and I liked it, but I thought, "Okay if anything seems interesting I should actually look into it." I got an email from a recruiter and she was amazing. She sent me an email and explained Shortcut to me and it sounded really interesting because in my last two companies (both startups) were more in the MarTech space. Shortcut is not fully enterprise, but it's also not consumer. It is somewhere more in the middle.
It was a space that I've never explored before and I wanted to expand my experiences. I responded to her and ended up talking to Andrew, to Kurt too, and Heather and Zach. I really liked the vibe of the company and what they were doing is trying to improve the product development process. I was coming from a world where I'd also been using Jira. It always seemed so complicated to me. Creating something that is more joyful to use that's from the same space felt really interesting to me.
It’s true, and we don’t really even need to call our Jira here, but when you bring up project management tools to people, their faces do not light up with joy.
Where were you before? You said you were in a MarTech space. What was the company?
It's a marketing technology company called Bluecore. I also joined that company pretty early when it was around 30 people. I was there for 4 years. By the time I left, I think there were over a hundred people. It was very much an e-commerce, e-marketing company.
You joined fairly early there and saw it go up to over a hundred employees. And you also joined Shortcut very early. Is that really appealing to you, to be on the ground floor of a company?
Yes, I think that's my sweet spot, joining early, but also at a point in companies that’s more stable. I joined Shortcut, I think after it raised series A. Clearly, it had a lot of potential. It does appeal to me to join companies at the beginning and get the opportunity to help guide the direction and make an impact.
I totally get that. Shortcut is the latest I've ever joined a company. I was like number 50. At Sentry before that, I was number 24. At Weebly, I was number 4. Based on this continuing escalation, I’ll be like number 100 at whatever company I join in the distant future.
Why do you like to join companies early?
I think the same as you, I really like to influence how the company develops and to be able to wear a lot of hats. Just being involved in so many more things, it’s a lot of fun to be involved in early decision making and watch the company grow.
How did you become a designer? Were you an artist when you were younger?
When I was younger, I did like to draw, but I won’t say I’m the best artist. I've always been interested in design but I was also interested in the technology and the psychology side of it. In college, I studied something called HCI, Human-Computer Interaction. That's when I first learned about the intersection of design, technology, and psychology. I was like, "This is perfect!" It captured all of my interests and also fit my skill sets as well. That's why I decided to become a product designer. It's not purely just about the design, because it's about technology and also about people.
Human-computer interaction sounds fancy, tell me more about that. How much of your time is spent just thinking through how a person is going to react to the location of this button or this window on the screen?
Basically, it's about creating experiences that are intuitive by being very empathetic, giving a lot of consideration to how other people think. One of the key quotes that I learned in school and I always remember is, "The user is not like me." You definitely have to think outside of your head. When you're designing something you have to think about, "Okay, is this interaction obvious to somebody? What's going to happen?"
Some of it is intuition and what you learn and based on experience, but also a lot of it is actually talking to actual users and testing your designs and iterating. You keep getting feedback and iterating to making sure the design is good. It's a mixture of what you learn and what you've done in the past and also definitely validating with customers and things like that.
What's always impressed me with this is that there’s a real subtlety in what separates something that's really good and usable from something that isn’t. Web apps especially, they all pretty much look the same. There’s a menu at the top, and a menu on the side, and various things you can do with the other elements. If I just pushed my chair back about ten feet, and I looked at most apps, they could all be the same aside from brand colors. But some of them are really easy to use like Shortcut, and some of them... are not.
What makes you happiest? Is it seeing people interacting with the design? What really drives you here?
I think I'm a natural… well, I don't know that I'm a natural problem solver, but I like solving problems. I like challenges and finding solutions to things, and I think that's really a big part of being a product designer because if you have a problem of, "How do we put all these complicated interactions onto one screen and make sure it's elegant and usable?" I don't know if it's my happiest moment, but I get really excited if I'm iterating on design for a while, and then I hit on a solution where everything feels like it fits together. Everything fits in this place, and the solution works, and things like that. I really like that part.
Obviously, product design is not a solitary thing. You're designing things for people, so you need to actually talk to people to validate your work. A customer saying, "I really love this new feature. This is awesome!” that's always good to hear.
What about not at work? What do you do to wile away the hours while we're all half-quarantined?
Well, quarantine has actually been a really good time to catch up with a lot of my friends that either moved away from the city, or I haven't seen in a long time. I actually got back in touch with a lot of my friends that I haven't talked to. We have weekly calls and things like that. Sometimes we play games, Jackbox or whatever, and it's been super fun. I think that's been the really valuable part of quarantine, Just to rekindle these relationships.
I've also probably been watching too many streaming shows, but that's been fun. Not a lot of good movies, though. I'm a big movie lover. Pre-quarantine, I would go and watch a lot of movies, and now, unfortunately and for obvious reasons, there are not a lot of new releases.
I love going to movies too. There's a theater in San Francisco, the Castro Theatre, it was built back in 1922. Very old, and huge, and they would show old movies every day. Always a random but well curated assortment. I miss going there so much.
What's been your favorite things that you've streamed?
Oh yes, what did I watch? I know it's been so much. Have you seen the show called The Great? It's on Hulu.
I have not.
It’s about Catherine the Great. It's actually really well done and funny. Trying to remember what else. I've been watching WandaVision. It's been getting interesting. There's been so much this year.
2020 is all kind of a blur of television.
Yes, I can't even remember what I watched, to be honest. There's some reality shows that I really liked like Nailed It. It's really fun. I also got my first video game console, whatever you call those things, in years. Then I was addicted to Animal Crossing for a while like the rest of the world, so that was fun too. I'm getting bored of it right now, but I still go visit my villager every once in a while. They'll get mad at me if I don't say hi to them.
I really like Nailed It, because I really like Nicole Byer. She's so funny. When I first saw Nailed It, I didn't realize at the time that she hosts so many podcasts. She's a regular guest now on a couple of podcasts I listen to too. Every episode that she's on is always very, very funny.
My favorite podcast is called Doughboys and she's on there on a regular basis. I think she did comedy with both of them before they were in podcasts. She's also often on this podcast with a comedian named Jon Gabrus, called High and Mighty.
Oh yes, I know him. He’s on Comedy Bang Bang. That's my favorite podcast and he's hilarious. He plays the intern, Geno. He's really fun.
I like him a lot. Nicole Byer also had this new podcast with Lauren Lapkus where they both watched Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings movies for the first time. That was really good.
I love Lauren Lapkus. Lauren Lapkus and Paul F Tompkins, I think are the MVPs of Comedy Bang Bang. They are always on.
They're so good. What else have you been up to?
I actually got a new electric bike. I forgot because I haven't been riding because it's been so cold. It's been really nice that I could ride further distances across bridges, without being totally out of breath. I'm kind of exploring the city on my electric bike. It's been pretty nice.
For our closing question, is there anything that really stands out to you that you've learned at Shortcut or that you've had reinforced just from being part of the team here?
I think the best thing I like about working at Shortcut is really having Andrew as my boss. He's definitely one of the favorite bosses I've ever had in my career. Just his kindness and being willing to help out whenever he can even though he's super busy. I think Andrew's awesome.
I agree with that, Andrew is awesome. I think the highest praise, for me personally, I could give someone at work is that they're both kind and competent. And I mean competent in the strongest sense of the word, they're reliable, they know what they're doing, they can give advice and help other people. Andrew is very kind and very competent.
I mean he and Kurt basically built Shortcut from the ground up, and we're still working on the foundations of what they built, and they obviously built something super awesome. Andrew has been super helpful about giving advice and explaining why they made certain decisions in the past. I totally agree.
It's nice to go out with some praise for Andrew. That's the interview!