Taking a Shortcut: Kieron Keenan
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 messages passed in a secret, whispered language between our Director of Content and the unkindness of ravens that have been at his side since the day he was born, accompanying him on his journeys around the Earth. And yes, as weird as sounds, "unkindness" is the collective noun for ravens.
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 Dublin beach weather, Wim Hof, looking at the stars, and running marathons. For this week's edition, we spoke with Kieron.
Let’s dive right in. Where are you?
I’m based in Dublin, Ireland. I’m a short 10 minute walk from the beach. It's pretty awesome. I feel pretty lucky, especially given everything that's happening at the moment. I grew up a little bit outside of Dublin in the countryside and went to school in the countryside but I ended up back in Dublin and I've been here ever since.
That's pretty cool.
Have you ever been to Dublin before?
I have been to Dublin before!
Oh no way, how was it?
Everything was really fun, we went on some long walks, went up to a graveyard for some reason.
Oh, Glasnevin, was it Glasnevin cemetery?
I'm sure that was it. There was a pub at the cemetery (John Kavanagh The Gravediggers Pub). We also went on a Jameson's tour. Then we went to the countryside. Went to some castles and some small towns. I mean, it's beautiful. It's such a green and friendly place. I was in England before coming to Ireland and people in England were a lot frownier.
Whereas in Ireland everybody's smiling and very friendly and nice, not that the people in England aren't friendly in their own way too. In Ireland it was a much more like-
Yes, a welcome kind of feeling. I really enjoyed that, and I want to go back.
Yes. That's awesome and it’s true actually, in terms of friendliness. Irish people in general are just open to talking and chatting, no matter who you are. I think we’re just very very friendly.
Tell me what you do at Shortcut and how long you've been here.
I joined a year and three months ago, not too long ago! I'm a Senior Product Designer. I work very closely with our Product Managers, Engineerings, and other Designers. .My core focus since I started has been on Write (our new collaborative knowledge base tool) and now, I've transitioned into working on our upcoming Timeline feature, while also starting to design and build out our Design System with the Sustainability & Performance squad.
Day to day, I’m mostly designing things out, really trying to understand the user's needs, sketch out ideas and user flows, trying to spot any problems that may occur while a user is trying to do X or Y. I’m also just aiming to bring a lil’ joy for the user along the way. We share that around and get feedback, both internally with our teams and also with our customers, to see what they're thinking and see if it solves a problem for them, hopefully!
I do a lot of front end as well. Understanding the actual user problems and solving those with great design is so important, but, on the flip side of that, I think digging into the UI and the front-end on how the product is built is just as important. It involves jumping into the code and understanding how things are actually built.
So I’m not only designing, but also jumping in to fix any bugs or front end issues that a user may come across; anything that can help improve the user experience and also that will help me to communicate better with engineers.
You have the experience to be able to not just design, but go in and make some changes within the code itself. Where does that experience come from? What were you doing before you were at Shortcut?
I have had a long enough career already, 12 or 13 years, it is quite some time! I studied design but also studied a lot of basic code and principles of building websites. Once I built up a bit of a portfolio, I got my first job in a marketing agency.
I actually started as a Junior Front End Engineer. At the time I was mad interested in the build and development aspect. After about a month there, one of the designers, who was the only designer left. Everyone was like “Oh, the designer left.".
I said "Alright, listen, I'll jump in and I'll do some design." I fell into it at that point, and found it really challenging and so rewarding. I was learning a ton of new stuff and I have wanted to design from that moment on really.
The owners of that company were great mentors to me and so supportive as I started transitioning into a design role full time - I’m still great friends with them, Together Digital is their name.
What made the design side of things so interesting for you?
When you're engineering something, you're thinking logically: "How do I break this down? How do I make it work?" But in designing, you have to always ask “what am I actually trying to achieve?” That’s the challenging part and is so interesting for me.
Separately, I love the variety and the problem solving. When I was at the agency and I jumped into the designer’s shoes and got stuck into designing, my interests just snowballed! I was taking on a range of different projects from e-commerce websites to standard brochure websites, everything and anything that a digital agency works on. Every project had a new problem to solve.
From there, I wanted to gain more depth in design, and that's when I was starting to look into product design roles.
Al (who is Shortcut’s illustrator and made the artwork at the top of this post) was working at Ryanair at the time. I was looking at the great work that the team (Ryanair) was doing. They had just done a big rebrand, it was awesome, and I really wanted to learn from Al and the other designers who had made that happen.
I actually ended up at Ryanair as a Product Designer, and I got a real insight into the depth that design can actually have. Their user base is so broad -- you have to make things work well for the 16 year old going on their summer vacatios, and also your 80 year old grandmother! It was a brilliant learning experience having a full team of ux designers, ui designers, researchers, and protypers. So many great people to learn from.
Myself and Al worked closely together, he was my manager and we were synching up a lot. He moved on and I eventually also moved on to a more senior role at a mobile marketing agency.
After that, I decided to work for myself for a while. But Al and I always loved working together and he mentioned a Shortcut role so that's what got me really interested because we had worked so well together before. I started to learn more about Shortcut. I loved it. Fast forward and I feel like we're on the right track in terms of actually making the process of people building things much more streamlined, much more fun, and hopefully we’ll get better at it as we go.
Behind you I see some photos of the moon as well as a telescope. Seems like you like astronomy. Tell me about that.
Yes! I'm not too technical with the subject, I don’t know a lot but I’ve been known to point it at the sky and say, "Ohhh." [laughs]
I've been into astronomy for about 8 years. I used to live in the countryside in a place called Leitrim in the north-west of Ireland. It has clear skies most evenings and you see everything up there, the Milky Way, the whole shebang. It's beautiful. Living in Dublin you don't see too much and you've got to venture outside the city. I had a telescope back home in Leitrim but hadn’t had one for years. My partner got me a new telescope for Christmas but I’ve used it like two or three times!
Ah I do love astronomy though. I watch a lot of shows and read a lot of articles on it and everything going on with SpaceX at the moment is so interesting.
Looks like you have a guitar back there too.
I actually used to play drums, and again, but moving to Dublin and into an apartment kind of strips away that fun. I had to change the instruments I played so I started teaching myself guitar, simply because I couldn't play drums anymore. I’ve been playing guitar on and off since I was about 17 or 18 and I’m trying to get better.
Music is one of those things that I really love, like most people. It does a lot for me. It chills me out and also gets me motivated, but I think there's something crazy about just picking up an instrument with some strings on it that are tightened to a certain point and it makes this incredible sound. I think it's awesome.
I wish more people in interviews would put their hobbies within view, it makes it easier to ask questions about them.
I’d love to tell you the guitar is there on purpose but this room was actually our spare bedroom. Obviously with COVID and being at home, we needed an office space so we ditched the bed and got this huge desk. It's like so long. It's like a kitchen countertop, and we just put some legs on it and turned it into a desk. But this room has actually become a room for work, music, storage.. A room where we just have all of our stuff!
You live near the beach. What's the beach like in Dublin? How warm does it get?
Not very warm and you would probably have to censor out the actual words I’d use to describe it! Yes, pretty cold, but honestly it’s great. I don't get in as often as I’d like to be honest, but the beach here in Portmarnock is gorgeous. I think it's called Velvet Strand.
I was in yesterday, went in for a dip. We went down yesterday and had a swim after work and did some Wim Hof breathing. Do you know Wim Hof?
Basically, it's breathing.
Jumping into some cold water obviously gives you a shock but you control your breathing to deal with the cold. Wim Hof himself teaches these breathing exercises - I’ve done some classes on it. You submerge yourself into cold water, take cold showers and you breathe through it. It wakes you up for sure if you're feeling a bit tired or down. It really helps lift you up and gives your body better energy.
That's cool. Tell me what else you like to do. You like to jump in cold water, do breathing exercises. You like to look at the stars. You like to play the guitar.
That's pretty much it. Video games, movies, just chilling out. Running is a big thing as well. I did my first marathon last year. That was tough. I didn't train enough. If anyone plans on doing a marathon, train more.!
Are you playing a video game right now? Do you have a game that you really enjoyed in quarantine?
During quarantine I got a little addicted to Call of Duty Warzone. Outside of work I'm like, “all right, game time” and I jump into Warzone for a few games.
I wouldn't be like a hardcore gaming person, just moreso into first-person shooter video games, sports games, stuff like that.
We're pretty much at the end of the interview, so I'm doing the closing question that everybody gets, which is this: what's something that you've either learned or had reinforced by working at Shortcut?
People; the value of people. Knowing how important and valuable people are in terms of what they can bring to the table; how important it is to have people that care on your team; and how to make people feel valued.
It’s amazing working with awesome people, people that care, people that want to make a difference and actually want to make something great. When we talk about Shortcut, everyone on the team cares about making the best product and also striving to make the user experience better and more enjoyable. Anyway, I could keep talking about how important people are all day...