Building a Culture of Research and Landing Your First UXR Gig with Roy Olende of Zapier

Sarah Jane Burt
January 11, 2022
Building a Culture of Research and Landing Your First UXR Gig with Roy Olende of Zapier

While user experience research is not a new phenomenon, it is still a growing field. Many companies are just starting to really invest in UX research and research operations. Organizations that want to create customer-centric products must build and foster a culture of research around user experience.

Roy Olende joined us to discuss his UX research and operations journey. As the Head of UX Research at Zapier, he is responsible for fostering a culture of research and making it as easy as possible for people across departments to understand customer needs and challenges better.

Roy shares his experience getting started in the industry and building a culture of research at Zapier. He also offers his advice for landing your first job when you’re just getting started in UX research.

Miss the webinar the first time around? Watch it here or get the highlights below.

How We Got Here: Roy Olende’s Journey in UX Research

After attending university in Canada and Australia, Roy worked for a non-profit organization in Canada. In 2012, he left the non-profit and landed some consulting projects. As a consultant, he helped companies think about how they could better organize and design services. 

The more companies Roy worked with, the more he began to realize that many organizations neglect customer experience. He wanted to incorporate this into his work, so he learned as much as he could about UX by speaking to people in the industry, reading as much as he could, and doing research.

As Roy grew his family, he began looking for an opportunity that would allow him to spend more time with them. That’s when he landed his first UX research job at Buffer, joining two other researchers on the team.

Working in-house for Buffer allowed Roy to see the work through from beginning to end. He enjoyed being able to really see the impacts of his work at the organization, which wasn’t always possible when he was working as a consultant.

Roy later joined the Zapier team as Head of Research Operations. In 2021, he became the Head of UX Research.

Building a Culture of Research

Whether you’re joining an organization that already has a strong culture of research or you’re trying to build it from scratch, there are certainly some things you can learn from Roy’s experience at Zapier.

Research Culture at Zapier

Jane Davis, Roy’s predecessor at Zapier (and Great Question’s current Principal Researcher), did a lot to define the value of research and what it can contribute to the business. When Roy stepped into the position, he had to continue to build on the work the company already did to cultivate a culture of research across the organization.

“Since Jane left, I’ve been focusing on how to set up a way for my team to grow individually and make a bigger dent in the business across altitudes,” Roy said.

high-, mid-, and low-altitude work

Roy wants to provide his researchers with enough variation in their work to cover multiple altitudes.

Overall, his goal is to be able to map research closely at all altitudes so that it aligns more closely with the business and its objectives. He also wants to give his team the opportunity to grow and develop personally.

Continuing the Culture of Research

Zapier has always had a unique approach to customer experience. The founders wanted to make it so that anyone working at Zapier—no matter their department—is not too far removed from the customer.

Previously, this meant that everyone took part in all-hands support, helping customers in the email support queue get their questions answered. All-hands support allowed everyone at the company to connect with customers and understand their problems.

When Roy joined the team, he thought about other avenues for allowing team members across departments to brush shoulders with customers. That’s when he developed research ride-alongs, which made it easy for anyone in the company to listen in on research calls and learn from users.

These research ride-alongs helped build an internal sense of the big themes that were happening with users. Over 100 Zapier team members from all departments have joined in on these calls to learn from real customers.

“The important part is that it is a part of the company rituals. So it made it much easier when I was starting up.”

Since Zapier already had a strong culture of research, Roy’s job getting people to join these calls was relatively easy. But what happens if your organization doesn’t have a culture of research?

How to Get Started Building a Culture of Research

Roy offers his advice for folks trying to build a culture of research at their organizations—“Start small and prove it.”

Rather than building a giant program, you can start with something very small and simple, like getting just one person to join a call and listen in. Roy recommends starting with people you’ve vetted and know will take the opportunity seriously. If you do your job right, that person will start to make connections. 

“Once they're on that call, it’s very seldom that they’re going to see what’s happening, hear the feedback, and just go, ‘eh, whatever.’”

Once you’ve done one call and done it well, you then focus on getting the person to a second call. Ask them to share their experiences with others at meetings to get them interested in the process.

“If you’re starting from scratch, just do one and do it well. Do another, but get the other person to talk about it, socialize, and market this on your behalf.”

Once people see the value that this experience provides them, they will be your best asset in getting others on board to participate.

How to Land a UXR Job as a Newbie

While there are many paths to a career in UX research, there are some things that everyone can do to increase their chances of landing their first UXR job. Roy shared his advice for those new to the industry but looking to break in by getting an entry-level or junior position.

1. Build your network.

If you’re trying to break into the UX research industry, the first thing you should do is find and join a community where you can speak to people who are actively working as researchers. 

“The state we’re in right now, there’s more opportunities for senior folks than junior folks,” Roy says. “One way to possibly get around that is connecting with people in these communities by networking and building relationships.”

While networking may seem old school, it is still the best way to learn about opportunities and connect with people at organizations you’re interested in. Remember, putting in the work now will pay off when you finally snag your first UX research role.

2. Find the right organization.

Not all companies have the same dedication or approach to customer experience and research. If you’re looking for an organization that actually prioritizes UX research, here are some ways that you can find one:

Watch out for cheap talk.

Every company out there can say that they deeply care about customer experience. But it’s easier to say that than it is to take the actions necessary to make it true. Look out for companies that talk a big game but don’t necessarily back it up.

Roy cautions, “The number one thing I would look out for is trying to parse: Is this real? Or is this fake? Are these empty words? Or do they have substance?”

Look at what they’re investing in.

One of the first things you can look for is whether or not a company is actually investing in user experience research. For a smaller company, that might look like hiring a consultant. For larger companies, that often looks like having a dedicated team of UX researchers.

Speak to people who work at the company.

Roy shared that he gets a lot of knowledge about companies from speaking to other UX researchers. If they haven’t worked at the company, they probably know someone who currently works there or has in the past. 

Don’t have any contacts you can talk to? Reach out on Twitter or LinkedIn to get some practical knowledge from someone who has worked there. Doing the hard work upfront to build your community and talk to other researchers will pay off in the end because you’ll get a better understanding of a company before you apply.

3. Ask others to advocate for you.

People within the UX research community will know when new roles come up at their organization. Once you’ve built relationships with these people, you can ask them to advocate for you with their hiring manager or someone they know at another organization.

“It’s a big deal for someone who works at the company to have a friend say, ‘This person is looking to break in. Could you give them an opportunity?’”

Getting a recommendation from a UX researcher who works at the organization or from someone who is a colleague or friend of someone at the organization can go a long way in getting your foot in the door.

4. Showcase your knowledge.

Show the organization that you know about the topic in a way that will be helpful to them. This was Roy’s approach when he first got started and did not yet have much experience.

He would do research projects on his own and then show them to organizations. This showcased his understanding of the customer experience challenges and demonstrated his ability to provide strategic recommendations for solving these challenges.

For example, he might choose an app and survey his friends about their experience with the app. Then, he’d take those surveys to use as UX research and build out a case study. This would allow him to showcase his knowledge.

Interested in UX operations?

If you’re interested in UX research and operations, you can watch the entire webinar recording here or check out Roy’s podcast, Scaling Research

And if you’re ready to get your hands dirty, you’re already in the right place. Great Question is building the platforms that automate research operations. Try Great Question for free today.

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