By December 2019, GIX will have graduated two cohorts of students into a strong technology sector. According to a July 2019 report by industry tracker CompTIA, the U.S. technology sector added more than 56,000 new jobs in the first half of 2019. The number of jobs available in tech continues to expand at a rate unmatched by the number of qualified workers; the unemployment rate of tech workers is at 1.3%, compared to the national average of 3.7%. The Seattle market, where many GIX graduates decide to work, currently has over 13,000 open tech jobs, representing a 10.5% year-over-year growth. Graduates of the GIX program are thriving in this space, as 95% of cohort one students secured jobs in their field within six months of graduation.
Getting a job isn’t the only factor, though—GIX graduates are earning highly competitive salaries for the Seattle tech market. On average, roles in the Seattle tech sector have a median base pay of between $75,000 and $125,000, with some graduates even exceeding that. GIX grads are currently working in roles including technical project managers, product manager/designer, UX designer, software engineer, and machine learning engineer.
We sat down recently with three graduates from the first GIX cohort to discuss their experience in the program and how the MSTI and Dual Degrees prepared them. Linzi Xu is a User Experience Researcher at SAP Concur in Bellevue, Ryan Wu is a Senior Designer at Microsoft FUSE Labs in Bellevue, and Ibtasam Sharif is a Product Manager at The Climate Corporation in Seattle.
Linzi Xu: Bridging the gaps
After graduating from the Dual Degree program in December 2018, Linzi worked as a UX Research Intern at YiRental before starting as a UX Research Intern at SAP Concur, a role that ultimately turned into a full-time position. SAP Concur creates software that helps businesses track expenses through the power of data analytics. Now in her third month of work, she’s focused on generating insights to inform the design of products by leveraging the qualitative data (like interviews) and quantitative data (like Google Analytics) to form a thorough understanding of users’ behaviors, needs, motivations, and pain-points.
How did GIX prepare her for working at SAP Concur? “I knew that human/computer interaction was what I wanted to do, and the program incorporated these with the business entrepreneurship and engineering aspects. We learned to ask things like, ‘When you’re going to launch or sell this concept, what is your selling point? Have you considered the business scope?’ It helped me learn to be the one who could have really critical insights on the big picture.”
“I also got the chance to do a lot of hands-on training making prototypes.” The ability to go from design concept to tangible prototype allows GIX students to explore all aspects of their design. “It helps you think about the selling point of your projects,” Linzi said. It’s the interdisciplinary element that she attributes to helping her work well at SAP Concur. “You have to make something that meets the real needs of the user, not just something that’s cool.”
At GIX, students are often put into groups with people from around the world, where they tackle problems that are novel to them. “I worked on group projects with different people and stakeholders from different cultures. It forces you to learn how to cooperate with people who have different mindsets.
These skills are directly relevant to her new job, too. “We’re about to initiate a research project in China; I can contribute my skills, as well as my knowledge of my home country, which makes me proud. A lot of companies face challenges in conducting international user research due to different cultures, contexts, and regulations, etc. Working together with the team, I want to see how I can bridge the gaps and figure out the best practices for it.”
Ibtasam Sharif: Balancing user needs with business needs
Ibtasam, or Ibi as he’s known to his teams, graduated from cohort one with Linzi, but his path to his current role as Product Manager at The Climate Corporation began further back. He graduated with a computer science degree in 2008 and went on to launch and lead multiple data and software teams. He joined the MSTI program in 2017 to further refine his skill set and grow his understanding of the scope of product manager roles. The interdisciplinary nature of the program is what really attracted him. He now works as a platform product manager for The Climate Corporation where he helps leverage the power of data analytics to help farmers grow crops more efficiently.
Ibi founded two successful companies before starting GIX, but things weren’t always easy. “I learned a lot of things on the go, and made a lot of mistakes, but I wanted to learn the formal way of doing business. If I do another startup, I want to know the right way. Sometimes mistakes are hard, and you can’t always recover. “
“When I joined GIX, my focus was on the business side, but it also taught me the importance of being user-focused. Knowing the needs of your user should be the backbone of every product. If it doesn’t do that, it won’t be successful.”
“I have always wanted to work in a role where I am involved with multiple domains (design, sales, marketing, and strategy) within the organization and not just engineering. I can apply all the product management skills I learned at GIX and also fulfill my desire to work closely with the engineering side.”
While a student at GIX, Ibi’s launch project was in partnership with Microsoft, where he and his team used machine learning to develop a system that listened to the clucks of chickens to identify their stress and potential dangers. When he began his job search, this experience led him to target companies in the agriculture space.
“Typically the interviews give you a problem and they want to see if you know the users, their needs, and how to prioritize. All the people were fascinated by the work we did. The companies I interviewed with not only liked the problem statement, but they liked how we approached the problem and pivoted based on user needs. That, and how we balanced it with business needs. These companies are trying to understand if you have a product mindset, which is the intersection of desirability, feasibility, and viability.”
Ryan Wu: Communicating the impact of design
Before joining GIX, Ryan worked as an interaction designer for user experience design consultancies and then as a product manager for a smart electric scooter company. He now works as a senior designer on the Microsoft FUSE Labs team, where he interprets frontier technology research findings and integrates them with existing product feedback to generate new product designs.
“I used to be fascinated by the design of digital products. I eventually worked for a startup and was responsible for designing and operating to make the software product the company’s key offering. During that time I was sent to Milan on a business trip, and it greatly enlarged my horizons. Later, I found MSTI and thought it would be perfect for me; it helped me think about how my designs could serve the business goals and be feasible for the tech side. If you’re working on tech and you don’t know the details, you can’t make good products.”
“Before I came to GIX, I didn’t have any English presentation experience. The first time I gave a presentation, I was panicking. After 15 months of practice, I overcame that. Because GIX offers so many opportunities to speak publicly, eventually I became comfortable with it. In my launch project presentation, I spoke in front of 200 people without a problem. When I came here to do a presentation, it was natural. ”
While at GIX, Ryan worked on a launch project in partnership with the Microsoft AI for Earth team in which he helped create hardware that used machine learning to automatically identify and record wildlife. The custom hardware paired a camera with software that leveraged cloud computing to photograph wildlife for researchers.
“The initial goal from Microsoft was to develop a prototype, but because of what we learned at GIX, we wanted to do it right. We spent months studying the case and doing the interviews to figure out what we needed to build, and then a few more months actually building it. It was very similar to what you’ll do at a tech company. It’s easy to communicate that to a recruiter and it’s clear to them that you know how to do things right.”