From NASA to Google

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I wanted to be a mathematician when I was little. I was really good at math and not as confident in my English language abilities. For me, math was very comforting because there was always a right answer. I also really like making things. In college, I was an undecided major for a long time. I liked psychology a lot but I didn't want to be a psychologist. Being a very introspective person, I wanted to find something that was at the intersection of design and psychology.

I got my undergrad degree in psychology and my Master of Science in Human Factors from Cal State Long Beach. I was a self-taught web designer and worked on my school website. After that, I worked for a bit at a modern design furniture company before doing aviation research at a lab during my master’s degree. I remember when I started my master’s degree, I found out my school had a grant program with NASA. I applied for the grant with no expectations that I would get in, not even knowing that NASA would hire someone like me. I ended up getting accepted and having a “Wow, I work for NASA now!” moment.

At NASA, I was working on aviation, unmanned aerial systems and future concepts. I worked on many of their education outreach websites. When the curiosity rover came out, I worked on that  website as well. You could go on its site and send instructions to the rover on Mars and it would send back the video feed. I had to build up a lot of knowledge about the technical components of spacecrafts and how to control them on Mars. I had to learn to speak like an air traffic control pilot and conduct studies. I got to understand how space missions work and would observe scientists and engineers working together to understand what the Mars Rover was going to do every day. It was a surreal experience being in a room full of 50 to 100 of the brightest minds in the industry discussing movements of the space rover.

I now work as a user experience researcher on the Google Maps team. I work with product teams to gather feedback from users. This involves a lot of foundational research to understand what features to build and make sure the designs that are created can meet the users’ needs. At the end, when the feature is launched, I am able to understand how well the feature is doing out in the wild.

My work can take up a lot of my mental energy and one thing I’ve been struggling with recently is finding balance. Doing a good job at work while making sure you have time for yourself and to cherish the relationships around you is not easy. I don’t even have a family and kids and it’s already hard, so I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for parents. In grad school, I focused on my career so much. The 2008 recession had hit and I was broke, so that was all I did. I continued with that mindset, but now I realize that I need to take care of myself to optimize my output. Burning yourself out with work does not mean you will have a successful career. I am now taking the time to find that balance and be healthy while being good at my job, and it’s making me more productive. I want to design products that can help people at a grand scale. I want to leave behind happiness in this world, and in order for me to do that I need to first make sure I am living life in a way that makes me happy.