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Ruxandra Popescu: from social sciences to User Researcher

A few words about me:

This is a picture of me cheekily smiling at the camera. I'm wearing a light blue denim jacket and a white wool sweater as well as silver cheese-grater-shaped earrings

Hi, I'm Ruxi and I am a User Researcher at dxw. I was born and raised in Romania and moved to London in 2012 for my undergrad.

Outside work you’ll find me cooking (I particularly love Southeast Asian food), being active, eating out or going to museums, events and coffee shops or looking for new activities and things to learn, usually about health, politics, art, creativity.

It’s important to me to feel inspired and excited, and also that my time is spent meaningfully, so lately I’ve been thinking a lot about big life questions.

Are there any professional experiences you've had that are quite unexpected compared to what you do nowadays?

I only worked in charities before going into user research - first as a graduate in Unicef UK in a children's rights programme for UK schools, then in the Innovation team to research and develop new fundraising products. Then I did a fair bit of prospect research at Cancer Research UK, identifying high net wealth individuals and corporate prospects for large donations and partnerships.

Is your background more STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) or non-STEM related?

Non-STEM, more social science-based.

Where did your professional journey start?

In many ways my professional journey began when I discovered anthropology in an A-Z UK undergrad course finder and started to read books about it, as that's when I realised any kind of personal or professional path had to be close to humans and understanding their motivations (the what).

Another defining moment was when I first learned about innovation and design thinking for fundraising products at Unicef UK back in 2017, when it became clear it was way more fun for me working in a group to deliver something iteratively, being in the headspace of researching unknowns, creating and shaping new things and initiatives (the how; part of it at least).

How did you get into tech and what motivated you?

Frankly tech had never appealed to me before. My dad as well as many of my friends work in tech and it always seemed to be about learning software languages, coding, boring client meetings, really abstract 'faceless' things. Nothing that could ever interest me.

Looking back, a huge part of it was me not understanding the sector that well, and lack of exposure to various parts of it, particularly design. I didn't even know that some of the design and innovation methodologies and ways of working I liked had originated or been heavily informed by tech.

My way into tech/UR wasn't a straight line. It was a combination of personal learning, meeting people and 'engineering serendipity' as they say. My main motivation was to have a job that felt more creative and intellectually stimulating as well as where there was a clearer progression path. I really loved working in the charity sector and the purpose-led nature of work and the people in it, but at some point I stopped seeing a way forward.

I'd done an online course in systems thinking back in 2018 where I made a service designer friend and got to know more about her day to day. My best friend also got a role in product management couple years after. We spoke a lot about her day to day and how she works super closely with researchers, designers, developers to ideate and develop digital solutions to people's problems. It sounded really exciting, collaborative and multidisciplinary. User research intuitively felt like a good starting place, given I'd done a fair bit of user research-like methods and projects in my undergrad in anthropology and my master's in social development.

Have you experienced any 'career in tech' challenges / stereotypes?

Not really so far, other than maybe my own stereotypes I mentioned before about what tech is and isn't and which bits are and aren't exciting. Now that I'm a bit closer to it, I can see how things work together. I really enjoy being a non-tech techie.

"Don't be quick to dismiss any of your previous work or academic experience if unrelated to tech, there's potentially much more value in reframing it to show a different angle than you think."

What you wish you knew before getting started in tech...

This may not be applicable to tech only but as long as you have a curious mind and love learning, you'll be okay!

What has been your biggest 'wow!' moment related to working in tech so far?

How much stakeholder management is needed when creating a service!

"Now that I'm a bit closer to it, I can see how things work together. I really enjoy being a non-tech techie."

What do you like / not like about working in tech?

I like multidisciplinary working, that means we get lots of different perspectives every day. The work also strikes a nice balance between being creative and practical, and human and technical.

What I enjoy less, and it may be a point about design and the creative process rather than tech, is the downside of the above - the fact that we are working in a very dynamic and complex environment means things are changing rapidly at times, it's very easy to feel confused and unsure about next steps especially when new to the field.

And to wrap up, is there any advice you'd like to give to others interested in a career in tech?

Don't be quick to dismiss any of your previous work or academic experience if unrelated to tech, there's potentially much more value in reframing it to show a different angle than you think.


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