2020Shift’s More Than Code series highlights technology and digital media professionals that are rising in ranks in the space…but not necessarily hacking or coding away on the daily. These techies are excelling in today’s top hybrid, or “non-technical,” roles.
In the days of sacrificing your passion for a steady living income or working in a career completely outside of your major, RashidaWhite proves that you can do it all. The 34-year old educator, UX designer, activist, and musician has built a lifestyle around intertwining and improving her wide set of skills and passions. While working at one of Silicon Alley’s top programming schools, GeneralAssembly, White divides her time as a teaching artist to young girls at Willie Mae Rock Camp For Girls and working as a Director of Community Outreach at a for-profit social enterprise, coupled with working as an LGBTQ Innovation Tech Fellow for The White House.
As hectic as it might seem, she manages to stay organized through simplistic calendars and to-do-lists. To White, it’s easier to do all of these things when you are tackling issues that some may be too uncomfortable to speak on. White has found success in empowering her community.
We caught up with White to discuss a day in the life for the UX designer, how she serves as a leader at GA and where she sees herself in the tech industry.
What does a typical day at General Assembly look like?
On a typical day, 9 o'clock, class begins. The students get out their ‘ego chatter’ with the morning pages (adapted from Julia Cameron in a book called “The Artist’s Way”) to discuss whatever is going on in their lives. This helps them to be better focused from a productive and creative standpoint. Then, the students will go into lectures, as well as hands-on practice and workshops helping them develop the fundamentals of user experience design. The end goal is to help them pair design thinking and user research methodologies to create better products.
How did you land the job?
I am a GA alumni! As a student, I took the course already having two years of work experience in the UX field. I was asked by my teacher to be his designer-in-residence/junior instructor for his summer class in 2014. Because I had a background in education, I excelled in that role while continuing to do freelance UX work. While my passion for education was recognized from various angles, General Assembly invested in my talent and I moved into a lead instructor position in February of 2015. I am still holding it down at GA NYC.
How do you serve as a leader at General Assembly?
As a woman of color in the tech community, it’s staying true to myself and my story. Thought leadership is tackling the things that no one is talking about and bringing visibility to areas that people may not have the privilege to speak to. What makes me a leader is what I’m actually doing with my skills, my activism. Taking time outside of my normal 9 to 5 to make those strides, as well as making myself available. I try to never act untouchable by always being visible.
What has been your biggest career lesson to date?
Not selling myself short. It’s knowing the importance of self-monitoring and code switching, without feeling the need to forget about yourself and the communities you represent. The more I try to mirror that, the more authentic I am to myself. Yet that narrative will change depending on the audience and the ‘hoops’ I have to jump through to prove my worth. The path I took was not some cookie-cutter, go to college, land your dream job route. Being in working environments with folks who have had the privilege of going to college (while not having to work) and then getting their job because of ‘credentials’ or nepotism can sometimes make me feel like I am less (as the system was designed to operate and feel this way). Although my path was long to get to where I am now, it worked for me. So knowing my worth despite others understanding of who I am is my biggest lesson.
Have you ever felt the need to censor yourself?
Absolutely! I have to be mindful about what I say and how I say it. Knowing your audience is important - if an audience is giving me more wit, I’m going to be more witty. Because I am an educator, I have to be mindful about what I put out and how I express myself given the environment. I monitor my thoughts and opinions with multiple social media accounts. It’s like mastering the politician. But I never let that mastery overshadow who I am; it’s a strategic and delicate dance. But you have to know when to drop those dimes!
How do you stay creative, innovative and focused while you work?
I stay abreast to what’s trending across all of my interests. From a UX perspective, what’s trending right now is object-oriented design. So now, it’s looking at ways of attacking design from an object-oriented standpoint. My creativity is sparked the more I actually talk to people; the more I validate and challenge my ways of thinking.
The creative challenge that I have now for the project with the White House is knowing the restrictions of government policy and what type of creative motivation or action I can design to bring visibility to specific communities in need.
Outside of that, I listen to music constantly to put me in a mindstate of receptivity for creativity. I make music, DJ and vegan ice cream!
Career wise, where will you be in 2020?
I hope to have launched a successful mentoring program; I really want to bring visibility to the folks of color who are doing non-traditional careers and connect them with our youth to help guide their career paths. I hope to be teaching still, with a thought leadership on empathy or design thinking, while making a clear divide between assimilation and accommodation in relation to developmental learning theories for an ever-changing world. I hope to bring attention to the areas of our country that are suffering, to better protect our futures, being a go-to person for affective change!