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Shanae Chapman

Sometimes in life, you’ve got to do what you can to make the best out of a bad situation. For Shanae Chapman, that meant using a bad post-graduation job market to launch her own agency, Nerdy Diva. Now she’s setting her sights on bigger goals and doing what she can to help others achieve success in tech and design.

We began by talking about how Shanae started her agency, and we discussed the current state of AI tools and the changing landscape of UX research and design. She also spoke about growing up in St. Louis, attending college, and shared how she used her collective work experiences to dive deeper into the world of UX. For Shanae, hard work and motivation have been the keys to her success!

Interview Transcript

Maurice Cherry:

All right. So tell us who you are and what you do.

Shanae Chapman:

I’m Shanae Chapman. I am the CEO, founder, and managing director of Nerdy Diva, a consultancy that specializes in UX research and design and training services and building community for people of color in tech.

Maurice Cherry:

Nice. How has 2023 been going for you so far? Any special highlights?

Shanae Chapman:

Yeah, it’s been an up and down journey. So in addition to having Nerdy Diva as my business the past five years, I also typically worked a day job in tech as well. And I went through a layoff, as many people did earlier this year, and just have been processing, going through layoffs and thinking about what’s next in my career and in my business and getting support for myself, and then also sharing those resources out with the community.

Maurice Cherry:

I know last year there were just sort of this huge wave of layoffs from tech companies and it felt like, a little bit, that wave had sort of abated because you hadn’t heard about it much this year. But people are, unfortunately, still getting laid off from companies. So I’m really sorry to hear that. But you have now, kind of…your full focus is on Nerdy Diva, is that right?

Shanae Chapman:

That is correct, and I’m very excited for what the future holds. I’m currently working on a partnership with LinkedIn. I’m teaching a design course that will be released hopefully in Fall 2023.

Maurice Cherry:

Oh nice. So hopefully by the time this comes out — this will air in September; right now we’re recording it a bit earlier — but maybe by the time this comes out, then it’ll correspond with your course.

Shanae Chapman:

Yeah, it’s going to be exciting. Definitely going to be out in Q3. Later in Q3 or maybe early Q4 this year.

Maurice Cherry:

Very nice. So let’s talk about Nerdy Diva. You mentioned you’ve been doing it now for about five years, how did you get started with it?

Shanae Chapman:

Yeah, I have always done freelance projects during my career. I’ve been working in design in some way and fashion for the past sixteen years and started out as a college student taking design classes at St. Louis University and learned the basics of graphic design while studying from professors who were working in the field and who had businesses and were also teaching as adjunct instructors. So that was a big insight for me to see that, oh, people can have their own businesses, do design, be creative and teach. And that’s something that really stood out to me and led to me trying it out myself as a 19-year-old saying, “you know what, I’m going to see how I can do this.” And I would go out to small businesses in the area and go to campus departments and ask if people had any design projects that they needed help with and that’s how I started my career.

Maurice Cherry:

Now I’m looking at the Nerdy Diva website now and it’s great that you have your values, you’ve got your mission, vision statements, stuff like that. How has business been going so far?

Shanae Chapman:

It’s been an interesting year. I have seen more of the teaching and training projects come in, like the LinkedIn course that I’m working on currently. And there are some other organizations that I’m in talks with about teaching and training on design and research. It’s been a little slow on actually doing the design projects. I think there’s a lot of economic instability at this time with a lot of companies. The layoffs persist. So the layoffs have been going on throughout this year across design, and that brings in a lot of unknowns and a lot of uncertainty about what’s next. So something that I’m doing is reaching out to organizations that we may not always think about who need design as well, like our government agencies and our nonprofit organizations who may also need support and design.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah. With the way that the economy has gone now — we’re kind of recording this right now, near the beginning of some companies, like fiscal year — I think at this time, companies might start thinking like, “oh, well, what could we possibly spend money on this year?” But a lot of places are still just kind of waiting to see how the economy will bounce back, if the economy will bounce back. I know in my case, I was laid off last year and what it felt like was that companies really were just seeing what other companies were doing and just following suit. So in some ways, it wasn’t about, “oh, we need to cut back to save money.” It’s like, “well, if all the other businesses in our sector are cutting back, then maybe we need to cut back too.” But in that respect, it’s kind of been a bit of a good time if you’re freelancing or if you’re doing contract work, because companies might be more apt to do something short-term than long-term.

Shanae Chapman:

Yeah, and it’s good to have options. It’s good to have multiple streams of income and being a freelancer, but then going the step higher to that and incorporating your own business. And I’ve had my LLC since 2018, incorporating my LLC, and then being able to take on projects and design projects where I’m able to work on that, but also have the opportunity to hire contractors and interns who also get opportunities to be creative and to grow as designers and grow their careers. That’s really empowering and really something that is rewarding for me as a business owner.

Maurice Cherry:

So what does a typical day look like for you now?

Shanae Chapman:

There are no typical days, but generally I’m checking my email from people who are potential partners and looking at ways to get more visibility for the work that we do on design and training and connecting more recently with the local chamber of commerce here in St. Louis, but also growing in Boston, which is my second home. I went to grad school in Boston and Northeastern University and started my career in design and technology and the corporate level in the Boston area. So being able to connect more with the businesses there and definitely taking advantage of opportunities for minority owned business contracts and contracts for women business enterprises. And I think that’s something that’s really important for design businesses to also get those certifications so that we have those opportunities that come up.

Maurice Cherry:

Was it difficult for you to get those for your business?

Shanae Chapman:

It’s a process. So it’s definitely something where you have to do your homework and do your research. And for me, it’s something where I’m still in that path of finding all of the resources and tools to get certified in Boston. And I think it’s definitely worth it because it opens up more doors for you to have bigger clients and take on bigger projects. And for me also, that sense of being able to work on projects that impact everyday people. So being able to work on civic tech projects is something that is really important to me. And having those opportunities come in…yeah, it’s what I want to do. So being able to work on the things that you want to do and not just that you have to do, definitely is a game changer.

Maurice Cherry:

Now, you talked about civic tech. Are those like the best types of clients that you want to work with or do you have kind of a broader set that you’d normally like to work with?

Shanae Chapman:

Yeah. Definitely looking for more opportunities to work with government agencies, city level, state level, around building up more intuitive resources for communities, whether that’s increasing the usability of websites and apps for services, whether that’s helping people find information who are looking for ways to get around the city, as with transportation or for healthcare resources, being able to connect people to the information and tools that they need to have a positive quality of life. That’s something that’s really what I want to focus on in the work that we do. So design for good, using technology for good.

Maurice Cherry:

Now, I know a lot of Black business owners, especially those that kind of work, I guess you could say, in the DEI space — I’m using air quotes around that. But I found a lot of Black business owners kind of had a bit of a bump during the summer of 2020 when companies were pledging like, we’re going to work with more black businesses or BIPOC businesses, et cetera. I’m curious if you’ve noticed any trends with your clients over the years.

Shanae Chapman:

Trends in terms of what?

Maurice Cherry:

In terms of the type of work they’re looking for or types of services, things like that. Are you finding that as time has progressed that clients are asking for different things, wanting different things, stuff like that?

Shanae Chapman:

It kind of stems back to something earlier in this conversation about the budgeting. So there’s still a need for design and for training on how to do design, especially equitable design. So I run a two-hour workshop on designing anti-racism, and I use the EI and anti-racism frameworks in that workshop and apply it tactically to how do we use this to create more inclusive and equitable designs. Whether that is UI, whether that is using voice technologies, whether that’s using AI and understanding what it means to have representative harm and allocative harm in technologies, and how can we design more equitable solutions that are not harmful? So I think the need is still there, but it’s a factor around the budgets. Who has budgets for these projects? And I can’t speak to the industry as a whole because I’m not privy to all of that information. But I know for myself, it’s tougher to find more businesses that are able to have the budgets that can sustain this work long-term. And I think that’s something that needs to be addressed. Like, if this is really important, then this work needs to have adequate budgets in order to support the work going forward.

Maurice Cherry:

Now, you talked just a little bit there about AI. Are you using AI now with any of your clients or any sort of AI tools?

Shanae Chapman:

I think it’s something that has potential. I think design and AI can form a partnership where we’re using AI to help with some of the more tedious things, like copywriting, for example, but also thinking about the data that goes into those tools — is it secure? Is the information that would be okay to share publicly, for example? And also during the critical thinking of determining if the information from the AI tools is equitable, is it sharing information that is actually stereotypical and being able to see that and address it? So it’s something that I think has a lot of potential, but we also have to have checks and balances with it. And going forward, working with clients who will use AI, I think that’s something that is really important to continue having those discussions about not just using the tool, but being observers of it and also being able to step in and make changes if it’s not producing what it should in an equitable way.

Maurice Cherry:

I’ve encountered some clients, I’d say probably within the past year or so, that have been…they like AI because they feel like it’s sort of like a magic machine to them, like they can put in a question, get out some sort of answer or something like that. But like you said, is the information equitable? And honestly, which tool they’re using, it matters in terms of what the information is that you’re getting out. Like, if you’re using just, like, the base [ChatGPT], I think it’s version 3 or 3.5 or something like that. Its corpus of knowledge only goes up to, I think, to like, September of 2022 or something like that. So it’s not like completely up-to-date and even how it puts it together. It’s sort of just like grabbing information from a whole bunch of different sources and sort of like, smashing it together to say, “hey, this is what I think you want based on the query that you’ve given me.”

Of course it’s AI. So it’s not thinking about it, but depending on the tool they might be using ChatGPT 4.5, which is supposed to be up-to-date and brings in current search engine data and stuff like that, but AI is getting kind of added into so many different tools. It’s getting added into search, it’s getting added into even like Google Docs and Word and stuff like that. So I agree about the checks and balances. I think it is being kind of implemented really fast and that we’re not taking time to think too much about the ethics of usage and the ethics of using what you get from it, just sort of, on its face. Like, I agree with what you say about it being sort of a good jumping off point or a starting point, but it shouldn’t be the answer.

Shanae Chapman:

Yeah, definitely. And I think that’s a big misconception that many people believe that AI tools are factual, they are the truth, they are the end all, be all, and that’s not the complete story. So knowing that these are tools that have been created and have biases and have bugs and have issues that are still being worked out, understanding that and taking that information with a grain of salt, so to speak. So I think there’s still a lot of miseducation about how far along the industry is with AI because we’re really just getting started and there’s still a lot of risk. And security is another big issue. Like, taking data and not crediting the sources happens as well. So just being aware of that is something that I encourage folks to think about.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, I know, especially from educators that I’ve talked with, it’s been a big thing because students will use it to write papers or pull in information and research. But like you said, there’s no citation with it. And even if there is a citation, citation may not be correct because it’s pulling all this stuff from different parts and just sort of spitting something out that might look like it’s right doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right thing.

One of my good friends — my best friend actually — he works at Ohio State University. He’s a professor and he was talking about how one of his students has submitted a paper and it had all these citations from, I think, like the University of Chicago Library or something like that, but none of those citations actually existed. Like, he followed up behind the student and contacted the library and they were like, yeah, none of that stuff is here. But apparently ChatGPT said, “hey, we pulled this from these sources from the library.” And maybe part of that was maybe a fraction of it, but not the entire thing. So it is dangerous, I would say, not so much in its usage, but moreso, I guess, in how humans are using it. Like if we’re just taking it like we said at face value and not changing it at all or fact-checking it, like you said, just assuming that it’s right is not good because it’s most likely not going to be.

Shanae Chapman:

Yeah, definitely. And I read a story the other day of a college student who got reprimanded from a professor who thought that they had used AI to create their paper because it was so well-written, but the student actually had not used any AI tools to create their papers. So now they’re getting dinged because the professors are having a hard time differentiating between when is AI being used and when is it not being used. So it’s a tricky place to be in right now as educators and as students as well.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah. Where do you want to take Nerdy Diva in the future? Like, what are your future plans?

Shanae Chapman:

Yeah, I definitely want to continue to grow. And I mentioned civic tech earlier. So one of my goals is to complete all of the certifications that are necessary MBE/WBE and do work with City of Boston, City of St. Louis, City of Chicago, working on projects that impact everyday people and being able to use technology in a way where we’re able to share information throughout our communities and share knowledge and create more resources and more equity and also continue to grow. My presence as an educator. So very excited for this partnership with LinkedIn. First course will be complete by the fall of this year and excited to continue to make more courses with LinkedIn around design and research and emerging technologies.

Maurice Cherry:

Now let’s kind of switch gears here a little bit. We’ve heard a lot about your business, but let’s learn more about you. Tell me about where you grew up.

Shanae Chapman:

Yeah, I grew up in St. Louis, Missouri. So I grew up in a working class family. My mom was a teacher’s assistant, before she retired, for over 32 years. And so education was very big in our family. My dad was a care mechanic and very hands on and was literally solving problems with all kinds of vehicles, and it was a lot of turning lemons into lemonade and taking what you have and making the most out of it. So those are some of the things that I have carried throughout my life is being able to see the good, find gratitude, be able to think quickly on my feet and keep learning and trying new things and being able to take inspiration and finding out how to walk in new paths and being able to be open to new opportunities. So that’s something that has stuck with me. And St. Louis — if you haven’t been there — very much a midwest city with Southern influences, so a lot of rich cultural heritage with music, a lot of blues and jazz has come out of St. Louis. Scott Joplin [the] composer; very famous in these parts as well, and a lot of appreciation for good food and breaking bread with family and friends and getting to know people and sharing what you have even if you don’t have a lot. So those are things that I still hold dear and that’s still part of who I am now.

Maurice Cherry:

Were you exposed to a lot of design and tech stuff growing up? Was that something you were around a lot?

Shanae Chapman:

You know what, I was not. So my parents were not technical folks and my parents divorced when I was younger. So just definitely being a young person, dealing with that experience of going through ups and downs and challenges, and what always inspired me was creativity. And I would see that with the art classes that I took in school and reading books and learning about new places and new people and cultures and just having the ability to learn how to use computers and new technologies as they became available at school were things that opened my eyes. Like I’m old enough to remember when we first got the big iMacs in elementary school and they had them in elementary school and taught us how to use those, and that was like top tier computers back in the day. Yeah, just being able to see that and having the Internet go from dial-up what we had when we were growing up, where you had to either choose to be on the phone, the landline, or be on the Internet, you couldn’t do both at the same time. So thinking about that and then seeing how things have evolved and now we have these fiber optics and we have such high speed 5G networks and it’s complete changes just in my lifetime of being 35 years old. So just being able to see that and see it as a user but then also now as a designer, being part of creating what those systems do and how other people get to use them is pretty cool.

Maurice Cherry:

Now you talked about going to St. Louis University and you said you took some design courses there too, is that right?

Shanae Chapman:

I did, yes.

Maurice Cherry:

Now you majored in communications. Was this just kind of part of the program?

Shanae Chapman:

In general, design courses were part of a suite of electives that you could choose as part of the communication degree. And that’s something that I highly encourage people who have opportunity to choose their own electives, to choose something that is creative, choose something that you may not have thought about studying before. Find that as a resource for you to test out if you want to get involved in something. So at least you can say, “oh, I’ve tried that and I know it’s not for me,” or in my case, “I’ve tried that and yes, I want more of that.” So the design course is important, my electives and once I took a class and had the opportunity to use Photoshop and saw how you could use design to convey messages and meaning. I knew that it was something I wanted to be a part of and just kept taking more electives and ended up doing an emphasis in communication technology overall.

Maurice Cherry:

How was your time there?

Shanae Chapman:

There were pros and cons of that experience for me. I had a really good experience learning about design and communication and public speaking, had some excellent professors and adjunct instructors who really valued sharing knowledge and helping students grow as people. So that was really empowering for me. I met a lot of friends there that I’m still close to to this day. And I worked on campus in the business school in the entrepreneur center. And they were at that time working on a beta project for Black business owners where they were building a facility in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr…or Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in St. Louis, and they were working with Black business owners to help them get their businesses ready for moving into this space. So I got to see these Black business owners come in and talk about their businesses and work with the university’s resources and learn what types of challenges they face and what types of tools are helpful for them. So I got to see, like, okay, they need accounting software. Oh, they have questions about hiring. Oh, they have questions about financing. I got to hear those questions, solutions during that process, which was really educational for me as someone who had seeds of, like, “oh, I might want to try this entrepreneur thing.” But some challenges were being at a PWI — predominantly white institution — and not having that sense of feeling known and feeling a sense of care, being in some classrooms where I was the only Black person in the room, and being asked, like, “what is your opinion? What is the Black perspective on this particular opinion?” And this is something where I, as a 19-year-old, educating my classmates and my white professor as to “this is my perspective. This is Shanae’s perspective. This is not the perspective of all of Black America.” So being able to stand up for myself and share that knowledge is something I get from that experience. But it definitely was challenging and [I] definitely had some hard days.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah. Colleges can be one of those sort of interesting places. It’s like, on the one hand, you mentioned, yes, try to seek out these more creative courses and things like that, but sometimes, just depending on the school, you often are put in these other sort of trying environments and situations. I can imagine that had to be pretty tough to deal with overall, though.

Shanae Chapman:

Yeah. And then just being broke. That’s the thing about college. You have no money all the time.

Maurice Cherry:

When you graduated from St. Louis University, what was your early career path? Did you go right into trying to become a designer, or did you sort of kind of have to get your feet wet doing other stuff first?

Shanae Chapman:

I wasn’t able we were in a recession when I graduated with my undergraduate degree, it was 2009. So again, there was economic instability and it was really tough for me to find full-time work just in general, not even design. It was just tough to find any full-time work, being a college graduate and not having corporate and industry experience yet. And those were really tough times. And I went to my school after I graduated. I went back to the university and went to career services and did career counseling. And that was the first time that I had the opportunity to talk to someone about the shame I felt and not being able to find work immediately after graduating. And it opened up perspectives for me to hear someone say, like, yeah, “of course you would be frustrated, but understand that this is not you, this is the economy. This is competing with people who have more experience and maybe more education, who have connections. There’s other things happening that are outside of your control,” and being able to take that in as information and understand that, “okay, I’m okay, I can keep going.” And it’s not a situation where I’m doing things wrong and something’s wrong with me. And being able to have that support was really helpful. And that’s something that I definitely highly encourage folks to do.

Like, talk to someone if you’re having tough times in your career. Everyone’s had tough times. There’s definitely been times when I’ve wanted jobs, I didn’t get them, or there’s times that I took jobs that I know were not for me ended up leaving. So being able to have those conversations and also get some perspective because our careers are great, they help us support ourselves and take care of ourselves and our loved ones and do purposeful, meaningful work. But your career is not the only thing that you have going on for yourself, and being able to have some perspective about that is helpful too.

Maurice Cherry:

Oh, I am so glad that you said that. I’m so glad you mentioned that because I think a lot of folks need to hear that, especially now. Especially, I think, if you’ve been laid off over the past year. And this is not to say that I feel like — and this might be a controversial statement, so rock with me here if it gets a little out of hand — but I feel like particularly in BIPOC communities, particularly in Black communities, we’ve kind of been sold this fantasy about getting into tech and it being like the solution to everything. Like, you’re going to get that good tech job and you’ll be able to pay off your mother’s bills or get your grandmother something. And I mean, yeah, you can do that with what the salaries are. But I think what gets wrapped in that is sort of your self-image is so intrinsically tied to not just the work you do, but where you work, that once you lose that, it ends up being this huge hit to your self esteem. Like, who am I if I don’t work for insert big tech company here? You know what I mean?

I really feel especially, like, oh my God, you said you graduated in 2009. Right around that time, I want to say it was like between maybe 2009 and 2011, there was this big push about getting Black folks to go to Silicon Valley. It was like, “go to Silicon Valley. Be the next Mark Zuckerberg.” CNN even had this whole special about folks like going to Silicon Valley and they had like a house and everything they were working out of. It was part of their Black in America series. And I think it was good to see that sort of like, upward mobility and prosperity. But then you had a lot of organizations that came about that were just sort of selling this notion that you get this big tech job and you’re set, you’ll be able to live the life of your dreams once you work for Facebook or Amazon or Google or whatever. But then it’s like, when you get laid off from there, then what?

And I think people need to hear this right now. One, because of all the layoffs that are happening, but two, we’re in this weird economic period now, just like back then, in 2009, and that there’s this uncertainty. It’s hard finding full time jobs. I know a lot of people that have been out of work now three months, six months, up to a year, and it’s really messing with them. They have the skills, of course, to do the type of work that they do, but it’s so tied into their self-image of like, “well, how am I a good person if I don’t work at this company, if I’m not doing XYZ?”

Shanae Chapman:

Yeah, those are all good points. And I was reading Essence magazine the other day, and one of the women they interviewed, she mentioned that titles are rented; your character is what stays the same. And I was like, “girl, yes. A word.” That’s important. The titles are rented, but you’re still the same person. You’re still creative, you’re still a problem solver. You still know how to bring things together from different parts and bring them together in a meaningful way and create something that has a beautiful outcome. You can still do that no matter if you at Microsoft or Google or wherever. So you still have those skills. And I think that’s something that we forget about, that it’s not just about having the name recognition. It’s about who you are. Who do you show up as?

Maurice Cherry:

Titles are rented. I love that. And that is so true. That is absolutely true. Because who you are or who you were at one place may not be who you are somewhere else.

Shanae Chapman:

Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:

Now, in 2012, you started out as an intern at Red Hat. And then after that you started working at IBM as a UX/UI testing specialist. Given kind of the background that you had before starting there, like, what drew you to UX?

Shanae Chapman:

Yeah, so I was in the tech industry because my master’s degree is in informatics study of information systems and there is some overlap with UX. And like, I took UX courses as well, classes and understanding how to evaluate and how to audit for usability. So I learned those fundamentals as part of my master’s degree program and found that to be really interesting because that combines design know how. So having some graphic design, web design background, web development background, but then also understanding the psychology piece on how do people use systems and tools and how to prevent errors and how to help people get unstuck was also something that was enlightening to me. And then the technical side of it and understanding, “okay, you want to build something, how do you actually know what’s possible, what’s feasible, what could you actually build?” And being able to use the things I’ve learned in my master’s degree, that was more technical to bring that together as well.

So I applied to so many internships and entry level positions and interviewed for Red Hat and everything was in person at this time. So interviewed had presentations about why they should choose me and just waited, just waited and then heard word back a few weeks later that I was going to have this offer of this internship. And for me, it was the most money that I had made up until that point at $30 an hour to be a summer intern. And I thought, “this is great, this is great.” Now I get to start my career in tech using what I have learned in school and being able to have this big name at the time — all into the big names — have this big name on my resume as well. So it was a starting point for me. And I learned a lot. I learned a lot about how large organizations work and didn’t know before I started there that there’s so much people involvement, there’s so much. And you think about design and technology, it’s like, “oh, okay, you just kind of do your own thing.” No, that’s not how it works. When you actually work for a company, you have so many meetings, you have so much collaboration, you have so much discussing what gets designed, what gets built, understanding analytics and behaviors of trends and patterns. And there’s a lot of this back and forth and seeing that for the first time and being engulfed in that. Yeah, just definitely it was a sink or swim situation and had to learn quickly how to pick things up and just had to be unafraid to ask questions. So I asked a lot of questions and did really well in that internship. And that was a good starting point for me to move forward into other positions in technology.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah. And some of those other places that you worked at. I mean, I was looking at your LinkedIn, I was like, you have gotten some great experience.

Shanae Chapman:

Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:

Kronos, The MathWorks, Akamai Technologies, Boeing, SmartBear, most recently HashiCorp. When you look at those experiences as a whole, collectively, what do you remember the most? Like, what do you pull from when you look back at those experiences?

Shanae Chapman:

Every place I’ve gone to, I learned something new. I learned something new about what I wanted in my career. I picked up some new technologies. I studied many places. I was also offered certifications, so I would take the time to do the work to earn those certifications. Just investing in myself. And I think that’s important.

Everywhere you go in your career, you should be learning and you should be earning. And that’s something that was also important to me as I continued to move up in my career, that I had to learn how to negotiate my salaries and benefits and RSU stock packages. And these are things that I didn’t know about. Again, my mom was a teacher assistant. My dad was a car mechanic. They didn’t have those types of conversations, so I had to lean heavily on the people that I trusted.

I’m in a chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers. And so being a part of that chapter when I was in grad school and after grad school in Boston helped me a lot to understand how does this all work. So leaning on people who have been through these situations before and getting outside of my comfort zone and learning how to negotiate by taking webinars and in-person trainings and bringing that into conversations and not being afraid to have difficult conversations. For me, it’s a pattern of going to each step and going higher, learning more, growing, taking in knowledge, sharing knowledge. And that has been something that has evolved over time.

So that now I have this career where I’ve been in technology for the past eleven years and have learned a lot about cybersecurity, have learned about data analytics, have learned about creating tools that scientists and engineers and developers use, but also can take that skillset and also apply it to creating tools for healthcare or for community systems or for knowledge sharing, for education. So being able to take that information and translate it for different audiences, I think that’s something that’s really important and crucial.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, because I would imagine each of these different companies are serving different–I mean, one, different just audiences based on what they do. But like you said, as you’re going on, you’re learning more, you’re earning more, et cetera. But also the industry is changing. How have you seen UX kind of change over the years in the industry?

Shanae Chapman:

It ebbs and flows. So there’s times where UX is really top of mind and people want to bring in researchers and designers and everyone’s looking for that sense of building the right products. And then sometimes you get into situations where it’s a more “let’s build something first and see how it goes” and take a step back from actually doing the proactive work of the research and design and getting the feedback. And I think that’s where we are now.

So we’re in a place where people are tighter with their budgets and they’re trying to get the UX research and design in multiple roles. So product managers are now doing product discovery and research, and developers are doing some discovery and research, and it’s getting to a place where they’re trying to combine roles across different teams. And I think that it squeezes out having people who are dedicated to UX research and design. And I think there may have been a big push earlier on for people to share that, oh, anyone can do research and design. And I think that was overemphasized because it takes away the credibility and it takes away the practice of having the know how and the education and the experience to do quality research and design. Like, sure, everyone can go to Figma and create something quickly, but being able to actually create something that’s meaningful and that’s impactful and that takes something complex and makes it intuitive is not something that just anyone can do.

Maurice Cherry:

Now, with the work that you are doing with UX, does that also extend into voice or even AI stuff? Are you finding any sort of changes with the UX industry in those cases?

Shanae Chapman:

Yeah, I think there’s room for UX to work with these tools. So working with voice, working with IoT, working with AI, and there’s definitely experiences that go beyond the interface. So the experience when you are speaking to Siri, for example, and what is heard and what’s transmitted back, that’s an experience also. And I think that UX has a benefit of having that awareness about human centered interaction and human centered design to be able to help teams understand how to make seamless and frictionless experiences, whether there’s an interface or not.

Maurice Cherry:

Now, what advice would you give to someone that’s listening to this podcast or hearing your story and they want to start their own UX career? Maybe they’re like a fresh grad out of college, or maybe they’re like in the middle of a career change because they’ve gotten laid off and they want to go into something new. What advice would you give them on getting into the UX industry?

Shanae Chapman:

Yeah, I think there’s a lot of kind of get rich [quick] schemes out here where people are saying many pathways and not to put down boot camps, because some boot camps are sharing quality knowledge and it’s a step for some people to get some education and start their career. But if you do a boot camp, don’t let that be the only time that you are educating yourself.

UX is a career path where you have to continuously learn. And if you don’t want to have to keep learning every day, every year, then it’s not going to be a good career for you. You’re not going to find it enjoyable, you’re not going to find it to be that get rich quick scheme that you thought it would be so you can’t learn everything about UX in six weeks and then be an expert. It doesn’t work like that because you also have to have the lived experience, you have to apply it, you have to make mistakes, you have to learn from those mistakes. And it’s really powerful when you as someone who’s new to UX, partners with someone who’s senior and you can just observe how they do their roadmapping, how they talk to clients, how they collaborate with product management and engineering, how they set themselves up for success with their research and design process. So being able to give yourself grace and being able to be patient as well is something I would share. Many times people think like, “okay, I want to just do things quickly,” but just because it’s quick doesn’t mean it’s right. So those are my two cents.

Maurice Cherry:

Who are some of the people that have really helped you out to get to where you are now? Like any mentors, any peers, or anyone like that?

Shanae Chapman:

Yeah, so definitely have had community of mentors and sponsors over the years. I’m mentioning National Society of Black Engineers, previously Boston chapter, was a big resource for me. So being able to connect with other Black people in technology and some people were developers, some people were product managers and there were a few other designers there as well. And being able to share experiences working in corporate and working on teams, building software, building tools that millions of people use across the world, and being able to share those tips and lessons learned and also learn about financial literacy from some of the events that they had. Also the AAUW — American Academy of University Women — they had a lot of salary negotiation trainings when I was earlier in my career that helped me out when negotiating. And also just friends and people who take the time to listen in when I’m having a bad day when things are hard. And having your tribe of people who you have in your back pocket when things are hard is essential. So being a good friend and staying connected to your friends is something that’s really important as well. And making that time to do that so that you can show up for your people and that they can show up for you.

Maurice Cherry:

What’s bringing you joy these days?

Shanae Chapman:

I have really enjoyed learning new recipes. So I like to cook and I like to bake, and my husband is very happy to be the person who’s taste testing. Yeah, so that’s bringing me a lot of joy. And reading as well and thinking about ways to grow Nerdy Diva that are not just focused on technology. Some are thinking about creating a children’s book and a comic, like an anime book as well. Yeah, just thinking about some of these creative ideas and exploring what’s next.

Maurice Cherry:

What would you say, like, you’re still in the process of unlearning?

Shanae Chapman:

For me, that’s unlearning the need to say yes to everything and being okay with saying no, being okay with setting those boundaries for myself on my time and my energy and practicing putting me first and what I need first. And that’s unlearning the habit of putting others above myself. And I think that’s really important to remember that you have needs and you have to take care of your needs also.

Maurice Cherry:

Now, what do you want kind of the next chapter of your story to look like? Say it’s five years or so from now. What do you want to be working on? What kind of things do you want to have done? Stuff like that?

Shanae Chapman:

Yeah, I want to continue to do the things I’m doing now and just continue to grow those partnerships. So I really want to continue to share knowledge on platforms like LinkedIn and other edtech programs for people who are getting involved in design and technology and want that to be a place where people are able to see someone who has some representation that looks like them, who they don’t often see in those spaces. Talking about design and analytics and technology and being able to share that knowledge. Also want to continue doing design work for government agencies and communities and be able to create more jobs and opportunities for contractors and interns as well.

Maurice Cherry:

All right, well, just to kind of wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more information about you, about your work, about Nerdy Diva? Where can they find that information online?

Shanae Chapman:

Yeah, you can find Nerdy Diva at nerdydiva.com, and we are on LinkedIn and Instagram as well.

Maurice Cherry:

All right, sounds good. Shanae Chapman, I want to thank you so, so much for coming on the show. I think what I’ve gotten the most out of this and what I hope others get out of it, too, is that there’s no substitute, I think, for hard work. There’s no substitute for putting in the work to get to where you are, to sort of put in those hours to get to some level of mastery or information. Because what it definitely sounds like I’ve gotten from your story is that you’ve had these experiences, you’ve worked at these different companies, and now you’re gaining that knowledge and putting it into your business and using that to also kind of give back through the work that you’re doing with, like, civic tech or even with these courses and things like that. I’m going to be really excited to see what comes next for you in the future. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

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