Learning strategy and soft skills by volunteering at LTUX Amsterdam.

It all started in December 2017, I was kind of new in Amsterdam back then (I’m still am haha) and I started to join some meetup communities to meet new people in tech and also learn more about UX and tech.

One of my goals is to get out of my comfort zone. I want to grow professionally and personally and I believe that we can only achieve that by seeking challenges. This is one of the reasons why I decided to join Ladies that UX Amsterdam (a.k.a LTUX AMS) a year ago.

I remember when I joined LTUX AMS for the first time that it directly struck me: “Wow there is a community that empowers women in UX! Awesome!” I didn’t have that in my hometown in Spain. There are some organisations which try to get equality between women and men but none of them are focused on UX or technology. Besides, all these discussions about diversity and inclusion were also kind of new to me. And I was glad to finally find a community that cares about that.

So when Nadia announced they were looking for volunteers I decided to apply. I didn’t know what to expect, how long it will take to work for LTUX or what kind of tasks I’ll have to take on. The only thing I knew was that I had never organized an event before and I was going to learn a lot while promoting female talent and aiming for inclusion.

After a year, I’m very happy that I did because I learnt so much that sometimes I think this community gave me more than I give to it.

1. Strategy and long-term vision: In LTUX AMS we have quarterly retros to evaluate the past quarter and set the goals for the next one. But we also have a retro at the end of the year to evaluate the whole year and define the roadmap for the next year. Besides, we also have a very transparent and clear communication with our members to learn from them and meet their needs as much as possible.

In my current company, I don’t have full ownership in the strategy and long-term vision. So having the opportunity to set these goals and strategy for LTUX AMS is a great opportunity to learn to define the vision of a company/product and how to actually achieve that vision.

2. Public speaking: I’m a shy person. I’m always wondering what people will think of my work, if it’s good enough or not, etc. And, I always think twice before speaking up as well. Because of this, public speaking is not one of my strength but it’s a necessary skill as a designer. So one of my long-term goals is to improve this skill and to be more outspoken.

Since I joined LTUX AMS, I start presenting sometimes at our meetups in front of our attendees. This is a an excellent exercise to improve my public speaking skills because depending on the topic we can have up to 150 attendees! And I also have to improvise sometimes due to unexpected events or situations.

I’m very proud of already seeing some results of this. I’m presenting at work my design decisions with more confidence and impact. Besides, people can’t believe that I’m a shy person now!

3. How to negotiate and have “difficult” conversations with people: When you organise an event, you have to deal with a lot of people. On one hand, you have your team, but on the other hand, you also have to discuss and talk with other people outside of your team. LTUX AMS is helping me to improve this because I have to negotiate conditions with partners and sponsors. And of course, sometimes I also have to turn down some offers that are not aligned to our goals. And these are always uncomfortable conversations to have.

4. Project and time management: If we compare this to a team in tech, we’re our own designers, project managers, product owners, etc. We’re everything. We split tasks among us but if I’m in charge of a project I’m responsible for it from the beginning till the end. I need to break down that project in little pieces to be able to make some progress on it and plan when I’m going to do what.

5. Working remotely: We’re 10 ladies in LTUX AMS and we have busy lives. So even though most of us live in the same city it’s very difficult to meet in person. Which means that 90% of conversations happen either in Slack or in Skype. This is the most productive way of working for us because when we need to meet in person we need to plan it two or even three weeks in advance. However, if we can decide something online we can do it almost instantaneously and everyone can give their opinion.

Although, remote work has it’s disadvantages as well. To make it work, the best advice I can give it’s to make the most out of your “waiting times”. Are you waiting for the bus? Are you waiting for someone? Are you cooking? These are the best moments to read and reply to online messages.

Another good tip is to think twice before writing. Reading text is not the same as speaking. People can’t hear you and most important, they can’t see you. A very innocent message can be very bad interpreted by the other person and lead to a big discussion or cause some frustration in the team.

6. Team management: I joined LTUX AMS as the fifth co-organiser and now we’re 10 ladies. Which means that it’s necessary to coach the new joiners at the beginning and help them to get to know how we work, which is our working culture, etc. In my current company, I’m a medior designer so it’s not my responsibility to coach anyone for now which makes it very interesting to have the opportunity to do it in LTUX AMS.

7. Combine a side-project with a full-time job: This is very tough. Especially for me because LTUX AMS is not my only side-project. Writing blog posts it’s also a side project, and I also like to have my UX side-projects to learn new skills to improve my portfolio. I also like to read, going out with friends, watch TV series, etc. And it’s hard to manage to do everything on a weekly basis.

The key to everything is to have an overview of all you want to achieve with its deadlines and plan according to it. I started doing a lot during weekends and I’m still doing it. But I’m trying to do it less because when I “work” during weekends I don’t disconnect, which means that I start the new week with the feeling of not having a weekend. And it’s a horrible feeling. Now, I have 2hs of commuting a day so working during these hours it’s also helping. For example, right now I’m writing this post on the train.

8. Organise an event: There are a lot of arrangements that you need to do before an event. And usually, you are not aware of that until you actually organise something. For example, I was not aware of the consequences of signing up to a meetup and not showing up like food waste for example, until I joined LTUX.

Also, you need to coordinate a lot with speakers and sponsors to make everything happen. Like for example: How long is each talk? Does the speaker need any help to prepare the presentation? Does he/she needs a parking slot? Does the sponsor know a good place to order the food & drinks?

9. Teamwork: Having a team of 10 people is not always easy. Each one of us have our own opinion and we don’t always agree. To make this work, we need to have a great communication between us, be honest and trust in each other.

10. Social media: This is quite like what I was doing when I was a freelancer. Back then I tried to learn as much as possible about how to promote myself on social media, what type of message to publish in each channel and so on. In LTUX AMS I applied that knowledge but I also learnt a lot along the way since I was the lead in the social media team for almost the whole year. And specially, I learnt a lot by being the Community Manager of our Slack channel because this is a completely new social media channel for me.

When I joined LTUX AMS a year ago we were 2000 members and we had around 200 members in our Slack. Now, we have a community of more than 2500 members and we have more than 450 members in our slack channel!

Having said this, I can only recommend everyone to get out of their comfort zones. Whether it’s organising an event, public speaking, going to the gym, financing, you name it. Find the opportunities to improve that. It’ll help you so much as a person but also in your professional career that you will be forever thankful. It takes time and of course, it’s tough but it’s 100% worth it.

Just to wrap up, I want to give a BIG thank to Jenny Shen because she was my mentor when I joined LTUX AMS and she helped me A LOT. Now she is not involved with LTUX AMS because she is in LTUX Global which is amazing but I miss her in the team a lot. And of course, thanks to Vaiva, Roxanne GroenenBerg and Nadia Udalova for accepting me in the team :).

I'm a UX & Interaction Designer based in Amsterdam working at Coolblue. | Co-organiser of Ladies that UX Amsterdam.