Product design lead Ira Bykova: “Changing jobs broadens your horizons”

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Ira Bykova

Ira Bykova loves tech, design and communication. It is a woman who left Ukraine for the Netherlands and is now working very happily as a product design lead at Context Labs in Amsterdam. This NL News of the Week knows what she wants and what she is good at.

Ira consciously chose the Netherlands: “At one point there was a lot of demand in the European market for experienced product design consultants and I decided to go for it. My husband and I were already fans of the Netherlands. The country has a good work/life balance, culture, architecture… We moved three years ago and it still feels fantastic.”

Product Design Lead

What helps is that her job feels great too. How did she come to do this? “It always felt like it was a coincidence, but looking back on how my life has turned out, there is a clear path. I have a marketing master’s degree and I worked in the advertising world. I was doing web design and was hired as an external consultant for a project. They didn’t have enough people and I showed what I’ve got. My communication skills are good, so they wanted to keep me. As someone born among the rubble of the USSR, I was raised to be flexible, and I actually really enjoyed what I was doing.”

Creativity and marketing has always been Ira’s great pleasure. “I have now progressed to product design lead. I lead all product vision initiatives and I create design systems for various applications, capture requirements on site and realize production visions with a great team of engineers. I communicate with the stakeholders, with the designers and I ensure that there is good, efficient planning. It’s really cool work and creative in yet another way. You often have to simplify things instead of letting them grow. I feel that design has become very complicated, especially in business, because the industry did not know how to combine design with technology. However, that does offer many design challenges and I am fortunate that I can carry out my mission here.”

Consistency and reuse

She describes it herself as ‘upleveling data through consistency and reuse’: Ira works with a specialization in sustainability, so reuse is important. “I consciously chose this industry, because I already had experience in the energy market and emissions are what everyone is concerned with now. Companies want to improve their data and it is real-time innovation that you are doing. Complexity was another important factor in my decision. After so many years in design, there isn’t a whole lot that really gets you excited anymore, but I love complexity and with the three platforms that are part of Context Labs, I get that here. Plus, it’s not just about customer experience or aesthetics, it’s about using resources wisely, sharing experiences, learning from others and working with smart people.”

Communication is especially important: “In my job you are really on the edge of business and development. The biggest challenge in design is often to deliver on time, but soft skills are just as important. You have to understand what is needed from the business and translate it into the developer’s language. That is really necessary, because if product owners talk directly to engineers, if you want to make a dinosaur you will probably get a dog in a dinosaur suit. Product design is often seen as design alone, but you shape a product over a longer period of time.”

In a job where communication is so important, Ira says it’s best to be very transparent and clear about expectations. “You are at the cutting edge: between business and developers and sometimes that causes some struggles. Designers are sometimes reluctant to change requirements: not all designs are actually developed and not everything that is in production stays there forever. Fortunately, otherwise we would have gotten bored.”

Inspirational woman

Ira is an inspiring woman and she is regularly asked for advice by friends. “Women are sometimes afraid to work in tech because they think men are always favored when applying for jobs. I’m lucky: I always had a lot of female colleagues. And I’ve actually always been hired based on my skills, so I’ve been lucky. In my industry I feel like a superstar with a unique combination of hard and soft skills. I also don’t fit in with every company. If a company asked me where men and women didn’t get equal pay, I wouldn’t even answer it. You really have to ask yourself whether you want to work in such a company. In any case, it is good to change jobs every few years, it broadens your horizons.”

Finally, Ira has advice for women who would like a career like hers: “Focus on yourself, not on the competitive environment. Look at your natural skills and check which business is currently in high demand. Don’t take it lying down if you’re fired: things can change very quickly. If you want to do more with design, I recommend that you take a course, start a project, build a portfolio and find a mentor to help you with that. Companies want to know your vision, how your brain works: many people already have the ability to convey that, so do that. And don’t be scared away by vacancy texts: you can do it.”

“Focus on yourself. Creating your unique combination of hard and soft skills is the most valuable asset in a changing environment. Who knows. You and I can be the next game changers in the industry.”

Ira’s recommendations:

Book: The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures – Dan Roam

Social media: Slava Shestopalov: “For those who are interested in product design and want to start/improve their career in UX, I recommend following my former colleague, Slava Shestopalov. He runs a UX blog and shares many useful tips.”

More interviews with talents in tech?

  • Anne Groos about UX Design: “Working from home is really my ultimate focus”
  • Lieve Lanoye: “As a team leader you should not be able to replace everyone”
  • Whitney van der Zanden: “The growth marketer job is 80 percent tech”

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