Design thinking methodology: How do you design programs for diversity?


Elisha Tan

Elisha Tan

TechLadies founder, Elisha Tan, describes how to apply design thinking to creating developer programmes in this opening keynote from DevRelCon London 2019.


Elisha: My name is Elisha and I’m the founder of TechLadies which is a passion project that I do as a hobby. And during the day, I work in American company working as a developer programs manager for APEC. I’m Singaporean coming from Singapore.

This is my first Europe talk and I’m really excited to be here. But for those of you who don’t know, or maybe you do know, how many of you has saw the movie Crazy Rich Asians?

[Some audience members raise their hands]

All right, so it’s a movie pretty much on Singaporeans. But I want to set the record straight that not all of us are crazy rich. Some of us are just crazy.

If you also don’t know Singapore used to be a British colony so I learned to speak the British English speaking, well without the accent. But I learned British English growing up. I want to quickly fix a mistake that I admit on my title to a version that the Queen would approve…

[Title on screen changes ‘programs’ to ‘programmes’]

Thank you, I feel very encouraged now.

We really want to think about what I want to share with you today. The journey it took me to stop doing one of random developer events and have very mindful approach to designing programs. Really, this should be the title of my talk. A journey of self discovery, a cautionary tale. Okay, so now we spend about a minute talking about the title. Let’s get to the presentation.

For the talk today, I will show you a photo of a cat that I don’t own before sharing a little bit about my self, and walking you through the framework that I created that was heavily inspired or copied by the design thinking methodology. And then I will walk you through this framework through redesigning.

At TechLadies program, we call it TechLadies Bootcamp. Quick introduction, my journey in Tech started about 10 years ago when I was a fresh graduate with a psychology degree. And back then I know nothing about technology, and much like the John Snow of tech. Everything I can do is just Microsoft Paint and to create that image over there. But I learned how to code through the help of the developer community. And I wanted to learn how to code to start my own tech startup, which I eventually launched the startup and failed that startup. I don’t blame the developers, let’s put it on record. And but then experience make me realize that the ability to code is such a superpower. Because you could create products that solve your own problems or solve the problems of people you care about.

But I also wondered, where are the women? And that led me to start TechLadies as a way for me to give back to the community that’s given me so much. Now TechLadies is a community for women to come and experience technology and kickstart their journey in tech. Even though all of us are volunteers, we found full time jobs. We currently existed over three years and we have been very fortunate to be able to fulfill on our promise of giving women a space to connect, learn, and grow in industry. Right now, TechLadies is a community with a lot of programs on it but we didn’t start that way.

TechLadies started as an idea because I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if we help women the way that I entered the tech industry? And I entered the tech industry by learning how to code through creating a product. So I thought, why don’t we do a bootcamp doing exactly that for a woman who wants to enter the industry. You can see the design of the program is very personal and there wasn’t any sort of a framework or methodology that I was going off. I launched that, it went really well and what happen was that I started getting a lot of requests and feedback from the community on the different things that they want.

For a moment I said yes to everything because listening to your community is super important, right? But after some time of doing that, I suddenly got really overwhelmed by all the request because I felt like I was doing a bunch of different things, being pulled in different directions. And everything that I’m doing is not synchronized, it’s just random. Or as the British say, it’s rubbish. I thought to myself, there’s got to be a better way to design developer programs! There’s got to be a way to think about how we want to contribute to our community in a way that preserves our sanity.

In looking back at my experience to think about, you know, perhaps there’s any sort of inklings in my experiences that can help me move forward. I have a psychology degree, it’s rubbish. But I’ve also started a tech startup where I created a product from a need. And I thought, that’s it! The product design thinking process is well-defined. There are so many frameworks and methodology on how someone can create a product based on a use and need., One of the most popular methodologies is the Product Design Thinking, or actually just Design Thinking.

What this Design Thinking Framework brings you through is to integrate the needs of the users, understand the possibilities of technology, and the requirements of business needs to come to a solution that can meet all of that. I thought, how can we use this, how can we copy this, and apply it to the programs, to programs world? And this is what I come up with. Again, you know it’s legit because there’s colors. And of course a framework like this, needs to have a very innovative and creative name which I will call the Program Design Thinking. Now you know it’s super legit because there’s animation. All the slides will be shared after so you can take it easy.

Using this process has been really helpful for me to think about my work because a mistake that I saw myself making and also so many other people make, is to jump straight to ideation straight to execution, because that’s fun. Like going to conferences, throwing events, giving bunch of developers sweat is fun. But without a very mindful approach to understanding why we are doing this and what problem we are solving, it is very easy to be pulled in different direction like I was. Or to create a really, to come over to the idea that’s so out of touch with the target audience. And a local context like for example, a developer that I worked with wanted to do an overnight hackathon for women. That idea itself is great, but without a context of the environment in which this idea was to be implemented, you cannot evaluate the idea because that developer was based in a country where it’s not appropriate for women to be out, outside overnight, much lesser with presence of men. You know that idea was not a good fit. This process bring us through understanding the vision. Why are we doing this, why do we exist? And then understanding the problem, and what we’re trying to solve? Who we are trying to solve for? What is the best idea that we can pursue? How do we test it? And what more can we leverage on the things that we are doing? I am going to bring you through this process and how I redesign TechLadies.

First, we start with Vision. Vision is simply the reason why we exist. Not that existential, by you know, you got the thing. You go, you know what I mean. Why we are doing this? What are the goals and outcomes we want to see? And I think vision helps with understanding if we’re solving the right problem. Because there’s a lot of problems that a deferral can solve. But not all the problems are the right problems. And I also think that having a strong vision sets the foundation that can helps you directionally, understand what sort of metrics that will be important for you. Now at TechLadies, we want to make technology accessible for all including women, and that’s why we want to be able to create opportunities for women to enter the industry. Given this vision, some of the potential metrics are number of attendees, number of women trained, number of women hired.

Now that we have a vision, let’s build a bootcamp! And we’re at our vision on to the plan. Once you have a vision, the next step is to understand. And understand the problem and also the context in which the problem exist. Namely, how are people solving the problem right now, and why are these not good enough? When it comes to understanding the problem, we rely on the good old research methods of talking to people, talking to Google, and talking to people to talk to other people in a way of buying research papers or outsourcing.

When I started TechLadies, I talked to women who want to enter the industry, women who are already in the industry, and I also talked to experts of these communities you see up there. These are fellow community leaders who run for women community groups. And just to set the records straight, we are not in competition with each other, we’re all here with a common goal. And I’ve also talked to people who have ran online courses and also in-person boot camps to find out why they do things certain way, how do they do it, and what are the challenges they face. And with that, what I learned is that not everyone learn how to code to become software engineers. Some of them just want to learn because it’s fun. And some of them want to learn to enhance their current role. But for the woman who wants to enter the tech industry, make a career switch into the tech industry, they find difficulties doing so, based on a community offerings, the online courses and also in-person classes they were offered in Singapore at that point of time. Again, contacts is super important. Now that we know the problem that we’re going for, let’s build a bootcamp by adding that onto the plan.

Now the third thing is to define who we’re helping. Now Define to me sits between the more abstract research and vision with the very tangible execution strategy. Define is understanding who our audience is, what are their hopes and dreams and fears, and how can we reach out to them. And Define also helps me in focusing who exactly I’m helping, so that I can say no to everyone else who I’m with not in my target audience. When it comes to understanding who our target audience is again, our product peers have figured it out through the use of User Persona. This is a laundry list, I’m not going to bore you to by reading it out. But I think what are the important stuff to add into your User Persona is related to what’s your vision and also what problem you’re solving.

Now, in my TechLadies experience, one of the biggest mistake that I see so many people are making, is one of my pet peeve, is to generalize a demography as large as women. Let’s say we want to help women, we want to do this, like who exactly you’re trying to help? Because if you’ll look at this photo, like it’s all four Asian women speaking at a panel, we look kind of the same, but she’s a CS graduate who is now a tech startup founder, she’s a fashion business woman who is now a software engineer, she has a CS graduate, a CS degree and now working as a solutions architect, and then that’s me a Psychology graduate who is now working as developer programs manager.

In short, this archetype, we have our own challenges, our own aspirations. And we simply cannot be treated lumped into one persona called women. Out of all the personas that I can help, I chose to focus on women who have missed the opportunity to be formally educated in computer science but want to make the career switch into the tech industry.

Now we know who we’re trying to help. Let’s build a bootcamp by adding that onto our plan. So we are halfway there through the building a bootcamp and it is only now that we go to the fun part of Ideation. Now, I’m pretty sure that everybody knows about ideation, because that’s the fun part. But then, at this stage what you want to do is to find out what is the best idea to pursue given the constraints and the resources you have. And one thing I learn is to prioritize ideas before short feedback loop. A feedback loop is a time taken to plan, execute and learn from that experience. So ideas for a short feedback loop helps you learn more faster. A few ideation methods here mainly around, you know, everybody get a post-it. Do the ideas down, we vote or it could be a team collectively coming together to decide on one idea or multiple ideas.

Now for TechLadies, because I came up for an idea we’re trying to refine a bootcamp, one of it was to talk to different people to help me refine the idea. What I learn is that, for women who are trying to make a career switch into tech, women who are not formally trained in programming, having a portfolio is actually super important. Because you want to create a portfolio, the way to do it is learn by doing. But unfortunately, learning how to code by working on an existing product may be too challenging. Creating a new product might be more suitable in that case. And it has to be something more intensive than maybe a short series of workshop. By refining this idea this is the TechLadies Bootcamp. It’s a 12-week part-time bootcamp to help women with some basic programming skills to enter the tech industry and they do so by coding a product for a non-profit. In that way, whatever they are doing does not go to waste. Which I’ll talk a little bit more later. Now, so we have the idea, let’s build a bootcamp by adding that on to the plan.

Okay, now we have the idea, that is great! Now the hotpot comes in terms of like, how do you test your idea? When it comes to testing idea, you want to know like, what is the best way to test this? What are the risks involved? Because there may be reputation risk when you do something, when you are testing something. And also, what did you learn from the process? A few testing methods include you just talking, showing prototypes, walk-ups to users, running a small scale online or offline event, or you know, just launch everything and call it a pilot so we set the expectation right. And for TechLadies, what we did was to take advice from Nike, the sports company and just did it. Because we are not a real thing, we’re a community, we’re not a registered company or a non-profit, what we did was to communicate to the audience that we may cancel the bootcamp at any point on time if we don’t have the right non-profits, if we do have. If we don’t have the right kind of participants for the bootcamp. Very fortunately we never had the issue of not having enough demand. We have ran for boot camps so far and all of them has been over subscribed. Through the experience, we have also helped 12 NGOs, creating products such as a film submission app, adoption app, a classroom management app, as well as a donor management app. These are pretty simple applications that replace paper and excel and emails and you’ll be shocked to learn how much in the non-profit world, how many John Snows are there.

I feel as a key lessons learned here is that it works. Right now, we have trained 36 women of which only one dropped off. And 12 of them actually eventually make the career switch into junior roles or software engineering internship. And these are people who are completely non technical. People such as who used to work as an air stewardess, a photographer and even a gymnastic teacher.

I think is our secret source is to have a clear objective. Begin with end goal in mind having a product that people are working towards. And the structure around it to help people learn those skills to finish the product, as well as the type of volunteers that we look for because these people are part of the community who can then open doors for the graduates of the bootcamp. The last thing is that, there’s so many people who want to volunteer their skills and time to help us. What they need is some direction and also things to do so that they can get started. Okay, now that we have ran the test, let’s build a bootcamp by adding that what we’ve learned over here, This TLDR.

The last step is something that I came up with because I feel like a lot of times, people tend to just stop. You know once they finish the test, they’ll go back to ideation so they refine the test continuously. But as the good old saying goes, “But wait, there’s more.” Oh, I feel like by volume of laughter, not a lot of people are from marketing. Leverage is simply to squeeze any ounce of, in fact, other things that you are already doing. What are some other goals that you can achieve? What are some of the momentum that you can create from the things that you are already doing? There’s a few ways that we can think about this.

Let us take, for example, a hackathon. Let’s say you want to run a hackathon. So how in order to leverage more out of hackathon, you could think about from marketing perspective. Can you feature someone of hackathon participants as you know, success stories, or have them be a part of the content on your social media platforms? Can this product helps drive your product adoption or product feedback? And can these products actually be done in a for good cause? So it’s not something that you create for fun over the weekend and throw it away. And also can you use this hackathon to identify who could be the future organizers of the hackathon? There’s just so many things that you can squeeze out, out of one hackathon and it’s a pretty easy lift.

For TechLadies, what we did was the graduates have been a good, such an amazing source of feedback on how we can improve and new ideas that we can try out. One of them have even helped us scale beyond Singapore. They also come back to contribute as organizers, speakers, and mentors to help inspire the next generation of female engineers. And because of their unique backgrounds, their story are also used and shared on our social media platform as content. And now that we know how we can leverage more of the bootcamp, let’s build a bootcamp. And we are done! We had a really productive morning.

Let’s do a short recap. Now the Program Design Thinking, again, not just helped me to define my purpose, helped me gain clarity and stay focused. It also not just helped me innovate but innovate mindfully so that I know that whatever I’m doing makes sense. Quickly bring you through the process again, it starts with Vision, understanding, knowing why you are doing something. Understand what problem you are solving and what context in which the problem exist. Defining who is the target audience. Finding the best idea. Testing the idea, and leveraging it for more. It’s through this process that help me become better organizer, and help me be a better leader then eventually we can create something that is super meaningful.

I want to close with a short story of Xin Tian. She was actually kicked out of Masters in Chemistry and she felt like her confidence was an all-time low because of that. But her friend pick an interest in technology and she fell in love with that. Through TechLadies Bootcamp, she was able to learn the skills that she need and now she is a software engineer at a startup. She is also presenter at the RedDot Ruby Conference in Singapore in front of the creator of the Ruby Programming Language. And I thought that’s super, super cool. Yes, she also helped us bring TechLadies to Malaysia. Cool, so with that this is probably the slide you want to take a photo of. There’s a QR code that takes you straight to the slides. I’m really happy to be here. Let’s build awesome developer programs together! Thank you.

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