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Google has become one of the most sought after places to work for software engineers, designers and well, everyone. Cristóbal Chao‘s road to Google was paved with a wealth of experiences that prepared him for becoming a Googler, proving that the more you bring to Google, the more you can offer its users.
Cristóbal, in your own words, how would you describe what you do at Google?
My mission is to create meaningful and delightful experiences for mobile and web applications. I’m responsible for bringing a happy and unforgettable smile to my users.
What one project, or projects, are you currently working on?
I’m a UX engineer lead for Google Apps for Work’s products. Also, I work on internal applications that help our team and other Googlers to work more efficiently and collaboratively.
You’ve worked at a variety of companies, including Oracle and Hattery, among others. How have your past experiences helped you get to where you are today? Are there any key learning opportunities you had prior to Google that helped prepare you for becoming a Google employee?
My past experience has influenced me a lot in defining my current work at Google. When I started at Oracle, I was working as a backend software engineer consultant for a wide range of medium and large companies. My main job was to migrate old Oracle products/tools to the latest ones. These tools were powerful but not always well-designed or intuitive. I was always curious to hear the employees’ opinions about these products, since they were using them all the time. I soon found out that they were often frustrated with their experience.
For example, users were overwhelmed and lost with all the features. Some of them were really hard to find; the experience was ugly and boring, and some of them even told me that they hate their job mainly because of these tools. This made me interested in doing something for these users, despite the fact that it was not part of my job. Even though these tools were really hard to customize, I rapidly discovered that by making small tweaks and changes, I was able to see more smiles from these users. Seeing their surprise and gratitude encouraged me to work closer with them, and so I spent a good chunk of my free time looking into ways to improve their overall user experience: I tweaked the discoverability of some of the features, I made them more intuitive to find and use, I created custom plugins that helped them work more efficiently. It was a very meaningful experience for me.
The experience at Oracle helped me to define what I wanted to do next. I sought for opportunities to continue learning and doing more work with much more impact for final users. I finally ended up at Hattery Labs, a small startup in San Francisco, as a member of the creative team. At Hattery Labs, I was one of the two engineers in the startup and our main mission was to help different startups think about and create end-to-end experiences. Working at startup speed was challenging, we not only needed to think about the experiences, we needed to make those ideas happen as prototypes or products, which most of the time was beyond our skills and knowledge. I invested a lot of my free time learning new technologies and frameworks, also building a set of tools which eventually became part of our deliverables to these startups. All of this helped me grow significantly as a product/ux engineer. At the same time I was fortunate to be surrounded with talented designers and other members of the creative team, who helped me learn about and understand our users better.
“I rapidly discovered that by making small tweaks and changes, I was able to see more smiles from these users. Seeing their surprise and gratitude encouraged me to work closer with them, and so I spent a good chunk of my free time looking into ways to improve their overall user experience.”
After a year working at Hattery, part of the team was acquired by Google and I ended up working at Google Apps as a UX engineer. My work at Google is an extension of what I was doing before at Hattery Labs but now our main users are businesses, which include small, medium and large companies.
In your Linkedin bio, it states that you experiment with a wide range of development tools to find optimal tools to create easy and fast prototypes. How do you decide what tools to begin with when experimenting? Is it based on prior experience with tools? Creating your own tools? Or working with colleagues to identify the right tools?
My work at Google requires me to quickly create and iterate on experiences for some of our products. This helps our team to test ideas quickly and redefine our final products. In order to make these quick implementations, I need to know what experiences do we want to create and test first, then see what is available out there, and pick the technologies, frameworks and libraries that can help me create these experiences. Sometimes, I’m not able to find the right frameworks or libraries to achieve my goals, so I have two approaches:
- Fake it.
- Create my own library or tool.
Historically, in order to be successful in the technology sector, you need to take a lot of risks. Whether it’s experimenting with new tools, using a new process, or creating something new, an individual can push others to take the risks, and raise the team’s or business’s risk tolerance. Can you give a recent example when you’ve decided to take a risk, and it’s paid off for the benefit of the project, team, product, or user?
I really like to experiment and try different approaches that could potentially improve our internal workflow to make things more efficient. I have seen opportunities to create tools that can help a lot of users. I’m a UX engineer and my role is not to create final products, but quick prototypes/experiences, but I knew if I wanted to build tools that can be used across Google, I needed to change the way that I was working and start looking into developing applications that weren’t just prototypes or demos.
“Working at the intersection of engineering and design is really exciting. There’s a big gap between these two worlds on the creation of any product. We need to learn and understand the limitations of both and gently push the boundaries of what is possible today to enhance user experiences.”
For each tool, this means a lot of work and learning in the process, I was not only responsible for the experience and interactions, which we called the front-end part, I also needed to build the back-end side of the final apps, which was not simple. This requires me to have a lot of ownership on the products themselves, since I’m usually the only one working on them full-time. This was definitely a big risk I took, because if the product was not successful it could have been a major drawback for my career. With the support of my managers, we recently launched some of these apps across Google.
What do you like most about working at Google as a UX engineer?
The UX Engineering lead was created recently in Google. When I started one and a half years ago, not more than 10 people were working in this role. Now, we have a full team with dozens of UX engineers and Google is embracing design stronger than ever with Material Design. I think this is a great opportunity for us to make a positive impact.
Working at the intersection of engineering and design is really exciting. There’s a big gap between these two worlds on the creation of any product. We need to learn and understand the limitations of both and gently push the boundaries of what is possible today to enhance user experiences. I see UX Engineering as the bridge that connects engineering and design, and whose ultimate mission is to minimize this gap as much as its can.
Images Credits: Google Material Design
Get your start in user experience in Patrick McNeil’s online course, Intro to UX Design, at HOW Design University.