Mentee Spotlight with Richard Lam

Richard Lam shares his thoughts on his experience with the UXPA mentorship program. Richard participated in the mentorship program as a mentee over three cohorts in 2020. He recently joined the board of his local UXPA NY Chapter as Vice President. 

Who are you/Tell us a little about yourself?

My name is Richard Lam, born in Calgary, Canada, recently moved to New York City. My background is in journalism, arts marketing, and community development, and I am now a UX auditor at Baymard Institute. 

Outside of work, my interests include biking, film, music, games, food, urban planning, and culture. My side passion is scouring farmers markets for fresh regional fruits and experimenting with small batches of Lam Jam.

What led you to sign up for the UXPA International Mentorship Program?

I was finishing a UX design bootcamp in January 2020 and looking to continue learning and meeting folks in the field while pursuing that elusive full-time job. My memories of that period were attending local Meetups, talking to recruiters, taking on freelance opportunities, trying things like Lunchclub, and signing up for webinars and online Slack communities. I was doing all the things you’re supposed to be doing. 

It’s definitely harder right now to network and meet people virtually. I think these mentorship programs are great for finding and building that dedicated one-on-one professional relationship. UXPA was one of those avenues, and the application form for the mentorship program came at the right time.

What were you expecting when you signed up for your first mentorship cohort?

At the time of signing up, I had hoped — probably like many — that it would somehow in some way lead to a job. Beyond that vague and slightly misguided goal, I was still trying to determine if my interests and efforts should be directed more towards the UX design side or UX research side and was hoping for some guidance there.

How was the mentorship experience?

I really appreciated that there were three shorter mentor-mentee pairings throughout the year, rather than one dedicated one. The hands-off approach also meant we were able to set our own schedules, goals, and topics to discuss, making for a very adaptable program throughout the year, which was particularly important in 2020.

The variety of mentors also meant a broader range of perspectives. One mentor was very focused on helping me with UX theories and frameworks, reading recommendations, jobs-to-be-done, and general productivity hacks. One was interested in fostering industry connections and was piloting a weekly Zoom coffee chat program that she also invited me to attend, which was great for meeting others in the field. And one was just a great conversationalist that I got along with really well on all topics, even outside of UX matters. We’re in touch regularly still, which is pretty special. I think if it was a more structured program, with one mentor on a set schedule, I wouldn’t have experienced nearly as much during the year or gotten as much out of it.

What did you struggle with? Any surprises during the program?

Not every mentor is going to be a perfect match, and that reality can sometimes be jarring. I know some mentees weren’t able to connect with their mentors at all or just weren’t able to find a meaningful connection. There’s always a sense that you want to “get the most out of your membership” and all of its programs, and there’s some urgency because you’re only paired with each mentor for a few months, but I don’t think that transactional mindset is the best approach either. Everyone has different communication styles, interests, and circumstances. In March, my first mentor was adjusting to those early lockdown days and suddenly having to parent at home after just one or two sessions with me in March. Rigidly making time for me every week wasn’t a top priority, nor should I have been. It was a bit of a practice in empathy and just being flexible and open and respectful. The mentors all volunteers too, and it’s important to remember that.

How do you feel now that the program is over?

I think I have a greater understanding and appreciation of my mentors and peers in UX. We’re all just trying to make the best of our various challenges, professionally and personally. The mentors are also putting themselves out there as much as us mentees are — if not more. Many are doing this for the first time or are trying to get leadership experience that they don’t have a chance to do in their day-to-day jobs. That was a perspective that made the UX community a lot less intimidating to be a part of.

I found the general program coordination by all the UXPA International volunteers to be pretty impressive too. Getting to see that was a factor in my deciding to volunteer for my local UXPA board, which I just joined last month. It’s a lovely new group of people to work with, and I’m hoping I’ll get to continue learning and developing there.

Does the UXPA Mentorship program sound like something you’d like to be involved with?

If you would like to participate in the next cohort, please apply by Feb 19th.

Feedback about a past cohort? We would love to hear! Email mentorship@uxpa.org

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