Natalie Encalada became a Senior Product Designer for Medidata, after cultivating a career in UI (user interface) and visual design. But she’s not only a product designer — she’s also a pioneer for women of color in the tech industry.
Thanks to Medidata’s diversity efforts, she’s able to work on projects she’s passionate about while empowering others and building a community for herself. It’s an experience that’s provided her with rich insights to share with other women in the industry.
Keep reading for Encalada’s advice on navigating the primarily white and male-dominated tech industry, building leadership skills as both a minority and an introvert, and enhancing your professional image.
Tell us a bit about your job. What’s your current role and how long have you been in this role?
I’ve been a senior product designer for about a year. Prior to this, almost three years to the day, I was hired as a UI/Visual Designer. Originally, my role was more oriented towards providing visual design updates to existing products on our platform, but it has evolved to overseeing the user experience on a few of our products at Medidata.
Now, I do the research involved in understanding our users, help develop products and features with them in mind, and continue to test and iterate to ensure a best-in-class user experience.
What first got you interested in pursuing a career in tech?
I fell into tech accidentally. I came from a design agency that did a bit of everything but primarily focused on print design. When looking for my next role, I found Medidata and joined because of their specific mission and work in clinical trials. At the time, I did not realize the depth and complexity of the organization. Since being here though, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working closely with engineers, learning about their tech processes and how user experience design fits in. I also can’t overlook some of the perks the tech industry has to offer, like the dynamic learning environment and opportunities for growth.
What projects or programs are you currently working on? What about this type of work most excites you?
During my time here, I’ve worked on a variety of projects that I love. Currently, I am involved in a few different initiatives helping to push our design and design team forward. I’m involved in working on our Design System, which is a UX Playbook filled with wonderful how-to guides and processes for our team, and I’m also working on platform-wide visual updates, such as our global navigation.
In addition, I’ve had the fortune of working with our Women of Color (WoC) BRG (Business Resource Group). One of the projects is a Design Thinking workshop involving a few other members that’s aimed at problem-solving the lack of diversity in clinical trials. Along with strengthening our design team through the initiatives mentioned, working with WoC has been what excites me most. It’s a message I deeply resonate with and care about.
What has been the biggest challenge or obstacle you’ve faced working as a woman in tech?
Luckily, most of my days are filled with diversity in meetings. But there are occasions where I’m the only woman (let alone the only woman of color), which can be rough and demotivating. It can be discouraging and serves as a reminder that more should be done to change that.
Does Medidata provide any resources or programs to support women in your field?
As mentioned, Medidata has a variety of business resource groups. Being a part of WoC has been tremendously helpful on days like I mentioned above. Walking into a room of people who look more like me and sound more like me, and working towards a common cause, invigorates me on what otherwise could have been a difficult day. My hope is that all companies ensure they have these groups available to their employees.
What is your favorite aspect of the culture at Medidata?
Collaboration and our general love of fun. While this pandemic has changed a lot of things, these two remain at the core of Medidata’s culture.
What is something you’re especially good at work?
Visual design. In the user experience field, it is common for a lot of professionals to come from all different backgrounds, which is amazing when it comes to having coworkers help each other and play to each other’s strengths. I come from a design background, and it’s something I remain passionate about. I’d like to think, and have been told, that I still have some designing chops.
What are you trying to improve on?
Leadership skills. Growing up, I was an extreme introvert, and while, on occasion, a coworker will tell me they are surprised by this, it has still been difficult for me to go from what’s been comfortable to commanding a room. Coincidentally, WoC is starting a Lean In circle for leadership, so I look forward to that helping!
What is the most memorable piece of career advice you’ve received?
To pay more attention to how I share the great work I’m doing. I am generally not one for presentations and calling attention to what I am doing well at work. However, the reality is that the way we’re perceived at work is important! I need to let others know what I do well or, come promotion time, I may be overlooked for something I’m more than capable of. Others just may not be aware.
What advice do you have for other women who are beginning a career in tech?
Pay close attention to what is being done in the organizations you apply for in terms of diversity and belonging (D&B). A lot of companies, now especially, will say D&B is important to them, but take a look at their metrics. What is the ratio of women to men in their engineering department — and of women of color? What about in managerial positions and leadership? Make sure to work where you are going to be valued.
I also recommend that women find a mentor, always be learning, and make sure they are sharing their voice.
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