Sarah Alpern

Sarah Alpern

Sarah Alpern

May 6, 2024

May 6, 2024

May 6, 2024

What does a path towards design leadership in a product-focused company look like?

What does a path towards design leadership in a product-focused company look like?

Join Sarah, Global VP of Design where she leads designers, researchers and writers to bring us meaningful and accessible user experiences to an app that we all know and love—LinkedIn!

Join Sarah, Global VP of Design where she leads designers, researchers and writers to bring us meaningful and accessible user experiences to an app that we all know and love—LinkedIn!

Follow Sarah!

Follow Emily!

Episode Transcript

Sarah Alpern 0:00

Think of the people that you work with in that first job as humans first—so grab a coffee with that PM, grab a beer with an engineer, whatever. Get to know people as humans, because then it will make the like inevitable, you know, hard conversations you have to have so much easier.

Liz Gerber (host) 0:28

Welcome to the Technical Difficulties Podcast. I'm Liz Gerber and a design professor at Northwestern.

Lauren Lin (host) 0:33

And I'm Lauren Lin, and I'm a student who has also worked in the design industry. Each week we speak with women leaders in design and technology.

Liz Gerber (host) 0:41

And together we're so excited to welcome Sarah Alpern. Sarah is global vice president of design where she leads designers, researchers and writers to bring us meaningful and accessible user experiences to an app that we all know and love LinkedIn. She identifies as a product designer by train, notably working at places like eBay and it's early days. Now Sarah is especially excited about responsible design, design, leadership, business impact of design and building a diverse and inclusive team. We can't wait to hear from you, Sarah, thank you so much for joining us today.

Sarah Alpern 1:14

Awesome. Thank you so much for having me.

Lauren Lin (host) 1:16

Okay, so we're gonna start off with a really fun activity warmup that we always like to start off with—some quick questions. Answer, like whatever comes off the top of the mind. So first question, what is your favorite way to start your morning?

Sarah Alpern 1:30

Coffee. So much coffee.

Lauren Lin (host) 1:32

Okay, next question is favorite creativity tool, and creativity tool broadly defined?

Sarah Alpern 1:38

Okay, great question. First thing that comes to mind for me is a camera. I love taking pictures just coming off of thanksgiving. With I have a huge family, we spent it with 28 people ages nine months to 75. And there were incredible sunsets and lots of just like shenanigans, and I'm always the one who's taking the pictures and trying to make them as fun and creative as possible. And then love to make photo gifts for the family. So I like to craft things.

Lauren Lin (host) 2:13

What is the photo gift look like? How do you craft that? sounds so fun.

Sarah Alpern 2:18

Um, I mean, so I have been making a family calendar for my like, massive extended family every single year since well before like the Shutterfly's. And those products existed, you know, I was going to Kinko's and like literally hand making them. So now the tools exist. It's much easier, but I still do it every single year.

Liz Gerber (host) 2:40

I love that. And that's a great transition into the next question, which is when did you get started in tech and design? Was it with those photo albums?

Sarah Alpern 2:48

Ah, that's a great question. I mean, I think college, I studied, I was very indecisive in my major, I had five different majors. But I jumped around between a bunch of the psych majors, you know, playing psychology, psycho bio cognitive science. I also kind of found an interest in coding and ended up with like a computer specialization. And I've also always been very fascinated by business and ended up with a business specialization as well. I just sort of like collected all the things. And so my first job was a product manager coming out of that, because it turns out, there's actually a good career for that combination of business, computer science, and psychology. So that's probably where really first started.

Liz Gerber (host) 3:42

So Sarah, we're curious to know, what was one career defining moment or possibly career failure that you're willing to share?

Sarah Alpern 3:51

Sure. So I think I've had many, but I think a defining and it's funny, because I think this is the kind of go together into one. And that my first two jobs out of college, the companies actually ended up closing and I was laid off. So back to back laid off in the first couple of years after college. So that was rough in terms of like career failure, you know, and I was paying rents and paying school loans and it was pretty scary. And actually, that is what led me to driving a stockbroker, which super random left turn in my career, but there wasn't a lot of people hiring at the time, and I took a personal finance class, and the woman teaching it was a stockbroker at Morgan Stanley, and at the very end, she's like, by the way, we're hiring and I was like, Sure, why not? So I applied and I got the job and very quickly was like, Ha, this is completely a salesman. All and I'm not that interested in it. But I did it for a while. And a big part of it was, was training. So, you know, I had to get all the stockbroker licenses and learn all the personal finance and one of my big learnings from that was, oh my gosh, I like miss school. I love learning about new stuff. And that actually ended up leading me eventually back to grad school. Because I was like, Okay, what do I want to learn next? I don't think this career is quite right. And so it, my sort of career failure ended up being one of the like, defining moments for my career.

Lauren Lin (host) 5:40

That's interesting. Also, you kind of had a boomerang moment, too, with education, like you sort of studied something similar in college, and then went back to it.

Sarah Alpern 5:49

That's funny you're gonna start using that term!

Lauren Lin (host) 5:52

I know, boomerang, it's like it's coming out a little too easy now!

Liz Gerber (host) 5:56

That's great. Okay, so now your global VP of design at LinkedIn. Tell us a little bit about what happened in that transition.

Sarah Alpern 6:04

Oh, goodness. So as I said, I did product management right after college. But there was one point where I was sitting next to an interaction designer. And we were sort of puzzling through, you know, the interaction design the UI of some widget we were trying to make, and it really did clicked for me, I was like, This is so fun. I love love, love the problem solving. I love the like putting things together and trying to make it as like simple and intuitive as possible. So I definitely had a moment where I did like product management. But where I did see myself eventually veering towards design and windy path later, I ended up at Carnegie Mellon studying human computer interaction, I got my master's there. And that is really where it completely clicked, like I loved product design, I loved user research there as well, it's kind of a good program, it's kind of a merging of the two. And you know, you it's a 12 month program. So it is very, very intense. But I loved it. I mean, my Saturday nights, I was so excited to sit in the lab with, you know, my peers in the program, and just be working on projects, and just like super super into it. So I knew at that point that this was kind of the right direction for me.

Liz Gerber (host) 7:28

It's so true, Sarah. I love what you said, like, you know, when it's 1pm, Saturday, or Sunday, early Sunday morning, and you're at the studio, and you're happy that you've found the right. Yeah, I can really relate to that. I love that.

Sarah Alpern 7:44

So from there, you know, it was a little bit more of a straight path in design, except I did bounce, because I had to keep up the theme of kind of bouncing between management and individual contributor. So I've gone back and forth quite a few times between those roles. Which by the way, I think there's something to it, because while I was building sort of leadership skills that I needed to get into the role that I'm in today, it's nice to stay close to the craft. And so you know, being a manager and then taking a role as an IC, and then going back to manager helped me kind of keep up with the tools, keep up with kind of the latest and actually doing design. But I started my LinkedIn career in 2007, which is majorly dating me as an IC as a principal designer and kind of grew up alongside that company. I was an IC the whole time I was here my first stint for six years. And eventually left to run design..

Liz Gerber (host) 8:50

and IC stands for what again?

Sarah Alpern 8:53

Oh, sorry. Please call me out on any acronyms. I hate that. Individual contributor.

Liz Gerber (host) 8:59

We all do it!

Lauren Lin (host) 9:01

And then can you define the difference between management and individual contributor?

Sarah Alpern 9:06

Yeah, well, and I mean, it can merge a little bit, but management means that you are leading a team of people that are doing the craft, an individual contributor means you're actually the person who's doing the craft. And actually, at LinkedIn, we believe we believe a lot in like parallel paths and making sure that there's like a great path for both meaning in order to have career progression. You shouldn't have to go into management for example. So we have a director level, I see role which is a Senior Principal, funny stories. I was the first Senior Principal at LinkedIn, but now we've had many sets. But again, you know, they are actually very different careers and very different roles. Do you light up do you get passion when With building products or building people, and leading people.

Liz Gerber (host) 10:07

Sarah, can you that's a brilliant distinction. Can you just bring us back to 2007? And what LinkedIn looked like? And what the interaction was like, at that point, because that was worlds and worlds ago, so different than today?

Sarah Alpern 10:23

So let's see, in 2007, I think we just launched profile photos. So there are no photos on the entire app. And by the way, that was incredibly controversial. Whether you should hell. Right. And I mean, imagine that today, if we didn't have photos. Can you say why it was controversial? Sure. I mean, you know, if you think about photos in the interviewing process, right, you can just think about how, you know, if, if you didn't have them before, then people could say, Wait a second. Now, you know, it's gonna be all about, you know, what you look like, and you're gonna have discrimination and you know, you're gonna is gonna go against fairness and all kinds of arguments about it. But it turned out, obviously, to be something that very much humanizes LinkedIn. And we're, by the way, not just a career site, or we're not just a job site, but it's really about your entire career and building knowledge for your career. And like, the human angle of that is actually incredibly important. I think we've just launched our first feed at that time. Um, I think we adjust actually, after I got there, I think we launched our first mobile app. So we didn't even have a mobile app. I know, this is totally dating me. Very different times.

Liz Gerber (host) 11:45

It's dating you. It's it's saying something about the progress, the progression of technology, which is phenomenal. And LinkedIn, I think, is just such a illustrious product that has changed so much and made such a difference in people's career, right. I mean, everybody uses it now.

Sarah Alpern 12:04

Yeah, well the other funny thing is you think we're, we're like 20,000 employees now. And when I got here, we were 200. We all fit on one floor of one building in Mountain View, and had our company meetings in the cafeteria. Reid Hoffman was our head of product. He's sort of our illustrious founder. It was just it's very different times.

Lauren Lin (host) 12:27

Wow that sounds like a movie. Like I don't know, maybe because I'm just young, but that is, must be like really interesting environment. I also like how you pointed out how you've been able to grow like as LinkedIn grows, you've also been able to grow. And I found a quote online, that you had said before about your definition of a dream job, and a dream job. This is what you said is able to work at and lead a company that shares my values of impact, purpose, and responsibility. It means we're all aligned in creating products that make people's lives better. This is a huge reason why I boomeranged. And so I'm really interested in one, like how you're able to grow in this company. And two, can you talk about your boomerang journey a little bit and also define a boomerang? Like, what does that mean in corporate America?

Sarah Alpern 13:22

So a boomerang is somebody who works for a company leaves and then comes back. I was actually one of the first LinkedIn boomerangs. This was not a new concept. I think Google at the time, like tons of people were boomeranging, but we're newer to it. So I worked for LinkedIn for six years. Again, I was an individual contributor, the whole time actually refused management. I'm like, I'm a maker. I'm not a bureaucrat, I want you know, back to the hole. Do I want to grow people are in a team or do I want to really focused on building product and at the time, that's what I wanted to focus on. I ended up moving to a startup and leading their design team. So it was my first head of design role for a startup called Wealthfront. The funny sort of full circle is I referenced I had a windy career path before going to Carnegie Mellon. I actually after product management, I tried all kinds of different things. I actually was a stockbroker. So random. I was a high school tennis coach. I got my bartending license at one point I was like a client account manager I tried a zillion different things super windy path. But funny enough that you know that stockbroker job you'd never think would be super relevant to a design career but that's how I got my first head of design role. was you know, well friends is perfect, perfect intersection or my my background was the perfect intersection of Personal Finance. And then having done a ton of design and design management. So I went to Wealthfront, for a couple of years led their design team. And the whole time that I was there, the head of design at LinkedIn, Steve Johnson, who's incredible, if you ever have an opportunity to interview him, I highly recommend it. He was my mentor the whole time. So totally embodied the like LinkedIn value of relationships matter. I mean, I left and it didn't matter, he mentored me through my whole first head of design role, and recruited me back to LinkedIn a couple of years later. I will say I was I was very concerned about feeling like I was taking a step back in my career. So I interviewed at a ton of places knowing I was very interested in LinkedIn. But I wanted to make sure that I was truly moving forward. And this is where I wanted to be. So part of what sort of this this self work that I did, was thinking about what do I truly value and what do I want next in my career, and what it comes down to for me is, it's about the people that I work with. It's very much about the mission, I have to believe in what we're doing, and why we're doing it. And it's something that's really good for the world. And something I care about. The culture of the company is so so important and the aligns to my values. And then just the ability to learn and grow and have an impact. And LinkedIn just had that in spades. So I ended up coming back, it was really fun, because a bunch of the people that I had been individual contributors with, you know, a couple years before, we're now in leadership, and we're kind of leading the company together, I came back as the head of design for growth, and then took on more and more teams. And eventually, my manager left and I took over the entire design team. And it was kind of funny, because the boomerang experience or my my boomerang experience, actually, I think made me a good fit for that, because I had the passion and knowledge of what we're trying to do and our mission. But I also have that like energy of a new person coming into the company. And also with experience outside, you know, a little bit of like grass is not greener experience, seeing what, what else is out there and coming back and saying, Yes, I'm like really pumped to keep working at LinkedIn.

Liz Gerber (host) 17:23

I love that. Thank you. So speaking of energy, what excites you today? What, literally today or this week? Oh, gosh, like, you gotta walk from the break? And you're like, Oh, I can't wait to do this.

Sarah Alpern 17:38

I would say today...I mean, I'm excited about so much of what we're doing. I think this sounds so cliche, but I am very excited about how we design in this new for emerging technologies, and for artificial intelligence and Gen AI. I think it's a super, super interesting challenge. And I think there's a lot of disruption here. But I think as designers, we like it's really important that we're embracing it. And we're thinking about how do we leverage these emerging technologies and really designed for them in a really responsible way? Versus just like, put our heads down and say, no, no, we want to keep working the way that we're working. And so at LinkedIn, we're thinking, so I think about from a bunch of different ways. One is, how do we, you know, leverage that technology to do our work better? So what tools do we bring on? For the team? You know, especially from the perspective of like, how can we help the designers do the work that they like, love, and not have to do the busy work that they don't. And then we're also thinking a lot about how we incorporate it in our products. And similarly, you know, starting from what's the job to be done, which is kind of how we think about the value that we bring to our members and customers, what are they hiring LinkedIn to do in their lives? And how can we use this technology to help them get there more efficiently, more delightfully? And so I mean, there's so much from a design perspective, right, like, prompts design, like, what is the, you know, what is the role of a designer? How do we design for these new interfaces? So so that that gets me really excited.

Liz Gerber (host) 19:28

Can you speak on, can you give a concrete example of what your designers love to do and what they don't want to give up?

Sarah Alpern 19:34

Sure. Um, so like, one thing that we're thinking about is content strategy. So I run multidisciplinary design team. So we have product designers, we have content designers, we've got user researchers, we have communication designers, we have design operations, folks. On the content design side. You know, I think having the content designers focus more on content strategy, and less on like editing of every word that we put in the UI. So we've incorporated a product called writer into figma. And so it can ingest our content strategy guidelines, and help product designers who are making the mockups, make the mockups on brand, you know, consistent voice in tone, etc, and pulling in the like strategic work that the content designers are doing. So that I think that's one example.

Lauren Lin (host) 20:37

That's very cool. I like I want to see it in action. This is like very exciting. And also, I appreciate how you designed around what your current content designers like want to focus on, rather than I think a lot of AI product or tech products, sometimes prescribing what the use should be rather than asking. I'm also curious—so that's like a great example of where AI has really boosted the way you've been able to work, thinking about AI in product and your interests in responsible design and accessibility inclusion—How are you approaching or thinking about AI in product as it pertains to trust building? And making sure it's a safe and enjoyable experience for everyone?

Sarah Alpern 21:23

Yeah, I mean, that's a great question. I can talk a little bit more generally, and we focus a lot on trust, trust is baked in, as you know, a business priority, like priority to the vision of LinkedIn is create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce. I say that probably a couple times a week, at least in my job, like it really is woven into, you know, how we work and what we're doing. And in the design team, specifically, we think a lot about that, that word every so every member of the global workforce, how do we design products that work for people, and really resonate for people around the world with different, you know, aspirations, and everybody wants the corner office, in different industries, in different GEOS with different abilities. And so we think a lot about, we think a lot about that. And we also think, like, from a trust perspective, how could the product be misused? And how to n? And how do we design for that? From the beginning, so we call it trust by design, and really bacon, it's not just something that we you know, you have a checklist at the very end before you launch and make sure you know, you meet your sort of trust guidelines, we really think about, you know, thinking about what could go wrong? You know, how could somebody misuse this, we've got these like Red Team Blue team exercises that we do. We're not designing just for the happy path. And so that extends to your question that extends to everything that we do, including AI. And so how do we apply? Like all of this thinking all of these tactics, these frameworks, to everything that we do, including designing for AI.

Liz Gerber (host) 23:23

Sarah, can you explain the Red Team Blue team exercise? I think it's fascinating and very distinctive of LinkedIn.

Sarah Alpern 23:31

Absolutely. It harkens from, I think, an engineering exercise where they will have people try and kind of break the code of, you know, the website of the product. So what we do is we have archetypes of, you know, different people, including, you know, people who are going to try misuse the product or do harm to our users. And, you know, when we're doing designs, we'll say, hey, how would this archetype misuse this product, okay, designed for that design against that, essentially. And so and then, you know, you've got your, like, red teams that's designing for this, and then the blue team is trying to break it from kind of a bad guy perspective.

Liz Gerber (host) 24:20

I think that's brilliant. I just, I love that you do that from the very beginning. As opposed to a last minute add on.

Sarah Alpern 24:27

I was just gonna say, we, we talk a lot about building quality products. And, you know, very quickly the team says, okay, so define quality. And so we did, and we defined quality, with three simple product principles that are sort of tops down is the tops down definition and talked about for everybody in engineering, product management, design, sort of across the board who's building our products. And those principles are valuable, simple and trustworthy. And so we're in everything from like the strategy phase to the roadmap, planning to the design specs to the launch readiness. We're always talking about, you know, is this symbol, is this valuable? Is this trustworthy? And like having a whole bunch of conversations around that. So I think the other tactic is just really building it into the fabric of how we work and how we talk.

Liz Gerber (host) 25:26

Can you give a really concrete example of a feature that our listeners might know about where you can illustrate those three attributes? As a user, here's my experience, when I hear those is making a post on LinkedIn is so easy. It's so simple. It's like you open it up, you make it like, there it is, you have the basics, do you want to add a photo? Do you want to add a link? Like, it's just, it's very simple. And I love I love this simple interface of it. I'm trying to think about how trustworthy how I evaluate the trustworthiness of it. I'm not sure I'd have to think about that and that your third attribute was?

Sarah Alpern 26:06

So valuable, simple and trustworthy. And valuable, kind of the beginning, right? It doesn't, it doesn't matter if it's not valuable. None of the rest matters. So we start from jobs, we start from jobs to be done. And we say, Who are we designing for? Why are they like, what are the jobs that they want LinkedIn to do in their life? Right, so why are they hiring us? LinkedIn? Whether it's to find a job, it's to create my professional brand, etc? And then we say, okay, have we been able to provide a, you know, a solution? That's that simple? Is it intuitive? Does it make sense to people around the world, not just, you know, the folks here in Mountain View, etc? And then is it trustworthy? Right, is it is it as expected? Actually, we have a framework for Trust, which is, we call it the the rise framework, it's to somebody feel respected, and formed, safe and empowered. I don't want to litter you with frameworks, but we have a bunch for, you know, sort of the different types, designing at different phases in the process.

Liz Gerber (host) 27:21

I love the frameworks, I just want to understand how they're like how they're applied, like concretely how they're applied. And I, you know, as a user, I can think, like, do I feel respected? Certainly, when I'm making a post, do I feel I stands for What does that informed? informed? Like, definitely feel like I know what's going on?

Sarah Alpern 27:41

So do I know, do I know who it's gonna go to? Right. Do I really understand? Is it acting as expected? Do I know what's going to happen before it happens versus like something happening, you know, behind your back type of a thing that feels sketchy?

Liz Gerber (host) 27:58

Yeah, absolutely. So this is maybe we can transition from the framework to, you've done a lot about thinking about the business impact of design, and I'm sure having to advocate quite a bit for the role of design in a business context. And I'm curious what kind of lessons you learned or insights you might be able to share with us about how you communicate the business impact of design?

Sarah Alpern 28:24

Yeah, that's a great question. Um, the good news for us here is at LinkedIn design is pretty universally seen as critical to business and user success. You know, we talk, when we talk about why we're investing in building one product versus another, for example, we focus on value to users, both because of, you know, the vision and mission of the company, but also because that is good business. And we see that as that is the way to business success is building things that are truly valuable to people. And so, you know, people will use LinkedIn more if it helps them achieve their goals. And so in that way, design and business are really linked. And, you know, I talked about the product principles, you know, that's baked into the expectations for all of our functions and the definition of our quality products. So again, like we're not making a business case for design, very often, of course, you're constantly, you know, trying to make the case for we need more time to do this right, or we should, you know, do XYZ. But fundamentally, I think the company understands and I think, in general, the tech industry has gotten there. You know, those of us who have been in this industry for a while have seen that transition, which is amazing, but I think it is quite valued and recognized as required for business success.

Lauren Lin (host) 30:00

Yeah, that's really great to hear that it's embedded in the culture. And I imagine as a VP, you're also embodying that culture and that value of design. And I want to bring it back to Design leadership for a little bit. I remember earlier, you mentioned you were an individual contributor at LinkedIn, you were like, I don't want to manage people, at least right now, in my life, I don't want to manage and then you went on to lead and direct product at Wealthfront. So I'm curious, like, did you just fall into design leadership? Was it natural? Like did it take effort to see you in that role? How did it come about?

Sarah Alpern 30:42

Yeah, that's a great question. I mean, I, I do, I did love managing people. But in the like, startup days of LinkedIn, I was so passionate about just building the product. But over time, you know, one thing about managing teams is that it means in some ways, you can have sort of more wider impact, right, I as one single human being can design only so much. But when I have a team behind me, I can take on more and more and more. So I think, for me, it was sort of a natural path. And again, sometimes jumping back into ice when that made individual contributor when that made sense, but I love managing people. And funny enough, I love managing managers, which is a completely different job than managing individual contributors, right? When you're managing managers, you're, again, it's a very different role. So you're helping somebody oftentimes new managers figure out the like team building, how do I, you know, manage for quality? How do I help manage for retention? How do I build the right team with the right combination of skill sets? How do I inspire that team? How do I build the right culture? How do I have like hard conversations? How do I get feedback? And so that's actually been something I've really enjoyed is managing managers and then managing directors as well.

Lauren Lin (host) 32:12

I'm curious, like, how do you learn that because I think in school, at least right now, I had a very binary view of leadership structures. I'm like, you're either, you know, working like you're not the leader, or you're the leader, but like managing managers, is something I had not thought about a lot before. So how did you learn the art of mentorship and managing people who also manage other people and like, hold these relationships?

Sarah Alpern 32:41

Yeah well, the good news is like, you never go from school to managing managers like you build, for example, we actually have this terrible way to put a bit like almost a try before you buy role. It's called the lead role, where people can try on management, they're kind of a player coach, they continue doing some design work, and they manage like one or two people. And they do a bunch of training and practicing mentoring, etc, ahead of that. But then they, you know, they're like, Oh, does this click, or sometimes it's completely fine, or like, this doesn't click, I want to go back to just designing products. So so there's learning how to just manage. And then as you start doing that, oftentimes your team grows, you know, we're not in a time of growth right now. But we'll get back there. But for the most of my career, we've been in this time of crazy growth. So like, you get more and more people in Austin, you're like, I need help. And so there may be there's somebody that's showing promise, who's doing a ton of mentoring on your team, that you've already almost started managing that manager, right. And then you eventually promote them into management. So it can happen kind of organically. But the biggest thing I think that I've done is I've not as much a like I'm going to read 30 books on management, and I'm going to know how to do it type of person, some people are in peace, that's great. I have more I do more of like the mentor route. And I've had I've had coaches as well. But I have a series of people, typically folks that I've reported to over the years that I almost think of is like my toolkit. I'm like am I busting out my I mentioned Steve Johnson Am I, am I busting out my Steve Johnson right now? Because he's like, incredibly good at certain situations. And I'm like, I kind of just like channel Steve right now. And I have a bunch of people like that, that I that I and I, you know, obviously I make it my own, too, but that has been so valuable for me is just watching people really closely, like who does who's handled certain situations really, really well. And, you know, trying to be the like, do my best at being the best of all of them.

Liz Gerber (host) 35:02

Thank you, Sarah. I love that channeling of different people. So, two more questions, there's been a lot of discussion about what the future of work looks like. And so I want to know, what does your hope for future work look like, for the for the world, or for a particular group of folks, what excites you about the potential going forward?

Sarah Alpern 35:24

Yeah, I think that's a great, who knows, things are changing so fast. I think the thing that excites me the most is the alignment between individuals, values, and purpose. And companies. In a world where, you know, I know what I really care about, and I value and I'm able to connect with companies who value the same thing. And that is something that we think a lot about, at LinkedIn, because in a world where, you know, having the best talent, the the best skills is going to make your business the most successful. And that best talent, like, understands what they value, and they vote with their feet. And companies can understand that and they can understand, okay, you know, I need to do good for the world, and they are really incented to live those values so that they can, you know, attract the best employees, that's such a win win for people, for companies for the world. So that's one of the things I'm really excited about with the future work. And I think that's like where we're going the pandemic health fast forward, that?

Lauren Lin (host) 36:46

Well, that's great to hear. That's where we're headed. Because I think this whole conversation has been very inspiring to hear how you have found LinkedIn a place that aligns with your values and purpose, and being on a little mentor moment. wondering like what advice you have for young designers or students trying to find a place that aligns with their values and purpose?

Sarah Alpern 37:10

Yeah, that's a great question. One thing I would just say is spending the time to think about and really, you know, be self aware about what are your true values is a first step and what, what aren't, right, it's okay. If you care about money, and don't care about something else, like, that's fine. Like, just spend the time to do the like self work, to understand what you care about. So that you can make you can prioritize, because you're not going to find everything in every company. So understanding those priorities and where you would compromise and where you wouldn't. That would be sort of step number one. Yeah, I think I would start there.

Lauren Lin (host) 38:02

Okay, so ending on a second mentor moment question. If you're an undergrad like me, or you recently graduated, what is some advice you have for students who are trying to figure out like, what next? Like, what do I? What do I do?

Sarah Alpern 38:20

Absolutely. I mean, I would say, use LinkedIn. But talk to as many people as you can, right. Um, I think you just never know where the opportunities are gonna come up. It could be, you know, your, your friends, your professors, etc. But it could be your parents, friends, it could be the random person on the plane, you know, just talk to people be open to conversations, take advantage of all contacts, all offers of support. ADP List is actually amazing. There's, like amazing mentors on there. And if you're going to design make a great portfolio. So you know, I always talk to people about the portfolio. First of all, you know, your portfolio is the series of project work that you've done, but the portfolio itself is your first project. Right? So if I'm a hiring manager, looking at the portfolio, that's the first thing I'm looking at is the design and the usability and the delightfulness of that portfolio. So thinking about kind of the 100 foot view, does it tell a great story about you? Does it help people understand who you are and how you're going to contribute both from a work perspective and from a culture perspective? And then can I dive in to certain things and really understand how you think and how you've contributed to this and how you made the design better? So making a great portfolio is so worth investing in and just make stuff. You know, like, even you know, your friend needs a new website or a new app just like make stuff don't be precious. And then I would just say like, don't be super precious about your first job. You know, you should be doing something that you can get excited about. But like that could be like across a number of different things. It doesn't have to be the sexiest company, it doesn't have to be the sexiest product, as long as you can get in there, make an impact, build some good experience, you can use that first job as a jumping off point for the next. And I think the last thing I would say is, the industry is super small. And so, you know, we have this motto at LinkedIn that like relationships matter, it is so important. So I hate to even say but like don't build burn bridges. Sometimes, like, as designers, we're brought in to projects with people with different perspectives with different goals that they're trying to achieve purposefully. We bring these like different people together, because this diverse group can make great products, but you're inherently going to have some conflict. And so like one of the most important things that I can say is like, think of the people that you work with in that first job as humans first so grab a coffee with that PM, grab a beer with an engineer, whatever get to know people as humans, because then it will make the like inevitable, you know, hard conversations, you have to have so much easier.

Liz Gerber (host) 41:29

Sarah, thank you so much. Thank you for sharing your time, your experience, your stories. It's a real joy to hear and learn from you. And we look forward to watching your continued success in the future. Thank you very much.

Sarah Alpern 41:42

Thank you so much for having me.

Lauren Lin (host) 41:45

That was Sarah and you can find out more about her work in the show notes. And you can learn more about this show by going to drop us a note at or leave us a review on your favorite podcast app. It really helps people discover the show. We're especially curious to know what stories and insights resonated.

Liz Gerber (host) 42:06

This show is produced by Lauren Lin and Liz Gerber, and made possible by the Center for Human Computer Interaction and Design at Northwestern. Thank you so much for listening.

get updates!

get updates!

get updates!