Establishing Your Voice and Presence as a Woman in IoT

Principal UX Designer at Nerdery, Emily Schmittler, discusses how women in IoT can bring perspective and humanity into devices that are cold and data-driven by solving real human problems.

Shannon Lee
Image of Emily Schmittler, Nerdery
Illustration: © IoT For All

Emily Schmittler graduated with a B.A. in Psychology from Gustavus Adolphus College and an M.S. in Human-Computer Interaction Design from Indiana University. She has over 10 years of experience in design and is currently a Principal User Experience (UX) Designer at Nerdery. Emily combines her interests in emotional design, design theory and psychology to craft holistic and unified user experiences.

IoT For All (IFA): Tell us about your current role and journey into the IoT/Tech space.

Emily: I am a principal user experience designer leading large client engagements at Nerdery, a digital consultancy. I am also a team manager, working with engineers and designers in the mobile space. I entered the tech space by happenstance—when I was in my final year of college, I realized that I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my psychology degree. I searched for something that would pull together what drew me to psychology and my love of making things. I found the Human Computer Interaction Design school at Indiana University, and the rest is history.

IFA: What do you think about the current state of IoT and its future? What makes it exciting?

Emily: The tech industry is constantly changing, and up until a few years ago, it felt like we were working on stand-alone apps or stand-alone websites. Now we have to consider what the world is like when our experience starts with our phone, then moves to a device, to our laptop, and so on. I think we’re still figuring it out, which is also what makes it exciting! More than ever we have to consider the holistic experience and how to make meaningful interactions between humans, devices and data that are enriching.

IFA: What do you wish you had known prior to joining the industry?

Emily: In a way, I did know this, but I don’t think I was quite prepared. The industry drastically changes all the time. The things you held onto that made it feel like you knew what you were doing won’t hold up long. It’s important to adapt and to learn from your experiences quickly to constantly better your approach.

IFA: What is the greatest obstacle facing women interested in joining the IoT space today?

Emily: Getting started is the hardest part of anything. Because IoT is still so new, it’s hard to know how to get the experience that gets you in the door to share your perspective with the world. IoT is something that’s hard to do well on your own, so find a group to tinker with.

IFA: What challenges have you faced in the workplace, especially with your experience in male-dominated environments?

Emily: I don’t think this is specific to women so much as anyone who finds themselves in the minority in one way or another. That said, women are often significantly outnumbered by men in the tech industry. In those circumstances, it can be difficult to feel confident enough to establish your voice and presence as an expert in the room, especially when you are surrounded by other experts. Because the technology industry is constantly evolving, the impactful work is in the decision-making, often with a group of people. To become a leader, it is important to be confident, to speak up and share your opinions freely, to back those opinions and be willing to debate for what you believe to be the right decision. And then of course, be open to your opinion being changed—but that’s a whole other challenge in itself.

There are unfortunate communication habits both men and women have that can make this hard as well, such as interrupting or finishing another person’s thoughts. To establish voice and presence, I’ve found it helpful to make others aware when they are doing so. By giving your opinion space to be heard, you ensure others respect your ideas.

IFA: In a management position, how have you found it best to promote and nurture women in the workplace?

Emily: All of us suffer from imposter syndrome. In my role, I try to help other women find their confidence in their skills and perspective, which mostly comes from supporting and validating what they already know. It is a great skill to know how to speak and advocate for yourself, so I always encourage that.

IFA: Are there particular areas in IoT where you see a lack of women and representation? If so, where and why do you think that is?

Emily: I would love to see more women on the maker and engineering side of IoT. I think women can bring great perspective to how to bring the humanity into devices that are cold and data-driven by solving real human problems.

IFA: How are you addressing increasing diversity and inclusion in IoT?

Emily: It comes down to serving the end users and pointing out to clients that they have a wide variety of experiences. My current project has a component that is targeted at people who aren’t comfortable with technology, work in a noisy environment and are not highly educated. We take those factors into account when designing and testing solutions. The life experiences of those building a product are rarely the same as those who use them in the end, so it’s important to be aware of and embrace the differences to create a positive impact.

IFA: What is the best piece of advice you have ever received and one piece of advice you would give our readers?

Emily: For a long time, I tried to convince clients—with mixed success—of a user experience recommendation solely based on the impact to the user. There are always additional business factors at play that would win out in the end, no matter how strong my usability or experiential argument. I have come to realize that all technology decisions are business decisions and speaking about them as such can help you overcome business politics, misaligned opinions and budgetary constraints. My advice is to practice making those arguments in a way that other technologists and non-technical people can understand. Whether you are in design, development or IT, you will achieve greater success if you can back your recommendations with how they will impact the business, or conversely, how going against the recommendations will have negative impacts. Jared Spool has a great framework for thinking about this by outlining the five things executives care about.

IFA: What apps/software/tools can you not live without?

Emily: As odd as it may sound being in the tech field, I am a big fan of paper, post-it notes and an old-fashioned writing utensil. Software is great for polishing ideas, but I love working through sticky situations and the flow of digital experiences. The best software for the job changes all the time, so nothing works better than creating in a physical space where you draw out ideas and put them up on the wall.

    Shannon Lee
    Shannon Lee
    Former full-time marketing communications professional with a specialization in technology, startup, and corporate communications. Active marketing freelancer and medical cannabis science health professional studying to become a Psychedelic-Assist...
    Former full-time marketing communications professional with a specialization in technology, startup, and corporate communications. Active marketing freelancer and medical cannabis science health professional studying to become a Psychedelic-Assist...