Media / Web development / Women in tech

How this Brooklyn designer learned tech isn’t all about code

Datrianna Meeks, senior product designer at Spotify, was initially scared off by tech — until she found just the right role.

Three years after making a career switch, Datrianna Meeks is now a senior product designer at Spotify. (Photo by April Joyner)

In her spare time, Datrianna Meeks loves to geek out on podcasts. Among her favorites: Revision Path, Another Round and Note to Self.

So that makes her recent career move, as a senior product designer at Spotify, quite fitting. Notably, she’s reached that career milestone just three years after making the leap from consulting to design.

Meeks she says always had her eye on a creative field. Although not particularly artsy growing up in Chicago, by her own assessment, she long had an appreciation for detail.

“I was very particular about organizing things,” she said. “I was into the arts, but I was also very logical.”

In college, though, Meeks followed the advice students commonly receive: pick a career-oriented major in order to land a solid job. So at Howard University, she majored in business. After graduating in 2012, she remained in the Washington, D.C., area to take a job at Deloitte, where she worked for two years in strategy and operations.

Interestingly enough, most of the projects she worked on there involved technology. At the time, though, Meeks didn’t feel very tech-inclined. She’d had a college internship at LivingSocial, the erstwhile competitor to (and now subsidiary of) Groupon, where she dabbled in HTML and CSS — but it wasn’t quite her thing.

“I was not a fan of code,” she said.

But Meeks was intrigued by the work of the design consultants who often collaborated on the projects she was assigned to at Deloitte. Eventually, she realized that gaining entry into the tech industry wasn’t limited to mastering code. She set about honing her design chops by taking online classes on Skillshare, often staying up until the wee hours of the morning to absorb all the information she could.

But that wasn’t enough: Meeks knew in order to make a career shift, she needed to build her portfolio. So she enrolled in a user experience course at General Assembly, which had just opened its D.C. campus.

“On every assignment, I was just doing the most,” she said.

In 2014, Meeks moved to New York in order to begin a master’s program in interaction design at the School of Visual Arts. She was particularly drawn to SVA’s program, she told Technical.ly, because of its emphasis on business and strategy. It also helped her to overcome one of her biggest fears: revealing her work while it was in progress.

In one class, for instance, she had to develop a Kickstarter campaign in just two weeks. Her project: “What Would B Say?,” a deck of cards featuring Beyoncé lyrics. Although the project wasn’t ultimately funded, that wasn’t necessarily her goal, she says. (For one, it freed her from having to fulfill rewards after the course was over.) Even so, it got coverage on Fusion and DNAinfo.

Brooklyn’s tech scene figured heavily in Meeks’ career transition. Aside from that Kickstarter project, she participated in a fellowship at NYC Media Lab sponsored by Hearst Corporation, in which she helped design tools for personalized news. She also interned at Etsy in user research.

Her experience at Etsy was particularly valuable, Meeks said, because it helped her narrow down her career interests. While user research aligned closely with her experience in business strategy, she realized she wanted to be more hands-on in the design process.

“The culture at Etsy was amazing,” she said, “but I realized I didn’t want to do research full-time.”

Aside from providing a resume boost, those experiences piqued her interest in Brooklyn, where she now resides, in Bed-Stuy. (Her favorite haunts include Chilo’s and Bed-Vyne Brew.)

After earning her master’s degree in 2016, Meeks landed a job at American Express, where she worked on mobile design. There, she got a crash course in navigating a common hurdle in the design process: the competing demands of different departments. It helped, she said, that she had supportive colleagues who were willing to go to bat for each other and adept at communicating the particulars of their work to less design-oriented coworkers.

“So much of the design process is advocating for why your work matters,” she said.

Though she enjoyed her experience at American Express, Meeks was looking for more product-focused work. Through a mutual connection, she was introduced to Rochelle King, the global vice-president of product design and insights at Spotify. At that time, Meeks wasn’t looking for a job, but fortuitously, a design position opened up soon after their meeting.

Last month, Meeks officially joined the company. In a way, her new role circles back to her student work at SVA: in her final master’s project, she explored design strategies for making listening to podcasts more social. Her work at Spotify, thus far, focuses on improving the ad experience for the service’s non-paying users. In other words, little of it has to do with sleek visuals — the most common conception of what design details.

That’s in keeping with the direction many experts predict tech is headed: for instance, voice-activated products and services, such as Amazon’s Alexa, are expected to be huge. It’s an alternative conception of product design that Meeks is quite excited about.

“You don’t need to push pixels in order to be a designer,” she said.

Series: Brooklyn

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