Carnegie Mellon University

Integrated Innovation Institute

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Alumni Spotlight - Stefanie Owens (MIIPS '15)

Senior Designer / Researcher, Nava Public Benefit Corporation

Industry:  Government / Social Impact

iii: Why did you enroll in the MIIPS Program?

I enrolled in the MIIPS program to broaden my design skillset and forge new connections through the Carnegie Mellon community that might help me determine where to go next. Prior to attending CMU, I had worked as a project and production manager at a custom software agency, where I had fallen in love with designing technical solutions to real world problems. MIIPS helped me hone my process for how to create value in an even more collaborative way.

iii: Tell us about your career trajectory since graduating in 2015.

I joined the IBM Design team in Austin, Texas, as a User Experience Researcher. While at IBM, I led UX research on a number of projects within the enterprise hardware division of the company. One such project was OpenBMC, the world's first fully open-source baseboard management controller, which was a collaboration between IBM and its OpenPOWER partners.

After IBM, I joined O'Reilly Media as their first user experience researcher, tasked with developing the user experience research practice within the fledgling product organization. This role was interesting in that I was able to conduct in-depth research to inform strategic direction but also empower and educate my product and design colleagues on how to build UX research more intrinsically into their work on the O'Reilly Online Learning Platform.

iii: So what is your industry and job now?

I left O'Reilly Media in order to join Nava Public Benefit Corporation, where I still work as a Senior Designer / Researcher. Nava is a mission-driven organization that partners with government agencies to positively transform the way people experience government services. During my tenure at Nava thus far, I've worked closely with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to build a human-centered cloud infrastructure that supports the complex network of applications used by over 149 million CMS users. As the Service Design Team Lead, my team and I leverage service design and research to build the internal and external customer experience across the CMS Cloud ecosystem.

iii: Why should students (and alumni!) consider working in your industry?

Working in the government space, and particularly for a public benefit corporation, you have the opportunity to realize meaningful, tangible impact on the lives of people relying on critical government services. This type of work often takes the form of slow change but can have far-reaching effects by building a more resilient social safety net. Our Public Benefit Report is a helpful resource to learn about the impact that we have.

iii: What surprised you about this field?

I was surprised about the complexity of stakeholder and contractor relationships that exist on a large federal government IT project. Companies who you may be partnered with on one contract, working closely together with their employees, may also be companies that you are directly competing against on a bid for another government project. Even my 6-person design team had people from 3 different companies on it at one point, requiring me to navigate their own company cultures as well as Nava's in order to bring the team together with a common language and practices.

iii: What most excites you about your work?

I am most excited about the social impact my work can have on building more flexible and resilient government services for the millions of people who rely on them. I also find that applying a service design lens to an entire government agency, contract, or even project is a fascinating way to understand an ecosystem of moving parts, and yields a lot of insight to create the connective tissue that makes the ecosystem of products and services work. This, in a nutshell, is the way I focus on creating value through design: looking at the context, the spaces in-between, and generating solutions to weave the overall tapestry together.

iii: What career advice do you have for students?

Follow your instinct and stay true to yourself and your core values. There have been multiple junctions in my career where I could have taken the higher paying job, or the more prestigious job, but instead decided to follow what felt more like the right fit. Each choice you make builds on each other, generating momentum and a trajectory until you arrive at what you seek. In my own career, this meant chasing roles that brought me closer and closer to working in a career of design and social impact, and always keeping a keen eye on work-life balance in order to maintain the time and energy outside of work to focus on the relationships that matter most.

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