Designers, Interviews

Balancing the Grind With Nadia Udalova, UX Team Leader at XebiaLabs

October 8, 2019

Nadia Udalova is the UX Team Leader at XebiaLabs, an enterprise-scale Continuous Delivery & DevOps software provider, where she is currently leading a team of UX professionals.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

I am a User Experience Strategist and I help companies build and optimize design teams.

My way of finding a passion in Design Leadership started 9 years ago. I was working on purely visual aspect of design as Illustrator, later switching to digital world and becoming user interface designer.

I am always looking for opportunities to learn. In 2011 I’ve decided to move towards User Experience field as a next step. I started doing a lot of self-education though online courses, conferences and attending tons on local meetups.

I’ve collected a great baggage of knowledge and met many experienced people. This was the point where I felt like I was ready to share collected insights with the others.

In 2016 I’ve became UX Team Lead at XebiaLabs, where I was given a task to build up a team of designers and create design process within the company.

Today, I have an awesome team of 4 people and enjoy balancing design work, mentoring fellow designers and making sure stuff gets done.

During these years I didn’t enjoy the idea of just relaxing after the office hours – so I made myself an active player in design community around Amsterdam.

I am balancing few things – organizing events around UX, chairing at the conferences, performing as a public speaker and writing blogs. And I love it all a lot!

2) What does a typical day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

Usually it’s a busy day. I wake up at 6 AM, and my day starts with healthy breakfast and a walk with my dog (best way to wake up!).

I arrive to office by 8:00-8:30 AM (I need to travel around 35 km from my home to office by train). I start my office day by having a cup of rooibos tea while checking email and design community chats, searching for interesting news and inspiring articles!

Starting from 9AM my team arrives to the office and we spend some time catching up on some personal news – I find that very important, as it helps keeping great connections at work.

Time from there and till 5 PM passes by very fast and is filled with stand-ups with Development teams, meetings with Product Managers or POs, talking and working with designers on my team, management and other folks.

I take a break of 30 minutes for lunch (never eat behind my computer) and sometimes trying to do a quick walk after.

My journey back home starts at 5PM, where I first walk my dog (last thing I do before leaving home and first thing I do upon arrival). Those who want to get a dog – think twice!

After the dog is walked and happy – I have a dinner/snack and go to gym. On day when there is no gym – I am getting busy with work for design communities or just having rest. I am in bed by 23:00 to be ready to get up at 6 AM again.

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?

My current role allows some flexibility, however I feel like with particularly my team it is very productive to be physically in one space, because we have this opportunity.

I like taking Fridays as working from home – it allows me to focus on more of “producer” kind of tasks, like designing or writing, rather than being in meetings most of the time. I think flexibility at work is very important and helps people accomplish more!

4) Do you have any tips, tricks or shortcuts to help you manage your workload and schedule?

My tip is – know your goals and set priories accordingly. For me personally, it is often times hard to say “no” to things that are less important, however if you want to be successful – you have to stay focused. I had to learn saying “no” to projects that would not benefit my career or saying “no” to meeting people that I don’t want to meet.

5) What does work life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

It means a ton! It means working hard, but also rewarding yourself with some “me time” or time with your loved ones. It makes me feel great and find inspiration for new ideas.

If I feel stuck and like I cannot come up with new ideas easy anymore – it means it is time to take a weekend away or a short vacation with my husband.

6) What do you think are some of the best habits you’ve developed over the years to help you strive for success and balance?

Never stop learning. Listen to podcasts, attend events, read books, talk to more experienced people.

Be curious and open to new opportunities. Don’t stay focused on what you have today.

Take initiative and be responsible. People will know that they can count on you. Always.

Go out of your comfort zone – try public speaking, talk to people 3-4-5 steps ahead of where you are at you career today, ask people for favors and do favors back.

7) Are there any books that have helped you improve over the years?

Yes! Here are few:

Radical Candor by Kim Scott – the book encourages leaders to create relationships based on trust with the people that you work with.

Articulating Design Decisions by Tom Greever – book on how to communicate with stakeholders, while keeping your sanity and deliver the best user experience.

Sprint: How To Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days by Jake Knapp – bestseller that offers a transformative formula for testing ideas that works whether you’re at a startup or a large organisation.

Hacking Growth by Morgan Brown and Sean Ellis – a step-by-step guide through a dynamic and endlessly repeatable process that will spark growth and transform any sluggish business into a vibrant, growing enterprise teeming with loyal customers.

8) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?

Being on time (and I expecting same from others). Leaving meetings if I see they don’t add value.

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

Try to find out what is the thing you want from your life (put a “dot on the horizon”) and set steps on how you can get there with time (your personal strategy for success)! Don’t waste time doing what you don’t believe in – we live only once.

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