We are lucky to have so many wonderful sponsors and exhibitors at this year’s Advancing Research conference–and we thought you might like to get to know them better! We’ve asked all of them some questions in the coming weeks that get at the heart of why they’re passionate about ResearchOps, what it’s like to work with them, and what makes their products and services special to Design and Research Operations professionals.
DALIA EL-SHIMY, UX Research Lead, Shopify
Rosenfeld Media: Why are you sponsoring the Advancing Research conference?
Dalia El-Shimy: Although there are a large number of UX conferences (and have been for a number of years), conferences dedicated to user research are far and few between. After going to my first research-focused conference, I realized how much more value I was able to get as a researcher from such events, in contrast with more general UX conferences (where maybe 1-2 talks would touch on research, if I was lucky). Having attended and spoken at a few research conferences at this point, I was particularly excited to see that Advancing Research is taking things to the next level: this conference isn’t just about bringing researchers together to share knowledge on methods and tools, it’s specifically designed to guide relatively mature research organizations towards dealing with the next stage in their growth, in terms of practice, impact, and influence. This intention was evident to me from the survey findings that were shared as part of the call for presentations (and what motivated me to apply as a speaker), and the reason why I later proposed that Shopify should sponsor the conference. As an organization with a mature research team, not only do we think it’s important to share our experiences of getting to where we are, but we also want to support others who are doing the difficult and exciting work of figuring how to solve the next level of challenges for our community.
Rosenfeld Media: What excites you about Research and/or Research Operations?
Dalia El-Shimy: The fact that people are both completely predictable and unpredictable is what drew me into research in the first place, and what keeps me excited about this job. I trained in maths and engineering, fields I chose specifically because I thought dealing in numbers was more comfortable than dealing with complex humans. But, the first time I put something I had built in front of users, their reaction just about blew my mind: what they had to say was both surprising and completely obvious. That realization is what hooked me: research blows your best laid plans out of the water. Though that can be scary, it’s also exciting and, in a way, addictive. Having done this for a long time now, I still continue to get this feeling, but I’ve also grown to see the power that research can have on shaping perspectives, products, ideas, and strategies, all without requiring a line of code. Context is empowering, and as researchers, we can play a central role in facilitating and socializing context for our teams.
Rosenfeld Media: What is it like for research and ResearchOps folks to work at your company?
Dalia El-Shimy: I’d like to think that, being a mature research team, our discipline is relatively well-established and understood within Shopify. This means that a new researcher joining us would be able to benefit from research being well-integrated and valued within our product development framework.
We’ve worked hard over the past few years to create a strategic role for research: at Shopify, we never do research for the sake of doing research, we do it for the sake of informing strategic decision-making. This means that we will always prioritize the exploratory/strategic/descriptive over the tactical/causal/operational. And, more importantly, our product teams understand this: when deciding between understanding problem spaces vs. testing interfaces, we will almost always choose the former, while training our designers and product managers to do the latter. The outcomes of our work are in turn expected to help inform stakeholders and senior leadership teams, and shape the overall nature and direction of our products.
Despite our size (over 70 researchers across multiple offices), we still remain a tight-knit group, sharing knowledge, skills, and experiences regularly (through our Slack channel, our monthly show-and-tell, domain-based collaborations, and regular skill-building workshops). We also work closely with data scientists and customer support specialists, in an effort to triangulate our insights through a mixed methods approach.
At least that’s what research looks like across areas where it’s been well-established at Shopify. However, someone joining a newly-formed product area might find themselves facing the uphill battle of establishing the expectations above within their team (and that’s something I’m actually doing at the moment after a move to our Berlin office). But, we think this presents a substantial growth opportunity for any researcher, and, naturally, they can expect the full support of the rest of the research team in meeting this challenge.
Rosenfeld Media: What else should our community know about you?
Dalia El-Shimy: That’s a tough one to answer! I’ve just spent the past couple of days at an internal company-wide conference, during which I played some icebreaker games with folks I’d just met, so here are some things I learned about myself: I’m terrible at burping and catching things, and apparently years of doing campus radio in my younger days has given me a calm and compelling interviewing voice (compared to my everyday voice, which would more likely be described as… excitable).