Tess Freedel is making her own path

05 Mar 2022

Tess Freedel is making her own path

Today’s post is mixing it up a bit - normally these interviews are a snapshot-in-time, but we took a 2-year hiatus between taking these photos and conducting the interview, so this slice-of-life is a little longer than normal. Let’s dive in!

Tell us a little about you.

Hey there! I work in content and ux research during my 9 to 5, and love to play, write and perform all types of music by night. These days I’m all about surfing, Margaret Glaspy covers, my local donut shop, and my semi-hollow PRS guitar.

You’ve taken a windy path to tech, has your background in music+teaching influenced the way you approach UX design?

Absolutely. Teaching music is incredibly humbling, because there are so many different pain points that can arise depending on the student. My experience as a music teacher powers my curiosity, empathy, and a general belief that in every interaction something is always being lost in translation.

What was changing career in your late 20’s like? How was the bootcamp experience?

It felt…crunchy? And took much longer than I thought. But ultimately, I am grateful for the opportunity to stay curious about the type of person I could be and explore new paths.

The bootcamp I went to is called Springboard, is all online, and had 600+ hours of material, 3 projects, an internship, weekly mentor calls, and post-grad career placement services. Out of all the remote bootcamps, I would recommend Springboard highly. However, I did enter the bootcamp with the belief that I would make a career transition in under 9 months, when in reality the transition took 19 months from the beginning of my bootcamp to placement in my current role.

Granted, COVID-19 arrived right after I graduated, which complicated things. In hindsight, I think the wiser choice (as a Seattle resident) would have been to pursue a master’s degree in Human and Computer Interaction at the University of Washington because of how robust their alumni network and job placement programs are.

It’s been a long time since we took these photos - where were you then and where are you now?

SO MUCH has happened. When we first took those photos I was just about to wrap things up with my Springboard bootcamp, was teaching music part time, living in Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood, playing in Bad Saint as well as 3 other Seattle bands, and truthfully…not in the cutest headspace. I was HIGH KEY feeling the stress.

Nowadays I’m based in San Diego, working remotely for Cigna as a UX Researcher + Content Strategist, tackling UX and content problems for their HR department.

What are you working on at the moment, and what do you love about it?

I’m working on the Colleague Technology Experience team at Cigna, working to reduce abrasion for colleagues and doing a lot of partnering with Cigna’s version of “tech support.” I really love the opportunity to advocate for colleagues and see that impact in real time. There’s a lot of empathy that is needed for this type of problem solving and it’s really satisfying to see changes being made that can improve the day-to-day lives of people I work with.

What is a piece of non traditional career advice?

Look for generational wealth and take a deep breath. I’ve spent a lot of time wondering why my journey through higher education and networking took longer than my classmates, and learning about how generational wealth and privilege skewed the “starting line” for my career. I have white passing privilege and have always thought of myself as fortunate to grow up in the PNW attending nice public schools, but I also needed to support myself financially while pursuing higher education.

It’s easy to beat yourself up about not getting the time to do as much work on spec or keep up the cadence of job applications in the same way as peers who have parents subsidising their living expenses. A lot of early career advice is geared towards young adults who are financially supported by their parents, and a lot of that advice just isn’t feasible for someone who needs to pay their own bills while getting an education (as well as sleep from time to time).

Everyone only has 24 hours in a day to work with and when more of those hours need to be dedicated to keeping the lights on it will slow things down, and that’s ok, and doesn’t mean you aren’t qualified to work in STEM.

How do you choose what to wear each day?

Working from home I like to dress “recreationally”. Since my company has a very camera-off culture (which I love) I get to dress for my own enjoyment. At the beginning of the pandemic I spent months in pajamas, but now I like to add lots of color, experimental silhouettes, and bold makeup. My goal is always to make getting ready in the morning a time for self-expression, and I like to treat it as a mini art project. Currently I’ve got on glitter eyeliner, a pink linen midi dress (thrifted) and a cow print denim jacket. I’m still figuring out what shoes I like to wear in California, so for today it’s just white low top converse for when I longboard to get coffee.

Is your professional style different from your personal style?

Yes and no. I’m typically camera-off and am fortunate to work for a pretty expressive team so when I meet with them I don’t really feel pressure to change it up. I conduct a lot of focus groups and usability research remotely in my work and for those meetings the standard is also to be camera-off.

However, when I meet in person or with a wider audience I typically wear darker colors and heels. I’m on the shorter side and worry about appearing younger than I am, so I tell myself the heels help. I tend to see my personal style as an extension of my inner life, so I like to get to know the people I work with before I feel comfortable sharing more of my personal life and style.

Anything exciting coming up on the horizon?

Yes! I’m working on launching my blog buildbabybuild.com as well as working on new material for my band, Bad Saint. It feels great to be back in the swing of producing creative material now that I’m settled in California.

What is the best way for people to connect with you?

Come say hi! Feel free to reach out on LinkedIn, shoot me a personal email at tessfreedel@gmail.com, or contact me about freelance projects at buildbabybuildco@gmail.com.

Three conversation starters for you:

  • What’s your favorite keyboard shortcut? I’m serious. What is it?
  • Career advice for remote workers trying to network and ascend in their career
  • Hit me up to grab coffee (or a surf session) to talk shop if you’re based in San Diego

I’ll leave you with one bonus image that was too good to leave out. You can find Tess’s music at badsaint.bandcamp.com 🤘