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Spotlight Series: Kinjal Popat, Senior Director of User Experience & Technical Communications, Litera

Kinjal Popat

ARTICLE SUMMARY

Meet Kinjal Popat, Senior Director of User Experience and Technical Communications at Litera! Kinjal sits down with us to chat about her career journey into tech, walk us through an average day at work and shares her career advice for other women in tech.

Kinjal is the Senior Director of User Experience and Technical Communications at Litera.

With a background of more than 15 years in user experience and design leadership, she is dedicated to modernising Enterprise product development and driving innovation. Prior to joining Litera, Kinjal served as the Head of User Experience and Research at Xactly Corp from 2019 to 2023, where she was responsible for modernising products for Sales leaders. At Xactly, she mentored and recruited a distributed team of designers and researchers. She also co-founded and led the UX and product aspects of itsPotluck.com and LoPOPs. 

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Can you provide a short description/blurb of your background?

Art has been my passion since childhood. However, after joining art school, I discovered the difference between art and design. I haven’t looked back since then. I graduated as a Graphic Designer and during an internship, I discovered the field of user experience by accident while designing a kiosk interface for villagers in India for a World Bank project. Since then, I have led design teams at consumer companies such as Sears and Orbitz and created experiences for insurance companies like Hartford Insurance, Cigna and UHG. Coming from a community of entrepreneurs, I launched an app – ‘itsPotluck – Social Commerce Marketplace’ at the height of my career in 2014. The app focused on food which was successful in providing housewives in my country a source of income via a homecooked marketplace. Most recently, I have taken up a challenge to enable transformation of enterprise SAAS applications by leveraging the power of design. My motto is: day-to-day digital products used by everyone for work should be as intuitive and efficient as using any consumer app. I’m proud to say that goal is currently fulfilled at Litera by improving experiences for lawyers around the world.

How did you land your current role? Was it planned?

Currently, I head the UX and Research functions at Litera. Interestingly, my current role at Litera wasn’t really planned. After entering the job market in early 2023, I was fortunate to make the final round of discussions with various other companies for a design leadership role when I suddenly discovered this brilliant opportunity at Litera. Litera’s mission and history resonated with me, and I was curious to learn more about the company. I applied for the role and through rounds of interactions with the hiring team, I understood how Litera is disrupting legal tech to make lawyers more efficient and productive. Time is of the essence in the law industry and design can help bring efficiency, productivity, and innovation to legal tech. Litera’s hiring process was one of the fastest and most efficient processes I’ve encountered, and the rest is history!

What are the key roles in your field of work, and why did you choose your current expertise?

The key roles in Digital Product Development focus on engineering, product management and occasionally, UX design. I chose to focus on UX design since it’s at the intersection of engineering, marketing, product management and customer functions. UX design leadership is a relatively new role for a lot of companies, and I wanted to take the challenge to be one of the first in these companies to evangelise the design leadership and drive positive business outcomes using the power of design. In my role as Head of UX and Research at Litera, I lead a group of designers and researchers that enables better product thinking by leveraging qualitative and quantitative user insights to innovate product experiences for lawyers.

Did you (or do you) have a role model in tech or business in general?

As an individual, I am always learning, and my curiosity leads me to discover new perspectives from books, podcasts and posts on social media by leaders in tech, design and business. I always look for leaders from whom I can learn and grow for every company I join. I attended conferences where various speakers influenced my career journey. There are times when a book impacts my leadership style and occasionally a blog/medium post will help me increase my UX design craft skills. Still, it’s very difficult to name one or two individuals as a personal role model in tech and business. With the advancements of blogging, newsletters and social media, the power of knowledge sharing and learning has changed and enabled a lot of people to influence each other.

What are you most proud of in your career, so far?

My career has been an exciting adventure. Throughout my career, I have worn multiple hats in design function, from co-founder to product leader, across various industries and countries. There are career moves that I had planned, and there were some roles that were completely unplanned.

Overall, the themes that have been consistent throughout my career journey so far are “Stay Curious” and “Keep Exploring.” Early on in my career, due to my immigration status in the United States, I couldn’t move up the career ladder easily, so I took advantage of those opportunities to delve deeper into my design craft. I quickly realised being an immigrant woman in the tech world with aspirations of design leadership would require a lot of hard work to succeed. Specifically, I have faced challenges as a leader in organisations that are less mature and don’t appreciate the value of design. I have faced challenges to drive business outcomes when design was considered a tactical role and sidelined by executives. At times, I realised that some organisations were not ready for strategic design, and I found other companies looking for design’s strategic impact where my role and expertise was valued.

When I was co-founding the “itsPotluck – the first ever food social marketplace” app, I learned what I was capable of and areas I must keep pushing myself to succeed. I worked across the United States and India and launched services in both countries. The stress and anxiety of a founder and the loneliness were offset by the feedback from home cooks on the platform that generated income via the marketplace. I’m proud to report that some of the users are still generating income outside of my platform and are self-sufficient now.

Most of my career up to this point was spent in design for consumer companies. After the launch of my startup in 2016, I was looking for new opportunities and came across a story on Marc Andreessen’s “a16z podcast” about the “consumerization of enterprise,” which ultimately led to my design leadership journey across B2B SaaS companies.

What does an average workday look like for you?

My typical workday begins with calls bright and early at 6 AM, which range from brainstorming sessions to coaching and mentoring designers. I also attend design critique sessions and collaborate with product and engineering leaders to define and drive business outcomes.

Are there any specific skills or traits that you notice companies look for when you’re searching for roles in your field?

Since design leadership is a relatively new role, companies don’t always showcase the correct hard skills or outcomes required in the job description. I find that these elements are always discovered through discussions with hiring managers.

Some of the soft skills I notice are:

  • Problem-Solving: Strong analytical and problem-solving abilities to tackle complex issues and find innovative solutions. 
  • Teamwork: Collaboration and teamwork are crucial in tech projects. The ability and opportunity to work on a team and contribute to drive business metrics is extremely important. This is specifically true for design leadership roles that work collaboratively with product managers and engineering leaders.

Has anyone ever tried to stop you from learning and developing in your professional life, or have you found the tech sector supportive?

In the context of the tech sector, it’s important to note that the experiences of individuals can vary widely. The tech industry, like any other, has its share of challenges and opportunities for professional growth. Some individuals may encounter supportive environments that encourage learning and development, while others may face obstacles or biases.

Historically, there have been concerns raised about diversity and inclusion in the tech sector, including issues such as gender and racial disparities, and instances of discrimination. However, many organisations in the tech industry are actively working to address these issues, promoting inclusivity, and creating supportive environments for all employees.

In recent years, there has been an increased awareness of the importance of diversity in driving innovation and creativity within the tech sector. Many companies are implementing initiatives to foster a more inclusive culture, offering mentorship programs, and actively seeking to create equal opportunities for career development.

Individual experiences in the tech sector can be shaped by factors such as company culture, leadership, and the specific team or project one is involved in. It’s important for individuals to seek out supportive environments, advocate for their own professional development, and actively engage with communities and networks that can provide mentorship and guidance.

I find that Litera offers a very supporting and uplifting environment. I have not worked at any company that has such a diverse group of Executive C-suite leaders. In fact, Litera’s female leadership exceeds the industry average by 9%, with an executive leadership team that is 50% female and 25% led by women of colour. This reflects in our company culture and values that everyone lives by day to day.

Have you ever faced insecurities and anxieties during your career, and how did you overcome them?

I feel that insecurities and anxiety can be prevalent among women of colour and immigrant women. Therefore, it’s essential to recognize that these feelings are common and experienced by many people. Based on my experiences, here are some general tips on overcoming insecurities and anxiety in a career setting:

  •  Self-Reflection: Reflect on the specific sources of your insecurities and anxiety. Understanding the root causes can help you address them more effectively. 
  • Set Realistic Goals: Break down your career goals into smaller, achievable steps. Setting realistic objectives can help build confidence as you progress. 
  • Celebrate Achievements: Acknowledge and celebrate your successes, no matter how small it is. Recognizing your accomplishments boosts confidence and helps counteract feelings of inadequacy. 
  • Continuous Learning: Invest in your professional development by acquiring new skills and staying updated on industry trends. This can enhance your confidence and competence in your field.
  • Seek Support: Reach out to mentors, colleagues, or friends for guidance and support. Sometimes discussing your concerns with others can provide valuable perspectives and reassurance.
  • Embrace Failure as a Learning Opportunity: Understand that setbacks and failures are part of the learning process. Instead of dwelling on them, view them as opportunities to grow and improve.
  • Professional Development: Attend workshops, conferences, or training programs to build your skills and knowledge. Feeling competent in your abilities can boost your confidence. 
  • Focus on What You Can Control: Concentrate on aspects of your career that you can control, such as your work ethic, attitude, and willingness to learn. This can empower you to take charge of your professional journey. 
  • Mindfulness and Stress-Relief Techniques: Practice mindfulness, meditation, or other stress-relief techniques to manage anxiety. Taking care of your mental well-being is crucial for overall career satisfaction.

Always remember that everyone faces challenges and moments of self-doubt in their careers. It’s okay to seek help. The best way to navigate your professional path is to continuously learn, as well as prioritise your well-being.

Entering the world of work can be daunting. Do you have any words of advice for anyone feeling overwhelmed?

Entering the workforce can indeed be a challenging transition, but it’s a common experience that many people navigate successfully. Here are some words of advice for those feeling overwhelmed:

  • Take Small Steps: Don’t feel pressured to have everything figured out at once. Break down your goals into smaller, more manageable tasks. Focus on what needs to be done today, this week, or this month. 
  • Seek Guidance: Don’t hesitate to reach out to mentors, colleagues, or friends who have more experience. Their insights and advice can be invaluable in helping you navigate the challenges of the workplace. 
  • Embrace Learning: Understand that it’s okay not to know everything from the start. Be open to learning and view each experience, whether positive or negative, as an opportunity to grow and improve.
  • Set Realistic Expectations: Be realistic about what you can achieve in a given timeframe. Setting overly ambitious goals can lead to burnout and increased stress.
  • Build a Support System: Surround yourself with a support network of friends, family, and colleagues. Having people you can turn to for advice, encouragement, or even just a listening ear can make a significant difference. 
  • Communication is Key: Don’t be afraid to communicate with your colleagues and seniors. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, discuss your concerns and seek feedback on your performance. Open communication can lead to better understanding and support.
  • Organise and Prioritise: Use tools like to-do lists, calendars, or project management apps to stay organised. Prioritise tasks based on their importance and deadlines and tackle them one at a time.

What advice would you give other women wanting to reach their career goals in technology?

Certainly, women pursuing career goals in technology may face unique challenges, but there are strategies and advice that can help navigate and overcome those obstacles. Here are some tips:

  •  Build a Strong Network: Connect with other women in technology through networking events, conferences, and online communities. Building a supportive network can provide mentorship, guidance, and a sense of community.
  • Invest in Education and Skill Development: Stay updated on the latest trends and technologies in your field. Continuous learning and skill development can enhance your expertise and make you more competitive in the rapidly evolving tech industry.
  • Be Confident and Assertive: Believe in your abilities and contributions. Be confident in expressing your ideas and don’t hesitate to assert yourself in professional settings. Your perspective and skills are valuable.
  • Advocate for Yourself: Clearly communicate your career goals and aspirations to your supervisors. Advocate for opportunities that align with your ambitions, whether it’s a new project, additional responsibilities, or a promotion.
  • Find Companies with Inclusive Cultures: Look for employers that prioritise diversity and inclusion. Companies with diverse teams often foster a more inclusive culture, which can contribute to a supportive and empowering work environment.
  • Balance Work and Life: Strive for a healthy work-life balance. Setting boundaries and taking care of your well-being is essential for long-term success and satisfaction in your career.
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