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An interview with Anna Marie Golden

2014 Graduate, Master of Human-Computer Interaction + Design

Anna Marie Golden works on technology accessibility issues for the IT department of the University of Washington. In this interview, she talks about how her experience in the Human-Computer Interaction + Design master’s program has given her greater confidence and a broader skillset, impacting her career.

Can you tell us a bit about your current job as an IT accessibility specialist at the UW?

I provide support and outreach to University of Washington website owners to help make UW sites more accessible to students, faculty, staff and visitors with disabilities. I spend a lot of time perusing campus websites and evaluating them for accessibility issues and providing more accessible solutions. For example, many folks who are blind use screen readers to navigate the Web, and the way a webpage is marked-up can affect how accessible it is to these screen readers.

How has earning this degree helped you in your job?

I did this job before I went to grad school. At times, I would be in the process of evaluating a website and I knew something wasn't quite right, but I couldn't really explain why. After I completed the program, I was actually able to explain why it didn’t work the way it should.

One of the things I have found most useful, since returning to work after finishing my degree, is the way it taught me how to think through each step of something and the interaction that goes along with each step.

What were some of the key concepts that you got out of the HCI+D program?

I would have to say learning about the design process was a big one. Learning about user research was another. I think some of the more important things I got out of the program were those unexpected things that I learned. Like I learned how to work through issues with my teammates. We worked on several small projects throughout each class with teammates, so we had the opportunity to work on a lot of different projects with different people.

Another really big thing I walked away with is the ability to think aloud, which was something we learned during user testing. I didn’t really know how important it was to do that before, and I have found it very helpful in sharing my thought processes with coworkers and potential employers. I’ve already seen career benefits from that.

How did the interdisciplinary nature of the program work?

Each quarter our classes had a different focus. Then in the studio class on Fridays we would get to do the hands-on stuff, allowing us to implement the things we were learning in our lecture class. The wonderful thing about what the program aims to do, and I think it achieves that goal, is bring together people from varied backgrounds, skill sets, and areas of interest.

One thing I didn't realize is while interacting with people with different skills and backgrounds, I was actually learning how to talk to them. Having been exposed to people with differing skills on my project teams, I now know how to go back into my office and talk to the people who are in those roles because I have a better understanding of what they do.

Can you talk about your final capstone project?

It’s a nine-week final project completed during summer quarter. My team created a smart watch system that would allow people who are deaf or people with situational hearing impairments to be alerted to things in their environments. For example, if somebody knocked at the door, the watch would buzz and provide information that someone is at the door. We had to create a whole interaction model that included thinking through each step and what would happen at every screen.

We did user research that included field studies with people who are deaf. We visited them in their homes to find out how they were currently being alerted to things conveyed through sound. Then, after we created a prototype, we needed to do user testing. So we went back and visited them again and asked them to use our prototype to see how they liked it. Participants said they would buy and use our solution if it were available.

How would you describe the instructors you had in the program?

They were awesome! They were very knowledgeable about what they were teaching, and they were so willing to give freely of that knowledge to help us. We were often asked for feedback on how to improve the program and they really took our feedback seriously and made changes based on it. That was incredible.

Has earning your master’s degree opened up new career opportunities for you?

Definitely. Now people are trying to give me jobs, and it's just because I have that advanced degree. Contrast that with the couple of years when I couldn't get anywhere in the job market. The program has helped me do a 180-degree reversal, and I feel confident about future career opportunities because of my new degree.