Samuel Hoang was most recently the Principal UX Designer for Hulu until he accepted an offer from Facebook to become the first designer in their new Seattle office, where he will focus is on refining and creating new Open Graph experiences. With a deep empathy for what people want and need, Samuel has shaped and reshaped user experiences across online, mobile, and product based interfaces. He was also happy to answer my questions about how he came to work for such prominent companies during his career.
What's it like to "ignore" job offers from companies like Amazon, Apple, and Google?
It's pretty easy to do if you're already busy with a cool job. I get enough work-related emails as it is.
What was it about architecture that led you to design and development?
Architecture school can be an excellent generalist design education. In addition to learning about the fundamental elements of design, I picked up a user-centered approach to thinking about design, since great spaces are designed with the needs of real people in mind. In creating presentations for your architectural design work, you also pick up on the tools and skills of communication design which are common to the other product design practices.
How did your internships during grad school shape the direction of your career?
I feel lucky in that I was in the right place at the right time, and I made the connections during grad school that would eventually shape my career.
Having some rudimentary web development skills led to my first graduate school internship at an architectural engineering company in London, where I designed and built my first real web applications. The following summer, I interviewed with a recruiter from Philips Design who was at an MIT career fair event. I was offered an interaction design internship, and that experience was positive enough to convince me to change course to a career in software product design. It also helped that Philips Design made an early offer for me to join their interaction design team immediately after graduation.
How should designers prepare themselves for the trials of promotion, including the management of others?
Talent in itself will not guarantee you a promotion. Hard work and self-motivation are super under-rated, and so is the ability to communicate and collaborate positively with others. It's the people above and below you that will determine where and how far you climb in your career. Designers should focus on the work, avoid politics and check their egos if they want the respect of those around them.
I would also say that promotion doesn't always mean managing others. Managing creative people is a personality thing and life skill that some people are better at than others. I once flirted with design management, but I came to the realization I added more value as an individual contributor. In my current career trajectory, I've sought to work with organizations that value my skills as a maker.
What were you doing to keep your online presence up to snuff when Hulu contacted you out of the blue?
I have kept my Coroflot profile updated for years, and I think the hiring manager at Hulu at the time may have found me on Coroflot.
LinkedIn has also been an effective networking tool. In addition, I used my own personal websites as a means of experimenting with design and online technology.
It's important to make connections and continue marketing yourself as broadly as possible even if you're in a job you love.
With an updated online presence, recruiters and hiring managers are more likely to find you.
Your career is smattered with projects for products and designs that are truly new - not thought of yet. Do you have a technique that keeps your forward thinking gears moving or are you just naturally tuned in to those advances?
Working in product design consultancies and product companies my whole career, this type of forward thinking is a bit of a requirement. It's not easy designing in this type of environment, since you're constantly on the hook to find new or better solutions to difficult problems.
I do believe that some people have a more natural sense of forward product thinking than others, and I also do not believe that brainstorming is always the best way to generate ideas. A lot of it is just hard work, constant experimentation, iteration, and dialogue with others around you.
Looking back on your career so far, what advice would you give your just-entered-Georgia-Tech self?
I'm sure I will get a lot of hate for saying this, but I would tell myself to not worry so much on grades and academics. I was a hardcore undergraduate student, and I spread myself thin trying to get great grades in every class. The only things that really mattered was making good friends and focusing on the design studio work.
Besides compensation, profit sharing (the usual job offer sweeteners) what is the most impressive company perk you've ever been offered?
Employees at Hulu have "Unlimited Vacation". That just means your supervisor must approve your time off, but vacation hours are not officially tracked. Everyone there is very responsible and hard working, and the expectation is to get your work done.
What do you do to keep yourself creatively energized? Any routines, habits, etc?
Traveling, living, and enjoying life as much as possible has been the best way for me to stay fresh and develop deep empathy for what people want. To be honest, I don't read a lot of online design blogs or go to a lot of design conferences anymore. As a designer, it's easy to get lost within your own quirky existence and lose sight of how everyone else experiences the world and what their needs are.
What are you looking forward to the most now that you're about to start at Facebook?
I always look forward to working on new product problems, and Facebook as a company touches on so many things that I'll have an opportunity to contribute to. Working on products with such a massive user base is also a challenge I'm looking forward to. I'm not gonna lie--I'm also going to enjoy the free meals at Facebook. Hopefully there will be lots of pork and ice cream on the menu.