Name Dropping is a Q&A series that aims to elevate the stories of women and nonbinary people leading in the tech space. The idea came from Angela DeFranco, a VP of Product at HubSpot, who said one way to be better allies is to name drop more women and nonbinary people in discussions of achievement, inspiration, and disruptors in tech, instead of referencing, time and again, the same set of (often male) leaders.

This edition of Name Dropping features Maria Pereda, Director of Product Design at Clio.

You’re currently Director of Product Design at Clio. What’s one of the most interesting design challenges your team is working to solve right now?

We’re in an incredibly interesting problem space. How do we help small legal practices function better so they actually have time to focus on helping their clients rather than trying to deal with the difficulties of running a business? One core mission of Clio is to increase access to justice and make it more equitable to everyone, not only by making it more affordable, but by making it more accessible to folks who today would not even know where to start. While this is challenging, it is an exciting problem space, and a great motivator for everyone who works at Clio.

How have our current circumstances affected how you and your team work together? How do you anticipate it changing how you work in the long term?

Our company recently moved to a distributed model, and we’re all trying to adjust to what it means to collaborate more intentionally and effectively in a way that doesn’t involve just turning around from your desk or a passing conversation while you’re making coffee. We’re trying to figure out new ways where collaboration feels like a value add and not some forced meeting on the calendar. This spans how designers collaborate with one another, how triads make decisions and work together, and how teams and leaders build cohesion and alignment.

How do you stay close to customer and user feedback?

Clio is in the legal space, and while we’ve gotten to know our customers fairly well, we are well aware that we need to keep our user at the center, from problem definition to finding the right solution, in order to ensure we continue to provide a solution that solves the right problem. It’s not one of those things that we can just guess at. We have a user research team and we work closely with them at all stages of the product lifecycle to access the right type of customers. In addition to that, we have several mechanisms to get feedback from our customers inside the app and through our user support and customer success teams, and the design team has full access to those. We are empowered to reach out to customers directly when needed to get insights directly from them.

You’ve worked across several different fields, from banking to learning management systems to tech ⁠ — what are some of the lessons you’ve learned from cultivating this wide range of experience?

My lesson number one is that there’s always something to be learned, and no matter how many years of experience you have, be humble. You can learn valuable lessons from your team, your peers, and your new industry.

The second one is that nobody has it figured out. No matter how big or small the company is, some problems are universal. Friction between design and PM and design and engineering is always there, issues with collaboration span many industries, and human behavior is predictably irrational in any industry and setting you can think of.

What is one quality that you think every leader should have in order to generate impact, and lead effectively?

Self awareness. Developing it enables you to understand your superpowers and blind spots as a leader and to know which modes and styles of leadership come naturally to you and which ones you need practice to become better at. Self-awareness is also a prerequisite for leading with integrity, practicing what you preach as a leader, and being true to yourself, qualities that are often missing in today’s organizations and society.

You’ve been a mentor at Side by Side Co., a design industry nonprofit providing women, agender, and non-binary designers and technologists with goal-oriented mentorship and support. What advice would you have for anyone who’d like to get involved in mentorship?

Have clear goals and ensure both you and the mentee stick to them. Mentorship does not have to be a huge time commitment, but without a clear goal and some desired outcomes, it can become a waste of time for both of you.

What’s your greatest career achievement to date?

In most of my roles, I have been the only woman in the room. Not only that, but also the only person with a Hispanic name and an accent. In a few companies and roles, I was the first woman on the leadership team. I had to work very hard to earn the respect of my peers, colleagues, and leaders, and to prove that I belonged. I’d like to think that, in my own way, I have blazed a trail for others who look or sound like me to come into those rooms, sit at those tables, and feel like they belong a bit more than I did.

Who’s one woman or nonbinary person in technology you’d like to name drop and why?

Daniela Jorge, Chief Design Officer at Paypal. As an immigrant myself, I find Daniela an endless source of inspiration, generous with her time and knowledge, always willing to share the inside track to help others succeed.

What’s your favorite thing you’ve eaten in the past year? It could be something you cooked, it could be takeout from a favorite restaurant that just opened back up ⁠ — anything.

In the middle of the first wave of the pandemic I had to rush to the hospital. My appendix had burst. I had emergency surgery and didn’t eat for an entire week. For some reason, when I got back home, the only thing I wanted to eat was shrimp Pad Thai from a restaurant in Toronto called Pai. And for the rest of the confinement I have been ordering it at least once a week. Sometimes twice. My husband thinks I have an obsession.

Know another woman or nonbinary person whose name we should drop? Tweet us at @HubSpotDev with ideas.

This post originally appeared on Medium.

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