An Interview with Kristen Nosek, Program Director at Huge London
MAY 23, 2017
"Technology is defining the future. In this field we're determining, altering and enhancing all aspects of human interaction and behavior, every day. What's more exciting than that?"
Tell me about Huge, what do they do?
Huge is a global brand experience agency. We create products and services that people truly love and help companies play a trusted role in people's lives.
How would you describe your role to someone who does not work in the technology industry?
Project Management takes a lot of forms, but essentially, we're the people responsible for creating a plan to achieve a desired outcome. We listen to our clients to understand what they want to do, map out a delivery plan to get them there, and then manage the team to ensure we meet the schedule, budget, and goals for the project.
Have you always worked in tech? If not, where were you before? Please briefly describe your career path.
I actually started off in public policy and then made a move to a design role in publishing. When the publishing industry began to tank in the mid 2000's, I took a production role at a design agency. Over time, I realised that design wasn't something that I would excel at inherently, so I made the move to Project Management. From day one, it has been the position that has suited me best.
What were the top three factors that contributed you to working in technology?
I think the opportunity that the industry promised was a key factor. In the mid-2000's, every company was looking for someone with "digital" experience as market perceptions and the necessity of online experiences were becoming so obvious. Hand-in-hand with that would be the fact that the field allows me to be creative every single day as well as work with some of the most amazing talent out there. Every day we're working on solutions that have the potential to change people's lives and most basic interactions - that definitely keeps work exciting.
What was your favourite subject at school and what did you want to be when you grew up?
I think because I liked to read and I did best in English, I assumed I wanted to be a writer when I was growing up. From about 14 on, I became very focused on music and thought I might attempt to do that full time or pursue a degree in recording.
What were your top three chosen subjects at GCSE, not including the compulsory Maths, English and Science?
Aside from English, during high school (what we call it in the U.S.), I was very focused on music - Concert Band, Drum and Guitar Lessons, Theory, etc. and used it to bolster my hobbies outside of school (playing in bands and recording). Besides that, I liked classes like Political Science and Debating - generally anything that provided an opportunity to hash out opinions.
If you went onto Higher Education, what did you study?
I grew up in the U.S. and went to one of the artsiest schools in the country - Sarah Lawrence College. The curriculum is loosely based on the Oxford system, so it has formalities like establishing a "Don" for students and having a thesis for each course. However, it allowed me to basically study whatever I wanted for four years, which I took full advantage of. I didn't actually have a major there (the majority of people don't), but I mostly studied Art History, Political Science, Literature, and Music.
What was your first job out of education?
My first job was a fellowship in public policy during George W. Bush's presidency. It was a depressing time to attempt to make change for the country, so after six months, I made a move to the publishing industry, taking a production assistant role at Artforum, an international art magazine. I had originally applied for an editorial assistant role and was really disappointed/confused by the offer from their art department. Despite my rudimentary knowledge of Photoshop, InDesign, etc. they decided to hire me and train me to do print and web design. In hindsight, this was a very fortunate opportunity and one that helped lead me to where I am now.
What do you think the perception of the technology industry is to people outside of the industry? Do you think it's accurate? If not, what would you do to change this?
I think perceptions of tech have changed dramatically over the last fifteen-to-twenty years. As technology continues to pervade our daily lives and our most basic interactions, people realise the amazing creative potential that it holds.
Businesses are investing more in digital/tech with every year that passes, and those that don't tend to fall behind their competition. This is an amazing change from when I first moved over to experience design and budgets were so small for anything other than advertising. Now we have companies across all sectors wanting to create digital products and experiences to better engage their consumers. It's a really exciting time to be in this industry.
What do you think businesses can do to help with the gender imbalance in tech?
Usually the make-up of a company's leadership team will be a reflection of the talent pool within the organisation. If you only have men at the top, you get a majority male office - it's that simple and this same sentiment cuts across other aspects of diversity like race, nationality, etc. If fixing the gender balance is actually a priority, then first and foremost, you have to make sure that women are a part of your management team as that will help set the bar and establish a more inclusive perspective for the agency. Having men who simply respect women isn't enough, because they are not going to have hands-on experience of what it's like to work in an industry that is predominantly male.
Once you have women in your ranks, you need to find ways of supporting them in their careers and celebrating their successes. This includes mentorship and career oversight, but also events and initiatives specific to women. I know some people feel that women-only events work against the idea of equality, but I don't think those people understand how often a woman in design, tech or advertising is outnumbered in a meeting, spoken over, or condescended to. Until equality is a true reality within the industry, taking time out to create safe spaces that focus on women remains a necessity.
Does your company have any formal initiatives in place to encourage more Women into Technology?
Huge hosts a number of events that focus on women in the industry. In the past we've hosted the "Women Who Code" conference in our Brooklyn office and we also hold a monthly breakfast club for women that focuses specifically on Huge's female employees and features presentations on topics related to professional development.
One of the most interesting initiatives that the company rolled out this year is "Understanding and Overcoming Unconscious Bias" training which is intended to reveal stereotypes or preconceived attitudes that impact our decisions and interactions. This covers the full gamut of human aspects that influence our thinking - age, income, race, sexual orientation, etc. - not just gender. Every person at the company will undergo this training by the end of 2017, which is pretty amazing.
What do you think keeps people happy and productive at work?
What has always kept me engaged at work, especially at Huge specifically, are the opportunities I've been offered that have brought me out of my comfort zone. Over the course of my six years at the company, I've always been encouraged to step up, try something new, and push myself further and that is what has always kept work fresh for me. I think this is something that Huge consistently offers its staff and is why we maintain such a driven talent pool of long-term employees.
Opportunity is obviously only part of the equation though. I've always had incredible mentors within the organisation who have looked out for me and were there to act as a sounding board when I needed it. Having this sort of safety net ultimately drove me to push myself further as I always knew that I could never veer too far off course.
What are your favourite things about working in the tech industry?
I think my favourite things about working in tech largely come from working at an agency I love. Huge is an amazing organisation that goes out of its way to hire incredible people that push the bar. When I go to work, I'm surrounded by some of the best talent in the industry - thinkers, innovators, and people who challenge me to create the best work possible. Every day, we solve new challenges and create amazing experiences together. Every day, we're evolving and making something new. It doesn't get much better than that.
What has been your biggest achievement in your career in tech so far?
On a project level, running the redesign of Gucci.com was one of the most challenging things I've ever done and probably my biggest achievement. It was an absolute behemoth of a project, but we created a truly beautiful piece of work that has reset the bar for luxury ecommerce around the world. It's still winning awards over a year after launch.
On a more personal level, I've had the opportunity to move up the ranks at Huge and work from three different offices, Brooklyn, Singapore and London. Gaining a global perspective is something that really changes how you approach work every day and enhances your understanding of people and the industry. I truly value the challenges and insight that it's brought.
What one thing would you say to every 11-13 year old in the country to encourage them to consider technology as a career choice?
Technology is defining the future. In this field we're determining, altering and enhancing all aspects of human interaction and behavior, every day. What's more exciting than that?
Interview conducted in 2016 for our Women in Technology Survey, 2016 campaign.