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An Interview with Fatimah Richmond, 2020 Tapia Birds of a Feather Chair

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Fatimah Richmond, User Research Operations Manager at LinkedIn, is the 2020 Tapia Birds of a Feather Committee Chair. We interviewed Fatimah about her career and how she became involved in the Tapia Conference.

Tell me about your background.

I grew up in a working-class household in Atlanta Georgia, my mother retired in customer service and my late father was in the trucking industry. I have a younger brother, and three older brothers who were all in some form of military throughout my life, so my household had a lot of structure and order. Growing up in the South, coming of age in the 90s, with that contrast of structure and chaos, and being the only girl are all profound forces that shaped my character today.

How did you go into Computer Science?

During high school I was introduced to Computer Science, while a student in our Math and Science Academy. My math and computer science teachers introduced me to the field, and nurtured my excitement for the topic by entering me into computer science competitions across the state. Additionally one of my older brothers also studied Information Technology, so he provided a good peek into the outlook of the field. I also had a desire to move beyond the environment that shaped my childhood, and a career in computer science provided that opportunity. In addition to that strong desire, I had a natural inclination toward the logical and analytical thinking required to solve coding problems. Once I began studying in college, at Tuskegee University, I found a second passion for the creative and system thinking skills that led me into the subfield of Human-Computer Interaction (H.C.I). H.C.I is the study of how humans interact with computer interfaces, known as User Experience (UX) in the industry.

What came next?

Once I discovered the subfield of Human-Computer Interaction, I wanted to complement my computer science degree with the study of humans. So, I went on to study Human Factors and Applied Anthropology at San Jose State University, and a fellowship in Ethnography, at UC Berkeley. These experiences allowed me to form an appreciation for the unique point of view of multiple disciplines; computer science, social science and design. Throughout this nonlinear journey in my studies, I found my “academic self” sitting comfortably at the intersection of computer science and critical social theory.

Along this journey, I have been fortunate to apply my studies at the top technology companies in the world spending 13 years as a UX Researcher at SAP, Microsoft, LinkedIn and Google. I recently became a “boomerang employee” and returned to LinkedIn in January 2020 to lead User Research Operations, partnering with program managers, lab operations and research leaders to amplify UX Research at LinkedIn.

How did you become involved with the Tapia Conferences?

While at Google a colleague, Shameeka Emmanuel, introduced me to the conference. Shameeka is currently a leader in the Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging (D.I.B) efforts at Google, and we share similar background and interest in advancing diverse perspectives in tech. Shameeka invited me to serve as Birds of a Feather Co-chair. I attended for the first time in 2019 and I was immediately impressed by the diverse perspectives and the safe space created to foster D.I.B discussions. It is not too often you get to attend a conference where inclusivity is part of the design from the very beginning. The organizers, the reviewers and attendees take great care in creating a healthy space to discuss quality research and raw experiences related to D.I.B.

What do you like about Birds of a Feather sessions?

What I enjoy about Birds of a Feather sessions is they have an informal, intimate feel to them. Birds of a Feather sessions offer you a break from the rigorous academic pace of the conference, and allow another style of connecting with your fellow attendees. You can build real connections with conference attendees and share your stories, solutions or just simply listen.

There is still time for students to submit scholarship applications ( scholarship applications are due April 13th). Why should students attend the conference?

There is so much for students at the Tapia conference. During this time of uncertainty, now more than ever a sense of community and purpose is needed, especially for our students. Tapia affords you this support, connection and practical career advice. No matter your preference for a conference, at Tapia you are provided various forms of connecting, discussing, recruiting and networking. You leave with the opportunity to find, form, or strengthen your community, whether you are a student or industry professional. My hope is that our students can consider Tapia in the Fall, and that we can facilitate a great conference experience.

If anyone is interested in learning more about H.C.I, UX and Tapia please feel free to connect on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/fatimahrichmond/ .