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Employee stories: Erica Tjader, design and research leader

Employee stories: Erica Tjader, design and research leader

Learn how SurveyMonkey VP of Research and Design Erica Tjader supports internal mobility and helps her team grow their careers.

At SurveyMonkey, we're devoted to supporting the curious and inspiring their growth. Oftentimes, that means uncovering great internal opportunities for employees, growing their skillset, and championing their movement. We recently caught up with Erica Tjader about just that—and how she supports her team and their career growth.

Tell us about the team you lead.

Erica: I lead a group of highly empathetic, creative, and collaborative folks who focus on Product Design, Design Systems, Design Operations, Content Design, and Product Research. They are responsible for making all SurveyMonkey product experiences. That includes understanding customer goals and pain points, defining solutions to address them, and then designing the experience: everything from what it looks like, to how it works, and what the words in the interface say. This is all to ensure that customers can use our products and get value out of it. 

What do you see as your role in an employee’s career journey?

Erica: As a leader, my role is to help support and facilitate their career journey. My responsibility is to have conversations that prompt my team to think about career growth possibilities, and it’s their responsibility to develop a point-of-view on what will be most meaningful and motivating to them. I have a good vantage point of the needs of SurveyMonkey, so I can develop the team, connect them with opportunities, and find ways to align their skills with our organizational needs. 

Can you share the story of your team's recent double-transfer and how you were able to align skills in both your organization and our CTO organization?

Erica: Yes, I love love love talking about this story! Let’s talk about Mel Clarke. She had a career path very similar to mine: rising through the ranks as an IC Designer and then into Design Leadership. In fact, she had my role here at SurveyMonkey before me. She also had an amazing amount of clarity for herself in what she didn’t want to do (strictly design and design management). 

When I joined, she was in a new role which gave me the opportunity to find the best way to leverage her unique skill set. She also had a large say in what she wanted to be doing, so we formed a true partnership. We had a lot of trust and transparency between us. I would push her to think bigger, to grow and extend her impact. There was a healthy tension. She enthusiastically took on some opportunities, while politely declining others. She  was very intentional about expending energy on things that laddered up to her longer-term career path. 

Because we had this close partnership, her role evolved quite a bit over the 5 ½ years that she was on my team. Through quarterly GIG conversations (SurveyMonkey's employee-led quarterly Growth, Impact, and Goals conversations all employees take part in with their manager) and regular check-ins, I learned what she was enjoying about different aspects of her role, what she didn't like, and then was able to find opportunities to give her exposure to other teams. 

Operations at a broader capacity and larger scale was very interesting to her. So when the Product Delivery operations team led by Sonja Farris started driving the Product Development Lifecycle (PDLC) work in a broader capacity across R&D, it was a really great opportunity to bring Mel in. I needed a design representative to be part of that effort and she had the right skill set to do it. It was also a great career growth opportunity for her to be exposed to a team that she may want to work on in the future. I was able to create that opportunity for her because of the trust that we built and the understanding that we had about her career path. 

Of course Sonja immediately recognized Mel’s talent and potential. When she had a role that felt like a good fit, it was a really natural transition to Product Delivery operations. 

Walk us through how, after doing your diligence to define the needs for Mel’s backfill, you realized there was another leader in the organization who could be great to step in. 

Erica: Okay, let's talk about Lizzie Burns, it’s also a great story. When I joined in 2017, Lizzie was writing for the Help Center and interested in getting more involved in the user experience and product side. Serendipitously, I had a gap in UX writing- a critical function- but no headcount at the time to fill it. So I struck a deal with them like, hey, I’ll give you this opportunity to have an impact directly on the product, and to write directly for the product. 

For five years, Lizzie and I partnered closely in a dotted-line type of relationship, as she was building the Content Strategy organization that grew from 2 part-time writers to a 13 person organization across UX Writing and Help Center.

Lizzie had a ton of success building and scaling that organization, and we shared a lot of work. For example, her team would join my All Hands meetings and offsite. There was a lot of natural collaboration across the teams. Over the years we had a few conversations about which organization Lizzie’s team should be in. 

The role I opened to backfill Mel included Design Systems and Design Ops, which were great growth opportunities for Lizzie. In addition, she had this existing team which made sense in the broader charter of my organization.

And voila, we made all 3 of those things happen: Mel got to expand her operational scope and move into a role that she was really excited about, Lizzie got to keep her team, but expand her scope and grow, and I got to expand the scope of my team to include Content Design

When everyone is growing, everyone wins!

Want to start your career journey at SurveyMonkey? Check out open positions.