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User experience researcher: What I do and how much I make

Aidan Bryant, a user experience researcher at Google, shares his journey from contractor to full-time employee. He highlights his role in improving Google Maps, especially the Google My Business app. Aidan emphasizes the importance of communication, curiosity, and connecting research to product improvement in his job.

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Video transcript

My name's Aidan Bryant. I'm 28 and I'm a user experience researcher on the Google Maps team at Google, and I make about $113,000 a year. When I started I was actually a contractor, so I was actually making an hourly wage, and I contracted for about nine months before my team realized that they actually had a need for a full-time researcher and they converted me to full-time and I became a real live Google employee. When I was hourly my rate ended up being about $120,000 a year, but of course you have contractor taxes. You don't get all of the perks. You don't get bonuses. So, when I converted my salary went down, but my overall package actually increased a little bit. So, that included stock options, 401K matching, and like I said, the yearly bonus. So, Google obviously makes a lot of products. It's a huge company and I focus primarily on the maps team. Maps encompasses probably everything you're familiar with. Google Earth, the map itself, driving, local businesses. Anytime you open up that map it's something that I've touched in some way. My main responsibility is to collaborate with project managers and designers and give them insights about our users that they can in turn put into our products. So, for example, if I go to a designer and say, hey, women aren't using Google Maps for X, Y, and Z reasons. They say, okay, we'll figure out how to address X, Y, and Z in our design and make it more appealing to, in this case, women or whoever might need to use it. Specifically the part of Google Maps I work on is an app called Google My Business, and Google My Business is a tool that allows business owners to claim their business on Google Maps, which means that you can go to your listing, you can change your hours, you can respond to reviews, add photos, and basically control how your business appears on Google. I think open-mindedness, inquisitiveness, curiosity, and surprisingly, like, good communication skills. I think a lot of people who are drawn to research are kind of introverted nerds like me and you know when I started I thought like I'll just be able to sit in my lab or my office all day and just churn out cool research and then throw it at people and they'll say, wow, this is great. Like, we're just gonna take this and we're as interested in this subject as you are, and it turned out that was not the case. Like you actually have to brand yourself and sell yourself and probably 30% of my job is just communication and getting buy in from my team and not actually doing the research itself. So, if you are somebody who can engage really well, the people around you, and communicate, build interest in what you have to say then you should probably be a good researcher. I think I made a lot of mistakes early on in terms of not connecting my inquiry enough with the product. So, for example, it's not really enough to say here's a cool finding. You have to say, here's a cool finding, and here's how it applies to your product and here's how it's going to improve your product and really make that connection really strong and I used to put a little too much benefit of the doubt into how much mental work designers and product managers were willing to do in terms of interpreting my research. Like you really have to spell it out, so I think most of my early mistakes were in being a little too vague about the product application of what I was doing, which came a little bit from my academic background where you can just talk about whatever and you don't have to apply it to any kind of real world scenario, but when you're in the industry you have to be very, very specific about where your research is going and justifying it properly. I feel incredibly lucky that I kind of stumbled upon this career path. When I was a kid I super randomly wanted to be a cartographer. Like I found this book about how to draw maps, and I was like, that's what I wanna do for the rest of my life and then I was like, that's not really a job anymore because I'm not a pirate, so I couldn't really do that, and I thought about doing other stuff, but the thing that I kept landing on as being this driving love, like no matter what I was into or I kind of dabbled in a lot of ideas for what I wanted to be when I grew up, but they all involved being kind of, pursuing this independent inquiry and being able to like really dive into something and learn everything I could about it. Like I wanted to go into forensics, and I took a class in blood spatter analysis and that was mostly cause I was really obsessed with Dexter at the time, but everything I did involved learning a lot about what I was into. And I didn't really know how to turn that into a career path because, like I said, like this didn't really exist when I was in high school, and through a lot of luck and hard work, but a lot of luck, I ended up at Google where I get to just sit by myself and learn everything about maps and I get to like actually be the cartographer of the future in a way. It's really fun.