Varshine Chandrakanthan, UX Design Intern (YLabs), and UX Research Intern (SFUSDoT)
Varshine Chandrakanthan (MIMS ’19) found herself in two different positions this past summer as a UX design intern at YLabs (Youth Development Labs), which designs programs that aim to improve the health and financial outcomes of adolescents, and a UX research intern at the San Francisco Unified School District Department of Technology, which is transforming SFUSD into a digital district to prepare all students for college and career success in the 21st century. Varshine tells us what she learned from both roles and what she enjoyed about their distinct responsibilities:
Describe a typical day at your internship.
My time was split between two positions:
At YLabs, I had the opportunity to work on the end-to-end user experience of a digital platform called CyberRwanda that addresses the issues of teen pregnancy and unemployment in a fun and interactive way. A typical day at YLabs starts with a project check-in as soon as everyone is at work. We discuss what we have planned for the day along with any blockers or dependencies we may encounter. That is followed by my regular work, which includes creating wireframes, prototyping and testing it with youth in Rwanda. Depending on the day of the week, we have a fun event planned — for instance, “Maker Monday,” where we get to learn activities from our colleagues like making vegetable stamps!
At SFUSD, I worked as a user researcher in the Education Placement Center. A typical day begins with a check-in with the manager to discuss the plan for the week, and talk about resources and access to information that would be required. As a researcher, a few days of the week were dedicated to carrying out research studies, and the remainder to documentation. During my time there, I also had the opportunity to conduct Design Thinking workshops with my colleagues to help aid the research work.
What was the most valuable thing you learned during your internship?
Both my internships were for social causes, which showed me how my skills can directly benefit society. At YLabs, we worked with topics that can be considered sensitive, and it was a good experience regarding how to speak to my users on different subjects. Being a design company, it was really great to have a team that had expertise in different methods who were always approachable and happy to help.
At SFUSDoT, the most valuable thing I learned was to see how human-centered design can help in an impactful way.
What was the biggest challenge?
There were points during both internships where the project came to an ambiguous spot, and where I was unsure of what could be done next. I could always turn to my colleagues in both YLabs and SFUSD to ask for help or just think out loud. Reflecting back, though those times were the hardest, I always had a breakthrough that fueled the project ahead.
How did your work at the I School prepare you for this role?
Almost all the courses I took during my first year played a critical role during my internship. As a user researcher, Needs and Usability Assessment was pivotal in shaping the study I conducted. Not only did I have enough resources to go back to and reference, I could approach challenges with more confidence as I had already practiced them during school.
Any advice for next year’s MIMS students as they prepare for their internships?
Start early in your search and look beyond the conventional companies for an internship. It is very important to look into what team you'd be working with and how you'd be able to contribute.
Did your internship influence your career plans after graduation?
I was torn between pursuing a career as a user experience designer versus a user researcher. Working in both roles gave me a better picture of what I can expect in each of those positions. Though I'm still not completely sure what I'll pick, I'm at a better place than I was before the internships. Along the way, I've definitely made new friends who also enjoy working for social causes like I do!