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For many of my guests, the careers and fields that we're in now didn't exist or were just newly conceived when we were at university. So those indirect paths I often speak about were just a matter of course. Bec Nguyen is the director of Upbeat Digital and a specialist in UX in digital health.

Join us as we speak about her winding path to User Experience Design and design thinking as it grew as a space, building compassionate tech, and advocating for diverse voices no matter what industry you're in.

About Bec Nguyen

Bec Nguyen is the Founder and Director of Upbeat Digital, a Perth, Western Australian-based consultancy business specialising in digital project and product management; UX/UX design and community engagement in social impact issues using an innovative, human-centred approach. As an advocate for women of colour, Bec leads an inclusive work approach to ensure community members who are under-represented, including disadvantaged and ethnic minorities, have a voice in the process.

Upbeat Digital has collaborated with state and national organisations within Australia to support the translation of evidence-based resources to the wider community through digital solutions, such The Wilderness Society, Nature Play WA, CSIRO and Telethon Kids Institute.

In recent years, Bec has been a recipient of a number awards, recognising and acknowledging her contribution to improving the health and wellbeing of the community, and impact in the technology and innovation for which she is honoured and continues to strive at an exceptional level to work and volunteer her time to give back to the community and help improve the health and well-being of the community.

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  • [16:23:20] The path from commerce and information systems and falling out, then in, of like with tech
  • [19:30:00] Entering the health space and building apps with Telethon Kids Institute
  • [00:23:20] Being introduced to UX design thinking and building Image Up
  • [17:50:00] Formalising that experience-based learning
  • [04:40:00] Discovering that there really is a place in tech for everyone
  • [16:20:00] Taking the your user research to prototype.
  • [12:20:00] Striking out on her own and expanding into the social impact space
  • [20:56:40] The evolution of systems analysis and requirements gathering as a human-centred process
  • [20:50:00] The evolving landscape of our roles and responsibilities
  • [20:03:20] Integrating UX and healthcare
  • [07:43:20] Working with kids with cystic fibrosis
  • [01:30:00] Being able to demonstrate the scientific method behind your work
  • [13:36:40] Putting more focus on social impact with Upbeat Digital
  • [04:36:40] Representation in tech and supporting less heard voices
  • [18:00:00] Encouraging diversity in your organisations
  • [14:53:20] What advice would you give someone who'd like to do what you do, and what advice should they ignore?
Michele Ong

For many of my guests, many of the fields and careers that we're in now didn't exist or were just newly conceived when we were at university. So those indirect paths that I often speak about were just a matter of course.

Bec Nguyen is the director of Upbeat Digital and a specialist in UX and digital health.

Join us as we speak about her winding path to user experience design and design thinking as it grew as a space, building compassionate tech, and advocating for diverse voices no matter what industry you're in. I'm Michele Ong, and this is STEAM Powered.

Thank you, Bec, for joining me on STEAM Powered today. I'm really looking forward to speaking with you about your journey.

Bec Nguyen

Thanks, Michele, for having me. I know we've been speaking about this for a long time, so I'm really excited that I finally made it onto the podcast. So yay, thank you.

The path from commerce and information systems and falling out, then in, of like with tech

Michele Ong

Yeah, I'm so glad to have you on finally, it's great. Cool. So getting started, you began your journey doing commerce and Asian studies. So how did that translate from that to doing UX and health apps?

Bec Nguyen

Firstly, I graduated quite a while ago, so I graduated in 2005, so we're going nearly 20 years ago. And, uh, if any of your listeners out there, they probably realise that a lot of these new tech roles are pretty new. I mean, I definitely didn't know, actually, I hadn't heard about UX design until about 10 years ago, and really apps weren't even out yet kind of thing. So, I guess, coming from the commerce majoring in information systems and technology side was really around understanding the different environments and coding and all of that kind of very technical things.

I did actually graduate and then go straight into a role in tech and I think I very quickly learned that I wasn't a coder, and I realised that I am very much a people person and coding is not my thing. So I ended up just kind of going, that's it. That's all I know about tech. That's all I thought tech was about and Oh my God, I've just spent five years studying something that I didn't want to do.

And I think it's everyone's kind of journey once you get out of uni going, what have I done? And anyway, so I just, I left it. I said, tech's not for me. That's it. I'm done. And I, I ended up traveling the world for about a year, kind of came back and was, alright, what am I going to do with myself?

And so there was lots of little things on the go, you know, coming out of uni, you know, the hospitality life, working behind bars, restaurants, did volunteering, this and that, and kind of got into events, event management, doing functions, festivals, things like that.

And then I get this call from Apple which, and I remember this clearly, and I was like, this is definitely a scam. Somebody from Apple is calling and it's a scam and, you know, Apple wasn't in Perth, and I just remember having this phone call going, Hey, we want you to um, you know, come and have a group interview and work for Apple. I'm like, yeah, yeah, sure. I hung up the phone. And then I just, I just ignored it. I was like, this is total scam. And then I remember seeing the email in my inbox going, Hey, we, we hadn't heard from you and you sounded positive and enthusiastic about it. And I go, okay, well, maybe this is not a scam. And so I read into it and actually it wasn't, they were actually building a Perth Apple store in the city. Ended up doing, getting them to put me as a Genius. So for those that don't know, an Apple Genius is a certified Mac technician. It's really cool. You get Genius on your business card and everything. But I've kept that. I laminated and I kept it because, you know, I'm never going to see that on a business card ever again, I think. And anyway, so yeah, I really love that component and I realised, okay, software is maybe not me, but hardware, I kind of like this.

You get to speak to your customers, take apart the Macs, put them together. This is kind of cool. I really liked it.

Entering the health space and building apps with Telethon Kids Institute

Bec Nguyen

And I ended up moving on because it was too customer service and retail, and if you've walked into a, an Apple store, it's very much like a circus in there, and I had enough and then weirdly ended up doing some data entry for a place called the Telethon Kids Institute in Perth in Western Australia and, for those that don't know, Telethon Kids is the largest child health research organisation in Western Australia. So anything to do with any chronic illness or anything to do with kids, they're being researched there.

So there's a whole lab component about tumors, brain cells, cancers, and then up to population health. So I was in that kind of space, joined a team that the professor who I worked under who's actually now one of my biggest mentors and is kind of the reason that's built me up to this position that I am now, Professor Donna Cross, she spent decades of her life in health and well-being and bullying in children and young people.

And she was one of the first, I think, in the world to identify that online environments is a place that kids could be bullied. And so her whole team was around finding and creating resources for schools for teachers to teach about image sharing and cyberbullying. And they decided that they needed, aside from the curriculum, probably needed something to help with the kids.

So this was back in 20, oh, 2015, and they wanted to build an app and it was a team of scientists who studied population health and not one single tech person, except me, who, you know, quote, unquote, is the tech person. And so they go, yeah Bec, let's get you to help us build this app. And I said, that's not what I do. I don't know how to build an app, you know. But they're like you're the closest thing to tech. You're, you know, you're closer to any of us.

Being introduced to UX design thinking and building Image Up

Bec Nguyen

And I ended up working with a colleague who had studied design thinking. And again, I'd never heard of the word design thinking. Straight up, even now, when I speak to some people, there's this automatic, Oh, design, like you are a kind of a designer, you know, graphic design, that must be what design thinking is. And it totally isn't.

It's really around redesigning the way you think about a problem. That's the design component. It's not necessarily the graphic design, but it's really a process that you follow, a human-centred process, where you put your customers at the forefront of how to solve problems.

And so that design thinking is the foundation for user experience design thinking, which is UX design thinking. And that's kind of where my journey started.

So I was going in with this colleague doing design thinking and actually still not even understanding what design thinking is and what that looked like was that we were building an app for year 8 students, oh sorry, year 10 students, around Western Australia. And we had a huge, what we call a student forum, which was a two-day forum where we had about 70 year 10 students from around Western Australia come together and do workshopping on ideas and solutions and functionality on what this app might look like that will help future students rethink the way they share images online, thus reducing cyberbullying.

So I went through this entire process, still not understanding what design thinking was, and kind of learned it and I understood now, okay, so the reason why we're doing this is we're doing interviews with students to understand- uh, it's about empathy.

So that's one of the steps of UX design thinking. There's kind of a five step process. One is really defining the problem that you're trying to solve. Second is really around empathising with your end users. So really understanding their behaviours, their attitudes, what challenges they face, and then from there you can actually start designing for the solution.

So in this summit of 70 students, I did lots of workshopping and interviews to really understand like, how do they normally share photos online? And we're talking back in 2015. So I think Snapchat had just come out. I don't even think Twitter was a, oh, maybe Twitter was a thing, but really just understanding, you know, what are their kind of behaviours when it comes to image sharing? And then what came out of this two-day summit was the build of the first app, which was fantastic.

So I was learning about how to turn these solutions into actual functioning parts of an app, and then finding and procuring a app developer or software developer to actually build it. So the very first app I was ever part of in design thinking was an app called Image Up all designed by students for students. So it's really driven by them and informed by them, and it was such a fantastic idea.

And it was basically, the crux of it was that they identified that one of the biggest consequences of sending out an image, sometimes accidentally, and then once it's out there, it's out there and that's kind of where the bullying can happen. So they thought a really great thing would be if there was some sort of mechanism that allowed them to pause on the image to make them rethink about, like, is this an appropriate image?

And through the channels, we ended up getting some more uni students to be on board to develop animations at the animation school at ECU. So they developed these little 10 to 15 second videos that popped up What would your mum think if she saw this image going out? Have you thought about if the image has illegal drinking or has a visible school logo on there that once it's out to the world, you know, privacy and things like that.

And it was such a great idea and allowed the app to talk to each of the social media apps, which wasn't really a thing back then, you know, so Instagram can post out to Facebook, vice versa, that wasn't a thing then. So we were really at the cutting edge of having Image Up connect to Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and from there they manage their library and they send it out and then they could actually pause and think about sending it.

Such a brilliant, brilliant app that I really, I really enjoyed doing. And then of course, the next year I think Facebook bought out Instagram or something or other than they started connecting to one another, and so our app kind of became obsolete because why use this app when we can just post on Instagram and that, yeah, so then we kind of lost that intervention.

And then, as with, you might know with technology, it's hard to keep up to date if you don't have the money. And so that was kind of the story of how I started learning about it. And then fast forward a couple of years later while I'm doing it, on a- another version of cyberbullying for parents, I met who is now my other mentor in the space. So his name is Moh Jaimangal, and he's the director, one of the directors of Curve Tomorrow, and I worked on a project in 2016, and he basically said to me that, Hey, Bec, you know, what you're doing is a role called UX design? No, what's UX design? And, you know, this is like a now year or so later after I was doing design thinking and I looked at it and I go, Whoa, I should be getting a lot more money. My first um, thought when I realised what it was, because I was working as a research assistant in an institute.

So my role actually wasn't tech. I just was in the research kind of realm.

Formalising that experience-based learning

Bec Nguyen

And so now I realise it's a thing that you can study, and I looked up all these different courses, but I found out that user or UX design or design thinking was kind of born out of Stanford University in the design school in USA, and they actually have an online kind of school called General Assembly. So that was the one that was highly recommended for me to study. It was quite expensive, so I managed to get a scholarship through Telethon Kids to pay for me.

So I did that course for that whole year to get certified in it, and it really then stepped me out through all the different ways that I could learn about UX design thinking.

Discovering that there really is a place in tech for everyone

Bec Nguyen

I think at the end of it, the really great thing is that I'm in tech and the biggest learning that I kind of come out of it and when I mentor other young students in this space, which I love doing, is that you can be still considered tech, but not have to do all the coding like what I thought when I decided after uni, that that's the only pathway for tech.

And so this one is really, it's kind of perfect for my personality as well. I tell people like, if you want to be in tech, but you don't want to do the coding, but you're a people person because you're constantly engaging with people, you're chatting with people, UX design is great. It's all about talking to people, really, and turning those insights into solutions. And, yes, I actually, I really love the role.

Taking the your user research to prototype.

Bec Nguyen

And then the second half of, I guess, the role, is that once you've got these solutions, you can prototype. So now there's all these new software that has come out that allows UX designers to actually prototype what the app looks like graphically.

So that's where that graphic design often does come in handy, and a lot of people from the graphic design field I know have moved into UX design, but there are other click and drag type programs where you can actually literally design what the app looks like based on your insights and research findings that you've done in the first stage of the UX design process.

And then once you've actually created your digital app or your digital website uh, you can then take it back to your end users and test it. So it's constantly an iterative process going back to the end users making sure are we building this correctly? Does it look right? Did we get the functionality right? And overall, it basically saves the organisation or the business or whoever's building the product a lot of time because you're kind of laying the foundations and the groundwork and testing it all before you're spending all of that money on the actual build.

So a lot of times, with the elevator pitches and things like that, I often say, well, we're like the architect that makes, you know, we build the blueprints before you actually put the slab down because it's very expensive to change stuff once the concrete's down.

Striking out on her own and expanding into the social impact space

Bec Nguyen

So that's, that's kind of my journey so far. And so after Telephone Kids, ten years worth of that, I then moved out and so two years ago, I launched Upbeat Digital, which is my own company now, and that's the work that I do and I absolutely love doing it and I'm moving very much into still the social impact space. So not only the kind of niche digital health area that I've been in, but now moving out into kind of the arts and deforestation and other social impact areas.

The evolution of systems analysis and requirements gathering as a human-centred process

Michele Ong

That's very cool. And it's such an awesome way of hearing the way that your career evolved because- yeah, coming from the same sort of generation, all of the stuff that we do have now in careers are also relatively new. And when you're talking about how UX and design thinking was just starting to become a thing, like, user experience and user interface experience, user design, all those acronyms for UX, UI, UIX, and all that, that was all relatively new.

And stepping back even further, when I was at school, when we were talking about, you know, as a programmer, or as a computer scientist, the first thing you do is, you need to figure out what the problem is.

So you need to talk to the people, you need to do systems analysis and requirements gathering, that is pretty much that core part. And people assume that it's a fully technical process, but part of that requirements gathering is talking to the people who are part of the system, because the people are in the system, so you need to understand how they use it, how they interact with it, and that is very human-centred design that they didn't really formalise into these nice terms and packages of how it all works until much later, like it was probably 5, 10 years later before we started getting human-centred design and systems thinking and design thinking as concepts for how we solve problems.

The evolving landscape of our roles and responsibilities

Bec Nguyen

Absolutely. And even now to this day, I still need to keep explaining to people what a UX designer is. And so, because I have a few different other roles aside from UX design, I've also certified as a product owner, which is more of a strategic look of the product that you're building.

So not, not only about, you know, I guess UX design is laying the groundwork, but product owners really now at a high level dealing with, you know, stakeholder management and potentially commercialisation and beyond, and scalability and there's a whole lot of that kind of component in there. So when it comes to kind of explaining to people, I do UX design or I do product owner or management, it's still like, what? You know? I think that might be more specific to Perth. I find when I go to east coast, to Sydney, Melbourne, it's more established there, which is fantastic. But certainly here in Perth, there is still a bit of that Okay, I got to really get my elevator pitch down pat, because a lot of people don't know what this all is.


Michele Ong

Yeah. It's wild because it's stuff that once you've explained it to someone, they go, Oh, I thought that's what we do anyway.

Bec Nguyen

Yeah, no, you don't. Like, no, that's not what lots of people do. I mean, it's something you can like Google and YouTube, like it's out there. It's just a process that you follow. But I guess you learn a lot of the tips and tricks on how you gather user insights well. You know, I spoke about just doing one-on-one interviews and you can do workshops and things like that.

But I recommend it to anyone and it's not just about a digital solution. It's any solution. Design thinking is really a human-centred approach to coming up with solutions for anything. So I am constantly just in everyday life using design thinking without realising it. I think just cause I'm kind of living and breathing it all the time, but it's, it makes sense, the process.

It's like, if you want to try and find solutions for something, you go to the people that will be using it, right?

Michele Ong

Exactly. And I was listening to a seminar about design thinking, and oddly enough, it felt like they were only really applying it to the social impact space or things like government tenders and I was thinking like, that doesn't make sense. Like why, why is the scope of that so narrow?

Because it's not just about social impact because people go social impact's about people, that's why we apply it here. It's like, no, because everywhere involves people. So you need to apply these principles everywhere in your life and in your work, because as I said before, we're all part of a system and a system has all these parts that we need to consider as part of a greater kind of problem solving perspective.

Bec Nguyen

Absolutely. It's just a really great skill to have.

It's just applicable across anything. You don't have to go through like the individual, every single step, but when you're thinking about human-centred design, that's applicable across most, most things.

Michele Ong


Integrating UX and healthcare

Michele Ong

So because human-centred design and putting people at the centre of the problem-solving process, is so tightly involved with patient-centred care, now that it's all front of mind, very people-oriented, how does that UX process get integrated into healthcare these days?

Bec Nguyen

You know, with that kind of patient-clinician sort of work, it's still very much the same sort process. There is maybe a little bit of barrier in terms of some of the projects I work with were very specific in the patients that we were working with. So, some of them, I'm not going to call them niche, they're just a smaller population of people that have that particular chronic illness.

Working with kids with cystic fibrosis

Bec Nguyen

So, one that really stuck out to me is one for cystic fibrosis, I think that was in about 2017 to 18. And as a, I guess, UX designer, you might very well, like I did go in there knowing nothing about the illness at all.

And you're, you're going in there going, look, I'm going to tell you a lot of stuff that you might already know, but this is part of the process.

As a person, as a UX designer, I really need to build empathy and understanding with the patient that we're working with. And I know that you probably know this, but even if you've got decades of scientific experience with researching that particular chronic illness, unless you have it yourself, you don't have the lived experience of it, and that's a really huge difference in the science versus the actual feelings of the patients.

And so luckily all the scientists that I work with were very much on board with, yep, you do your thing. I know what I think I know, but this is a whole different process that we're used to and we ultimately want to build a digital solution at the end of it.

So, yeah. It's been really great. There hasn't been that many barriers in, in that sort of sense where it's like, no, you don't need to speak to them, I already know about, you so been really great. But from what I've learned, you know, cystic fibrosis , we're working with young people aged 7 up to 12, 13 years old.

So a lot of young patients in the Perth Children's Hospital, Princess Margaret Hospital at the time, was that it's a very isolating illness, because your immune system is so low, you're at a high risk of infection. Again, I'm going to say I don't know all the ins and outs of cystic fibrosis, and thinking back a few years ago, this is kind of what I'm remembering.

So these young people, and some that are young as 7 and 8 years old, may not even have a device yet because of their age. But I did find most of them did just because they had that illness and they to be in contact with their parents, which is a bit different from what I'm used to kind of advocating for kids not to have devices at such young ages.

So we knew that we wanted to do some sort of a digital solution, but we needed to understand what is it that we were building. And so some of the key things that came out of it, as I mentioned, this isolation of just not, not physically being allowed next to anyone else with cystic fibrosis. Like two very vulnerable immune systems together and you both get sick, it's very detrimental. It could, you know, I think actually kill you. It's quite severe.

So you're imagining, you know, kids going through their lives with cystic fibrosis and actually not even being able to meet, in person, another young person with cystic fibrosis, like you could be literally wards away, but you have to be isolated. You can't speak.

So there was one thing of just not being able to speak to someone that is sharing what you're going through. And because they're young, it's not like, Hey, there's like a support group where we can all bring our kids together. Like you can't be in the same room as, as one another. So it was that thing that I found was one of the biggest barriers for young kids with cystic fibrosis.

I also learned that they take a lot of medication. So every day, lots of pills, you know, pills and pills and pills. Have to do physio, you know, have to do lots of breathing for their lungs. It's all in the immune system in the lung area.

And if you're young, you're relying on your parents. So there was just the management of all the things that you need to do and take and then, funnily enough, what I heard, and this is what I absolutely love working with children and young people, when the parents are not in the room, you really get honesty, like real honest stuff, and so I'm very much, when I do UX design with children and young people, absolutely parents can be in the room for privacy or whatever reasons, but do know that the more that you're not around, the more honest your child can be with me. And they are very honest.

So a lot of them were telling me that, you know, I hate the way mum and dad always text me like 20 times a day, like as if I'm not old enough to know when to take my medication. I don't like that. You know, that's really frustrating. It's very annoying.

We're really hearing what we call those pain points, the challenges that the young people are facing. And so we went through the exercise of understanding that empathy and you're really hearing it. That's not really stuff that you will read in textbooks about the illness, you know, we're hearing that, I got to set my alarm two or three hours early before school. I got to get up at 5:30 to do physio, like what kid wants to get up that early before school. So you're hearing kind of just the frustrations of having to do breathing and physio exercises before school even starts, and then having to get ready for school, and then all the while taking all these medications while at school, before school, after school, and then just being by yourself.

So we were hearing that. We're hearing the emotions, we're hearing the frustrations and we're channeling this into the solution space. If we can build a solution that helps alleviate some of those problems and challenges, you know, we're in a good space. So that's like a real critical part of design thinking.

And so what we ended up with was an app that was, one of the brilliant apps, it's not out on the market anymore unfortunately, again, one of those funding issues. It was called CyFi Space, quite cutely, you know, a play on the words C Y F I. And it was an app that allowed the young people to actually connect with other young people with cystic fibrosis. And when I ran workshops, I had one-on-one interviews, but then actually ran a little workshop together to say, Hey, this is the stuff that I found out of all of the interviews, you know, anything else you want to add.

And it was, it was such a remarkable workshop, an online workshop, because we had kids ranging, you know, I mentioned from 7 up to about 12 to 13. Some of them, it was their very, very, very first time they had met anyone else with cystic fibrosis. So it was just this whole, I don't know, it was just a really wonderful moment of just letting them just be silly and be cute and chat to one another and kind of, they just know what each other's going through, but they've never spoken to anyone else that shared the same thing.

So, I just had a moment where it's like, just let them chat, they've never met anyone where they can just talk and of course they didn't really speak about, you know, kids, they're not going to speak about it, but they just spoke about gaming or whatever it was that they were enjoying at the time. It's just a really wonderful side thing that came out of the UX design process. So they were super excited when this app was going to come out because then they could use it to talk to one another. So it was really important that we had a component which allowed that social connection.

And we partnered with a group that was called Livewire, which at the time it was within the children's hospital that allowed kids to go there and connect to one another, but it was physical, so none of the kids with cystic fibrosis could ever go there, or they could, they just need to make sure that there was no one else that had cystic fibrosis.

So anyway, we kind of leveraged that technology to allow them to talk to one another in the group chats. Of course, it was moderated with all the privacy concerns and things like that. We also then ended up developing a little mascot, I think it was Alvie because one of the kids, they're so brilliant, it was a, um, anagram of the word alive?

I just had to also say that I think quite a few, a number of decades ago, the average lifespan of someone with cystic fibrosis was like 25, but with all the science and technology and everything that's increased over years, I think it's now gone up to like 50 or 60, which is, you know, wonderful.

So they had, uh, we developed Alvie, which was like a little alien kind of creature, which would pop up within the app and do a check-in because they thought a way that we could have parents stop checking in, you know, that whole, I don't like it when parents check in, so instead, Alvie would check in, and he would ask them maybe three times a day, again, being informed by the kids, Alvie would check in, go, hey, how you feeling today? They can respond using little emoji faces. And then if the child had responded with anything that wasn't, not a negative, but not a, um--

Michele Ong

Not a positive sentiment, yeah.

Bec Nguyen

Yep, it would then ask them what would you like to do.

So you could either, are you okay if we just let your parents know that you've responded to this. Would you like your, I think they have like a nurse, a child health nurse at the hospital, contact you to speak to you, or what would you like, or you can do nothing, you know. And so that was a way that we could kind of not remove the parents from the equation, but have them not have to worry so much.

So we did a trial with it to allow them to use that, and it worked really well where parents were like, okay, cool. Like they're, they're answering honestly, I don't have to text them 20 times a day to see how they're feeling.

And so that was one component of the solution, and then the last challenge was managing their medication. So we built a medication reminder for them where they were allowed to select the kind of medication they had to take and then be reminded.

Being able to demonstrate the scientific method behind your work

Bec Nguyen

But it was a really great exercise to really kind of meet the needs of our users, and then we ran a whole trial on it. And so at the end of it, we've actually published some papers which, I helped to author on that one. And, and yeah, so then they can see kind of the design process.

And I find with my work being in the digital health space, and working with scientists, having publications under my name is helpful. While I'm trying to advocate for the UX design process, I do often have researchers and scientists going Well, you know, what method is that? Like, is it actually a validated method? Because, you know, if you're writing papers on it, you want something that's been tried and validated.

And so there was another project that I won't go in depth, but it was around educating secondary school kids on vitamin D and sun exposure, because you know, I think most people remember Slip, Slop, Slap, which is still a thing, I believe, in primary school, but when it goes to high school, there's none of that.

So, doesn't matter about hats, doesn't matter about Slip, Slop, Slapping in secondary school. So, this was kind of like an intervention to try and keep that messaging going and through that project, I published a paper on the actual UX design process.

So it's a way that I can say, Hey, this is where it's published and it's a tried and tested method and that works really well that I'm able to really merge the tech side of things and like kind of walk the walk with scientists so they understand that I've done this a lot and that's very helpful for my career.

Michele Ong

Definitely. And it's very cool that all the stuff that you've described, all the features that were what the patients and what the users wanted to use, they're all kind of stuff that we have now built into apps and phones and devices now. It's all the stuff that turned out to be common sense, turned out to be stuff that everybody wants.

Bec Nguyen

But it just has to be, and that's the thing. Like I could work with businesses or, you know, collaborators where we're like, Oh, we wanted to do A, B and C and it's like, yeah, great, but you know, it's still good to validate it.

Michele Ong

Absolutely. And it's such a great way of being able to integrate compassionate tech with compassionate care.

Putting more focus on social impact with Upbeat Digital

Michele Ong

So is that sort of what's driven you to doing a lot more focus on social impact work with Upbeat Digital?

Bec Nguyen

I think definitely. I just-- having those little snippets of moments where, you know, the kids on the Zoom call together, just moments like that, where it's like, Oh, this is, this is great. I mean, that's not even a tech side of thing. That was just a side thing that happened, but it was to me, it's like, that's where I want to be.

I want to be part of that experience of just using technology- it might not be technology, it just might be anything else that we find in the design thinking process. But certainly being able to help these disadvantaged groups, or underrepresented groups, or anything in social impact space.

So I'm very much working with a lot of not for profits. Every now and then I'll get like a startup or a corporate come through. But I find that the most I get out of the work that I do, and I continue loving the work that I do, is when it is in social impact.

Representation in tech and supporting less heard voices

Michele Ong

So as part of the social impact work you do, something also very important to you is advocacy for underrepresented groups and BIPOC, so Black, Indigenous, Women of Colour as well. So what specifically has your experience been in that area as a woman of colour in tech?

Bec Nguyen

Uh, there's been challenges, I'm gonna lie, you know. I kind of mentioned the story right at the very start in 2005, after I graduated, I went straight into tech and I was the only, the only woman, not only the only woman, but the only woman of colour in amongst, you know, a group of Caucasian men.

And I wasn't thinking about that back then. To be honest, it was more like, Oh, you guys are boring. I'm a people person and you guys are boring. And I wasn't thinking about it at all. And I think it's kind of, as the years go on and I'm getting really into tech. I'm starting to go to networking, conferences uh, and really being in that tech space is that's when you start kind of feeling it. And you know, I mean, most women will have this kind of feeling of just this inequality of what we have to go through anyway. But I guess what I find as a woman of colour, it's a double barrier that we have to break through.

So I was working in a lot of groups that was just full of women, which was great, but then I was finding that there's definitely a different cultural feeling when you're not around any other women of colour. And I think women of colour will understand what I'm saying when I say that, you know, it's just a different cultural imbalance.

And then I just found, I was born here in Perth, so I'm very much Australian, but my dad's Vietnamese, my mum's Chinese. I'm not sure where I get it, but I think throughout life, I've just always just kind of danced to my own beat. I do what I want to do. I'm happy to shift industries, do this and that. So I've always just been a very confident person to say things the way I want them to be.

So when I do notice stuff now and I know that I have a voice and I know in our cultures, in Asian cultures, again generalising here, but it's not common for us to speak first, you know, that kind of thing.

And, and I know that we're moving that, but still, when I'm in groups of people who, you know, come from an Asian background, I just naturally noticed that we will go last. We'll just wait 'til we're spoken to.

Whereas now that I noticed this, I will, I'll make an effort to actually jump ahead and just go, Hey, you know, like, let someone else speak, and it's just little things like that, that I don't think, people are aware of, because, you know, nobody's noticing that the people of colour don't really speak until right at the very end and because I was in, uh, a position where I was more senior, I could actually say, Oh, well, you know what, Michele, what do you think? We actually haven't heard from you. Did you have anything to add? And so I'll make it an effort to, to kind of bring forward those voices when I can and back them up.

And so I'm, yeah, I'm a big advocate for BIWOC, especially in tech. I've done a few panel discussions, I featured in a newspaper talking about some of the struggles that we get there. And it's, it's almost a constant thing of just trying to prove ourselves.

So I'm, yeah, I'm really interested in exploring how I can better advocate for women of colour.

So just calling out stuff. It could get me in trouble. Before I was a bit more reserved because I was working for someone, not going to lie. You know, when you work for someone there's consequences and I think about it and there shouldn't really be consequences for calling something like that out, but because you work for someone, Hey, you just got to remember how you represent yourself online.

And I'm not saying that I'm doing anything bad and I'm obviously still representing Upbeat Digital, when I do, I just don't think there should be any kind of a consequence for calling out inequality where it's warranted. I will obviously do it the most respectful way, I'm talking about it like I'm really cheeky at the moment, but l'll do it in a very diplomatic way.


Michele Ong

Yeah. It's not like you're making a call to cancel, because that's not helpful.

Encouraging diversity in your organisations

Bec Nguyen

Absolutely, yes. Absolutely. I will try and be very constructive and what I'm especially looking for and I'll make this known when I speak to anyone that's in a senior level, who are your colleagues? Who's next to you? Who's, who's making a-- who's at the decision table? What do you all look like? Is there diversity there?

If I look at a conference and it doesn't look like there's any people of colour, I won't be going to that conference. If I was, say, partnering with an organisation, I will again look at their board, I will look at their executive teams and I'll look at what kind of equality is visibly showing in their teams. And that's how I'm kind of standing up for what I believe in, because I think that's really important as well.

I mean, organisations can be amazing and they can preach equality and preach diversity, but sometimes at the end of the day, you actually look into their website, look at their executive team, and it's not there.

Michele Ong

The values don't reflect the board.

Bec Nguyen


And so I think if the more people are aware of that, there might be a positive movement to change how the governance of a business looks, how decisions are made and the thing is, when you see a, an organisation that is full of diversity, you kind of know that something's happening well at the top because somebody is considering it.

And, you know, I try and work with different businesses and organisations to kind of help them in that way if they ask for it, but as I said, yeah, when I kind of call it out, it's more constructive ways to say, Hey, you know, there, there are ways that you can try and consider, especially when it comes to employing.

And I, I do when I speak to some managers and things like that, there is the, Hey, but we don't want to even look like we're just trying to fill a quota by just hiring one token person.

And, you know, I think the thing at the end of the day is that we will take that. We'll take it. If we need to be the quota person, we'll take it because if there's none already in the team, then it's still really important that the representation is there.

So it's just trying to get management to understand that too. You have to start somewhere. The first person is always going to feel like a quota hire. And it's fine. 'Cause then you'll get the second one and then you'll get the third one.

And then that's how you start it.

Michele Ong

But you have you start somewhere.

Bec Nguyen

Exactly. Exactly.

Michele Ong

Because it's okay to be a quota person. I don't mind being a quota hire because at least I've got that position and I can do something with it. Or at least I have the opportunity to do something with it. And if you're hiring and you're getting no diversities available to hire, it's like, look a bit higher. Why would that be? Why would we not be getting the candidates that demonstrate diversity in our organisation?

Bec Nguyen

That. Yep. Exactly that. And I also speak with management, or the people hiring HR, whatever it is. One of the kind of pushbacks is, Oh, we just don't get the applicants. Like, but where are you advertising? Are you actually genuinely going out to the literal organisations that have networks that support women of colour. It's not hard to reach out and say, hey, could you, you know, share this amongst your networks? We're really wanting to have some diversity in our group. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with saying that. And so that's one of the things that I try and just drive through some of the messaging.

Secondly, is that one thing that often gets forgotten or missed is that the cultural diversity in itself, depending on what the position is in itself is an experience and it just doesn't come across as that. So, you know, another example, We might be needing somebody to just help with working with schools or whatever the, the thing is, and it's like, yeah, but don't forget if there's no cultural diversity with our own team, you know, it's not really--

Michele Ong

You're not going to create that connection or be relatable to any outreach or any kind of activities that you're trying to do to demonstrate that kind of diversity. Because what you're after ultimately is diversity of voices to be able to create, I guess, more growth within the organisation. It's not necessarily about saying we're ticking a box. We're doing the correct diversity hires. It's about giving your company the opportunity to do the best that it can, because it has that range and that experience that it can draw from.

Bec Nguyen

Organisations with diversity thrive much better than those that don't. Like, it's just a fact now.

Michele Ong

Yeah, huge conversation that.

What advice would you give someone who'd like to do what you do, and what advice should they ignore?

Michele Ong

Yeah, so winding up because I think this is a great way to lead into the last question that I like to ask my guests. What advice would you give someone who'd like to do what you do? And what advice should they ignore?

Bec Nguyen

I think it might not necessarily be looking at whether you want to get into the field. I think it's more about understanding what you can bring--

What are your skills? Like, what are the things that you want to do and then see if it aligns with UX design? There could be something that'd be very close to UX design, but if you want to be in this space where you're using a human-centred approach, human empathy to solve problems, it may not actually be a UX designer.

There is a whole lot of underneath the foundation of design thinking. So rather than go, Hey, it's UX design that I want to do. How do I get there? And of course that is a great way to do it, but I'm kind of just seeing anyone and everyone coming in from all these other industries.

So people coming from HR to graphic design, to insurance, to finance, like, it's really wild to me all of these kind of people that have come into it and I'm-- I was quite lucky that I kind of fell into it without actually realising that it was a role.

And so you might find that what you thought you wanted to do might not actually be aligned with what you actually want to do. So maybe finding some of those networking groups and connecting with some of those people to kind of just get an idea of what kind of roles are out there, then from there you can learn about different networking groups and little conferences and they have like a UX bootcamp. I think that's a really great way to get in there and learn about all of these before you want to get into it.

And I guess the second part of that is once you kind of decided that that's might be where you want to go, there is like countless online courses you can sign up to, to learn about the foundations, and how you do it, and then how to execute it.

And then I think the second part of your question was what what advice not to listen to? I guess one of the things that was a bit topical in one of the groups recently for UX in Australia was when to work for free versus not working for free. I guess that's topical in any industry really, isn't it? Like working for free is obviously a, what I call or maybe it's not obvious, it's a privilege.

Not everyone has the privilege of working for free because you can afford not to get paid. So, you know, that's a kind of a big barrier in itself on how much you decide to work for free. I have found in my experience, not just with UX design, so I don't know how relevant it is, but just in other industries that I worked at, I volunteer a lot of my time in places where I feel I can give value, but I can get value from it.

So if it gives you experience and it might lead to a job, I think it could be worth pursuing if you have the luxury of being able to give time. Sometimes you know, there is maybe organisations that might be taking advantage of it. So there's a bit of that going on as well. I don't know if I've really answered the question.

Michele Ong

No, that's an interesting one though, because yeah, because I've been freelancing for a very long time, it was always get paid, or work for free, but never work for cheap.

So that was always the thing, because when you work for cheap, they're going to try and get you for the same kind of value that you would if you were getting paid your normal rate anyway. So at least it's clear and you can set your boundaries. And that's one of the bigger things as well. It's about setting your boundaries with what free entails. You make sure that's scoped.

So if you do have the luxury to work for free, do it if it gives you value or if there's some sort of thing that makes it worth your while or worth your time, whether that's from the volunteer effort or from experience or wanting to get into the industry that you're in. But make sure you do set your boundaries about what you will do for free.

Bec Nguyen

Yeah, no, that's really good advice. Yeah, but otherwise, I mean, you know, I'm going to kind of maybe end on some of like the more cliche notes of what not to listen to is, I guess I am where I am because I don't listen to people, but I mean, of course I listened to my mentors and I get their advice, but sometimes you just have to push that boundary and go, no, you know, this is what I really feel passionate about.

I think it was just a comment that I was like going to put out there. And the advice was like, Oh no, maybe you don't 'cause you might put a target on your back, and as I said before, look, I don't think there should be any repercussions on calling out inequality.

Michele Ong

If you're respectful about it, definitely.

Bec Nguyen

And that was it. You know, firstly, if that kind of thing offends them, it's probably because it's true, so as a follow on I wouldn't want to work with people like that.

And I need to kind of be true to my values and my brand and so in that way some of the advice if you know that you're doing it right and you know that it's what you align with and what your values are and that, you know, ultimately you are calling out inequality. You're calling out stuff that should be called out, with the big disclaimer of you're doing it respectfully, you know, not doing in a rude manner or anything like that. So there is some advice to listen to and then some advice that you shouldn't listen to.

And, you know, another tip is just to get yourself a mentor, get some good mentors behind you so you can bounce these ideas off them going, Hey, is this a good career pathway to take? Like, what was your thoughts?

But yeah, mentorship, having someone to mentor to me was actually instrumental in where I am today. So I try and pass on that knowledge, and one of the things that I have done in the past is mentor and so that part of me is actually really another passionate side of what I want to do with sharing the knowledge of mentorship or if you're starting out to get a mentor, that's going to help you in your career pathway.

Michele Ong

Absolutely. That's amazing advice.

Bec Nguyen

Yeah, thank you.

Michele Ong

Cool. Well, thank you so much, Bec, for speaking with me today. It's been amazing listening to the way that you've just grown into this role, especially because you know, I've spoken about this with other guests before, all these fields which didn't exist when we were at school and at uni and just having to figure out what they are as we go, as everyone else figures it out as they go.

Yeah. So it's been absolutely wonderful speaking with you.

Bec Nguyen

Thank you for having been great. And I know me and you can go on for hours and hours.

Michele Ong

I know. We can. We absolutely can.

Bec Nguyen

So yeah, hopefully I've, you know, hopefully I've answered your questions well and there's some, you know, takeaway bits that people listening to the podcast can take away with them, but no, it's been a lot of fun as it always is chatting with you and yeah really appreciate the opportunity for for being on your podcast. Thank you.

Michele Ong

Yeah, and it was such a pleasure having you on. Thank you so much, and yeah. I hope you have an amazing rest of the afternoon.

Bec Nguyen

Thank you. You too.

Michele Ong

If you enjoyed this conversation, please let me know. Subscribe to this show, leave us a rating, and share this with your geeky or geek-curious friends. You can also support STEAM Powered on Patreon under steampoweredshow, the link for which will also be in the show notes. Thanks for tuning in, and we'll see you next time.


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