See It to Be It : User Experience & Cookies (w/ Carmen Ladipo)

Amy C. Waninger chats with Carmen Ladipo, a user researcher at Meetup and owner of Carmen’s Cookies, on this installment of the See It to Be It series.

You can connect with Carmen on LinkedIn.

Check out the Carmen’s Cookies website.

TRANSCRIPT

Zach: Living Corporate is brought to you by The Break Room. Have you ever felt burnt out, depressed or otherwise exhausted by being one of the only ones at work? You know what I’m talking about. Hosted by Black psychologists, psychiatrists and PhDs, The Break Room is a live weekly web show in the Living Corporate network that discusses mental health, wellness, and healing for Black folks at work. Name another weekly show explicitly focused on mental health, wellness, and healing for Black folks at work. I’ll wait. This is why you’ve got to check out The Break Room airing every Thursday 7PM Central Standard time on Living Corporate.tv.
Amy [00:48]: Hello everyone. This is See It To Be It, the Saturday podcast from Living Corporate. Living Corporate is a digital media network that centers and amplifies Black and brown people at work. My name is Amy C. Waninger and I’m the host of See It to Be It. When I was growing up in rural Southern Indiana, I didn’t know about people who went to college or who worked in professional roles. Why? Because when people went to college, they didn’t come back. I didn’t know what those jobs looked like or how to break into them, but this show isn’t about me, it’s about our guests. Every Saturday I bring you career stories from everyday role models in jobs you may not know exist. More importantly, the folks I interview share their perspectives as Black and brown professionals in jobs and environments where they may be the only. My guest on today’s show is Carmen Ladipo. Carmen is an expert in creating wonderful experiences for the people around her and you’re going to hear a lot more about that in today’s show, but before we get to that, we’re going to tap in with Tristan for some career advice.
Tristan [01:50]: What’s going on, Living Corporate? It’s Tristan of Layfield Resume Consulting, and I’ve teamed up with Living Corporate to bring you all a weekly career tip. This week, I want to talk to you about the importance of reflecting on your career. Today I participated in a LinkedIn Live where the topic was change, specifically taking change by the horns. We discussed many things surrounding change, including a big career transition that I’m going to be making, but one of the things that we discussed was career changes and knowing the transferable skills to get you to the job that you want. Now, when I talk to many of my clients, I find that that’s the exact issue that they have. They don’t understand the transferable skills that they possess to get them the job that they want. And I’ve been sitting and thinking about why that is, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s because many of us are not necessarily reflecting on our career and the experiences that we’ve had. We’re so in the throes of our day-to-day job that we don’t tend to keep track of the things that we’ve done or experienced or the results we’ve driven, but unfortunately if you’re looking to make some major career changes, that information is so essential. So I know you’re probably like “Well, okay, what can I do with that?” Well, I tell people “If you know what job you want to get, start reading job descriptions, and then directly following that, read your resume to reflect over the experiences that you have inside of it, but then also start thinking about the experiences that you may not be listing that align with what you read in that job description.” You don’t want to just think about achievements and awards, but you want to think about projects you were involved in and how you created results there. You want to think about ideas or strategies you recommended that somebody else may have implemented. You also want to think about things like trainings or involvement in employee resource groups or anything that’s going to help you connect the dots so you can paint the picture of why you’re the best candidate for that job. Now, after reflecting, if you can’t relate anything in your experience to where you want to go, you probably need to identify opportunities that can provide you with those experiences. You can do that by talking to your manager or networking in the office to get an idea of ongoing or upcoming projects that you might be able to volunteer for and gain those experiences. Once you take the time to reflect on your career, I can guarantee you’re going to start identifying things that relate to where you want to go, and those are gonna be the things that help sell you as that best candidate. This tip was brought to you by Tristan of Layfield Resume Consulting. You can connect with me, Tristan Layfield, on LinkedIn, or you can catch me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram @LayfieldResume.
Zach: Living Corporate is brought to you by The Leadership Range, a podcast within the Living Corporate network, hosted by globally certified and Fortune 500 executive coach and leadership development expert Neil Edwards, The Leadership Range is focused on having real, raw, soulful and accountable conversations about inclusive leadership, allyship, professional development. Every week is a new episode with new learning new actions to take on to grow inclusively. Make sure you check out The Leadership Range everywhere you listen to podcasts.
Amy [05:15]: Welcome back everybody, my guest today is Carmen Ladipo. In the past three years, she’s been able to balance being a Black woman in the tech world, which is no small feat by the way, full time, while maintaining her own small business in New York City, Carmen’s Cookies, and I’m going to tell you right now, the pictures made me hungry. I’m going to be ordering some off of carmens-cookies.com as soon as this interview is over. With the help of mentorship from strong women in each of her industries, she’s learned how to take up space and advocate for herself and her teammates and also take incredible pictures of cookies. Carmen, welcome to the show.
Carmen [05:51]:  Thanks so much. What an intro.
Amy [05:54]: Can you tell I’m hungry and I missed lunch today? So with COVID, I can talk about cookies all day long, but I actually want to start with your tech story and telling us a little bit about what is it that you do, because tech is such a huge umbrella. Can you kind of drill down for us on what it is you do?
Carmen [06:15]: Absolutely. I totally stumbled into tech by accident. I had a friend working at Meetup, which is a website and an app where you can meet new people in your area, and so I applied to be on their support team where I helped members and organizers on Meetup with any problems that they might have and then over time, I learned about UX research, which I didn’t even know what UX was or anything like that when I joined Meetup initially. But it was really an opportunity to advocate for the users of your product and kind of help make sure that the people who are actually building the features for these people are really keeping their needs and experiences in mind. So I really enjoyed being able to talk to Meetup users around the world about their experiences what’s working, what’s not working, whether it’s like a specific page that is having some trouble or maybe their whole experience, like, “No one is coming to my events,” or “I’m not able to meet new people,” and figure out what’s going on with that.
Amy [07:11]: So UX or user experience isn’t just about the way people interact with the tech, it’s also about the way they apply it in their lives, right?
Carmen [07:18]: That’s exactly right. I mean, it’s such a wide encompassing area, and so it’s a bit of both, and sometimes you have more quantitative researchers who are really good at things like surveys, really analyzing data, and not as good as that type of stuff. I’m more focused on the qualitative side, which is more about listening to those stories, talking to the people, figuring out what the patterns are after talking to a lot of people, for example.
Amy [07:46]: Very, very cool and so important, because I think everybody has probably had some experience with technology that was not very user-friendly or thought, “Oh, that’s really cool, but I have no idea what to do with that,” and your role is so critical in bridging that gap between people and the technology they use and actually getting the benefits of the technology.
Carmen [08:11]: Right, and I feel like a lot of people kind of have that experience, whether it’s an app on their phone or even something like out in the real world, you kind of notice when something’s not quite working right. So I was learning about research, I was like, “Oh wow, I can help other people figure out what else is not working right and actually make an impact on changing it to make it work better.”
Amy [08:30]: Can I ask how much of your work focuses on accessibility? I know a lot of UX designers are very invested.
Carmen [08:42]: Yes, Meetup is definitely focused on accessibility, and I think that there are a lot of opportunities to really dig into the accessibility, and for me, I think I’m personally less experienced with that, so I always go to our UX designers who have worked with accessibility more specifically, because being able to even conduct user research sessions with accessibility in mind is super important and very important to think about how that experience might be distinct from folks who are differently abled. So that’s definitely something that we keep in mind.
Amy [09:16]: And not to put too fine a point on this, but universal design or design that’s universally accessible doesn’t just benefit people with disabilities, it benefits all of us. When we have closed captioning in our conversations online, it helps engage people kind of in two levels, whether they have hearing difficulties or not. Having the big red button that’s easy to find makes it easier for everybody to put the trinket in their cart, not just the people who are color blind. So I think there’s just so much that can be done there. So what is something about your job or about being in tech, since you say you stumbled into it that surprises you, that you were not expecting pre-stumble?
Carmen [10:06]: Yes, absolutely. I think something that surprised me was the varying backgrounds that everyone has. I think previously I kind of assumed that people either studied computer science or did a bootcamp in design or X, Y, and Z, but that’s not necessarily the case and I think it’s happening even more so now that people have more diverse backgrounds. So being able to see those backgrounds, being some form of contribution into that tech space, like for me, my background is in photography. So I am a very visual person, and when I’m sharing out all these fun findings that we get from talking to users, I try to make it sometimes in a visual way, and so that kind of in terms of storytelling, it kind of tells that story in a more compelling way than maybe a paragraph wouldn’t.
Amy [11:00]: That’s a fantastic lesson for people, because I think so often we feel like we are stuck in whatever career we’re in, based on a major we chose when we were maybe 18 and a half years old and I think a lot of folks who are maybe trying to choose their major right now who are 18 and a half years old are thinking, oh my gosh, what if I pick photography and I end up wanting to do computer science, and what I’m hearing from you is it doesn’t matter, you can go do the thing, right?
Carmen [11:31]: Absolutely. I mean, I thought halfway through college that I was going to be a food blogger. I love to bake, I love trying out new restaurants and then I graduated, I did end up dabbling in food media for a time, but then realized that that wasn’t really the path that I saw myself continuing in the future, and so being able to kind of sit back and really think about my values were, as a person, separate from my experience in college, even though that was a valuable experience for me, it doesn’t have to really dictate the actual future of my life.
Amy [12:04]: That is so powerful, you can learn from the experience without letting it own you. You can own it without letting it own you, oh my gosh, that is wonderful. So, I’m sorry, I’m really hungry and I want to talk about these amazing cookies. So how did you get started? I mean, I would imagine that owning a bakery, owning your own bakery in New York City is no small task.
Carmen [12:29]: That’s very true, which is why I’m currently exclusively online. I’m always thinking about my future and what would that look like. Do I actually want to have a bakery? Would I want it to be in New York? I’m not so sure, but for now, it’s great to have that hobby to really help other people just create, bring some more joy into people’s lives. So I always loved to bake, nut it wasn’t until four or five years ago I started to bring cookies to my rock climbing gym to make friends, which worked, unsurprisingly, and then after the fourth or fifth person said, “Hey, you should sell these, they are really good,” I finally started to listen. I was between jobs. I was like, “Okay, I have some time here, let me just see what it takes, what type of paperwork I need signed and all of that,” and a couple of months later, I was a registered business in Brooklyn. So since then I’ve been kind of putting in different degrees of effort, I could say, into this side hustle, but more recently I started to ship around the country, and so being able to kind of open up this opportunity to share my baked goods with other people has been a great opportunity.
Amy [13:34]: And it occurs to me that you are using your user experience background, these technical chops, in your bakery because you’re an online bakery.
Carmen [13:48]: That’s so true and it wasn’t really something I had considered until maybe the last year or so, that UX research, UX in general is something that fully applies to my business. It’s not only the website in itself, but even feedback about the cookies, like, “Oh, this ships in X, Y, and Z way, try out A, B and C,” or “I really like this flavor, what if we did that type of flavor?” So I’m always listening to my customers and figuring out what they want and trying to think ahead of what maybe they don’t even know that they want just trying to plan ahead and make them happy.
Amy [14:22]: So I’m going to ask you the same question, what surprises you about this business, about this line of work that you’re in that you did not expect when you sat there with a recipe and Googled “How do I start a bakery in Brooklyn?”
Carmen [14:37]: Something that comes to mind, especially when it comes to Googling how, is the actual community in itself, within Brooklyn especially, but I would say nationwide as well. Initially, I would assume that everyone is kind of competitive, especially within the pastry world – everyone’s doing similar things in the same area – but on the contrary, everyone is so kind and incredibly helpful. I have a lot of mentors within the food service space, in the baking space specifically, that I can go to, whether it’s a DM or text or an email, like, “Hey, I’m thinking about trying this out, what has your experience been with that?” And we’re all friends on social media and on and offline. So it’s been really great to connect with everyone there.
Amy [15:19]: There’s so much community right now because of technology, because of user experience designers like yourself, that it seems that even though we keep being told that we’re more disconnected than we’ve ever been, I don’t know if I buy that, and I want to hear your perspective on that, because as somebody who lives on both sides of that curtain, do you agree with that or do you think that that’s all hogwash? Or is it somewhere in the middle?
Carmen [15:58]: I do disagree with it generally speaking, especially working at Meetup, which is a platform for community building in itself, being able to see and hear specific experiences from organizers. We’re able to pivot from meeting in person every week at a coffee shop with papers and sticky notes, and they were very interactive to moving that to a Zoom meeting, for example, and it’s still being successful and even sometimes having more people come. It’s all about convenience and at the end of the day, people want connection regardless, whether that is in person or online. Sometimes of course in person gives you a different level of connection but at the end of the day, especially in the pandemic, people are seeking other people and so being able to shift that online, whereas while it might not be a hundred percent the same, it’s still definitely important and I’ve definitely been seeing a lot of people doing that successfully.
Amy [16:54]: That’s great, and you mentioned earlier that you have a lot of mentors in different spaces. Mentoring is something that a lot of people struggle with, “How do I find a mentor? What do I say when I find somebody? How do I even broker that conversation?” What advice do you have for folks, whether they’re in tech or another industry or an entrepreneur, how do you even start that conversation?
Carmen [17:19]: That’s a great question and something that I always say, and it sounds a little–I think it might sound crazy to some people is that even something as simple as going on Instagram, finding the people whose post you really liked, figuring out why you liked them and starting to interact with those people, whether it’s a comment here and there, or even like a DM, honestly, I think people really love hearing that they’re appreciated and for those specific reasons, not just like a random generic message of like, “Hey, you’re cool,” but really being able to connect with that person on a specific level whether it’s something that you both have in common or something specific that you’ve noticed that they talk about that you relate to, things like that, and I think being able to just kind of reach out to those people who you admire and really understanding why you admire them is super important, whether that’s on Instagram or LinkedIn, even though I do the same thing on both.
Amy [18:11]: Do you find people are pretty receptive? You say, “Hey, I think you’re great and here’s why,” they usually don’t tell you to shut up and go away?
Carmen [18:19]: That’s true. That’s the thing, the worst thing that could happen is that they don’t respond or they do respond that they’re too busy and then they maybe even will be able to send you in a different direction too, or to someone who has more time on their hands or something like that. So I think it never hurts to try and reach out, you never know what might happen. 
Amy [18:38]: Absolutely. In tech as a Black woman, that has to be a tough space to navigate.
Carmen [18:43]: Yes. 
Amy [18:45]: I mean, and I don’t want to gloss over that. It was tough for me being a white woman in tech. White women are problematic in and of themselves for other people, but where you go for support in that space?
Carmen [19:05]: Definitely, there are a lot of communities that kind of sometimes they’re visible, sometimes less so, and so I think for me, being able to connect with the Black colleagues that I have at Meetup was super important and I know that that’s a privilege in itself, being one of more than one Black employees at a company in general, and so I really tapped into that and then through them, they have friends at other companies and just kind of seeking out other experiences. I think I go back to LinkedIn a lot, but I honestly spend a lot of time looking for people and reading different stories and posts from the community, whether that’s like the more diversity and inclusion professional community or otherwise. There’s always interesting stories to be had and people are always willing, I think, especially if they’re posting or commenting on people’s posts, to connect with other people who are experiencing something similar.
Amy [20:02]: Can I ask you, so when you have meetings within Meetup, do you use Meetup to schedule those meetings?
Carmen [20:12]: We do sometimes, it depends on the type of meeting. When we have less formal gatherings for someone who wants to share something that they’re working on, for example, we definitely have like an internal meetup group that we use and anyone is able to schedule an event in there.
Amy [20:28]: That is very cool, because I like anything that kind of plays on itself and it kind of folds on itself until it implodes and to me, just having a Meetup meetup at Meetup is pretty cool.
Carmen [20:40]: Definitely.
Amy [20:42]: So where do you want to go? In the prerecording, we were talking about this notion that you can only be one thing and I said I really wanted to talk about both of your things, because I think it’s important for people to see you can have a fulfilling job that you enjoy and a passion project that you enjoy. You can have a business that’s growing and a job that pays the bills, you can have a business that pays the bills while you’re launching a new career and ramping up on that. Where do you see this going for you? Are you just going to grow bigger and bigger, are you going to focus? What do you see as the future for the UX cookie designer?
Carmen [21:28]: That is a question of the decade, Amy, something I think about every day, and I think about this tweet that I saw a few months ago, it’s about this phenomenon of millennials suddenly monetizing all of their hobbies as if capitalism is getting the best of us to say, “Anything you’re doing that you think is of any use, figure out how to make money off of it,” then I was thinking like, “Oh, I definitely kind of did that,” and so it’s always on me every day. I ask myself while I’m in the kitchen baking my cookies, “Am I still enjoying this? Is this something that I actually want to do? Do I see myself doing this for the long run?” And the answer is yes, but I definitely can feel the chance for it to become no if I’m not paying attention. So I’m always trying to make sure I’m giving myself boundaries, whether it’s work boundaries, side hustle boundaries, and anything else in between, making sure that I’m keeping a level head through it all, and so I think one of the dreams that I have bubbling around in my head is definitely opening some type of cafe, probably not in New York City because rent is a little high among other things, but being able to kind of see people in person experiencing cookies and coffee and whatever else we may have, and maybe even creating some type of community space that we can kind of allow folks in the area to use for whatever events that they might have going on. So there are definitely iterations of these dreams that I have and to do shift over time but it’s definitely something that I consider regularly.
Amy [23:02]: A lot of times when I talk to folks who’ve had sort of what I call a lily pad career, where they hop from one lilypad to another, and it’s not really clear where they’re going to go, but eventually it comes full circle and there’s a picture that emerges, and I love hearing from people who are earlier in their careers, that haven’t connected the dots yet and where they think it might go, what picture might be emerging, and what I’m hearing in what you’re saying is “I just want to create great experiences for people.”
Carmen [23:33]: That’s absolutely right. I think it’s about, for me at least, like, being able to share something, and it could be whatever. That thing could come in different forms, whether it’s a nice picture or a nice online experience or a little baked good that you have in your hand. I think being able to share some type of positive experience with others is definitely like the common thread so far.
Amy [23:59]: We need to more of that in the world, we need more people creating community, creating connection, creating good experiences for people, because left to our own devices, people are not necessarily good at finding great experiences for ourselves. A lot of us can go through life pretty haphazardly and not really appreciating the moments that we’re engaged in, and I think good design, good experience design changes that. It makes us stop and appreciate and be mindful of the little blessings all along the way. I have got to ask you about those chocolate chip cookies, Carmen. So that’s a lot of chocolate in a cookie, and so did you say that your cookies are organic? Are they vegan?
Carmen [24:54]: So I have a couple of vegan options. Generally, I use organic ingredients, not a hundred percent, but whatever, like eggs, for example, something that is very important for me to get organic, and I use King Arthur flour, which is just generally a brand that I respect and admire. So I’m always conscious of what ingredients I’m using and where that money is going, because I think it’s important for people to know where their money’s going as well.
Amy [25:20]: That’s awesome. Oh, I can’t wait to get the cookies, I’m going to be ordering some right away. What advice do you have for people who maybe haven’t found their passion project or maybe haven’t landed in their industry or kind of found their niche, or maybe they haven’t found the right mentor to help them navigate their space as a young Black woman or a young person of colorr – what advice do you have for them?
Carmen [25:48]: A couple of things come to mind when we chatted about earlier, which was just finding people, whether that’s a potential mentor or people who you admire, reaching out to them because again, what’s the worst that can happen? It’s always a good chance that they’ll at least respond, whether that’s “Thank you, I definitely have time to meet with you next week for an hour,” or “Here’s a couple of resources that helped me, hopefully they can help you as well.” So just being able to think about how best to connect with people that you admire, and then another thing that comes to mind, which I think can be underrated but also at the same time I’ve heard other folks talking about this as well, is just taking time to reflect with yourself, whether that’s meditation or sitting down with a notebook and a pen and just thinking about what makes you happy. What comes to mind when you think of why you want to do a thing or what makes you interested in connecting with people or anything like that. Just being really mindful of yourself and things that you need and things that you want and figuring out from there. There are so many ways to make that a career or a passion or anything like that. So I think definitely self-reflection is something that’s so essential.
Amy [27:06]: It strikes me as we’re talking how connected you are to your joy, and I’m just thrilled for you because being enough older than you that I look at you as a young person, I’m thinking, “Gosh, I was never so connected to my joy.” I was always chasing whatever the thing was, trying to figure out how to be the right thing to fit into wherever I was, and I love that you are just so you, and you’re just seeking out the joy in living and not chasing joy.
Carmen [27:48]: Thank you so much. I think that comes from in part a strong support system and just being around people who feel the same way, and I’m so fortunate to have parents who didn’t pressure me to do one thing or one career, which is quite rare for Nigerian parents specifically. It’s either a doctor, lawyer or engineer, and I’m sure you hear that within any range of immigrant experiences, but they really wanted–as long as it paid the bills and as long as it actually made me happy, those were their priorities, and I recognize that that was special and I really took that to heart. 
Amy [28:23]: That’s a gift for your parents to have given you. Kudos to your parents for knowing being happy is how you achieve success and saying, “Go find it, go seek it and nurture that.” Oh, what a fantastic way for me to end my day. Carmen, thank you so much for your time today, for your joy, for those cookies I’m about to order. I am totally obsessed with these cookies clearly. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us and for creating experiences. Thank you. 
Carmen [29:02]: Absolutely. Thank you so much, Amy, for having me. I’ve had a great chat with you.
Zach [29:09]: Living Corporate is brought to you by The Access Point. The reality is this is the largest influx of Black and brown talent corporate America has ever had, and as a result, a variety of talent entering the workforce are first-generation professionals. The other reality? Most of these folks aren’t learning what it means to navigate a majority-white workplace in their college classes. Enter The Access Point, a live weekly web show within the Living Corporate network that gives Black and brown college students the real talk they need and likely haven’t heard elsewhere. Every week, our hosts and special guests are dropping gems, so don’t miss out. Check out The Access Point, airing every Tuesday at 7p.m. Central Standard on livingcorporate.tv.
Amy [29:54]: Wasn’t Carmen a lot of fun? I absolutely love the joy that she brings to her work and to her bakery, and I’m going to just be real upfront with this, I was so distracted during this interview because I had a picture of the cookies up on the desktop as I was talking to her in the Zoom meeting. I did order some cookies about four seconds after we hung up from the interview, and I just got them in the mail. She ships all over the country, and I waited to record this outro until I actually had the cookies in my hand. They were delicious. I am a big fan, not only of the chocolate chip cookies that I was salivating over during the interview, but also the ginger molasses cookies that taste like a really strong gingerbread but really chewy and, oh, my God, they’re so good. In fact, they’re so good that I lied and I told my kids that the box was full of books and not full of cookies. So I’m definitely going to hell, totally worth it, and I’m making myself feel better about eating these cookies because of the whole responsible sourcing and sustainable farming that Carmen invests in for her bakery. But, oh my gosh, they were just delicious. So thank you, Carmen, for sending the cookies, and if you enjoyed this episode and not just me salivating over the cookies, but if you actually enjoyed my interview with Carmen, don’t forget to subscribe to Living Corporate, share us with your friends and colleagues, and if you can help us out by leaving us a six-star review wherever you get your podcasts, we would greatly appreciate that. Now, maybe you’re thinking “Amy, there are only five stars, I can’t do six.” Yes, you can, you give us all five of those stars and then you leave a couple comments about what you loved about the show or about the series, and that helps other people find us and other people hear these stories of everyday role models in all different parts of the economy. Don’t forget to visit living-corporate.com to learn more about our other podcasts, videos, web shows, and more. This is Amy C. Waninger with See It To Be It from Living Corporate, and I will see you next week.

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