Speaker Spotlight: Starting Your Mentoring Journey, Common Ground & Self-Care With Jessica Squires

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In July, we were delighted to support UX Brighton in the launch of a series of events as part of their mentorship program. Designed to inspire and help people gain clarity on what they want to achieve from a mentor/ee relationship, we heard from a group of speakers with mentorship hints and tips.

One of those brilliant speakers was Jessica Squires, a Lead UX Architect for a large media organisation. She talked about how to get into mentoring, empowerment, setting boundaries and more, which you can watch here.

We caught up with Jessica following the event to find out more about her background and journey into UX, her battles with dyslexia (and how it’s become her superpower), as well as her advice for those looking to become a mentor.

Jessica Squires

Tell us a bit about you and the work that you do…

I’m Jessica; I currently live in London in Wandsworth. I really, really enjoy walking – it’s what I spend a lot of time doing – and I also enjoy making things and creating things. My superpower is dyslexia. I’m probably dyspraxic as well as my coordination isn’t great.

I’m an advocate for dyslexia, so wherever I can, wherever there is the opportunity, I like to speak about dyslexia and my experiences, hopefully leading people to be more mindful of people who are neurodiverse, specifically with dyslexia, because that’s what I know a lot about. I also spend a lot of time talking about mentoring and actually mentoring myself—just generally trying to share my knowledge on things where I can.

I am a lead UX architect at a large news media organisation and I’ve been there for about five years. I came in as a mid and I’ve worked my way up to lead, which is great. Other than my core day job things, which I’ll talk about in a moment, I also arrange charity days within the department, talk about dyslexia and mentoring, and am an inclusion champion within the department and wider organisation—so striving towards inclusivity where we can.

For my day job, it can be a whole load of different things. We currently have a small team, it’s just two of us, so we do work very closely. Sometimes it means I’m overseeing work and am slightly more hands-off guiding people and helping people where appropriate. Other times it is a little more hands-on, which can mean me creating wireframes or information architecture or running or assisting workshops. But day to day I do enjoy it, and there’s a nice variety. I work with some amazing and talented people. That’s everyone from research all the way over to UI, PMs, devs and things like that.

Did you come up through a “traditional” techy route, or has your career taken a bit of a different turn?

I suppose when I started thinking about the type of career I wanted, I never thought I would end up in the tech space.

My love for art and graphic design started while I was at school, and I went on to study graphic design, which I really enjoyed. While at university, I got an internship at a newspaper where I started working a Saturday job. From there, I worked on print and digital design, and that’s the point I was introduced to the more digital world of design.

Once I left uni, I joined that newspaper full-time and tried out a load of different jobs. I was freelancing between departments which helped me meet lots of people in a wide variety of roles. Through that, and through one of the PMs that was there, I worked on a project where I would be doing some UX stuff, which I knew a little bit about. But I thought it sounded interesting, so I grabbed the opportunity and absolutely ran with it.

That was the point where I really got into UX, started embracing it and learning more about it. You know, you’re thinking about problems, how you’d solve them, how you’d approach them. You’ve got the customer or the end user in mind. For me, it didn’t feel like a big jump or big transition but rather a natural evolution of my interests, and I refined that into something that I truly love doing every single day.

Is there a moment that helped define your career?

Trying to think about one moment that defined my career is a hard one because there are a couple. Again, I think it goes all the way back to school. When I was younger I was told I wouldn’t be able to do things, that I’d never make a living or a career doing something creative, or I couldn’t do something because I was dyslexic or too stupid to do it.

I think that gave me the real spark and drive for “I’m going to be amazing at something. I’m going to be the best I can be. I’m going to get the highest grades in my class. When I’m out in the real world, I’m going to work as hard as I can.” That’s where a lot of my drive came from in the first place. 

The other point that defined my career was, as I previously mentioned, the PM that asked me to work on a project. She gave me that ‘in’ to UX, which I didn’t have before, and I don’t know if I would have. I may still be at my previous company doing various other jobs in digital and print design if she hadn’t given me that ‘in’ and I had flown with it.

Then joining the current company I’m at now, I’ve been able to further explore and refine my craft and make it up to the level of lead. So yeah, having a mentor or somebody who’s looking out for you and giving that encouragement is invaluable.

What piece of advice would you give your younger self?

This is an especially emotive one for me. If I were to give my younger self a piece of advice, it’s that one day you will love your dyslexia, and it will give you lots of great opportunities – even if you hate it now, even if you think it’s the last thing in the world that you want, and you hate school because of it and your teachers are horrible to you. In the future, it will give you a platform, it will give you confidence, and you’ll be able to help other people who are going through something similar or have gone through something similar.

I think that’s the one big, big piece of advice that I would give my younger self: it gets better. You will love your dyslexia, you will call it a superpower, and you won’t absolutely hate it as you do now.

What was the inspiration for your recent talk? Any key highlights / takeaways for anyone who missed it?

If you had asked me several years ago to do this talk, I probably would have said no. I would have thought I didn’t have anything to share that would be interesting and worth a whole room of people listening to me. I am now of a very different opinion. I think sharing personal stories and experiences can help other people so much more than I ever realised.

One of the key inspirations and threads throughout my talk was the people who set examples for me, mentored me and helped me to become the person I am today. I talked about my own journey to mentoring, how I got into it, and how it wasn’t a quick journey and happened over time. I then talked about how you could start your journey and the different routes to mentoring or becoming a mentee.

I shared a couple of basics for once you do get started, such as my golden rule to always get the next date in the diary. If you don’t, it will never happen. Beyond that, also use your network. You might discover that the mentor or mentee isn’t right for you, or you don’t have the area of expertise they’re looking for, so use your network and connect with people – it may have a massive impact on their future career or their learning as well.

Then there’s finding common ground. So, I’ve spoken about my dyslexia—one of the people that I mentor is dyslexic as well. I’ve learned so much more about my dyslexia, and she and I are able to connect on more levels because we have this neurodiversity and this difference. It’s just lovely to be able to connect in that way.

The last big takeaway was self-care. Look after yourself. Until recently I was rubbish at saying no to people (that’s why I have five wonderful mentees), but along the way you do need to look after yourself, as well as do the best for your mentees as you possibly can.

Anything else you would like to share?

Continuing on the theme of mentoring and working with people, I’d like to say: be mindful. You never know what they’re going through. Also, think about how you communicate with people. For example, I’m able to do this [interview] via lovely voice note, which for me is so much easier. If I were to write this down, it would have taken me literally a week to get it on paper, and I would have to reread it about 100 times to see if what I had written down actually made sense. We live in a world where we can do things like this, sending voice notes. We can do so many things that we couldn’t 10 or 20 years ago. So, just be mindful of that.

Because the people that I mentor and work with are often fairly Junior, I’d also like to say that when you are mentoring people in that position, or they’re looking for that first position, or you’re interviewing people at a Junior or Inter level; be mindful, give them time. They may not know a lot of the professional practices or how we do things. Think back to the first chances that people gave you. By comparison, you’re probably going to be very unpolished compared to what you are now.

And finally, Silicon Brighton wouldn’t be here without people like you giving back to the community, so what does the word community mean to you?

I don’t believe I’d be where I am today without the communities I’ve come across: the teaching community, the creative community, and also friends and family. These people have been around me, encouraged me, and given me so much advice, insight and love.

Beyond that, a community that means a lot to me at the moment is my team at work, specifically the women in my team. Throughout my career, I’ve been on teams where I have been the only female or one of two, so having a community of women in my current team is just absolutely amazing. Being able to talk about so many other things that weren’t up for discussion beforehand, the things that happen on a day-to-day basis that other people may not notice, that comparison, that encouragement, the supportiveness. All this happens with the other communities I’m part of as well, but that’s just a particular current example that does mean a lot to me.

There are some amazing communities out there. It can be scary to join them and take the leap of doing it, but I think it can be great if you’re able to push yourself and go there if it’s something out of the ordinary for you. Not everything is always comfortable. For example, me getting up on stage and talking in front of people for the first time since COVID, I’ll be honest was a little bit scary, but I enjoyed it when I was up there. Not that you could tell because my throat got really dry partway through, and because of my dyspraxia, I didn’t want to pick up my water bottle and hit myself in the face with the metal cap. Other than that, it was a great time.

It’s lovely to be part of the Silicon Brighton community and the wider UX community as well. It means a lot.

You can find upcoming UX Brighton Mentorship Program events on their website, and follow them on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn for updates.

Missed Jessica’s talk or want to watch it again? Check it out below…

Working hand-in-hand with Brighton’s tech community, we run a range of free meetup groups that cover a broad spectrum of specialist areas; from marketing to programming, product design to data. Check out what’s coming up here and join our community of like-minded individuals in the local tech scene!