Featuring six speakers, TEDxBinghamtonUniversity: Odyssey is centered around “breaking barriers and trailblazing forward toward a new future.” Eden Robbins ‘16, is a user experience design leader in the technology industry. She leads design for Venmo, and her past clients include Meta, Microsoft, Adobe and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Her interview responses have been edited for clarity.

Q: How did your time at Binghamton University prepare you for a career in big tech?

A: “So, when I came to [BU], I really focused on trying to find [degrees] that aligned with my skill sets and, and what I was good at. I didn’t know what career existed that would leverage my skills that I wanted to use, specifically creative art design skills along with business [and] math skills. If you think about it, it’s a hard thing to find.

I took a risk. I decided to pursue a dual degree program based on my skills, and after a lot of networking, I eventually discovered UX [and] product design [which] I do now. A light bulb went off right when I searched and read about UX design, and that was gonna be my career. I think given the fact that I studied areas that I wanted to use directly in my career, my education set me up really well to just directly continue leveraging those skills, because I was very intentional about doing that. My graphic design degree [and] business degree set me up perfectly for my current job, which is a huge blend of design, art [and] business — analytical thinking creativity. It perfectly blends what I studied and my career [is] amazing [and] set me up well to be successful in my job.”

Q: You’ve worked with a long list of very impressive clients. Which project was the most creatively fulfilling, and why?

A: “I’d say work that I’ve done very recently that I’m proud of was on WhatsApp. When I was at Meta just a couple of months ago before I left, I was working in what’s called the business messaging space — a consumer or user that’s messaging or texting with a business over WhatsApp, which is the primary channel for communications with businesses around the world — less so in the [United States].

One of my goals as a designer is to positively impact people and society and change the way people carry out certain functions in their daily lives, trying to optimize that. Being able to work on WhatsApp messaging — the primary communication channel for users [and] consumers talking to businesses, gave me so much impact on people’s lives across the world, which is my goal and very gratifying for me. I was able to really optimize some of the features in WhatsApp messaging that [have] just driven revenue for the company and really improved users’ interactions with businesses and [their] communication.”

Q: What power do big tech user experience designers have, in your opinion, to enact positive change in society?

A: “So it’s such a cliche answer, but empathy. I think that really sets a great designer apart from just a regular designer.

I love my job, and I’m very empathetic. But what [that] allows me to do is really shift my mindset and way of thinking into the shoes of people using the products that I’m designing for. If I can think what they’re thinking and feel what they’re feeling, I can design the best experiences for them, so I guess that’s a superpower of mine. It really allows me to create super-tailored personal, human-focused design experiences for people.”

Q: TEDx Odyssey is about a voyage of overcoming obstacles and finding one’s purpose in the world. What are a few obstacles you’ve encountered in your life, and what are strategies you’ve used to overcome them?

A: “That’s the theme of my whole talk honestly — the title is ‘Embracing the Unknown’ — and [it’s a huge] portion of it. A huge theme is embracing discomfort, because that was really the theme throughout my whole story, looking back on it. I came from no creative background at all whatsoever. I thought I was the least creative person on planet Earth.

And then like I discovered this talent that I had, this creative talent, really late in my life. I think having courage was a huge factor in propelling me forward and getting me to where I am and letting myself be OK being uncomfortable, and knowing that that will ultimately promote my growth. So jumping deep into unknown situations and being OK with that, being OK with being uncomfortable and having the courage to pursue these unknown sort of scary opportunities, was, I think, my strategy throughout it, like keeping my eye on the prize and like never losing sight of who I am and the skills I wanted to use and, despite not having answers to everything, just trusting the process, trusting that I would find my way and putting the work in — I think was like recipe for how I got to where I got.”

Q: What advice do you have for current students?

A: “I think something that sort of set me apart and allowed me to get into the spaces I got into was being different and being creative. That’s something I really strive to do is to — to be different, think different [and] showcase your different skills.

I got into the UX design field with no UX experience or work to show for, which is unheard of, but I was able to be creative in my approach and how I got into the industry, [which] caught the attention of hiring managers. I encourage people to think outside the box in how they present themselves, and how they show work and how they communicate.

Fine-tune and develop the skills as much as you can, [and] do as much learning as you can. I really took a lot of time to brush up on skills before entering the workforce, [so] you can get going with as little learning curve as possible.

Don’t give up [and] just keep going. People will fail [and] you will fail — it’s expected, it’s normal, it’s healthy. Just don’t be discouraged if you get no’s, told no, rejections [or] the job [applications] don’t come through. The right job will come up. Work hard, be creative, think differently and brush up on the skills and learn.”