This edition of our career spotlight series features Caitlin Flint, Group Design Manager at Intuit.
Caitlin's career began at the Advancement Project, a civil rights nonprofit focused on large-scale systemic change to remedy inequity. There, she had the opportunity to work on mapping software for California's first-ever open redistricting process, which ignited her passion for improving people's lives at scale. This made her a natural fit for a role on Intuit's design team, where she has worked for the past six years. Caitlin earned her B.A. in Design from the University of California in Davis, where she specialized in Visual Communications.
At Intuit, she leads design work for TurboTax Live, a product that connects tax experts to millions of customers who need tax filing assistance throughout the year. She leads a team of diverse craft experts who specialize in everything from research, interaction and service design, to artfully curated assets (visuals, motion, voice, and tone) that bring the product to life. As part of Intuit's design leadership team, her top priority is solving customer problems and creating an environment where her world-class team can do the best work of their lives.
We sat down with Caitlin to discuss what the day-to-day life of a Design Manager looks like, what advice she regularly gives early-stage designers, and what she looks for in applicants' portfolios when she's hiring for Intuit (which she is—so take notes!).
Before we dive in, can you tell us a little bit about yourself outside of work?
I live in San Diego, where I was born and raised, and where my husband and I are lucky enough to enjoy the beach and sunshine on a regular basis. I love backpacking and rock climbing, but when I'm unable to get away, anything outdoors (like attempting to keep the plants in my garden alive) will do.
Let's talk about your role as a design manager at Intuit. What sorts of things do you do on a daily basis?
I lead the amazing design team behind our TurboTax Live assisted tax offerings. Every day the team connects customers to our virtual Tax Expert Network to help solve their most pressing financial problems. This requires curating a cohesive end-to-end experience across our consumer tax portfolio to make sure the new features we deliver work together seamlessly for access to experts wherever and whenever our customers need it. I provide creative leadership to ensure research, interaction, visual, and content design all work together to deliver on a common strategy.
A critical part of my role is driving innovation through what we call Design for Delight (D4D) and Customer Driven Innovation (CDI) processes. This involves developing deep empathy to understand customer problems, going broad to narrow with potential ideas, then conducting rapid iteration to arrive at the best possible solution. At Intuit, everyone is customer-obsessed, but our design team goes the extra mile to ensure we bring empathy and qualitative behavioral insights to the table when we're discussing how our products are performing and how we can better serve customers. Human-centered practices are ingrained in our craft.
What do you think is the most challenging aspect of being a design leader? The most rewarding?
Being part of an insanely talented team is incredibly humbling. My goal as a designer has always been to have a positive impact in the lives of the customers I serve—leading a team exponentially increases that potential for impact. It's most rewarding when you can see how every individual's efforts amplify the collective results of our team. Great research insights lead to crisp, focused interactions, which are then bolstered by beautiful content, motion, and a visual language that supports ease of use, confidence and delight for our customers.
That said, this is also the most challenging part—creating an environment optimized for collaboration, with a common vision and shared pace, so the individual parts come together like a symphony. Without that, even with great individuals, the output is just noise.
Caitlin collaborating with members of her Design team
You joined Intuit as a designer six years ago. What drew you to the role and the company?
I was drawn to the triple threat of an inspiring vision, an established yet evolving design culture, and a clear path for individual career growth. The financial decisions individuals make on a daily basis are numerous, complex, and carry emotional implications with real consequences. Eliminating that burden, by providing better tools for financial freedom, inspires and challenges me daily.
And being at a company that actively invests in great design makes me confident we can make an impact. It also means that, as I grow and learn, I can keep taking on new challenges. There are designers at every level, all the way up to Intuit's C Suite, that I can learn from. It's inspiring and really amazing to be free of a looming ceiling over what's possible.
How have the people and culture at Intuit supported your growth into a management role?
I started at Intuit as an individual contributor, and from day one I would hear people say, "We want to provide the resources for people to do the best work of their lives." In my experience, this has been spot on. It's one of the many reasons Intuit has been recognized on Fortune's Great Places to Work list year after year.
The culture is such that I've had many great mentors and coaches—formal and informal—over the years. Taking courses and attending conferences is the norm, as is having the opportunity to learn from external guest speakers and internal experts on a weekly basis. Before I became a manager, I was supported and encouraged to enroll in leadership courses (where I mostly gained data and a vocabulary to support what I saw modeled around me by design leaders every day). Once I became a leader, opportunities for continued learning, such as unconscious bias training, have also been the norm.
The Design team celebrating Halloween
Now that you are a manager, what's one lesson you try to impart to more junior designers? And one way you try to set them up for success?
I'm really grateful to have had great mentors to help me learn that it's important to do less, better. This is as critical for delivering great products as it is to career growth. I'd equate the early career phase to the "go broad" part of our design process—rapidly iterating, trying new things, seeing what works, and savoring the surprises. Eventually, though, you hit the narrowing phase. At that point, there's a lot of power in choosing a few areas where you really want to excel. That way you can focus your efforts and put your native genius to work, rather than be so-so at everything.
As the go-broad phase of your career winds down, don't be afraid to ask for help from peers and leaders if you need help narrowing and deciding where to focus for the next phase of your journey. Always give yourself permission to try new things, but know where your core strengths lie.
Let's shift gears and chat a bit about getting started in design and landing an entry-level role. When you're evaluating candidates, what sorts of things do you look for in a portfolio? What are your assessment criteria?
Your portfolio is a tool to showcase how you think—not just what you delivered. This means I'm on the lookout for candidates who use engaging case studies that tell the story of a project.
What problems are your customers facing? What's the ideal outcome for them? How will you measure success? I'm interested in how a candidate sets the stage with a clear from/to journey. Then, I look for how you put the design process and methods to work to identify an effective solution to the problem. Last, I'll assess the execution of the solution—how you use interactive elements and visual elements like color and type to make using the product simple and intuitive. A talented designer may be stronger in some areas than others, but they'll understand how the pieces fit together and how to bring their audience along on the journey.
What would you recommend someone do when they're just starting to build their portfolio? Are there specific types of work they should ensure they include?
Overall, it's best to tailor the work in your portfolio to the types of roles you'd like to take on. If the body of work in your portfolio demonstrates your skill as an illustrator but you're hoping to land a role as a product designer, you might want to re-evaluate the projects you've included. The exception would be if there are transferable skills you want to highlight. For example, maybe you did a ton of customer research and trend audits to inform the style of the illustrations you'd use for an app, and that ignited your passion for product design. A project like that demonstrates skills applicable to product design and tells the story of your career journey. Including it would demonstrate breadth of knowledge and an ability to learn and adapt.
If you don't have a ton of work to show yet, don't worry. The best designers I've worked with have an entrepreneurial spirit and don't mind being scrappy. Even without formal experience, you can put your creative problem-solving skills to work just about anywhere and document the process and outcome for your portfolio. For example, seek out pro bono or nonprofit work, where you can make an impact in the communities you care about and add the work to your portfolio. Or, do a heuristic evaluation and guerilla user tests on a product that solves a critical need for you, but is painful to use—then provide your recommendations to improve the experience and prototype a new approach.
What's one thing you've seen recently in a portfolio that pleasantly surprised you?
Recently, a designer I interviewed (and hired) showed solutions they explored that included augmented reality (AR) & chatbot. It was great to see them consider current tech trends in their go-broad explorations. Even better, they showed how they backed away from these solutions because they didn't adequately address the customer need. In this case, the AR approach required two hands on the phone, which took away the hand that was needed to complete the task in real life.
This demonstrated their knowledge of trends, while shining a spotlight on their customer-centric rationale. It also showcased a love for the problem (rather than a specific solution). Plus, I personally got to learn something new in their portfolio review, which is always great.
What's the number one thing you love to see in a portfolio?
The real world is messy, and designers weather the storm by savoring unexpected surprises along the journey. I love when candidates are transparent about what went wrong, what they learned, and how they recovered. It shows grit and creativity, the ability to persevere when real challenges arise. It also shows depth—if they didn't uncover challenges along the way, I'd question how well they tested the solution. What weak spots are we going to uncover later, when it's too late to address them properly? Embrace the messiness of it all!
And one thing that really bugs you?
A portfolio that only shows screenshots of the products a candidate has worked on, without any context or insight on the process, is a real letdown. It also bugs me when the success of the work isn't evaluated from a customer perspective. It's great that your client was happy—but I want to know what benefit the end user received from the product.
Last, but not least, what piece of advice would you give to someone who wants to apply for a design role at Intuit?
Take time to learn what Intuit does—explore our products and get a sense of where they fit into our customers' lives. Second, learn about who we are. Our values (how we work) are as critical as what we deliver. We have an amazing, customer-centric culture at Intuit, especially in design. Beyond that, we care that our employees also love working here. Consider how you will add to that culture—the diverse point of view you'll bring to the table, and how you'll live out our values within a team.
To learn more about Intuit's open roles in their design teams and beyond, check out their PowerToFly profile here.
How to Succeed as a Technical PM: Intuit Principal Product Manager Yi Ng Talks Product-Market Fit and Knowledge Engineering
How do you do your taxes? (Aside from begrudgingly, that is.) If you're one of the millions of Americans who files online, you may have used one of the projects that Yi Ng, Principal Product Manager at Intuit, has developed over her eight years at the global financial platform company known for products like TurboTax, QuickBooks, and Mint.
As a Principal PM on the Technology Futures team at Intuit, Yi has a host of responsibilities that span the business, from recruiting and managing a team to envisioning the consumer and small business products of the future. Her role requires her to stay up-to-date on the latest technology so she can manage highly technical products and teams. Currently, she's working on a project called Knowledge Engine (KE) platform, which uses Knowledge Engineering, a field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) that relies on rules devised by human beings.
I sat down with her to discuss her almost 15-year career in product management, her advice for technical product managers, why your product might need more work if customers tell you they like it (seriously), and how knowledge engineering is being leveraged at Intuit.
1. Do you need a tech background to be a technical PM?
The short answer is no, Yi explains, but you do need to understand technology and be passionate about continuous learning.
Yi completed a minor in Computer Science at UC Berkeley, used her coding skills in her first job at a consulting company, and has kept her tech skills sharp to this day. In fact, she organizes professors from UC Berkeley and other experts to give tech talks at Intuit, helping contribute to the continuous learning of a broad constituency at the company.
"I stay close to my engineers and work to maintain a detailed understanding of what the team is working on. Part of that means staying close to the ground and getting your hands dirty," she says. "Having deep technical appreciation is also critical—as is learning how to ask engineers the right questions to fill in gaps in your understanding."
To succeed as a technical PM, keep these 3 tips in mind:
- "Don't be afraid to keep asking questions until you can translate the technical feature in your own words."
- "Take classes in the fields where you lack technical understanding, and attempt to teach other product managers."
- "It's only with high-performing teams that you can really build products that customers will love...."
2. What makes a great PM?
Yi's ideal product manager has 5 key strengths:
- A feel for product and a passion for building awesome products
- An obsession with deeply understanding (and solving) customer pain points
- Technical know-how
- Relationship-building skills
- Excellent communication skills
Product managers come from a number of different fields and backgrounds, so rather than simply assessing past experience, Yi and her team like to ask questions that help them understand how a candidate thinks, prototypes, and makes decisions, such as:
- What information did you actively seek to create the plan and your approach in figuring out the initial pilot?
- What are the critical components of your initial version? How did you select them and why?
- What assumptions are you making that absolutely have to be true for your plan to succeed?
- What assumptions are you planning to test?
- What are the metrics that will determine success?
If you're interviewing at Intuit, keep these tips in mind:
- Always keep the customer in mind. "One question we often ask is: 'Who is the customer, and what is the biggest problem of theirs that you're solving?"
- Use data to make your case. For senior candidates, Yi's team often provides a case study and a couple of days to respond to it. "We're a data-driven company, and we want to see how candidates leverage data," Yi explains.
- Remember that great products need great people. Yi notes that "Product problems are a symptom of organizational problems. How do you go about nurturing your people to build high-performing teams?"
3. How do you assess product-market fit?
Early on in her career at Intuit, Yi was working on a new product that would become Intuit's QuickBooks Self-Employed offering, the fastest growing business at Intuit. She and her team were part of the earliest product phase—discovery of product-market fit— performing rapid and iterative testing of design prototypes with potential customers. The customer problem they were trying to solve: Get sole proprietors organized for tax time. Yi's team started out with the hypothesis that self-employed customers want to keep their personal and business expenses separated, so they designed an initial product around this idea. After a marathon day of testing the new interface with customers, each one said they had liked the product, but their behavior didn't show it.
The team felt something was off. They boldly decided to scrap it and start over. They ran another set of sessions the next day, this time with a new hypothesis centered on enabling the customer to break down business and personal expenses according to percentages and amounts. This time around, customers weren't just saying that they liked the product. They loved it.
"They were saying, 'Oh my gosh, can I pay you $100 a month to have this now?'" says Yi, smiling. The story underscores a common experience during early stage product management, where neither the customer nor the product team is able to fully articulate the customer need. Yi credits the success of that experience to Design 4 Delight, a process Intuit considers their "secret sauce," which entails deep customer empathy to develop a design that can be rapidly tested until arriving at a solution that adequately solves the customer's need—to the point where they fall in love with the product. For Yi, "That experience on QuickBooks Self-Employed was an example of how it's very different when you actually find that product-market fit—and how important it is to have a trusting environment with your team where everyone feels comfortable voicing their ideas and responding to feedback. Ultimately a fantastic product is a reflection of a high-performing team."
Her takeaways about building the right product:
- Build a high-performing team.
- Understand customer needs.
- Know what you can solve well.
- Keep pushing until you're sure you have identified and solved the customer's biggest problem.
4. What is knowledge engineering? How is it being used at Intuit?
One of the most essential parts of any PM's role is keeping up with the latest tech trends. For Yi, this is what keeps the job exciting — and to excel in her current role, she's taken a deep dive into knowledge engineering.
Unlike Machine Learning, which takes a bottom-up approach to implementing A.I.by enabling systems to learn and improve from experience without explicit programming, Knowledge Engineering takes a top to bottom approach, translating vast human knowledge (like tax code, in Intuit's case) into a rules-based system.
"Data-driven machine learning looks at large sets of data and derives insights that humans may or may not have," says Yi. "Knowledge engineering starts from the other side. We humans have a lot of knowledge and logic in our heads already—how can we translate that knowledge so we can leverage its benefits?"
Intuit's particular emphasis on knowledge engineering is due to the critical nature of its applications: personal and business taxes, payroll, and financial compliance in general. Because of this, the company's consumer, small business, and self-employed customers expect precise and logically interconnected results with a clear and personalized explanation of why the system provided a particular response or recommendation.
Yi explains that Intuit's Knowledge Engine (KE) platform leverages this in 2 main ways:
1. Accuracy + Explainability: KE enables Intuit software to not only show customers what their expected financial outcome is, but why.
Have you ever finished filling out your taxes online, seen your expected refund, and wondered how the product got to that exact number? With KE, TurboTax intrinsically correlates and intertwines more than 80,000 pages of U.S. tax code to deliver an accurate, contextual explanation for how, given your particular financial situation, your refund was calculated. Given that 55% of Americans don't feel confident about their finances, providing this explanation is a vital part of educating customers and building trust.
TurboTax's ExplainWhy Feature in Action
2. Personalized experiences: KE can create unique interfaces based on tailored situations, providing each user with a personalized product experience without developers having to code tens of thousands of screens to account for every possibility.
"What the Knowledge Engine does really well is surface the right question at the right time, to create an experience tailored just for you. This is possible because Knowledge Engine takes complex compliance rules such as taxes or accounting, and codifies and translates them into an experience that's tailored to your situation." says Yi.
"Imagine you have a student in your household who is about to turn 18 and needs to apply for student loans. With KE, we can use a combination of rules and insights to streamline this process for our customers so that they don't have to answer as many questions or manually input data that they have already confirmed in TurboTax to qualify for a loan."
Speaking as someone intimately familiar with the current inane, frustrating process of applying for student loans…sign me up!
If you have further questions for Yi on product management, let her know in the comments! And if you're interested in working in Product Management at Intuit, check out these jobs: Product Manager positions at Intuit.
Intuit Again will transform your career, again.
Recently, we got the opportunity to chat with Mimi Turner of Intuit's Talent Acquisition team, and asked her a few questions about their new returnship program, 'Intuit Again'. Not only is Intuit looking for new participants, but they've posted these roles on PowerToFly! You can access all of their Return To Work roles here by typing "return" in the search bar on the left. Just click 'I'm Interested' to apply!
What is Intuit Again and how the did the program start?
Mimi Turner: Intuit Again is an initiative that inspires and provides an opportunity for technologists to return to work after taking a break in their career for caregiving purposes.
This platform not only gives candidates a chance to work at one of the "Best Companies to Work For" (#1 in India, #13 in the U.S.), but it also provides technical and other training to sharpen their professional skills.
Introduced in 2015 in India, as a program to tap into a vast pool of talent, Intuit Again helped transform the professional trajectory for dozens of candidates. Upon its success, the program in the United States was launched in Spring 2018.
We're proud that to date, more than 75 percent of the participants who graduate from our returnship programs go on to accept full-time jobs at Intuit or one of our partner organizations.
Each year, Intuit Again returns stronger and more committed to give additional professionals the opportunity to work with a great team at Intuit and have meaningful impact as they begin their journey. Again.
What exactly does the program entail? What skills can a participant expect to gain?
MT: Intuit Again is a full-time, paid, 16-week "returnship" filled with projects / initiatives, growth and development workshops, leadership chats, technical training, and an opportunity to grow professionally and personally in a supportive environment.
Additional details can be found on our FAQ page.
How can someone get involved in the program?
MT: Apply! Check out our current roles on PowerToFly here, and search "return to work".
Don't see an opportunity that fits your skills and experiences? Send us your details and we will stay in touch for a future role!
How do you see this program growing in the future?
MT: Imagine a world where Intuit Again is not the exception, but the norm - where a sizable percentage of the workforce are those who are coming back after a break. I would love to see Intuit Again expanding into more locations, business units, and functions.
If you could describe Intuit in one word, what would it be and why?
MT: Prosperity. To cultivate, enable, and power it for not only our employees, but for all the customers we serve, globally.
Why did you decide to partner with PowerToFly?
MT: The PowerToFly mission - valuing gender diversity and inclusion. To grow the power and impact of our work in these areas through recruiting.
Can you share any testimonials from past participants?
MT: Yes! Here are some testimonials from a few of our Spring 2018 returnees:
"I fell in love with the core values of the company and how these values are reflected in every day work. Also, I can see a lot of women in leadership and all other roles. This illustrates a diverse culture and makes Intuit a great place to work." - Valli
"We received wonderful support from Intuit Again and met almost everyone from the very impressive Intuit leadership team. Thank You!" - Rada
"The Intuit Again program is like a helping hand for people who don't have much family support in a different country and who want to get back to work after taking a break. I was really grateful and proud to be part of this program, and I was glad to have this wonderful experience to boost up my confidence to get back to work. All through the returnship period, we had different types of workshops and Q&A sessions which were really awesome. Overall, this was an awesome experience: thanks to the entire Intuit Again team. I would highly recommend the Intuit Again program to others as well." - Mekha
Click here for more testimonials!
Meet the women of Intuit!
What is the role of design in the financial services industry? How do you pursue a career in design? Our VP of Design, Leslie Witt, answered these questions and more during this Facebook Live.
Interested in joining Leslie's team? Click here to see all open opportunities with Intuit, and don't forget to click 'follow' to receive tailored job matches in the future!