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This Summer I had to the opportunity to speak at THAT Conference (insert joke here) outside of Madison, Wisconsin. This was the second time I got to spend a lot of time with developers, architects, and product managers to share my work with design research. My time at the event as a speaker and attendee helped me with finding commonalities across disciplines, and below I outlined three takeaways.

Read about my experience at NERD Summit.

1. Trust and open communication equals great teams

The opening keynote from Jessica Karr, Lead Developer on Opera highlighted how great teams make individuals great. She weaved in the origin story of Opera, the art form not the browser to illustrate how a team of experts focused on creating a new form of music. The effort resulted in making each contributor a better artist. In the product design and development, the single contributor will only have a limited view of the bigger picture. It is a ‘symmathsey’ of developers, designers, and product managers that will create a nurturing environment for innovation.

You and everyone else’s operating system is out of date.

Jessica’s recommendation is to move towards pair or even mob programming. Where teams focus on solving the problem together instead of looking at development and design as the effort of a lone craftsman.


2. Life hacks to find freedom!

While keynotes presentations from Cory House and Jason Lengstorf had different takeaways, they both touched on one key theme at the conference. People crave freedom from the day-to-day drudgery of the office.


From Cory’s point of view, we have to choose happiness. Once we make that decision, then we wil figure out how to be happy. In his case, he created his own business and life where he can work from anywhere. Here is his Medium post on the things he uses to be productive in places like a plane or his car.

Jason also chose to go remote for nearly four years. During that time, he experimented with concepts such as rejection therapy. This was one of the things that helped him grow and tackle social pressures as he explored being a failed musician and eventually a successful developer and speaker.

Watch my interview with Jason here:

3. Finding commonalities with a developer’s need for clarity

David Neal, from the reverent geek, touched on a concept that I found strung across a few talks and break-outs. Developers, like designers, are also under pressures from the business to build something that they struggle to make any sense of. In that process, they suppress a part of themselves and squash any passion they had for the work.


In his story, David found that listening to a little voice he had ignored for many years, he rediscovered the love of drawing. Once he followed that path, he found ways to use it to give back to his team and coworkers by showing appreciation.

Matt Eng

Matt Eng

DesignOps Manager. Based in Austin,TX. Worked with clients such as Alcatel-Lucent, Ogilvy, RBC, Deloitte, Whirlpool, Polycom, Symantec, and Pebble. Matt teaches, mentors, and speaks about design, creativity, and fostering stronger connections within teams.