October 7, 2020
2 min read

From Law to Product Design: My Experience Working at Parallel

I'm one of the last people you'd expect to end up at Parallel. Here's how I went from being a lawyer to working at a product design studio, despite my lack of design or tech skills.

Vandana Shankar
Vandana Shankar
Studio Manager, Parallel

I'm one of the last people you'd expect to end up at Parallel, a product design & strategy studio. I don't have a design background, and I'm bad at all tech. When Parallel first gave me a MacBook, I had no idea how to use it because I was so used to Windows.

I had been working in corporate law, but I was looking for a career change. I got into law because I want to become a politician, and I thought law would be helpful. But once I started working, it just didn't feel right, and I wasn't happy.

When you start as a lawyer, you have to work under someone as a junior. But many lawyers indirectly said that they only want male juniors. I wasn't getting the opportunities I wanted. So I wondered, what am I doing?

I was looking for something new, a job where I had respect and influence. A job where, if something is not right, I have the power to change it and to help people. But I wasn't really sure where to head.

An acquaintance referred me to Parallel, which was looking for a studio manager. It didn't seem like the right place for me at first. But the way she spoke about Parallel — all I thought was, "Oh my god, I have to work at this place".

My first time doing user testing and giving design insights on one of our prototypes

My first three months at Parallel

I joined as the studio manager, and now I help with office management, admin, HR, legal, and hiring.

My first three months on the job just flew by.

The office was new back then, so I had to set up this new workplace. It was so busy and hands-on, and I had so much work to do every day. And I made it worse by making a bunch of embarrassing mistakes!

For example, I used to write terrible emails. If I was sending clients our invoices, I would just say "PFA", nothing more. You're not supposed to talk to a client like that! I took a course on how to write better emails, and I've definitely improved since then.

At the same time, we were taking on a lot of new projects, so there were a lot of contracts and invoices coming in and going out. I also had to get all the Design Sprints running — ordering food, setting up the studio, and getting whatever the team needed.

I used to take a peek into the room when Design Sprints were happening. Literally everyone in the room would be so into it. No one would be using their phone, or looking around the room. If one person was talking, everyone would be engaged and contributing.

When the sprint is happening, people don't care about what is happening outside those four walls. It's so cool to see.

A Design Sprint in progress

Loads of learning about tech, mindfulness, communication and more

My first months at Parallel also flew by because of how much I was learning.

I came in with no idea what UI, UX or Design Sprints were, and I wasn't familiar with a lot of technology. Robin (the founder of Parallel) made me keep Googling new things, watching videos, learning new tools and tech... He even opened me up to reading books! And this is from someone who used to hate reading books.

I have really bad anxiety and I was really hyper when I joined, and I sometimes had trouble managing my work because of it. My constant complaint was, "I feel overwhelmed." Robin made me read a couple of books on mindfulness, take yoga classes, take some HR courses, and then gave me my space. I still get a bit anxious, but now I've learned how to center myself.

One book that turned my life upside down was Make Time by Jake Knapp. It's about how you should take care of your time — what you should prioritise first, how you can prioritise your tasks. But it's not a book that just talks about time management. It gives you a lot of solutions and tactics, rather than just talking about the problem.

I also read a book called Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High. If I want to be a great HR person, I need to become great at communication. This book helped me learn that communication isn't just about saying what you need to say. It's about what you want to accomplish. You have to understand the room, what everyone's stakes in the conversation are, and what everyone is feeling. This book made me more confident than I used to be, and I still keep rereading it to pick up new things that I can use in everyday life.

Our office library

No hierarchy...really!

The other thing that's surprised me about working at Parallel is how friendly the workplace has been. That was a really big thing for me.

At my previous workplaces, there was always a hierarchy, and people weren't given equal opportunities. For example, some of my bosses took advantage of their position and their employees. There were lots of unilateral decisions where people were treated badly, and no one could question it.

It sounds idealistic to say, I know, but at Parallel there really is no hierarchy. Everyone looks out for and helps each other in achieving our goals.

Even in my first interview, it was clear that these people mean business. They don't care where you come from, what you do, as long as you we get the work done.

Our beautiful office (and me at my desk on the left!)

Looking back on my time with Parallel

I've been at Parallel for eight months so far. Every day, it's been a new mission to improve myself and deliver my best for the company.

The best thing about working in Parallel is that you are always on your toes, learning every day, and there is a lot of room to grow here. There is absolutely no limit to that.

Just after less than a year here, I know what exactly I want in my professional life five years down the line.

From Law to Product Design: My Experience Working at Parallel
Vandana Shankar
Studio Manager, Parallel

Vandana is a Studio Manager at Parallel.