I’m an Electrical and Computer Engineer Turned UX Lead & Workshop Facilitator. Here’s How Learning Facilitation Skills Made Me a More Confident Design Leader.

Meet Dr. Anya Traille: an electrical and computer engineer turned UX lead. Anya stumbled upon workshop facilitation at a time when she was managing complex projects which left both her and her team exhausted and unsatisfied. She spoke to us about how learning facilitation skills provided a clear structure to the innovation process, brought about clear, almost immediate results, and boosted the enthusiasm and energy of the team. For her personally, learning how to facilitate workshops has given her a range of skills that have future-proofed her career, inspired life-long learning and application, and changed her whole approach to work and her personal life. Here’s her story.

Having trained and worked for over a decade in engineering, Dr. Anya Traille decided in 2015 it was time to make a change. Heading to Singapore, she shifted careers, moving away from engineering and into the world of big data and AI technology. 

“The transition was difficult because I had been in academia for a while as an engineer in the U.S. and France. When I moved to Singapore, not only did I change to work with AI technology and machine learning, but I also started working in industry for the first time. This was a big switch.” 

Anya has been with her current company, Rolls Royce’s R2 Data Labs, for four and a half years, starting out as a Decision Scientist before moving into the role of UX Lead on the UX Product Experience Team. 

“As a Decision Scientist I would take the outputs and analytics from a Data Scientist and convert those outputs into a story that an end user could consume. However, I quickly discovered it's much better to start by figuring out what the user really needs first.” 

It was while working as a Decision Scientist that Anya started integrating Design Thinking methods and techniques into her work, discovering that when she did, she had significantly more success. This led her on a journey into finding out more about UX & UI design. By taking courses, getting certifications, learning how to facilitate workshops, and working directly with expert UXers, she got to understand how Design Thinking and UX processes really work. 

Her Design Thinking education was what led to her mastering her current roles: as a UX lead, a product owner, and a product manager. 

“It's not just doing the UX work, it’s owning and managing products, being responsible for the roadmap, and converting a vision into a story that can actually be built. It's a lot of stuff, and a lot of work, for sure. But it’s really fun.” 

Anya’s journey in continuous education was not a straight line, or even a single course. Starting with a Human Centered Service Design course from Ideo, she was blown away by what she learned and was keen to drill down into the details of the individual elements of Design Thinking that had been touched upon. What followed were some more specific Design Thinking courses, before Anya decided to delve a little deeper into UX design, quickly learning how to prototype and even teaching herself to code along the way. 

Of all the courses Anya took during her upskilling, she says learning how to workshop has been one of the most applicable to her daily work, along with the UX skills she onboarded. 

“I would say my three favorite areas now are workshopping, UX design, and front-end technology. These are the three areas that I really like to be in. They help me a lot.”  

Anya’s route into workshop facilitation was also not typical. Although she had observed very large agency-run workshops at work and could see how valued these were by employees, as well as how effectively it brought different groups of people together, the purpose of the workshops was still unclear to her. 

It was around a year later that Anya began to explore the benefits of workshopping for herself. She was working on some complex AI projects, juggling the needs of exhausted scientists and managers on what felt like unending work cycles when she realized she needed a new process.   

"I was like "Okay, try this," and then the team would try it. It might not work, and then they would look at me again and ask:  “What do we do next?" As a leader, you start to run out of ideas, and it gets really stressful.” 

As it happened, it was around this time that Anya found the Design Sprint Masterclass from AJ&Smart. She quickly signed up, hopeful that the course would help her to find some solutions to the challenges she was facing at work. After completing the course, Anya wanted to share what she’d learned with her colleagues, but this was the beginning of the COVID pandemic and her workplace was closed. This was when she discovered AJ&Smart’s bonus remote workshopping module. After taking the remote module, she decided to run her first Sprint, albeit remotely. It was a huge success.

“The Sprint went really well. All I could think, and all the team could think, was "Why didn't we do this before?" Working this way was fully collaborative. We had people from totally different areas working together and communicating seamlessly in a structured way.” 

Anya’s role became a lot easier once she started implementing workshopping. Instead of buckling under the pressure of the question “What are we going to do next?” the team instead had a structured process for innovation. It was also a lot more fun. After the first Sprint, the team already had a prototype and proof of concept. 

“It was really exciting. Some months later during my performance review, my boss referred to it as one of my top achievements.” 

Over time Anya’s confidence in her Sprint style grew. She started adding her own elements to the workshops, modifying the structure and style to fit different purposes. When she received a short AJ&Smart video about custom workshops in an email, her own ideas and learnings on workshop customization were instantly validated. 

“I almost saw the custom workshops as a magical power. If I could make any workshop I wanted, I could literally jump into any situation with any team with confidence." 

Anya was particularly attracted to the flexibility of duration that custom workshops allow, as bringing together diverse teams for week-long Sprints could be challenging. She was eager to find out more about customizing workshops to solve these issues, which is why she jumped on the Workshopper Master program 

Speaking about the Workshopper Master course, Anya couldn’t be more thrilled with the style and content of the program. She especially loves the coaching calls, where she can interact directly with fellow students as well as Jonathan Courtney and the AJ&Smart team, who are teaching the course.  

“I actually enjoy the coaching calls, even when I don't have a question. Jonathan creates such a nice atmosphere. He's very welcoming. You can ask anything, and you can see how interested and excited everyone is as they exchange ideas. The coaching calls are definitely my favorite thing about the Workshopper Master.” 

In terms of the course modules, Anya enjoys the simple presentation that’s used to portray complex information, and Jonathan’s enthusiasm when he teaches. She’s also a big fan of the community around the course, the genuine excitement from the students about the subject and how engaged everybody is. 

Since completing the course, it would be an understatement to say Anya has kept herself busy. She’s taken additional workshops in strategy sprint and product strategy, among others, and started rebuilding some of the templates used in the Workshopper Master using her own tool. She’s also created a database where she collects different exercises that she can pull out as and when she needs them. Her plan going forward is to start applying more of what she’s learned in her job, continuing to experiment and adapt along the way. 

With facilitation skills under her belt, Anya has a new confidence in the future. 

“There's a lot of uncertainty in the job market right now and having these new facilitation skills makes me more versatile to handle any new challenge.” 

When discussing her goals going forward, Anya hopes to bring her workshopping skills to more projects and problems. In fact, she’s so excited by the results workshopping brings about that she even wants to start applying it to her personal life, using her facilitation skills to find solutions to personal challenges. Whatever the future holds for Anya both personally and professionally, with her new skills, commitment to continuous learning, and affinity with workshopping, we’re pretty sure that she has got a very bright future in facilitation ahead of her!  

Workshopper Master teaches you how to design and run any workshop, for any problem, for any team, confidently. Watch our free training to find out how it can transform your career.