Humans of Tech – Sherryl Tarnaske

Sherryl Tarnaske is the Chief Experience Officer at Focus21, a young Waterloo-based tech company that combines deep experience in human and animal health and data science, developing custom solutions that provide rich experiences and insights.

Do you think storytelling has evolved in the digital age and what role do you think design innovation has to play in it?

Storytelling is the art of engaging a group of people. It is increasingly relevant to modern business.  A customer’s first introduction to any brand is most likely a digital one.  In the absence of the charismatic sales executive – the digital experience tells the story of your company brand and product.

Tell us about an exciting project that you’ve worked on.

I’m very excited about a Case Management and Decision Support Platform that we will launch with a client in 2018.  

By leveraging a huge disease treatment database, algorithms and AI help suggest optimal treatments. Starting with a treatment simulator, we’ve added our perspectives in experience design, engineering, and data sciences to their expertise in treatment technologies and statistical analysis. Together, we deliver software with a purpose that will support the present and inform the future an important health challenge.

But why stop there?! We look forward to more opportunities to obliterate the boondoggles and bureaucracy hampering healthcare today.

What qualities do you look for while hiring for the Focus21 team?

As an experience design professional, I’m always looking for team members who demonstrate an understanding of how to design an experience for the intended audience. In the application process that audience is likely to be, me.  Is the resume called resume.pdf like 12 others in my inbox? Can I quickly review of that PDF on my phone in-between other meetings?

When I meet people I observe through conversation,  listen for examples that show communication skills to learn and vet assumptions. People with restaurant or tourism experience – typically nail this. The skills to respond to “I’d love a beer,” followed by “Surprise me with whatever you recommend.” A skilled server will immediately ask a few questions about your preferences, before making a suggestion based on their own preferences.  THAT is experience design in a single moment.

Currently, there is a lot of talk around diversity in tech, do you have any recommendations for creating a company culture that is inclusive?

Oh my, that’s a blog unto itself! As a designer in digital, I’ve often been in the gender minority.  You name it, I’ve seen it, heard it or been asked about it.  

I’ve worked several 36 hour days to meet a deadline, over-indulged in celebration of the release, held the keys to the office mini-keg for Friday afternoon rounds of networked Quake, shut down inappropriate advances, and met some great men and women who break stereotypes and support gender diversity.

ALL of my most memorable team accomplishments were diverse in age, gender, professional experience, and culture. Bros and brews culture is NOT new. In fact, it’s outdated and lazy.

Young organizations need to resist defaulting to the temptation of simply handing out a corporate card to fund an endless stream of alcohol. Step out of the box and get more creative with reward systems for diverse, high-performance teams. Understand what drives engagement on these teams, then hire for it, build the company culture around it and develop a rewards system that aligns with that culture. Not easy – but breaking out of the pack never is.

An innovative team will look for opportunities to innovate within their own culture.

What do you do outside of work to fill your energy reserves and keep you sane?

Outside of work I find the edge of my comfort zone and lean up against it daily.

Sometimes I’m creating visual art to explore an idea, leading a yoga class to reflect on something I’m avoiding. Other times I’m practicing martial arts to work out negative energy I might be carrying around.

I keep a small monthly kindness budget. At least once a month I find that moment where I can offer help to someone else. Someone who needs it but never asked for it.

As a native introvert functioning in an extrovert role, anonymous gifts, and introspective practices are foundational to my personal success.