From UX Research to Research Ops: Why I Made the Switch

I recently had a few conversations with UX researchers interested in switching to a Research Operations role. The two questions that most commonly pop up in these chats are:

  • Why did you move into Research Ops?

  • How did you transition into Research Ops?

Here, I’ll answer the first question.

Paddling vs. Surfing

Many years ago, I heard this quote (I don’t remember who it’s from):

There are two ways to travel on a surfboard. You can either work hard and paddle, or stay still and ride the wave.

The principle is simple. If you’re able to hit a wave the right way and have the skills to stay on the surfboard, you can make lots of progress with less effort. If you’re paddling, you’re making progress, but it’s a bit of a slog.

When I think about careers and job opportunities, paddling can represent practices that are mature and have lots of competition (e.g., marketing, sales, operations). You can make progress, but it’s more of a slog. Surfing can represent practices that are new and have much less competition. You can make lots of progress with less effort.

One way to think about paddly vs. surfy practices is how long it takes to explain your job. If you have to give a mini-speech to answer the question, your role is more surf than paddle.

Looking for a Wave

When I was searching for a new job late last year, I had two options:

  1. Continue down the UX research path (I’d been in research for many years)

  2. Shift into full-time Research Ops

As I pondered this decision, I thought about the surfing vs. padding analogy. The longer I considered my job offers, the more I realized that UXR felt more like paddling, and Research Ops felt more like surfing.

It’s an imperfect categorization: I believe that in the grand scheme of careers, UXR is much more like surfing. It’s a relatively new practice, is just becoming established, and the majority of companies are yet to realize its value.

However, Research Ops is even surfier:

  • There are very few full-time Research Ops professionals around the world

  • The Research Ops practice is not yet viewed as a critical role within growing companies

  • There’s a big opportunity to play a role in shaping the practice since it’s in this nascent stage

Venturing into unchartered waters felt risky, but I could see many upsides in being among a small group of peers who've set up and grown a Research Ops practice. It felt much more like riding a wave than paddling on a surfboard.

Of course, there are other reasons why I made this switch:

  • I was very attracted to Zapier, especially the remote work setup and the automation industry

  • I sensed a great rapport with Jane Davis (Zapier’s Head of UXR)

  • I wanted to experience working in a rapidly growing company

I may have accepted a role at Zapier as a UX researcher if that was the offer, but I see so much upside in the Research Ops field.

I’m excited to see where this wave takes me.

Over To You

Have you switched careers? What compelled you to make the transition?

Reply and tell me what you learned through your experience.


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