The Women of DevOps: Sarrah Vesselov

The Women of DevOps: Sarrah Vesselov, Director of Design at Honeycomb.io, Author of Building Design Systems.

Published on
2/1/22

Welcome to Women of DevOps, Episode Ten! Today’s guest is Sarrah Vesselov, a UX design maven that works on DevOps tooling. I had the pleasure of listening to Sarrah speak at DevOpsDays Tampa before the pandemic, and she is incredibly smart and passionate about her work. Let’s dive right in!

‘Til next time,

Roxanne

The Women of DevOps, Ep. 10

 

Can’t listen to the audio? Read on below for a transcript of our conversation.

Rox: Hey, everyone, thank you all so much for joining us for another episode of Women of DevOps! Today, we’re joined by Sarrah Vesselov, and this is going to be a little bit different than our usual episodes, so I really hope you stick around. Sarrah works on UX design for DevOps tooling. She’s worked at companies like GitLab, CloudBees, and Honeycomb. This is going to be a really cool conversation around design and user experience. So hi! To start, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Sarrah: Yeah, so got my name right. Pronunciation was perfect – Sarrah Vesselov – so you didn’t mess up there! [Editor’s note: right before we started the recording, I pronounced it for her to make sure I wasn’t going to say it wrong :D]

Rox: Heck yeah!

Sarrah: Yeah! So right now, I am the Director of Design at Honeycomb. I’ve been there two years, which is like, mind blown. That feels like forever in the startup world, but I love it there. I’ve spent my time building the design team. I started as ‘lone designer,’ senior product designer, with the intent of building the team. They brought me onboard to get an idea of what was needed and lay the groundwork and then start building that team. And that’s what I’ve been doing. We have an incredible team of designers right now working on that product. I’ll be doing a lot of hiring in 2022. Just saying. Putting it out there.

Sarrah Vesselov at Tampa Bay Startup Week
Sarrah Vesselov at Tampa Bay Startup Week

As far as me, hoo boy. I’ve been doing this for a really long time. I have been in tech for – I don’t like to say it, but 20 years. But I mean, the tech we know today, I would say since 2014-2015, however long that makes it – but I’ve been doing design and development for about 20 years.

I started out in Fine Arts. I thought it was gonna go to art college and draw naked people and be in a museum and make lots of money. I spent one year in it and then I freaked out. I was like, “I’m never gonna make any money doing this. This is nuts!” I saw my student loans going crazy and I quit. I ran away. And I came back for more. And then I was like, “No, this is still crazy. This is still stupid!” And I came back for a third time. But when I came back the third time, I’d gotten smarter, and I went for computer animation. I thought, “Computers, but lots of drawing, this sounds like something I could do.”

By the time I finished that degree, I had lots of skills in Illustrator and Photoshop and typography – a lot of graphic design skills. But I really was not a great animator – kind of sucked at it. I was really good at matte painting and making things look good, but I couldn’t animate it very well.  

I found my way into web design. I had to actually build a portfolio to go out there and hawk myself as an animator, even though I was like, “well, I don’t know about this.” But I fell in love with web design. It was really something – the process of building, it was really exciting to me. And that was at a time when you did everything, right? You designed it and you built it in HTML. This was when CSS had just come out. I was cutting out pieces of .pngs to make rounded corners. I was like, “I’m a wizard, I’m amazing!” I did that whole thing.

I found myself really gravitating more towards jobs that were graphic design/web-focused. I started taking classes in HTML and CSS, and that was really where a lot of my early days were spent. Just hacking it up, doing lots and lots of design work. As I progressed, I became a creative director, and I was working with signage and things like that, and then a lot of heavy e-commerce.

I really felt like front-end developer was where I was going to be and that’s where everything was taking me. CSS was something I was naturally good at – CSS just clicked for me, it made so much sense, and everyone that hated it just didn’t get it. They just didn’t take the time to get it. Then JavaScript took over, and all of a sudden JavaScript blew up. JavaScript didn’t click for me the way CSS did, so I decided, “I could do this” – so I went and I did a front-end – this isn’t “a little bit about myself,” by the way, this is the whole shebang. So I hope you’re ready.

Rox: Good! I like the whole shebang.

Sarrah: You’re ready for this. So I went and I did a front-end engineering course at The Iron Yard in St. Pete, which – I love The Iron Yard. I don’t care what anyone says about bootcamps, that was one of the best experiences of my life. They no longer exist. They’re not there anymore.

Rox: SDG though!

Sarrah: Yes, they became SDG. And I did teach there way, way later, like years later – UX design.

I went into there with years of experience as basically a UX designer/graphic designer with HTML and CSS knowledge, but now I needed that knowledge in Version Control and in JavaScript, and all of these things. So I did this 12-week class while I was working full-time, it was crazy, right? Two kids, the whole nine yards.

I got to the end, and I realized that I really hated JavaScript. See a pattern in my life? But I did learn a lot and I actually like React quite a bit. The framework of React made sense to me, even though JavaScript wasn’t necessarily my favorite thing. I was able to use that knowledge, and then my love for CSS, to really get into that. From there is where I really launched into my first – what I would say is my first – tech job, versus the other jobs that I’d been doing, which were much more focused on e-commerce and graphic design and those kinds of things. Okay, I’ll stop talking. Oof!

Sarrah Vesselov at Tampa Bay Startup Week
Sarrah Vesselov at Tampa Bay Startup Week

Rox: That was really good. I actually really appreciate the SDG shoutout, because that community is amazing. They’re so awesome.

Sarrah: Super awesome. I’m glad that The Iron Yard actually morphed into and lives on in that community.

Rox: Oh yeah, for sure. So I remember hearing your talk at DevOpsDays Tampa – this is over two years ago now. Probably three years ago?

Sarrah: Yeah, that was a while ago.

Rox: Yeah, but it was about your time at GitLab. Designing the new UI. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Sarrah: If I remember correctly, that was probably about the navigation redesign that we did.

Rox: That’s the one!

Sarrah: Yeah, that was a huge project we did there. I made the same mistake at that conference that I just made here, which is to drink Coke Zero, hold on. I will never learn. I have water right in front of me, I will never learn.

When I came onboard at GitLab – I was at a company based in Tampa called Mad Mobile for a couple of years. I actually started as a developer there – UI/UX developer, like a bridge between UI and UX design, and then became the manager there and running both of those teams. I went on to be hired at GitLab to run the design team there – the UX team.

They were hopeful at the time that having someone that was knowledgeable about front-end would obviously fit in better with GitLab, and understanding how to use GitLab, because everyone there used the tool. Everybody in that company, sales included, which usually – for a technical tool, that’s not usually the case – sales and marketing don’t usually use it. Everybody there used it.

When I came onboard, they had had this recent crisis with their navigation where they had changed everything. They’d redesigned it to put everything in a hamburger menu. They didn’t have any user research department at the time. They didn’t have a strong leadership in the UX area. So what would happen is, they had a few designers that would make recommendations – but really, a lot of the decisions were being made by product management and engineering without a lot of input from design.

So there was this decision made that too much of the real estate was being taken out by this left sidebar that people weren’t using. This was based on internal feedback from users of GitLab, because there’s a lot of internal users. [Editor’s note: I made a cringe face here] I know, I know! This happens a lot though in startups.

So everything gets stuck in this hamburger menu. And of course, Hacker News just exploded – like “What is this?!” You’re on this giant monitor and there’s this tiny little thing up here. Immediately, people created plugins so that you could anchor it and it was kind of a workaround. I will give them credit, in that the immediate reaction at the company was, “Let’s revert it.” They were like, “No! No. We’re not going to revert it. Let’s not have this knee jerk reaction, let’s actually do some research.”

Luckily, they had brought on a researcher in the middle of that decision that had been made. She had nothing to do with it. She’s like, “I’m just doing my research,” and then this thing happens. But she had been actually gathering data that whole time, so she had a baseline – and then I came onboard. My first task was: fix this. Like,” Hmm, okay, I got this.”

Rox: Tall order for a first thing. [laughs]

Sarrah: Yeah, it was pretty intimidating. I will say it was pretty intimidating. But also, I will say that GitLab, at the time, had the most incredible culture team. And the designers there were just, I mean, amazing. We all rallied, and we all agreed: we need to do research, right?

So the way that we ended up doing it was, we had that baseline research that the UX researcher had done. We were able to understand a little bit better what the state of things had been before, and we had a very good idea of what they were now, based on feedback. We were able to come up with ideas on how to improve it based on some very obvious things. We came up with two prototypes, and we used those prototypes to do testing with users, not internally, but with actual users. And we did a lot of testing.

With GitLab, because it’s open source, we have a mainline with all of our users. So it was so easy, wonderfully easy to get feedback and to talk with people. Everyone was passionate about helping us make this better.

Once we had gotten enough feedback, we converged those two prototypes into one that took the best of both. Then, we put that under a feature flag. Again, we’re not shoving everything out – we’re not making people do things, especially when you’re talking about a tool that is somebody’s work.

Sarrah Vesselov in Front of Her gitLab Speaking Spot

We’re not talking about Facebook, we’re not – this is what’s so different, I think, about doing UX design or design in general for developer tools and those kinds of things. People get frustrated when Facebook changes things, they complain for a couple of days. But it’s free, they get used to it, and then they move on. It’s very different when it is part of your day-to-day job and your ability to do your work depends on it. Now you’re slowing people down. And now you’re potentially causing them to make errors. There’s so many things that you have to think about. So many things beyond just irritating someone for a couple of days.

We wanted to be very, very careful. We actually had to fight for the feature flag, we had to make the case for why the feature flag was important. Again, GitLab is very much a culture of ‘put it out there and see what happens, put it out there and see what happens.’ And it’s also a culture of ‘make the smallest change possible.’ But sometimes that change is too small. And with something like navigation, this is an interconnected – it’s like its own being, right? You can’t just make one small change and expect to be able to get a result from that. You have to make a lot of changes, and that inherently is going to be big, it’s going to be disruptive. You really need to let people play around with it first, and see what’s going to happen. I wanted to go six months and get feedback. We were able to get two release cycles, which I cannot believe it now, but I can’t even remember how long two release cycles were at GitLab. I thought that would be in my brain forever, but I guess not. But it wasn’t a long time.

Rox: Was it at least a month?

Sarrah: Yeah, I think it was at least a month. It might have been two months. I think we released once a month, so I think it was two months.

Rox: That’s not too bad.

Sarrah: No, it wasn’t too bad. I will say, we were able to get really good rapid feedback. And we were constantly making those changes to the navigation. It was probably one of the best experiences I’ve had in terms of getting research. That feedback loop with engineering and PM, and getting things out there. And then having that rally behind you of users and customers actually feeling like you’re working for them. I think a lot of times, they feel like, “I’ve complained about this 20 times and you just don’t seem to care.” I’m like, “yes, I know. But there are other things that people have complained about 100 times that, unfortunately, are higher priority. I wish I could work 24/7 and fix everything, but I have to walk down the priority list of things that will actually have a bigger impact.”  

Rox: Absolutely. Okay, so we just talked about the best, let’s talk about the – if not worst – something you would change. What advice would you give your younger self in regards to your career, if you could go back and do it all over again?

Sarrah: I would tell myself to chill out. I’m sure you can tell just by watching me talk: I’m an anxious person.

Rox: I feel that. [laughs]

Sarrah: I just, you know, I get a lot of energy and I don’t know how to relax! Vacations aren’t my thing. I really enjoy what I do and I put a lot of myself into what I do. Therefore, I care a lot about outcomes and particularly about teams – the teams that I’m building – and that atmosphere. So I tend to worry a lot, and I tend to go over things in my head and think about whether it went well, or it didn’t go well. I’ve come to realize as I’ve gotten older that worrying does not make things better. That if I could go back, I would tell myself to be more open, to talk more to people about the way I’m feeling, the things that I’m thinking, and have those conversations versus keeping it bottled up and making assumptions and worrying so much about things, rather than just saying, “Hey, am I the asshole here?” [laughs] Excuse me, I’m sorry, can I not swear in your podcast?

Rox: No, asshole is totally fine. I draw the line at the f-word though. [laughs]

Sarrah: I won’t use that. Okay. Good thing you told me that though, because… But yeah, I think a lot of us get held back by fear and worry early in our careers. The older you get, the more you realize that there’s very little you can do that’s going to completely bomb your career or derail you completely. You learn more from your mistakes than you do from the things that you do right. I think that perspective just changes things. I just wish that I realized it earlier instead of now, when I’m so much older with so much less time. [laughs]

Rox: You know what? That’s probably the same advice I would give myself. Stop worrying so much, especially with relation to imposter syndrome. You’ve earned this. Stop worrying. You belong here.

Sarrah: I still have to remind myself of that, especially of things that I know I know. And then I’m like, “Wait a minute, do I know? Why are you even asking yourself that question?” It’s ridiculous. It’s interesting how we do that to ourselves. Although I will say, I meet plenty of people that I know don’t know, when they’re convinced they know. And I’m like, “How do you do that? That is an amazing skill to be so confident in yourself with absolutely nothing to back it up.”

Rox: I think it’s a lot of ‘fake it till you make it.’

Sarrah: Yeah, I just can’t do that. I just can’t.

Rox: Alright, so we’ve talked about the past, let’s talk about the current: What’s your favorite part about working for Honeycomb?

Sarrah: Oh gosh, I have so many favorite parts. The product itself is a joy to work on. It is insanely simple and complicated at the same time. You’re querying your data, you’re instrumenting your data so that you can ask it questions. That’s very straightforward. It’s very simple. At the same time, that presents a challenge from a user experience point of view of – engineers, developers, they come into Honeycomb and it’s not like they press a button and it works, right? They have to invest. They have to put some effort in to reap the reward, to see the benefits.

There’s some play there, there’s some things that we have to do to really convince them, “We promise it’s worth it, just a little bit. Just a little bit.” There are things that we do that will give them a little bit more of that instant, like, “Oh, okay, I can see.” But we want to convince them: do that little bit of extra instrumentation. It’s really worth it, because the things that you’re going to be able to see about your application are amazing. It will blow your mind. I really like that. I think that’s a real challenge, and I love challenges.

So product-wise, it’s fascinating. People-wise/company-wise, it is amazing to work with so many different people. I’ve never worked with such a diverse group of people in my entire life. I’ve never been in so many meetings where it’s all women. All women. It sounds strange to say, but it’s just so weird. I’ve been in meetings where we’ll sit there, and all of a sudden, we’ll all go, “there’s no man in this room.” Really weird. It occurs to you every now and then. Then you shrug and you move on with your life, because whatever. It’s just a strange feeling sometimes, because it’s so unusual in this industry. So unusual.

There’s just a sense of – the people that work at Honeycomb are there because they’re really passionate about what they do, and they’re really curious and excited about what they do. That’s infectious. When you work in that environment, there’s just no way to describe it, so that’s exciting.

I also love that my coworkers have a sense of humor. If you can’t laugh, you’re gonna cry, that’s just how life is. My product manager, Megan – well, she is the VP of Product. Let me correct myself. She’s the VP of Product. She’s very important. She’s also hilarious. We make these crazy stickers and things – so we did a product feature called ‘time over time,’ which has a different name now, but in the beginning we called it ‘time over time.’ It was so that you could compare two graphs in a time-series. You’d do a query and you’d want to look at the differences in two different time sets, which is not something you could do. Tada, now you can do it. She’s like, “We gotta send out little stickers to the team to celebrate this win that we put this together.”

And so we came up with a Cyndi Lauper – instead of ‘time after time,’ it’s Cyndi Lauper looking out the window crying, and it says ‘time over time.’ I don’t know if it’s just funny because we’re Gen Xers or what, but there’s things like that that we do. We make these crazy t-shirts. It’s just stuff like that, you know, being able to have fun while you’re working really hard on something and celebrating it in such a fun way. That’s really exciting.

Rox: We have a Rick Astley t-shirt.

Sarrah: See?! You gotta have fun. If you don’t have fun, what’s the point?

Rox: Right? That’s good. So I want to talk to you about your community involvement, because like we talked about earlier: SDG, DevOpsDays. But you’ve also been part of Women Who Code and Girl Develop It. So I wanted to see, with the pandemic, are you active in other ways right now? Or have you just enjoyed the rest?

Sarrah Vesselov and Taurie Davis Book Cover - Building Design Systems

Sarrah: It wasn’t so much the pandemic that took the wind out of my sails. I wrote a book three years ago now about design systems – co-authored with Taurie Davis at GitLab, another designer there. I don’t know why I thought writing a book wasn’t going to be that bad, but it was really pretty horrible. It was a lot. After that, I did a lot of talks about the book, which was exciting and nice, but I really was just burned out. I really got burned out. I started to feel very much like I didn’t know how much people were getting out of me standing up there and just talking.

I felt much more like people got – well, maybe I’m being selfish here, but I got more out of 1:1 conversations. The people that I talked to afterwards who would wait around and want to have a conversation or a specific point, those were the conversations that I felt were much more enriching and engaging overall, versus me standing there wondering if anyone was even listening. Maybe it’s because I was getting that feedback. Maybe people were getting something from me talking. But I don’t know, I kind of lost my ‘oomph’ for doing that. I started to not really seek them out.

I may be doing one in May – I haven’t decided yet. But it would be remote. I did another one for REFACTR.TECH in Atlanta because they’re awesome. REFACTR.TECH is an amazing conference and everyone should check them out. But I did one on accessibility for them.

I’ve really been focusing more on mentoring and 1:1s, and putting myself out there like, “Hey, if you have a question, if you want to chat about design and grab a cup of coffee and jump on zoom with me, that’s totally cool, let’s do that.” Because for me – I’m being selfish, I get more into that.

Rox: That’s understandable though – burnout is real.

Sarrah: It is. Yeah, it was a lot. I don’t think people realize how much goes into writing those talks.

Rox: Making the slides!

Sarrah: And making the slides. I’m a designer, but I’m not a PowerPoint designer or Google Slides designer. Every time I make a slide presentation, I agonize over slides more than anything. That’s what does me in, every single time. I should just hire someone to do it.

By the time I’m ready to do it, I’m so over it. And then I’m like, “Why did I decide to do this?” I get up there and I do it, and I’m so glad I did. It’s the same cycle every time. And I’ve just – I finally got to the point, like, “Why am I doing this to myself?” Nobody needs this, especially my poor husband who every time, is like, “Here we go again.”

Rox: Oh yeah. So away from work and onto fun stuff. A while ago, on SDG, you shared a picture of your board game collection. I have to ask: favorite board game of all time?

Sarrah: Ah, my favorite board game of all time. It’s so easy. It is Camp Grizzly. A lot of people have never heard of it. I think there’s only – I don’t know how many actually got made, I want to say there’s only like 1000 out there. It was a Kickstarter.

I had never heard of it til – my husband and I have been together seven years or something like that, seems like forever to me. Seven years. He had this game, and my kids were littler than… look at me trying to do mental math… they were in middle school then, now they’re in high school/college. But when we were first dating and we got together, we played board games a lot of the time to get to know each other and hang out as a family and create that family unit. One of the games we played was Camp Grizzly. Now, seven years later, it kind of became this thing that we all did.

Camp Grizzly is a cooperative board game. You are literally at a place called Camp Grizzly, you are camp counselors, and you’re trying to escape Otis. He is the killer and he has a teddy bear mask. It has every trope from 70s and 80s horror movies that you can imagine. So you’re going from cabin to cabin and you’re working together, trying to find the items so that you can go to one of the four escape routes. There’s either the van, or the tower, or this or that. For one of them, you need a rope, a car battery, and a gasoline pan. And the other one you need a rope, keys, and something else. And so you’re turning these things over, but sometimes instead of keys or a gasoline can, it’s a dead body.

Rox: Oh my god! [laughs]

Sarrah: The body count goes up, he gets faster, and he gets more powerful. It’s such a great game. You’ll find kids who become your companion, but like a lot of times they’re just not very helpful. They’re too slow, or they try to help you and they end up hurting you instead. And then your body count goes up. It’s great. It’s a really great game. Yeah, that’s my favorite game.

Rox: Have you played codenames?

Sarrah: Codenames. Yep. That’s a good game. I like cooperative. I don’t do well with competitive games. I don’t care about winning. I have a plan. And when I have a plan, even if it’s a losing plan, just let me do my plan. But if you take the card that I need, it gets really annoying.

Rox: Yeah. I enjoy games of betrayal. Not because I’m a jerk, but because nobody suspects the nice Canadian.

Sarrah: Oh, I see. I see. But you probably have a really good poker face.

Rox: Oh yeah.

Sarrah: Yeah, I don’t. No. You can always tell when I’m going to do something. I always have this evil grin on my face when I want to do something bad. Everyone always knows. They’re like, “Yeah, it’s her.” I’m like, “Whaaaat? I’m so innocent.” No.

Rox: Okay, another board game question – or not a question, a statement. Talk to us about your board game cafe.

Sarrah: So it’s funny. The picture that you saw on the SDG forum is probably – it was our wall of board games that we had in our house. We had a huge custom wall built. Yes. So I am an enabler. My husband has a board game problem, and I have a problem in that I enable that problem. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love board games. I really enjoy playing and I love the art of board games. I think the art in the design is really interesting, and the story part for me is probably why I like collaborative more.

He really has this knack for finding the coolest stuff, so I’ve apparently been funding this board game empire. I didn’t realize until one day I turned around, it was literally like I opened up – we had this wall of board games, and I’m like, “Oh that’s nice. It looks nice. It seems like a lot. Like, we don’t even play all of these.” And then I opened a closet door. And I was like, “Oh, there’s board games in there.” And then I opened another door. Just board games in there. So I had to have an intervention. I was like, “Okay, you know I love you. But we have got to talk about this board game problem that we have.”

I don’t care about things. I care about – for me, experiences are really a big thing, which is why I like board games. But if I’ve got 500 board games, which at the time we did, we had like 400 or 500 board games…

Rox: Oh my god.

Sarrah: Yeah, we couldn’t play that many. I said, we have to make a decision. Either we cap ourselves and we make sure that we’re playing them, or you know, what if we opened up a board game cafe? My husband was like, “Haha, whatever.” Now, I have always secretly wanted to own my own business. I’ve always loved the idea. And I think a lot of people in tech have the secret dream of opening their own coffee shop. I don’t know what it is, I think it’s because we work in coffee shops so we have this romanticized idea of them. Believe me, it’s very romanticized, now that I own one. Very.

It took me like three years to convince him. He just wasn’t sure. He was like, “Ahhh, I don’t know,” and I was like, “Quit your job. I’ll finance it. It’s fine. We can do this.”

We found a spot in Zephyrhills and everything was going great. We were renovating, and then the pandemic hit right as we opened. Yeah… We opened in March 2020. Luckily, I’m a frugal person. I’m very, very careful, so we were able to buy the building. The building that we’re in, we pay the mortgage, we also pay rent to ourselves, but that goes right into the mortgage. Financially, we’re okay, but it has not been profitable because there’s no business. So we’ve been keeping it going. Every time we see things go up, we get another variant. Delta hit us pretty hard. And now Omicron is starting to hit us pretty hard. We’ll survive, we’ll be okay.

We opened up the second unit, that’s where I’m in now. We do all our role playing games. We have Dungeons & Dragons nights, two nights a week. We’re gonna do Kill Team leagues [Editor’s note: Warhammer thing, for the uninitiated]. We do Games Workshop, Warhammer stuff. But the most important thing is we’re going for the Guinness Book of World Records for our board game cafe collection. We are at 1839 the last time I counted. It’s a lot of board games.

Rox: Oh my god.

Sarrah: You wanna see them?! I can show you.

Rox: Yes.

Sarrah: Is that okay for your podcast?

Rox: I will demand pictures.

Sarrah: I was gonna say, I can walk over there and bring it

Rox: Yeah! I’ll see if I can take a screenshot from here.

Sarrah: I can send you pictures too.

Rox: Yeah. That is badass though. I didn’t even know there were that many games out there.

Sarrah: There’s like 10,000 games. So here is the front – it starts here.

Rox: Oh my gosh. There’s so many!

Sarrah: Goes all the way down there.

Rox: [literally gasps] Hold on, let me see if I can take a screencap. Wow. Okay!

Over 1800 Games at the Your Turn Cafe in Zephyrhills, Florida
EPIC Board Game Collection
😮

Sarrah: This is the second love of my life. First is design. Then there’s this. Third is my husband.

Rox: [laughs] But where do the cats go?

Sarrah: Wait, do you know about my cats?

Rox: Heck yeah. There’s the #cats channel. I saw you post them – they’re Sphynx, right? A long time ago.

Sarrah: Oh my goodness, I forgot how much people know about me. You know, I have a cat mansion.

Rox: I did not know you have a cat mansion.

Sarrah: I have a cat mansion. I can’t show you that because it’s at my house. I am also an enabler of rescuing too many cats. So now we have eight cats? Nine cats? Eight or nine cats. We have a lot of cats. It was way too many for the house. We spend most of our time at the cafe, so we retrofitted an outbuilding; we had the whole thing remodeled. It’s like a cat cafe, except it’s not a cafe, it’s just for cats. You walk in and there’s tile all around the bottom half. There’s all these cat runs, and they all have litter robots. It’s insane.

Rox: Can I get a picture of that too? Please? [laughs]

Sarrah Vesselov's Cat Mansion
Cat Mansion ft. Two Halves of Two Different Cats

Sarrah:  Sure. I could send you a picture. [laughs]

Rox: Ah, I love cats. My partner’s allergic to cats. I cannot have cats.

Sarrah: Oh noooo! You should come visit my cat mansion and you can just come in and pet cats. You should come up and visit sometime. Say hello. And that goes for anybody watching this. If you’re in the area and you want to come talk about design or just come play some board games? Seriously, come hang out.

Sarrah Vesselov's Cat Mansion
Cat Mansion ft. Three Whole Cats!

Rox: We should. What’s the name of the board game cafe?

Sarrah: Oh, yeah, I guess I should – I wonder why it’s not successful, gee! I can’t imagine why! [laughs] I’m blaming COVID. It’s called Your Turn, A Board Game Cafe. It’s in Zephyrhills, Florida.

Your Turn, A Board Game Cafe Front Window
Just the Cutest Storefront Ever, No Big Deal

Rox: Yes, we will link that in here. Final two questions! Number one: is there anything exciting coming down the pipeline for you?

Sarrah: I don’t know about exciting. This year, I finally decided to – because I’m so into, rather than going out and speaking, I’ve spent a lot of time with more focused mentorship, I’m really seriously considering going and getting certified in coaching. I’ve actually had a career coach this past year, and it was amazing.

Honeycomb gives you a stipend for professional development and I used it on a career coach. They were like, “Hey, this is something that you can look into, it might be helpful.” It so was, to the point where I was like, this might be something I would be interested in doing. So I’m excited about that. What I do in my day-to-day is more along the lines of building teams and building processes, versus day-to-day design at this point. That’s what I’m really focused on and I’d love to be able to do that 1:1 with people. So yeah, I’m excited about that. I’m hoping that I can make that happen.

Rox: Alright. Final question. Is there anything else you would like to share with readers/listeners?

Sarrah: Gosh, I feel like I’ve overshared way too much. [laughs] People are gonna be like, “Wow, typical American oversharing.” You would never want to sit on a plane next to me, I promise. Actually, I would just probably be working the whole time. Hmm. I don’t know if I have anything else to share.

Rox: Perhaps a word of encouragement for other people who could be feeling burnout?

Sarrah: Oh gosh, yeah. If you’re feeling burnout… One huge thing that I’ve also learned these past two years (that took me forever to learn) was that there’s no shame in resting. That always doing something is not necessarily getting you somewhere. I’ve been a bit of a workaholic/busyholic kind of person and I tend to feel very guilty if I’m not getting things done. Or if I have something on my mind and I’m trying to do it, the more I procrastinate, the worse I feel.

I’ve gotten very good at setting boundaries for myself and saying, “Hey, this ain’t gonna happen today. So you’re just gonna let it go til tomorrow.” For some reason, that works for me now. My brain can go, “Oh, we have permission to let this go until tomorrow.” And of course the first thing that happens when I wake up is like, “Are we gonna do this thing today?” I’m like, “Yes, you’re gonna do the thing today.”

Give yourself permission to relax and rest. What I tell everybody, especially on my team right now, is that none of us are okay. I see a lot of people that are like, “Oh, you know, everything’s fine.”

Nobody is okay right now. This is not normal. Everybody is dealing with something else on top of everything we’re dealing with. We’re just all kind of trying to figure out how to keep going. So if you’re just surviving at work, if you’re not thriving at work, that’s okay. That’s fine. That’s totally fine. We really have to be better to ourselves, because I’ve been very guilty of not being very nice to myself, in my own head, in the things that – the standards I try to hold myself up to are just impossible. If you do that to yourself, you’re probably going to do that to other people. I try to remember that as a manager, the way I talk to myself internally could extend onto other people so it’s important that I’m really careful with that. If you’re in any type of management position, you have to really be careful with that because it will get portrayed outward.

Rox: I feel like you were talking to my heart about the whole productivity thing. I have this huge issue too where I feel like I always have to be productive. Never relax. There’s always a chore to do if I’m not working. I feel like I have to do something. So my partner and I recently took up video games. Been playing Diablo 2 Resurrected with him. It’s been so nice just being able to let go, like, “You know what? We can do that tomorrow. Let’s just play for now.”

Sarrah: Yeah! My thing is – I’m terrible. [laughs] My husband and I watch Slapped Ham on YouTube. I know it’s the worst name for anything ever. It’s this stupid channel where it’s all paranormal videos. And it’s all like, “Is it a UFO? Is it a ghost?” He and I are like, “It’s obviously bullshit.” It’s not real. We know that it’s crap, but we just love laughing at this stuff. We’ll just sit there, watch it, and he’s like, “Is it a UFO?” and me and my husband look at each other and go, “Nope. No, it’s not.” I don’t know why this is so entertaining to us. But this is our downtime, this is our ridiculous filler. Don’t have to think, just turn your brain off.

Some of them are so ridiculous. We just crack up laughing. We’re like, “Who believes this?” So now when we’re places and we see something happen, we’ll point at it and go, “OH! We should have taped that! We could have sent it to Slapped Ham!”

Rox: The other day, oh my gosh, I was driving down 589 and from a certain angle, I could have sworn it was a UFO and I took a picture and I sent it to my partner. And then I take a curve, and I can see it and it’s just the frickin Goodyear blimp. I felt so stupid, but I was like, “Aww.” [Editor’s note: Nothing cool ever happens

🙁

]

Sarrah: Don’t feel stupid. For a second, it looked like a UFO! But that’s what they do with these videos. That’s what I love. Because they’ll show the video and they always cut it off right before they get – show us the rest of the video! You can totally tell that this is crap.

Rox: It’s never a UFO.

Sarrah: It’s my guilty pleasure. But I tell people and then they think I really believe in UFOs and stuff. I’m like, no, no, it’s ironic. I’m watching it ironically, sarcastically. I don’t really believe.

Rox: That’s the best though. They’re so fun to watch.

Sarrah: It really is. Oh my goodness.

Rox: Well, this was an amazing conversation. I want to genuinely thank you for your time. This was really great.

Sarrah: Thank you. I really enjoyed it. And I hope that I talked about something that was useful to somebody. [laughs] But I had fun.

Rox: Thank you so much, and readers/listeners, thank you as well.

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