My Name Is Sarah Cottle — This Is Why I Joined Aha!
London, New Orleans, Australia… these are just a few of the places where I grew up. My family moved around a lot for my dad’s work, so I was able to see many parts of the world early on. This gave me an appreciation for just how diverse and interesting we all are. Everyone has a story to tell.
I was particularly drawn to the people whose lives were completely different from mine.
I initially thought that I wanted to turn my passion for real-life stories into a career. So, I attended the University of Texas at Austin to study documentary filmmaking. I made short documentaries on topics like homelessness in Austin and how medical students were giving out free care in Costa Rica.
As much as I loved telling these authentic stories, I realized that most film work was in Los Angeles and I wanted to stay in Austin. So, after college, I started working at a local ad agency. The work was different from filmmaking, but there were some parallels — designing ads gave me the chance to be creative while also thinking deeply about communicating with people.
How could I create something that would resonate with each new audience?
Though I started in print, I had the opportunity to do some web design at the agency. I liked how this work was never static. The experience made me realize that I wanted to move fully into web design. So, I made a big move — to Orlando, Florida, where I enrolled in an accelerated web design and development program.
I was in class eight hours a day, six days a week, for two years. My studies included how to design engaging websites, as well as areas in development like server-side languages. But what I loved most was learning about user experience.
It became clear to me that strong design was so much more than visual — it was about sharing insight and helping people take real action.
After two years, I graduated with a degree in web design and development. I was anxious to get back to Austin and joined an e-commerce company there. My job was to help small to mid-sized businesses build an online presence. I got to work with all kinds of businesses — from clothing retailers to sausage manufacturers — helping them put their customers at the center of the experience.
I loved that I got to be involved in all parts of the process, from ideation to execution. But after working there for six years, I grew into a managerial role. I missed creating, so I began to look for a place where I could flex my design skills once again. I joined Homeaway, a vacation rental marketplace, as an experience designer.
I was one of the first few designers to join the company. I was working alongside some amazingly smart people and I learned so much. But I often found myself wishing that my designs could be implemented a little faster. Then I saw an Aha! job listing that caught my eye. It was for a UX designer who “loves to see their work ship — quickly.” I immediately applied.
As I began interviewing, I was struck with how “real” the team felt. There was no hype or style over substance. Each person was completely transparent with me. They clearly worked incredibly hard and were passionate about the team, product, and customers. I knew I wanted to join.
Now that I am a UX designer at Aha!, it is my job to understand our customers and fine-tune our designs so that they are happy using our products.
I recently worked on redesigning the “My Work” page of the application. Many of our customers start on this page first thing every day, in order to see what their priorities are and what work is coming next. So, my new designs focused on how they could see it all in one concise view.
In a way, I am still uncovering real-life stories and thinking deeply about the people who are telling them. But this time I am more than just an observer or documentarian. At Aha! I am part of creating the solutions that make people who build their own products and company’s lives better.
That is why I joined Aha! — and why you should too.