Spotlight: Kaari Peterson

kaari pictureRole: UX Research Manager


Hire Date? May 2011


Fun Fact: Makes portraits out of dryer lint

 “The thing that surprised me most is how passionate people are about putting students first. When I start talking to them about students and student needs, everybody’s just so excited about learning more. I think that all trickles down from Dan (our CEO), because he’s so passionate about it.”

Why did you decide to come to Chegg?

Working in Silicon Valley, I’d worked for a and I’d been laid off in a re-org, which is common, but I had never worked for a start-up and I felt like that was a badge that I needed to earn. I really liked Chegg’s mission and knew that I wanted to work in some kind of consumer facing product. I also really like working with the college student segment because they are very straight forward about how they feel and are very tech savvy, which makes them a great group to work with from a user experience standpoint.

What are you proud of?

One thing that has been important to me is identifying who our user is and how important they are to what we do.  When I first got here, user research would often be an afterthought, which was partly due to early start-up stage and not having enough resources. We would design things based upon our perceptions of what we thought students would like and when we’d get the product out to the user, we would realize that they were having issues with it or that they didn’t actually like it. So one of the things I really wanted us to do was to make sure we got our products in front of our users earlier so that we weren’t so far down the road on design that we couldn’t turn back. As designers, we love seeing people use our stuff and learn every time we watch someone use our product. This really motivated me to get feedback from our users early and often, which we achieve by inviting students to participate in studies we conduct on-site and things of that nature. By making user research a regular part of what we do as far as when we’re creating the product and the product feature, I’m really proud to say that we’ve been able to elevate the importance of the user and help improve our overall user experience at Chegg.

Another thing I’m proud of is starting the “Lean In” group called “CHO”, which stands for “Chegg Her Out”, where we meet once a month at lunch time to discuss all kinds of different issues, mostly relating to career progression, body language, and how to maneuver oneself within the workplace. It came about when I noticed that the Business Women of California were hosting a conference in SF, where Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, was speaking and I thought it would be really interesting to attend. With the support of our VP of HR, I got women from all over our company—Finance, Business Analytics, Engineering, along with me and another designer to attend this conference together. We had some really great conversations and on the drive back, we realized that we didn’t want this to end. We then brought it back to Chegg and got a group together that isn’t focused on gender, but is rather, more related to figuring out ways we can grow professionally and supporting each other to do so.  We accomplish this by inviting different executives to our meetings, where they can share their backgrounds and answers questions we normally wouldn’t be able to ask when we see them around the office. It’s been really good because I’ve gotten to know a lot of people I would never cross paths with otherwise, which is becoming especially important the more we grow as a company.

What have you been working on lately?

This summer, I’ve been working closely with our design intern. I love seeing the interns here in the office on a daily basis because they’re our audience and I’ve been constantly pulling them into the lab and have them do testing for me. It’s really nice because they add a different kind of energy in the office and I learn from them since they’re currently in school and give us real time insight into what current college students are going through at the moment.

In addition to learning from our interns, I worked on a big user research project so that we can get a strong understanding of our user and their study habits, such as how do they study for exams, what materials do they use, how do they use those materials? Since then, I’ve been evangelizing and sharing the knowledge about our users to our other offices, such as our office in Israel, since their college experience is very different from what the American college experience is like. I’ve also been doing design work for the e-Reader as well as Chegg Study. Overall, I love wearing a lot of different hats because I am constantly being challenged, which keeps work interesting and exciting.

Has anything surprised you about working here?

The thing that surprised me most is how passionate people are about putting students first. When I start talking to them about students and student needs, everybody’s just so excited about learning more! I think that all trickles down from Dan (our CEO), because he’s so passionate about it. That’s another reason I came to Chegg because I remembered how inspiring he is when he would speak at different meetings at Yahoo!, so I figured it would be cool to work where he’s working. That level of passion and wanting to do the right thing for the student has been a really nice surprise and has made working here very satisfying. 

How did you get into your field?

I started out as a graphic designer doing things like print ads, brochures, and things like that, but then it hit me one day that when you do all of these printed products that people will look at it and note “Cool design!”, but then they toss it! I knew that I wanted to do something that was more web or software based because I wanted to do something that was going to live on longer than just a picture that was going to be tossed in the trash. I then started to learn about HTML and started building websites for companies and took off from there. When I worked for Adobe, I had helped design Acrobat with the team, and while I was adopting my daughter from Russia, somebody asked me what I did for a living and I said I worked on Acrobat Reader and they said “Oh! We use [Acrobat] Reader!” and it’s so cool that even when I’m on the other side of the world that people know what reader is!  I’m also interested in what the users think as well because as a graphic designer, the only feedback I had about my work came from the client, and not the actual user of the product. Therefore, interaction/user experience design has served as a perfect intersect because it combines my interest in design with my interest in people and psychology.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to start in a role like this at Chegg?

Internships are a great way to get into a company. Lora, the intern program manager, stated that an internship is like a three month interview and I think that that is one of the best ways to go about it. This way you can really come in and know what we’re about and how we do things and experience what it’s actually like to work here.

What excites you most about Chegg’s future?

It’s hard to choose just one thing! In general, I’m really excited about the direction we’re headed and just kind of expanding the knowledge of our user and having that permeate throughout the company and help improve everything that we do to help students and make it even better. Things are going to be relevant to every student, not a one size fits all sort of thing, which really excites me because it is only going to change our user experience for the better.