Sam Zaiss

Senior UX Researcher, Microsoft
Seattle, WA

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I am originally from Omaha, NE, and I completed my undergraduate work there. I started out as a computer science major, but quickly discovered that I needed more of a human element in my studies. That need drove me to a second major in psychology, and then a master’s degree in human-computer interaction. Today, I do UX research (mostly qualitative) for Microsoft corporate products, including ethnographic research with developers, small business owners, and advertisers.

What initially attracted you to the Master of Information and Data Science?

Analyzing instrumentation and clickstream data has always been an important part of how I tell the customer story. I have wanted to go deeper in my analyses for a while now but have not been sure where to start. Most big data and data science meet-ups I have attended seem to be highly specialized and difficult to connect with, so I found myself leaning more toward a structured degree program.

Why did you choose the UC Berkeley School of Information?

Aside from UC Berkeley’s stellar reputation, there were a couple of things with the MIDS program that stood out to me as a UX professional. First, a focus on data visualization is critical for anyone who wants to communicate his or her findings in the corporate world, and the MIDS program was the only one I found that featured a course on this topic. Secondly, I thought the I School was the best school to gain both a depth of subject matter expertise and a breadth of cross-disciplinary exposure.

Why did you decide to pursue the Master of Information and Data Science?

The more I heard about the MIDS program, the more excited I became. It just felt like the right program and the right time for my professional development — plus, participating in the MIDS program would not require me to move or leave my job.

What surprised you the most about the program once you started taking classes?

The curriculum has exceeded my expectations — and my expectations started pretty high. The Research Design course in particular creates an amazing foundation for the rest of the program. Each week I am amazed by the high-quality, well-thought-out content, and I have already started applying what I have learned to my professional career.

What do you hope to accomplish upon graduation?

In recent years, I have had more discussions than I would like about whether UX Research (and qualitative research in general) is still relevant in the age of big data. On the contrary, I think the right balance of qualitative and quantitative can tell an even richer customer story than businesses are telling today. Upon graduation, I hope to have found a new professional niche that combines the best of UX research and data science.