Karen Rustad Tolva

Hire Me

Hi! If you're looking for someone who makes joyful, useful, and usable user interfaces, here's what you should know about me and what I'm looking for in my next job.

About me

My academic background was in art, media, and UX, but I have spent over a decade of my professional life as a software engineer at various startups (mostly on frontend). For several of those years, I was also the de facto designer (because there wasn't anyone else in the building with that experience).

What that means is:

  • While I have an artist's temperament and taste, I speak engineer really, really well.
  • I can implement the things I design — at least on web.
  • For better (and for worse!) I've almost never designed in a vacuum or just to look good on dribbble; it's all been in service of something being built at that moment.

I am open to roles classified as either designers or engineers, but it's important to me that my work be cross-functional (e.g. a designer embedded in a feature team, an engineer working on a design components system, an ombudsman-type role, a "wears-all-UX-hats" startup gig, etc). While it's not an especially common job title, UX engineer is probably the closest approximation to what I do.

Some strengths

  • Empathy for users — I care about the "what" and "why" of what I'm building much more than the "how." When a user runs into bugs, or can't figure out how to use something I've designed, that feels a little embarrassing — and I want to fix it now!
  • Taking vague feature requests from PMs (with a messy pencil sketch of the possible UI at best) and building something that works and looks fantastic
  • Quick lo-fi mocks and works-in-progress, enabling a fast iteration cycle with implementers and stakeholders
  • Anticipating details ("what does it look like with zero items? with 200 items?") and corner cases
  • Art — illustrations, placeholders, icons, flavor, etc.
  • Accessibility considerations, e.g. acceptable color contrast ratios
  • Familiarity with old- and new-school frontend tech — I've spent nearly a decade using frameworks like React and Svelte; I have Opinions™ about frontend state management and I like Typescript an awful lot. But I got my start with raw HTML and CSS and I've never forgotten it.

Some weaknesses

  • Debugging and plumbing — I have far more interest in using software as a tool to make something than taking apart the tool itself. (Historically I have done my best work paired with an "engineer's engineer" who loves backend work and debugging complex systems but needs help on product and polish!)
  • User research skills (survey design, interviews, user testing, etc.)
  • High-fidelity mocks — I have experience with Figma, but I'm still learning! To date it has usually been faster for me to prototype with actual code.

About you

  • Remote-friendly, but with an in-person component — My ideal scenario would be coming into a local office (or coworking space used by other employees) 1-2x a week and otherwise having the flexibility to work from home. If I'm not near an office, regular meetups (e.g. 2x year) would be important to me. I am not looking for a 3-5x week in-person role unless your office is literally in Mountain View/Palo Alto/Menlo Park; my schedule is not compatible with a lengthy daily commute.
  • Meaningful values — Company values are useless if they're just generic good things anyone would want. A meaningful value is something whose opposite could be a different company's value. True values are choices. Which leads to the next item...
  • Thoughtful leadership — Company leaders who understand prioritization (knowing what we are doing requires us to acknowledge what we are not doing — at least right now!). Team leaders who communicate hard truths without weasel words, acknowledge mistakes, listen and act on feedback, anticipate future needs, and treat employees like human beings.
  • An inclusive, emotionally intelligent culture — A team that actively seeks out diverse perspectives and has no place for so-called "smart assholes" or other toxic tech archetypes.
  • Making something people want — A company that is trying to solve a real problem for people, especially an underserved user base, rather than a solution looking for a problem. No cryptocurrency, no advertising or surveillance tech, and no addictive apps (e.g. mobile games) please.

Sound good?

If nothing above seems like a deal-breaker, please contact me, preferably via email at karen [dot] tolva [at] gmail [dot] com. Thanks!