Meet Sophie Rugg, Senior User Researcher, DWP Digital

Sophie Rugg

Sophie Rugg is a senior user researcher working on Universal Credit for DWP Digital. She is the voice of the user within a user-centred design team working on a live service.

Here, she shares what it’s like working for DWP Digital.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I’m a senior user researcher working on Universal Credit for DWP Digital. I joined the department last year having worked in a more traditional research background for many years previously.

In my role, I am the voice of the user within a user-centred design team working on a live service. My role involves testing individual points of the Universal Credit journey and the whole journey end-to-end from the users’ perspective.  I then collaborate with the team on key recommendations to improve the service for our users based on our insights.

I live in Leeds with my husband and two sons.

On a typical workday, how do you start your day and how does it end?

Most days start the same way, whether a workday or not, as I have two early-rising primary school age children who are usually up and raring to go by 6am!  Once I have sorted out their breakfast, if I am working at home, I usually log on, clear any emails, check my calendar and prioritise my to-do list. I then walk the children to school which is a very welcome start before sitting at my desk.

There is no typical day for a user researcher. If I’m running user research sessions, I’ll revisit my discussion guide and any materials I need for sessions and make sure any observers are happy with what we’re going to cover. Since the pandemic, much of the user research I carry out has been online, but now restrictions have lifted we’re able to go out and about a bit more again which is great because there’s really no substitute for face-to-face.

At the end of the working day, I try to practise Pilates or go for a walk to help my head transition from work to home.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not really! I did a history degree, followed by a Master’s degree in Arts and Heritage Management, and after that I knew I wanted to work in marketing and research and I did just that! I spent the first couple of years of my career working in marketing research for the arts which I loved, as I got to visit lots of art galleries and theatres.  This was followed by a 10-year stint in market research agencies where my clients were primarily in the public sector. I then worked client-side in social housing before moving to work for DWP Digital. I’m not a massive fan of planning, but I have recently started doing a vision board for the year and am starting to tick goals off that I have achieved which has been really satisfying!

What do you love about working for DWP Digital?

There are so many brilliant people here, I learn something new every day! We also have loads of opportunities to share work and learn from each other both within the Universal Credit department, the user research community and cross government.

Have you faced any challenges along the way and if so, how did you overcome these challenges?

I’ve worked part-time since I went back to work after my eldest son was born and navigating part-time work, while a great opportunity, can be a challenge. The juggle of working with two young children is very real and sometimes it was easy to feel like I was not doing anything well! It’s become easier over time though – it requires good organisation and managing people’s expectations particularly around timescales. I’m very grateful though to have worked for employers who provide flexibility in working patterns to accommodate other responsibilities.

Making the shift to work in a different sector this last year has been another real challenge, but one I’ve really relished. There have been many days when I’ve wondered whether I’ll ever fully understand some of the language used but it’s got much easier over time. Focusing on my transferable research skills has really helped here, along with some great colleagues!

Have you benefited from coaching, mentoring or the sponsorship of others?

Absolutely.  A turning point in my career came after having one-to-one coaching with the amazing Gemma Stow, who specialises in developing and empowering women. I think at the time I felt a bit stuck career-wise, and my confidence was low. Working with Gemma, I also had access to a group of like-minded women and the peer support, along with the coaching, helped me to identify my strengths, build my confidence and realise that there are so many opportunities out there once you decide to look.

Do you believe in the power of networking? If so, where do you network?

Yes, though admittedly, it’s been restricted during the last couple of years due to the pandemic. During my time at DWP Digital, I have attended the Service Design in Government Conference and have also completed usability and user experience qualifications, both of which were great opportunities to meet people in similar roles working in different organisations. DWP Digital also have numerous opportunities to get involved with events such as Digital Live! where you can find out what is happening elsewhere in the department and meet colleagues from other areas.

What advice would you give to those who aspire to a career in tech?

I have never considered myself to be a ‘tech’ person, but I have learnt loads just working in the tech environment at DWP Digital. My advice would be to think about the skills you have which are transferable and then just go for it!

What does the future hold for you?

I’ll keep doing what I’m doing for the foreseeable future. I have learned so much in such a short space of time and I have so much to learn still! Maybe one day soon, I’ll book that coding course….