We caught up with Katie Koch for our latest Alumni Spotlight, who told us all about what she's been up to since graduating: developing alternative banking services at American Express, a newly accepted role at Spotify, and adapting to a European lifestyle.
Catch us up with where you are? Still in New York?
I was in NYC for about nine years. In January I moved to Stockholm to start a new role at Spotify. I had a great time in Brooklyn, but it was time for a change.
Tell us a little about your current work and some other projects you’ve been involved in since graduating?
Just after graduation (almost six years ago!) I spent a bit of time focusing on education. I taught at the New School, and pursued another year of Project Interaction. Nowadays I work on the payments platform team at Spotify. It’s our job to make it easier for our customers in 60 countries around the world to get access to a Spotify Premium subscription.
Before this I spent quite a few years working in an experimental product team at American Express. We helped build the behind-the-scenes product for alternative banking services Serve and Bluebird, and we worked with the Barclays Center to develop digital payments before Apple made it a commodity everyone has. Our biggest coup was building an awesome design team focused on service design and design thinking, and taught lots of business people how to be design literate.
What’s next for you?
I’m currently enjoying a little down time after getting settled in a new country and doing a couple speaking engagements this year. I have a really long reading list that’s been piling up over the last six months: Magic and Loss and Born to Run are on top of the stack. I’m excited for the dark, cold months ahead so I can get caught up.
What does a typical day look like for you? Are you spending all your time at work, or finding time for personal projects? Do you wish it was more balanced or more intense one way or another?
Most days I find a healthy balance between chaos and joy. Here in Sweden, the culture is centered around family and work. “Work/life balance” is not even a concept here, it’s just understood. People work hard while they’re at work, and it’s expected that you’ll take a couple of 15-30 minute coffee breaks – or fikas – each day with your colleagues. It’s a time to get to know each other and talk about home life and hobbies instead of work. I’m usually finished with work well before 6. It’s been amazing to have free time again! I cook in the evenings, practice yoga, and I’ve even started guitar lessons.
Even though we take a lot of breaks, the time in between is all about hard work. I’m lucky to work with a huge team of developers who are eager to engage with design. It’s fun to have so many people excited about making a great user experience. And, being in the conversion and payments business, we have a really broad set of extended partners. There are a lot of people in the mix every day, which makes it fun to collaborate but can also be challenging to find time to sit at my desk and focus on work.
What were the most telling/important moments since you left university? Have you taken any big risks? Did they pay off the way you imagined?
Before accepting the position at American Express, I spent several sleepless nights worrying about the decision. I was really scared that I’d lose my spirit working for a huge, old corporation. I was nervous about how it would be perceived by my mentors and peers. Was I selling out? I ended up learning so much there. It was an environment where I really had to challenge my beliefs about the value of design and figure out how to earn respect for user experience in a world focused on the bottom line.
Is there anything/anyone out there really inspiring you right now? A designer? Company? Artist? Musician? How has their work influenced yours or what do they bring to your life?
I’m really inspired by people who have built a long career for themselves. Maybe it’s the afterglow from following Hillary Clinton? I really loved that about her as a candidate – she worked for decades building her reputation and experience to get to the place where she is. I just learned about the Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg cooking show (for real). Martha is 75! She didn’t even get started until she was in her 40s, and look at all she’s built.
We live in a world where value is tied to velocity. It’s refreshing to look at these people who have been around for decades. They keep re-inventing themselves and moving fluidly into the next opportunity. It’s got me thinking about where I want to be in 5 years, 15 years, maybe even 40 years. The world will be so vastly different – how do I expect my career will grow and change, and what are the things I hope to have accomplished? It’s more about the narrative across those decades than about the individual projects that come and go as moments within them.