Our feature series “Meet the Team” gives our readers the opportunity to take a deep dive into what makes our team special. We interviewed Christelle Panumpabi, UX Designer at Air Force CyberWorx, to introduce her to our readers and allow them to experience tell the story of her career in UX Design. Please enjoy getting to know our innovative team members and exploring the people who make CyberWorx exceptional.

“The adventure of life is to learn. The purpose of life is to grow. The nature of life is to change. The challenge of life is to overcome. The essence of life is to care. The opportunity of life is to serve. The secret of life is to dare. The spice of life is to befriend. The beauty of life is to give.”
– William Arthur Ward

Christelle, User Experience Designer

A Passion for UX Design

AF CyberWorx (CWx): What drew you to Air Force CyberWorx?

Christelle Panumpabi (CP): I was initially drawn because I found opportunity for user experience research in this role. In my past UX Design internship, I didn’t get to do too much user research. But as someone who studied Communication, I do really love getting to talk with people, hearing about their experiences and their pain points.

As I was doing research on CyberWorx, I found that it did have a lot of heavy user experience. Also, specifically in the military, it seems that sometimes users are overlooked. So I wanted to add to those efforts of really understanding users—specifically warfighters—and their experience.

CWX: Would you tell us about your first hints of interest in UX design?

CP: A little bit after the pandemic started, I became a preschool teacher. As a preschool teacher, I had a little boy whose name was Colton, who had Down Syndrome. We would give him his tablet at the end of the day to play with, and there were moments when I observed him getting really frustrated with his tablet because the UI was just not accessible to him. He had trouble getting the tablet to do what he wanted it to do. Buttons were too small, or they just didn’t respond well.

My heart was wrung inside of me because I felt he didn’t need this frustration! If only the technology were to adapt to his needs, that’s the way it should be. That’s when I first started thinking about user experience, specifically when it comes to accessibility. That’s when that little spark started within me and grew more and more.

CWx: CWx: Were you already familiar with the concept of user experience?

CP: Not very much, actually. Around that time, a few of my friends were pursuing a certification through different online programs, so I was aware of the term but didn’t realize the extent or the depth of it.

I studied communication during my undergrad and then, shortly after, pursued a certificate for UX Design. Now I am working here in Colorado, for CyberWorx!

A Creative’s Journey to the U.S.

Christelle as a child with family

CWx: Would you tell us about your early life and more about yourself?

CP: I was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and my family of eight moved here when I was around six years old. Coming to America was very life-changing! It’s a whole different world from what I knew in the Congo. We first lived in the Midwest; I was in Illinois since I was in elementary school, and I went to the University of Illinois where I studied Communication and finished in December of 2019.

About myself, I’ve always been a people person. I have five siblings, so I’ve been forced to learn how to deal with people. I didn’t really have hideaways and always shared my room with my sisters. I’m pretty extroverted and very high on creativity.

CWx: Would you tell us how you express that creativity or find outlets for it?

CP: When I was little, whenever there was any kind of problem—for example, something in the house was broken—I would always find a way to solve that problem.

Now that I think back, I wonder: Why was I so determined to find a solution to this issue? It’s so interesting to me that my mind was geared in such a way that I would employ whatever tools, whatever resources I could possibly find to fix that issue—if my little brother’s bicycle was broken, if a window in the house was broken, if I couldn’t find the correct color that I wanted for my coloring.

In any area, I always had it in me that I needed to solve this issue, and 95 percent of the time, I found a solution. So I think that creativity was always in me, since I was a little girl.

Advancing Down the Path of Creativity

CWx: Do you use that creativity or that impulse to solve a problem on non-physical, non-mechanical things, like relational, or process-related, or organizational?

CP: Having five siblings, we’ve had times of disagreements, times when maybe another person felt they never had their way. I think something that having so many siblings has allowed me to learn is empathy—how to place yourself in another person’s shoes. Now if I were a single child, I wouldn’t have had as much opportunity for that, especially at a young age.

I think it’s a really big gift that I have been given, to have so much opportunity to practice the skill of empathy by putting myself in my twin brother’s shoes. Why is he so angry about this issue? Why is it that he can’t share his cheesecake with me? So it’s things like that, those very mundane life circumstances, that have instilled in me skills that I use today in my work.

Growing with AF CyberWorx: A Career in the Making

CWx: When you talk with your friends and family about your time at Air Force CyberWorx so far, what stories do you tell?

CP: One thing that I always tell everyone is about the secret sauce, which is the people! I have been so blessed by having such a strong team that’s willing to support me as I’m getting onboarded, especially as someone who doesn’t have military experience. That was an overwhelming part about joining the team here at CyberWorx. But [for example] someone created a whole Confluence page of military acronyms, and everyone has been so supportive. So I tell everyone that’s what makes this place so awesome. It’s the people.

CWx: What’s one thing you’re excited to do here that you have not done before?

CP: I think one thing that I look forward to doing more here is sharpening my adaptability. Because we get so many different kinds of projects when it comes to the needs of the warfighter, I’m learning how important it is to be on my toes and to be quick to respond or to pivot with the kinds of challenges we get. That’s definitely exciting to me, and it keeps me at this really high energy.

Christell with parents in DC

CWx: Would you like to share any plans for professional growth, and in what areas?

CP: For professional growth, I’ve been thinking about pursuing a master’s. I’m chewing on that a bit more: Human Factors, or Human-Computer Interaction, but definitely something that excites me.

CWx: Could you tell a story about an experience here that surprised you, or challenged you, or increased your interest in an area?

CP: One thing that really excited me recently is the 17X project. When I first came in and was hearing about the project, it sounded like gibberish! All the terms, all the different processes and systems—it was a very big challenge for me.

But again, I had teammates who were willing to sit down with me and speak to me in non-military terms for me to really understand the root of the issue. That’s when I got so fired up and thinking, how can we design a better system, a better app, or a better something that would make the lives of these warfighters easier, and they’re not having to do such heavy lifting to get this work done? That’s one of the first moments I thought, “Wow, I am so excited to be working here, so excited that I get to design in this way.”

After Work Wind Downs

CWx: Besides work, what do you do for fun?

CP: I love music. I love to sing and play guitar. Sometimes I’ll just be in my room singing and playing guitar, and that’s a way for me to wind down. I’m a pretty active person. I enjoy lifting, running, and playing tennis. For the most part, I just like hanging with friends a lot. I love making memories, going on adventures, going on hikes, and exploring Colorado. Since I’m new here, there’s so much to explore!

Christelle, User Experience Designer

CWx: Thank you again, Christelle, for sharing this part of your story with us! We’re excited to be part of your UX Designer story and look forward to seeing you continue the journey!

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