Michelle David played video games growing up, but she never expected to work in the industry. As a kid, she certainly didn’t know she’d grow up to become the UX designer at Zynga, working on the extremely popular game Words With Friends.
“I knew I wanted to be a creator,” David said. “After school, I looked around and noticed this new wave of gaming blossoming on smartphones.”
David paid attention to the trend and started freelancing — creating props, characters and icons for various indie mobile games. After working as a game artist for an educational mobile game company, she tried her hand at UI and UX in addition to game art. Eventually, she caught the attention of Zygna, the developers of Words with Friends and its sequel, Words with Friends 2.
Climbing the ladder
Women working in the tech industry often face discrimination, from the intern level to the board room. Women remain underrepresented across the tech workforce, and a pay gap in the industry still holds strong.
Looking back on her early career, David said that it was rare to see women in traditional leadership roles and women role models. Most of the time, David recalls, the people who had a seat at the table were men.
“At times, I think I struggled to find my confidence and voice. I grappled a lot with imposter syndrome, and still do from time to time,” she said. “However, with the help of both female and male mentors in various disciplines, I realized along the way that my voice was just as important. Now I see so many confident and smart women in leadership roles all around me who continue to inspire.”
The World of Words with Friends
Words with Friends is a well-known mobile game where players can get competitive in a digital mashup of Scrabble and crossword puzzles. Part of the appeal of the game is how it toes the line between escapism and intellectual pursuit, David said.
“It’s a lot of fun,” she added. “It’s such a recognized game that at least a couple times a week, someone will casually mention Words With Friends in a random comment and I get to say, ‘I work on that game!'”
Learning how much the game means to players has been a rewarding part of the job, David said. In addition to just playing with friends and family, the team has heard stories of players finding new friendships and even romantic partners through random matches in the game.
The game has touched David’s life personally as well. When her father was living in Guam, the two were constantly playing phone tag because of the 18-hour time difference.
“It still felt like we were connected despite the distance because we always had a Words With Friends move from one another waiting in each other’s games lists,” David said. “And I let him win from time to time.”
A seat at the table
While David might not have had many female role models in her field growing up, she’s in good company now.
“For more girls and young women to see tech as a viable career path, they need to see more examples of women succeeding in this field,” she said.
While visibility and representation are getting better, there are still lots of seats at the table waiting to be filled by more diverse perspectives, David said. Technology is broad and encompassing: There’s something for everyone to work on.
“Tech is a medium for creativity and there’s so much room for women to innovate and experiment with how we shape the field for the future,” David said.