Renato Verdugo (He/They) is a New York–based User Experience Researcher at YouTube where he focuses on understanding and documenting the everyday lives of YouTube Creators. His background in both computer science, aesthetics and art history merge in the visual ethnography practice he has pioneered at YouTube. In his research, documentary photography and storytelling become tools and vehicles for UX insights. More recently, he founded and leads YouTube's Culture Lab, a research group focused on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion topics.

I wish someone had told me at the beginning of my career that subjectivity is a precious gift instead of something to hide, mitigate, or run away from. Subjectivity in research isn’t a dirty word and it can co-exist with truthfulness and methodological rigor.

I most admire people who understand the value of paying mentorship forward. If you’ve been blessed with a good mentor or someone who held a door open for you, the best way to thank them for their generosity is for you to be generous with others. I’m so grateful for the wonderful mentors I’ve had throughout my career and I’ve often thought ‘how can I possibly repay them?’ Chocolates and flower bouquets are not the answer! When I was 18 years old I met the person who would eventually be my PhD advisor many years later (Professor Miguel Nussbaum). His openness to being available to everyone—including a very lost 18-year-old me—taught me this important lesson: keep your calendar open and ask that people pay it forward whenever someone needs their time in the future. Keep the magic flowing!

A future-fit research world looks HUMAN. It’s easy to get lost in a sea of metrics, methods, fancy acronyms, and software-as-a-service that promises to solve all problems. But the answer is never the tool! Research is about empathy-driven human connection. We must celebrate our shared humanity and everything else will follow. 

My resilience tip for when times get tough is to give yourself grace. It’s easy to look at others and feel like everyone else is breezing through challenges while you’re the only one stuck. We need to normalise talking about our insecurities and challenges as much as we talk about our successes. Writing an advice-filled blog post like this one might suggest I’ve figured out my career, but trust me… I HAVEN’T. I wake up every morning and throw lots of metaphorical spaghetti at metaphorical walls. Very little of it sticks, but I then write guest blog posts like this one about the stuff that stuck. So when times get tough come to my metaphorical kitchen and see all the spaghetti on my floors and give yourself some grace; you’re doing great!

I have another tip for you about resilience. I like to repeat to myself the mantra “this too shall pass, and I am worthy of being loved”. It’s two ideas that I like to remind myself of every day. This too shall pass means that whatever joy or sorrow I’m experiencing that day is temporary. It keeps me humble on my good days, and helps me push through the rough days. Being worthy of being loved means that regardless of what’s happening that day, my value as a human being is not at stake. I often look back at my teenage self and realise that as a closeted queer kid in a very homophobic environment I very frequently felt unworthy of being loved. I never want to go back to that feeling and I never want anyone else to feel that way. So if you’re reading this, no matter how good or bad a day you’re having: this too shall pass and you are worthy of being loved.

 The most amazing or memorable experience I’ve had whilst working in research is running YouTube’s Creator in Residence Program. This is an ongoing effort that you can read more about here. As an ethnographer I am lucky to be invited to share the everyday life of my research participants. It’s not uncommon for us to become good friends—remember, subjectivity isn’t a bad thing! I love landing somewhere far from home and to know that I will break bread with dear friends who I am lucky to also call my research participants. 

The one story I’ve always wanted to tell but never had a chance to tell is the one I’m telling at MRSpride: SHOW UP, so given that you made it this far in this blog post click here to register and I’ll see you in London (or online) on September 15, 2022.

A research project I wish I had worked on is curating the Voyager Golden Records that were on board the Voyager probes launched in 1977. Carl Sagan said that “the launching of this 'bottle' into the cosmic 'ocean' says something very hopeful about life on this planet”. There’s also a very touching love story that happened behind the scenes during that project. Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan fell in love while working on the Voyager Interstellar Message. Radiolab has a beautiful episode about it that you can listen to here

To me, great leadership looks like giving people space to experiment while celebrating their successes and encouraging them through their failures.

The main challenge in building a more inclusive world is recognising that it’s everyone’s job to do so. Inclusion isn’t an add-on, or something you can externalize to others. It needs to be in the DNA of everything you and your organization does. It needs to be something everyone thinks about from day one, something everyone feels empowered to act on, and something everyone is vested in its success. All of this is easier said than done.

If I wasn’t doing this, I would be doing exactly this in a very different setting. I like talking to people so I think that no matter where I would’ve ended up I’d be asking strangers questions and befriending them. I feel very lucky to do this in a professional capacity, but I think the skills that make you a good researcher would also make you good at other jobs where you have to talk to strangers for a living. Like, I think I’d be a good real estate agent. Ok, I’m going to stop typing. Thanks for making it this far and reading all of this; take it all with a grain of salt!


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