Advice on Advising: Whiteboarding 101


Gayatri Mullapudi is passionate about creating products that solve problems and delight users. She has worked with a variety of companies including B2B/SaaS, AI, Sports, and Consumer. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan (Go Blue!) and has a Master’s Degree from Stony Brook University. She is thrilled to be part of the BUILT BY GIRLS community. In her spare time, she can be found running around Prospect Park, reading a book, practicing yoga, dabbling in modern dance, or trying out a new restaurant.

Make the Most of Your WAVE Sessions

Whether you’re whiteboarding at work to illustrate an idea for a new feature or completing a challenge for an interview, learning to effectively whiteboard is a skill that is crucial for any young person who is interested in working in the tech industry.  At first, I found thinking on the fly and simultaneously drawing and speaking to be daunting, but with some practice, I have become comfortable with it. Teaching these skills to your Advisee is not only something that will help her with her career but can be a fun activity too! 😊

Start at the Beginning

Find a whiteboarding exercise that is suitable for beginners, or, come up with your own. Since it might be your Advisee’s first time whiteboarding, choose something simple and relatable such as designing a consumer-facing app or website. If your Advisee already has some experience whiteboarding, choose an intermediate exercise. I will mostly focus on whiteboarding for product and design challenges, but many of these same tips can be used for coding challenges as well.

Get Organized
Once your Advisee has had a chance to read through the exercise, help them organize the required and pertinent information on one side of the board. The main questions and any features that must be included as part of the challenge belong in this section. Organizing all the “must-have” info in one place will help your Advisee stay on task and ensure that all necessary parts of the challenge are addressed. I usually write the question and “must-haves” on the upper left-hand side of the board, but do whatever works best for you and your Advisee. In the midst of a real-life whiteboarding challenge in an interview setting, the question and must-have list will serve as a checklist. ✅

Think Out Loud
Talk through the problem with your Advisee. Ask questions to help them get started such as “What do you think the goals are here? Who is your target user?  What features would help this user?” Help your Advisee establish empathy with the target user. A good exercise to help them step into the user’s shoes is empathy mapping. Empathy and attention to detail always lead to a great user experience. 

Now you can move on to the actual whiteboarding portion. It’s important to layout the initial page carefully, whether it be for a web or mobile application. 

Ask these questions:

  • What is the goal of the home page?

  • How can you best serve the user?

  • What should the navigation consist of and why?

Thinking through these questions with your Advisee will help them strategize the home page accordingly. If your Advisee is having trouble with this part, sometimes it helps to do a quick competitive/ comparative analysis.  If the exercise asks for a book review app, for example, check out some existing ones such as Goodreads. This should help get the brainstorming process going.

If your Advisee is getting stuck during this part, tell them to trust their intuition and be confident—that’s half the battle during a whiteboarding challenge! It’s important for them to trust their instincts and move forward with their ideas while whiteboarding. Plus, in a real interview situation, they will be under time constraints, so there’s no time to hesitate! 

Once the home page is set up and sketched out, think through a user flow in which the user completes a task. Depending on the exercise you’re using, It could be something like adding a song to a playlist, finding a tennis partner, or finding a book to read for a book club.

Take it One Step Further
What other screens would the user need to see to complete the task? What interactions are necessary? Think through the steps with your Advisee. I would recommend completing an additional 1-2 screens in addition to the home page. Let your Advisee do the drawing to help them feel comfortable whiteboarding. During a real-life whiteboarding scenario, your Advisee would likely have to whiteboard and talk to a few people at the same time, so help them get in the habit of turning around to address a crowd and explain what they are whiteboarding and why. It’s important to be clear and concise when communicating design decisions. If you have limited space and will need to erase one screen before drawing the next, be sure to take photographs of the whole process 📷 This is important because you’ll want to review the setup process and the screens when you’re done. 

Retrospective Time
Once you and your Advisee are done whiteboarding, give her a high-five! They’ve just completed a whiteboarding exercise! Reflect upon the beginning set-up stages and evaluate the screens. What could your Advisee have done differently? Where could they improve?  Did they think through possible edge cases? Constructive criticism will only help them get better. If they want to continue practicing, a great resource could be Daily UI challenge, which emails a different challenge every day. they can use a whiteboard if she has access to one at school, purchase a small whiteboard and expo markers, or just sketch in a notebook.  

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