Changing career to a role in UX

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“If you don’t like the road you’re walking, start paving another one” – Dolly Parton

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As we’re thinking about emerging from lockdown round two, between the zoom calls, baking and daily exercise, many of us have had more hours than anticipated for reflection. We’re ready for a change, whether that’s gratefully welcoming the first signs of spring, reconnecting with loved ones or realising long ignored DIY dreams. For some, the inside hours may also have led to reassessing priorities, geographies and perhaps even a shift in careers…

Taking the plunge

In 2018, after several years of trying on jobs for size and almost settling into one, I had decided to make a career change, and found myself taking the plunge out of my secure salaried job to jump back into the uncertainty and financial ruin of student life.

Fast forward 3 years and I’m very happily enjoying a career in UX design. Working with an amazing team of people in a satisfying job that allows the space for creativity on the daily! Over the next few paragraphs,I’ve attempted to summarise what made me take the leap and how I found the journey.

The road to career bliss is not straight forwards

Did you always know what you wanted to be when you grew up?

Some people do, but for the vast majority of us, the choice isn’t always so clear. These life-defining decisions are in constant flux determined by: where you are in that moment, what you’ve been exposed to up until that point and the early qualifications you may have stepped or fallen into with some (or perhaps very little) thought for your future self.

When I left university with a, somewhat considered, degree in music and cultural studies all I wanted to do was travel. My priorities at that time were making just enough to pay for a flight somewhere hot and leaving the Blighty drizzle behind me. 

Back in the UK, career consideration came more into focus. I threw myself into short term placements, internships that aligned with my passions and anything else that would pay me. Jobs from the cafe and restaurant work that I loved, to a brief interlude at a record label, stewarding music venues, working as a teaching assistant, running art workshops, gigging as a jazz vocalist, festival planning, finance and a host of uninspiring admin jobs.. (nightmarish flashbacks to a day of licking envelopes)..the list goes on…

One interesting job working at a law firm, felt like it might just about stick. My family were very pleased I had a job they could tell their friends about and I was learning a lot in the process but, as time went on, the creeping sense that something wasn’t quite aligning with my heart and the day to day was preoccupying the window gazing. The unnerving feeling had set in that something needed to change and that maybe I should explore a new career but I had little to no idea as to what this role should be. 

Rather than attempting to pinpoint a specific position, I began to reflect on what really made me feel excited and what I had found myself missing in my day to day. 

Ultimately, all signs pointed back to the same thing, an unfulfilled love of creating!

I began experimenting with a creative side hustle of illustration and textile design which felt like a good step in the right direction but quickly realised that for me, starting something alone was tough and maintaining focus was even tougher! I needed a bit of structure and accountability and longed to be part of a team and to develop a career where I could build a catalogue of skills.

Enter UX Design

I was first introduced to UX design through a conversation with a friend. (Top tip! If ever in doubt about what you should be doing with your life, talk to the 4 people that know you best – chances are they will know more about what’s good for you than you do).  

They told me about their friend that was a UX designer at a healthcare start-up and gave me a high-level summary of the activities involved in her role. The passing conversation turned into my first google search. The more I learnt about the job, the more excited I became about the possibility of living it. 

The blend of research, design thinking, creativity and collaboration ticked all the boxes. The spark of an idea turned into several more chats, speaking to people in the industry and eventually taking the plunge to apply for an intensive 3-month immersive course to go back and study.

Though I hadn’t worked in technology before, the process-driven, creative, people-centric nature of the work felt aligned with my skillset and personal research gave me the confidence to explore the field ‘try it on’ and see what happened.

Since quitting my job and being accepted onto the course I’ve not looked back. Returning to study gave me the opportunity to work on some juicy projects (with a class full of other career changers) that led to developing my first UX portfolio and eventually saw me securing a position at &us.

Getting the job is just the beginning:  Fear of the unknown and imposter syndrome

There have been several moments of doubt along the way and imposter syndrome is rife, especially when you’re surrounded by super-smart experts in their fields! But it really does get easier, and with every new project, your experience and personal toolkit grow a little more. It definitely wasn’t easy being a beginner again, but my most important lesson learnt was not being afraid to ask for help.

Whether junior or seasoned pro, you can always learn from each other, from tapping into new perspectives on approach and working structures, bouncing around creative inspiration and sharing the ups and downs, challenges and success stories of your team’s past experiences.

The more questions you ask the quicker you’ll learn and it’s totally OKAY to not have all the answers. In UX every challenge is different and being comfortable with uncertainty and working through this together as a team is part of the process. 

Some final top tips if you’re thinking about making a career change:

  • Do your research – Youtube or online learning platforms have a host of free or low-cost courses, ready for you to absorb in whatever industry you might be interested in exploring. *For UX, I found the Interaction Design Foundation helpful for brushing up on the theoretical side, other friends recommend Career Foundry, Udemy or Coursera for affordable, self-paced short courses.
  • Reach out to people who have done it already – if you don’t know anyone directly in a role you’re curious about, start branching out to people on Linkedin. Here you’ll have access to a whole professional network at your fingertips.
    – (Subpoint > Be brave! – Don’t be shy to reach out. Most people are really nice and will be happy to help in some way if they can.)
  • Go to Industry events – a bit more tricky right now, but UX meetups either physical or virtual are a great way to learn more about what’s happening in the industry and ask questions directly.
  • Plan your finances – A boring one but you will most likely need some buffer if you’re looking to make a career change. The transition between careers isn’t always quick and you’ll need to cover the costs of study and the period of finding a job afterwards.
  • Don’t stop until you get to where you need to be – Set a goal and go for it, some days will be harder than others but it’s important to keep pushing forwards and to celebrate the little wins!

It’s also really important to remember that coming sideways into a new career is very common, especially in newer industries like UX design. You’ll also no doubt have picked up a whole load of transferable and invaluable skills with you along the way, so celebrate this and promote what makes you, you, as you’ll bring your own unique perspectives and experience to the work.

Wherever you’re at in your career change good luck! If you have any questions about making a career change to UX design, do reach out to me or anyone else from The &us team.