Picture this — a person with a bachelors’ and master’s degrees from prestigious universities doing a very stressful unpaid internship with no career perspectives. This was me in spring 2016.
Fast forward three years and I am in a senior UX job in an exciting tech company in a completely different country.
I want to share my story of getting into UX. If you recently decided that you’d like to switch career paths but you are unsure how to learn the skills and get a job fast, this article is for you.
So how did I get to where I am?
I had two months of my unpaid internship left at the time and then I had to leave Italy and either get a job or move back to Siberia to stay with my parents, which as exciting as it sounds, was not my plan. So I made a decision to quit my internship and dedicate two months to learning as much as I can about UX and getting a job.
I am going to do a breakdown of the steps I took.
First and foremost, the only way this would work — even if you do not have the luxury of dedicating two months of your full attention to studying — is knowing that you really want to work as a UX designer.
For the sake of this article let’s say that you would love to create meaningful and intuitive interactions for a living.
- Firstly, set yourself a deadline, even if you don’t have external time constraints like I did. This will push you to commit to your plan. Assess your existing skills and strengths; most likely you have a few transferable skills. And then figure out where the gaps are. I had a degree in communication and business as well as years of art school behind, which made my transition into UX quite smooth.
My motivation for setting a two-month deadline was quite straightforward — I had two months left on my travel visa and then I had to go home, and since I didn’t want to move back in with my parents after doing a 6-month unpaid internship I was really determined to get a job. Or at least set myself up for getting a job in UX and being able to support myself. So by quitting my internship I focused on learning as much about UX as possible as I felt had to be able to show something for the time I spent away from home. And it was totally worth it. I would say that this rigid deadline helped me compose myself and keep moving rather then sit there and think of the things I could do.
- I would strongly advocate in favour of reading lots of books in the beginning of your career in UX. Get your hands-on books on UX basics as well as on other areas where you think you lack knowledge. I’d say you need to have an understanding of interaction design, psychology, communication and business. From my experience, as soon as you cover the basics you absolutely need to dive deeper into the user research methodologies, design thinking, quantitative and qualitative methodologies. I personally found books with case studies and examples most useful. IDEO case studies, even though they are non-digital, were very powerful to me.
Here are a few that I loved and found extremely useful:
Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman
Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug
Just Enough Research by Erika Hall
Seductive Interaction Design by Stephen P. Anderson
Design is a Job by Mike Monteiro
Sketching User Experiences by Bill Buxton
Designing Products People Love by Scott Hurff
Mapping Experiences by James Kalbach
Lean Analytics by Alistair Croll and Benjamin Yoskovitz
Rosenfeld media offer a great variety of books with narrow focus so mix and match to boost the skills you feel less confident in.
You can read more about what books helped me to get into UX in my other article.
- Do an online course. There are a lot of free or inexpensive online resources and I personally found the Coursera Specialization in Interaction Design the most useful for that initial learning phase. The course consists of 8 parts, which include introduction to design principles, HCI and information architecture, as well as the basics if research, prototyping and running experiements.The last part is a capstone project where all the skills are applied to your project which was a great learning experience for me.
I did some of the Michigan State one on edx.org as well, but found the pace too slow for myself, whilst with coursera it was almost 100% self-paced with an engaged community and resources to help you along the way.
Interaction Design Foundation was a great source throughout all of my first year of work with more narrow-focused short courses.
- Create an online presence. You have the power of leveraging how people see you online. Well-curated Linkedin, Twitter and other social media accounts can give you an advantage over other people competing for the same job. Portfolio was a crucial thing that helped me to get my first job pretty fast. It is quite natural that you will not have that much to showcase — I did a few case studies and small projects for my friends, just to be able to give people an idea of my thought process and approach to problem-solving. Use those tools not only to create a presence but to connect with more people and become part of a UX community.
As a UX designer you want your protfolio to communicate what kind of a UX specialist you are, if you have an inclination towards research or interaction design or information architecture. Be honest about your level of involvement in the project and what exactly you were responsible for. You want people to see your approach to problem-sloving and how you work in a team rather than just show them final products with polished UI.
Portfolio is one of the key things that shows prospective employers who you are. My advice would be to add your personality to it and not use a basic template. This way not only can you showcase your professional skills but you can also spark an interest in you as a person, stand out from other candidates.
Also, don’t get too carried away by intricate animations and graphics, those are nice-to-haves, but for your first portfilio you might want to concentrate on the basics — that is communicating your approach, thought process and problem-solving skills, rather than UI skills.
- Find a mentor. I was lucky to have a person already working in UX industry to talk to on a daily basis throughout my first months. For me the most useful part of this was being able to discuss what I have learned and the ideas I had, rather than getting help or opinions on my online assignments. Having a person who understands UX made it possible for me to grow and establish my thought process in a better way — you can’t get there on your own.
- This brings me to the last point — get involved, if possible attend UX events and meet-ups in your area, if not — become more active online. Meetup.com is a great place to get started with a good selection of local meetups across the world. Not only will this help you learn more, it can open up new opportunities — the world of UX is quite small and very friendly. Plus, you be in a more advantageous position when you’ll be ready to start looking or a job.
I established a routine of reading and doing online courses and by the end of two months started applying for jobs and got one quite fast — which was a change after the fashion industry.
So the best advice I can give would probably be to go for it, if you really want it.
If anyone is interested in hearing more about finding a job abroad and getting a work visa, don’t hesitate to reach out.