My transition into UX was a long and slow one. It took many “ah-hah” moments in succession to finally leave a comfortable business analyst job and switch over to something I was more passionate about. Here is my journey:
Entrepreneurship as the goal, from start to finish
Soon after starting my first job out of college, I joined a weekly meetup called TIMEOC. The meetup was a great playground to explore and validate business ideas together, and I enjoyed listening to the ups and downs of fellow entrepreneurs and…wantrepreneurs like myself. On one meetup, I stayed late to observe a conversation between a budding entrepreneur the group’s founder, Jeff Duncombe. It was when listening to Jeff wax poetic about the struggles of startup life that something caught my ear:
The business guys don’t understand the programmers and vice versa. Programmers think of the business guys as “suits” who are more or less useless because they don’t make the software. Conversely, the business guys think the programmers are just “code monkeys.” Lots of businesses fail because they lack a bridge between the business and technical staff.
It occurred to me that I want to be the bridge. I want to help both sides understand each other in order to move a venture forward. And of course this isn’t all selfless. The end goal, as I saw it, is to gain the interdisciplinary skills to better prepare me for entrepreneurship. That goal still remains today.
Who Won Startup Weekend?
Not long after, I participated in Startup Weekend for the first time. It was the 2nd time Startup Weekend took place in Orange County, and I was happy to mingle with other startup enthusiasts at Chapman University. I joined 3 Harvey Mudd CSE majors and a business guy to make a loyalty card app. As the coders went to work, I made myself useful by making the app’s UI (using a free trial of Codiqa). I was wireframing and prototyping and didn’t know it.
We didn’t place in the competition, but I had tons of fun working and learning alongside these really smart engineers. The winner of the competition was GrowUnity (and I’m sad the team didn’t further pursue the idea) – they blew everyone away. It wasn’t the beautiful visuals; other teams had just as much UI chops. It wasn’t the presentation or speech; other teams had great orators and presented well. It was the complete thought process, validation and good-old-fashioned research that created a product that people wanted.
GrowUnity was the only team that went out and interviewed their target audience – farmers’ market coordinators & managers – and got testimonials live on camera. This would be called guerilla UX research if I had known the term back then. They vetted their business idea, then ran it through the design funnel of strategy -> functional requirements -> user interface. Then presented to us, the audience. They used the 54 hours of the competition wisely; while the majority of teams (especially engineering-driven ones) were busy trying to code a live prototype of their app, GrowUnity spent all their time asking questions, solving problems, and packaging it all into beautiful storytelling. Not a single line of code needed. Once again, had I known about UX then, GrowUnity applied a robust UX design process to their startup idea and blew the competition away.
At the after party, I approached the GrowUnity team and learned that a couple of them were UX Designers by trade. I had never heard of the term before. Hmm…that sounds like an awesome job, I thought.
User Experience Design. That’s the “bridge between technical and business people” I was looking for. Bingo.
Soon thereafter, I looked for classes to take on anything related to UX Design. Lucky for me, Cal State Fullerton Extension had a new UX certificate program… and it was held at the Garden Grove campus, literally 2 miles away from where I lived at the time. At the same time, I also took UCLA’s UX Design class, which was a much farther commute.
The classes helped me gain a good basic understanding of user experience; CSUF filled me up with good academic knowledge, and UCLA helped me apply that knowledge to a working product, which was imperative to my personal portfolio.
People & Community
My UX classes not only exposed me to useful knowledge, but also a crop of great folks. What I love about this industry is that people are not only super helpful, but a lot come from diverse backgrounds; programming, biology, architecture, journalist, YOU NAME IT! The LAUX meetup group is a testament to just how strong the community is. Absolutely fantastic people.
Also, my personal mentors along the way helped me a lot in evaluating career options and expanding my UX knowledge. The first who come to mind are Eva, Darren, Cesar, Wilson, and Kelsey. Thanks so much for helping me jump into the deep end.
Positioning My Job
During the course of my remaining time as a rotational business analyst (meaning I got to switch around different roles and business areas within the company), I positioned myself to take on digital projects that could give me more relevance in the job application process. I got really lucky here. Not everyone working in a corporate environment has an opportunity to freely pursue projects that align with their interests.
The Job Hunt
The job hunt went more smoothly than I ever thought it would. It took me a lot of effort to put my portfolio together (a very humbling experience I must say), but it paid off in the form of 6 in-person interviews and (and a couple phone interviews that went nowhere). When my first offer came in, I couldn’t believe it. I’m changing careers!
I’m loving this new career, which is not without its struggles and hard lessons. But it feels good to finally call myself a designer.
I know lots of people are trying to transition into the User Experience Field, and for a good reason too – it’s a dynamic, fun, challenging career. I’m in the middle of planning and writing posts about UX career specifics, especially what worked / didn’t work in the job application process. Sign up for my newsletter to stay tuned with new articles I write!