Claire Campbell’s journey into a career in UX design is a far from conventional story.
Claire had no previous experience of UX design before deciding to take an online, mentored course in the subject. Unlike many UX designers, Claire did not start out as a graphic designer, or a web developer, but had already established a successful career in the arts, an industry far removed from technology and startups.
Before taking the plunge in a UX design course with online school CareerFoundry Claire had studied music education alongside arts marketing and management. On completing her studies she worked in various roles in the field, including as an independent music education consultant and in program management and social media roles for two music non-profit organizations.
It was after leaving the second of these non-profits that she felt like she’d come to a dead end in her career, and decided it was time for a complete change. In her management roles there were some major aspects of the job that she didn’t like very much, and they began to overshadow the things that she did like. She loved working with people but found she wasn’t really needed to interact with people in her job. It got to the point where she was dreading going in in the mornings. She knew she needed to find a new job, but felt like she’d already exhausted all of the options in her field. She felt stuck, hopeless, and helpless, so decided to start working with a career coach. The career coach helped Claire discover potential careers that would be a better fit for her personality, and UX was one of them.
Claire’s previous roles had given her plenty of experience working with people in different environments from running workshops to teaching and managing but she knew that coming from a non-tech, non-design background she would need more than just her excellent people skills to succeed in a career in UX design. She chose the course with CareerFoundry because it was aimed at beginners hoping to transition into a new career, not just for those who want to learn more generally about the field or simply apply UX skills to their existing job. From the course she was expecting at the very least to gain a basic understanding of all of the skills and tasks that can fall under the broad term of “user experience” and then be able to apply them in a real world setting as a UX designer.
With so many on and offline courses available for learning about UX design Claire admitted that what attracted her to the CareerFoundry course was that it was solely focused on UX design, unlike many of the other programs she had seen that covered the much broader and theory-heavy topic of human-computer interaction. Claire wanted to get into the field, and working in it, as quickly as possible, so undertaking a masters was not really an option but, as she had zero previous experience, learning from text books would have been too great a challenge.
Claire found the mentor experience offered with CareerFoundry to be the defining feature of her learning. Having a go-to expert she could check in with regularly and discuss difficult concepts with gave her confidence in what she was doing, and a safety net should she falter or need help. Claire developed a great rapport with her personal mentor Meredith, who was quick to give insights and feedback on Claire’s work. Claire told us:
“Meredith was crucial to my success. Talking through the information and the work I’d done with a professional UXer really helped solidify the concepts and helped me refine my own work.”
Of all the UX processes that Claire learned on the course, she found she enjoyed wireframing the most because the process requires a combination of strategic and creative thinking.
Claire’s First Job In UX
Claire knew by around week nine of the course that she was particularly interested in working in a creative agency setting; she felt an agency would be a good fit for her skillset and personality and she would learn quickly and thrive in the fast-paced environment. She began looking into agencies in her local area as well as for regular job postings. When she found a post that looked interesting she would read the job description to see if she would potentially be a good match, but also to see if there were desired qualifications or skills that she did not yet have but could learn or improve upon in order to transform herself into a more well-rounded candidate.
Claire didn’t just limit her search to jobs boards and agencies though. In order to get a more concrete impression of the industry, and to get to know others in the profession she began attending UX professional groups and meet-ups in her area. In addition she began reaching out to individuals to set up informational interviews – people she either found through friends or acquaintances, or even just blindly reaching out to people via email. She found that in general people were very happy to help her and engage with her on the topic of UX design.
How Claire actually landed her first job as a UX designer was a great example of face-to-face networking and the importance of making a great first impression.
Claire was attending an Irish Fair held in her local area one weekend when she came across a booth for Irish Titan, a digital creative agency. Speaking with a woman at the booth she enquired if the company happened to hire UX designers. Luckily for Claire she was informed that the agency was actually looking for someone, and that Claire should connect with the company on LinkedIn.
However, about half an hour later Claire was on the other side of the fair watching some dancing, when a man wearing a kilt and an Irish rugby jersey came towards her and asked “Are you Claire Campbell?”. Although she’d never seen him before, she said “Yes”, and he introduced himself as Darin Lynch, the president of Irish Titan. He said he had checked in at the booth and that the woman working there had said some good things about Claire, and she had told him to “look for a woman with a dark pixie haircut who’s wearing red wellingtons”. Claire then chatted briefly with Darin and told him she’d be in touch on Monday morning. Following this encounter she had two interviews that week with Irish Titan’s creative director and with Darin, and by the Friday morning she was hired as a UX designer for the firm!
What Claire’s story tells us is that although luck plays a role in getting hired, so too does seizing every opportunity. Claire clearly demonstrated her passion and interest in UX design and in what the agency was doing which is what led to her giving such a great first impression. She was active, personable and outgoing in trying to meet the right people and learn as much as she could while onboarding all of the necessary skills.
Of her new job Claire told us:
“I am really lucky because I landed a great job at a great company. I love being in an agency setting where I get to learn about new companies and industries. I learn something new every day and am constantly faced with new challenges, which I find exciting and exhilarating.”
What we can learn from Claire’s story is that no matter what your background, if you are willing and excited to work hard and demonstrate passion you too can succeed in launching a fulfilling, creative and stimulating career in one of the fastest-growest industries right now, UX design.
Rosie Allabarton is editor at the CareerFoundry Blog. CareerFoundry is an online, mentored school for web development and UX design. Their mentors take complete beginners and bring them up to employable standards in tech.