From Dentistry to Design: Why Changing Careers is Tough...and How I Came Out the Other Side

While working in the dental industry, Matin discovered his passion for user experience. He now works at a government-based organization as a fully-fledged UX designer. Here’s how he transformed his career.

by Emily Stevens on 15 May 2018

matin mohammadi

Matin’s story is without doubt one of the most unpredictable — and fascinating — that I’ve heard in a while. A quick scan of his LinkedIn profile tells me that, prior to becoming a UX designer, he was working in the dental industry, and I can’t wait to find out how he ended up swapping teeth for wireframes.

As we settle into our call, Matin describes how he spent four years working as an office manager in a dental surgery, and then another four years as a dental assistant. He also studied applied psychology at university, and this is when the UX seed was first planted.

“I got my bachelor degree in psychology, focusing on human behaviour, and while I was working as office manager at the dental practice, I was always thinking about how to make the office friendlier, how patients could have a better experience. At the same time, I was updating websites for all these dental practices that I knew around the area. Then someone suggested I take a look at UX, so I started researching and learned what UX actually means. Next thing, I searched for a school, and that’s when CareerFoundry came up.”

Seizing the opportunity to study UX while still working full time, Matin enrolled on the course and was pleasantly surprised to find himself part of such a diverse community. In fact, the impact of this stretched well beyond the course: Matin is now good friends with fellow UXers all around the world, purely because of the CareerFoundry Slack channel!

“The Slack channel is pretty cool. If you go to school in your area, you’re just limited to the people in that area, but the Slack channel is worldwide. Most of the UX stuff that we do is about social norms and cultural differences, so I think it’s pretty cool that we can actually see that on the Slack channel. Whenever we had a project, we put it up there and could see how different people with different backgrounds had different views of what we were creating.”

In retrospect, Matin also found that the structure of the course served as realistic preparation for the industry, likening the instructor feedback to that of real-world clients.

“The fact that we have to go back and forth in one project and hand it to the instructor to grade, read their feedback and redo it, that’s pretty cool because that’s very close to how the real world works. Your client might not be happy with the first thing you do and it’s not unusual to keep going back and forth with feedback and critique. You have to be open to everything they say and be prepared to keep changing stuff.”

So far, so good. Matin graduated the course and was ready to jump into his new career. He moved to Toronto in search of a job, but the job market had other ideas. Three months later, he found himself back in his hometown of Washington DC — and back to square one.

At this point, he talks very candidly of how the doubt crept in, of how he struggled with the reality of sending out resumes and simply getting no response. He started to question whether his portfolio was good enough — whether he was good enough, even.

This might not sound like the stuff of success stories, but this bump in Matin’s journey is a good reminder that changing careers is a process. It doesn’t happen overnight, nor does it always go to plan, and sometimes you have to go through the troughs before you hit the peak.

Fortunately, this is where the CareerFoundry Career Services Team and the Job Guarantee can help. Matin got back in touch with his Career Advisor, and things picked up from there.

“I started talking to Mike, my Career Advisor at CareerFoundry, and he showed me how to change my portfolio and how to create my own personal brand. From there, everything got a bit more organised and I started to learn how the market works.”

A few months later, Matin landed a pretty impressive role as UX designer and researcher at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. It just so happened that, during the course, Matin had worked on a very similar project to one that NGA wanted to implement, and this hands-on experience really helped him to stand out.

After what sounds like quite the emotional rollercoaster, I’m keen to hear how it felt to start that first job. As always, Matin is refreshingly honest and not afraid to address both the good and the bad.

“Good and bad. It’s a very different environment for me. I was in the healthcare environment, and I had imaged that, as a UX designer, I would always be in creative environments — studios, smaller companies, startups. I never thought that I’d be working for a big government-based organisation like NGA. I’m the only UX designer here, all the others are developers. I enjoy that I’m the boss of everyone; whatever the UX designer says, they have to go along with it! — (Here, he laughs) — At the same time, I’m freaking out because, as a first job, I have that much responsibility and authority. I have to keep researching, keep learning, coming up with new ideas.”

Despite these challenges, Matin admits that this job is really good for his resume and for making new contacts. He’s especially enjoying the opportunity to get to know other people in the field, and plans to network as much as possible.

On the subject of networking: since graduating the course, Matin has not only been busy changing careers. He also founded his own UX design meetup group. What started with four people in Starbucks has now grown into a 200-strong network, inspired in part by the CareerFoundry Slack channel.

“I felt like my area [Washington DC] was lacking in these kinds of meetup groups, so I started my own. I marketed it through LinkedIn, Instagram, word of mouth, and people started to join. At first there were about four of us meeting in Starbucks, but now we’re about 200 members. Last week, around 45 people showed up. We gather once or twice a month and talk about UX, do some sketching, site maps, tell each other what we’ve learned. About 60% are students, but there are also entrepreneurs, product managers and even tutors. I also started a Slack channel for the group, inspired by CareerFoundry!”

Regardless of the challenges he has faced along the way, it’s overwhelmingly clear that Matin is passionate about his newfound field. As we wind down our call, I ask him about his plans for the future, and he’s bursting with ambition.

“I have a few things in mind! I want to grow the meetup. I don’t know if I want to add conferences or include a teaching element, but I really enjoy giving advice to others in the UX field, so something like that for sure. I also want to have my own design studio with other people, like a startup, hopefully creating something big. I imagine gathering together all different kinds of people — developers, UI designers, UX designers — and getting projects, like a group of freelancers all working together.”

Before we say goodbye, I ask Matin to share his advice to anyone considering a career change. Once again, I’m struck by his determination and resolve:

“It’s scary, it’s really scary. It consumed a lot of energy. I was pretty sick and sad and mad in the past, and while struggling to find a job, I was really upset about everything. But I said to myself: this is the decision I made and I’m going to stick with it. I’m not going to give up. So never give up! There are people who can help you. Go out there and market yourself, that’s the best advice I can give. It’s about believing in yourself and putting yourself out there!”


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by Emily Stevens on 15 May 2018

About the author

Emily Stevens

Emily is a professional tech writer and content strategist. She spent over a decade in tech startups, immersed in the world of UX and design thinking. In addition to writing for The CareerFoundry Blog, Emily has been a regular contributor to several industry-leading design publications and wrote a chapter for The UX Careers Handbook. She also has an MSc in Psychology from the University of Westminster.