As Martha begins to tell the story of her career change, it immediately strikes a familiar chord. While studying fashion design at university, the doubts were already creeping in as to whether this was the right path. At the same time, she knew someone who was studying UX—and so began a slow but steady shift in a new direction.
“I did my undergrad in fashion design, but I kind of knew while still studying that fashion wasn’t really where my heart was. I was looking into UX design and I was like, oh, this is something that I could totally do!”
A tiny seed had been planted, but for the next four years or so, Martha forged ahead with her fashion career. However, as time went on, she knew she needed to make a change. She started looking into UX design as a potential career path, and she liked what she saw.
“I hit this place in my fashion career where I was like, OK, this is not something that I want to do for the rest of my life. I really needed to make a change. I started learning more about UX design just by looking into tech companies and looking at their job postings. Whenever I came across a UX design or product design job description, I thought: these are either things that I can already do, or things that I could learn how to do and would enjoy doing.”
So what could a career in UX design offer that the fashion industry could not? For Martha, it was that connection with the end user—something that comes up time and time again when talking to career-changers. A job in UX offers a unique chance to shape real-world products and make a visible impact on people’s lives, and for many people, this is the key to a rewarding career.
“One of the main things I was missing in my previous career was that connection to people, feeling like the work that I was doing actually made people’s lives better. That is such a big component of UX design. Caring about the user, caring about the customer, and really understanding their needs was something that really attracted me to the field.”
Martha went in search of a UX design course that would allow her the flexibility to continue working full-time, and that’s when she stumbled upon CareerFoundry. She explains that, while she was weighing up a few different options, in the end it came down to her personal learning needs and the importance of having a mentor.
“I was shopping around for price and credibility, and I also wanted the one-on-one mentorship. I landed on CareerFoundry because it checked all the boxes of being a good price but also offering a comprehensive program. I know myself and the way I learn; I learn better when I’m directed and when I have tangible goals with projects and homework. CareerFoundry ticked all the boxes for me.”
As if juggling a full-time job and a UX design course wasn’t challenging enough, Martha was also applying to a Master’s program at the same time. Towards the end of the course, she was managing a pretty hectic schedule—finishing her UX coursework, starting her Master’s and, of course, maintaining her day job. It sounds impossible, and Martha is clearly some kind of superwoman, but her determination just goes to show that it can be done.
“It was insanity! For two or three months of the CareerFoundry course, there was this overlap of working full time, starting my Master’s program on nights and weekends, and finishing up my CareerFoundry coursework. Everybody was really understanding, and fortunately my day job was pretty consistent—I was able to leave on time everyday, which meant I could schedule the time I needed to spend on CareerFoundry. Living in New York City, I was able to read course materials on my commute. On my lunch breaks, I’d read and do little sketches and things like that. It was a lot of work, but it worked.”
Aside from being an utter whirlwind in terms of scheduling, I’m curious to hear about her experience on the UX Design Course. At this point, Martha highlights a few aspects that stood out to her:
“The Slack channel was extremely helpful—that community of students, having a random question that somebody who’s just one month ahead of you in the course can answer, was really useful. I also had a great mentor; I could email him at any time and he was very open to answering all my questions. Another really useful aspect was learning the UX terminology; it was really helpful to learn all the terms that I come across in my job now. There is so much to UX design that it’s hard to just do a Google search and find a list of all the terms and concepts you need to know. The CareerFoundry course gave me that list; it prepared me for everything.”
After the course, Martha’s first priority was to focus on her Master’s degree. At the same time, she was keen to build up her portfolio, so she did some freelance work on the side. When the time came to start looking for a UX role, Martha found that she was in for yet another learning curve—one that eventually led her to a job offer.
“Interviewing for UX roles was intimidating at first, but having done some freelance work, I felt pretty good about everything that I had learned. I had some unsuccessful interviews where I learned a lot, and this enabled me to do better in my next interviews. Overall, I felt very prepared with knowing all the industry terms and concepts. After that, it was more about finding a company where I really fit in culture-wise.”
Martha landed a summer internship at Skillshare, which turned into a full-time product design role just three months later. She explains how combining her visual design background with her newfound UX skills makes for a highly rewarding day job:
“Because of my background in visual design, I’m working as a product designer, and I love the product that we’re working on. I love being able to make changes and improvements to the product, and really base those decisions on user feedback and research. It’s really fun to come up with an idea that you think will be this wonderful new feature, and then to go out and validate it, or to not validate it and have your ideas challenged! It’s always changing; it’s definitely a lot more interesting than the work I was doing in fashion, where it’s very cyclical and always the same thing every single year.”
Having swapped fashion for UX, Martha feels like she’s finally in the right place in her career. In the future, she sees herself taking on a managerial role within product design, mentoring new designers. She would also consider going freelance somewhere down the road, and looks forward to the flexibility that a career in UX can offer.
“In five years’ time, I still see myself working for a company, but I can also see a path in the future where I could branch off and go freelance, so I could focus on my illustration and product design at the same time.
Not all of us have just one thing we love or are good at. I have coworkers who are musicians and have these other great passions. In this industry, you have the flexibility to pursue both.”
Martha clearly invested huge amounts of time and energy into her career change—so what advice does she have for anyone considering doing the same?
“Get ready to work! You get out of it as much as you put in, and if you’re willing to put in those hours and make that big change in your life, and you’re passionate about it, it’s incredibly rewarding and totally worth it! I remember being at Skillshare that first week of my internship and just feeling like, yes! This is right, this is where I want to be. I feel fortunate being a career changer; I now know what I don’t want, I’ve already had that experience, so it just makes being in this industry and being a UX / product designer that much more rewarding.”
Before we say goodbye, I ask Martha to describe her experience in a nutshell. She leaves me with these rather uplifting words:
“I would say life-changing. When I look back on all the work that I did to get there, I was insane, but it’s so beyond worth it. I’m so happy that I made this change.”
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by Emily Stevens on 07 November 2018