The Story Of A Pastor Turned UX Designer: Why I Made A Career Change Later In Life

Jeff Buchanan was a pastor for nineteen years before he retrained as a UX designer. Here’s why he decided to make a career change later in life, how he did it, and what he learned along the way.

by Emily Stevens on 23 July 2019

The story of a pastor turned UX designer - why I made a career change later in life

If you’re considering a career change into UX, you might think you need some kind of digital design background. Perhaps you fear you’ve missed the career-change boat altogether—switching to a completely new field and starting again from scratch isn’t really feasible beyond a certain age, right?

Wrong. UX design isn’t just a trendy career path for twenty-somethings, and it’s certainly never too late to retrain and find a job that you’re passionate about. If you don’t believe me, you need to read my interview with CareerFoundry alumnus Jeff Buchanan.

Not only did Jeff come from an entirely offline field—he was a pastor for nineteen years before retraining as a UX designer!—but he also made this rather drastic career change a little later on in life. Was this a scary prospect for him? Yes. Has his age or lack of related experience held him back at all? Not a chance.

These days, Jeff is working as a design strategist in the energy sector—a role that he’s enjoying immensely. But more on that later! Let’s go back to the beginning, before Jeff even knew that UX design was a “thing”…

Hi Jeff. Tell me, what were you doing before you discovered CareerFoundry and became a UX designer?

I’d been in the ministry for about 19 years, so most of my experience has been as a pastor in a number of different organizations. Before that, I was a database analyst at Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville.

So what made you go for a career change?

Having reached a certain age and stage of life, my wife and I were looking to determine what the future holds and how we want to set ourselves up for that future. We decided it was time to relocate in order to meet some of our financial goals, and I was actually going to get into coding as I had some SQL experience from my previous job.

But, when I started looking into coding schools, I happened upon this whole concept of UX. Upon further investigation, I realized it’s really a perfect marriage of how my brain works! There’s this analytical, logical side, but also this creative side to it as well. The more I got into it, the more I fell in love with the concept.

That’s awesome! And how did you reach the decision to take an online UX design course?

I was looking at the UX job market and trying to get an idea of what the future of the industry is. I realized that the demand for UX designers is far exceeding the supply, and it looks to continue that way for years to come. For me, that spoke of job security. So I started looking for schools that had a good reputation, and that had good results in terms of students finding jobs.

CareerFoundry was right there at the top, and what really sold me is that CareerFoundry is venturing into voice user interface design, which I believe is really where the industry is going to be trending even more so in the future. I wanted to get involved in that, so that was the deciding factor for me.

Together with the certified UX Design Program, I took the voice design specialization, which I really enjoyed! It gave me a good basic insight into what the field would require. I’m still finishing the UI for UX designers specialization at the moment.

How would you describe your overall experience studying with CareerFoundry?

Going into it, I was really concerned about whether or not I was going to get any kind of personal attention; was I going to have an experience that was specific to my needs? In the end, I needn’t have worried. The tutor and mentor that were assigned to me were phenomenal! They really devoted their time and gave really great feedback; I could tell that they had actually looked at my assignments and given it some thought. They weren’t afraid to challenge me and say “You need to go back and redo this!” I just had a great experience with them.

In terms of the logistics, I was working full time while taking the course. The estimate that CareerFoundry provided was pretty accurate; it required about 20 hours a week.

What was the most challenging aspect of taking the UX design course?

Learning the concepts of UX and having to get up to speed on the software was quite a challenge, because not only do you have to take time getting to grips with the material, you then have to go in and learn the software in order to be able to complete the assignments, so that was probably the most challenging thing.

I’ve done a degree online before so I knew a little bit about what to expect, but my CareerFoundry experience was really positive, especially the way that people are connected. Mike McCulloch, one of the CareerFoundry career specialists, was excellent when i had challenges regarding the job application process. He took the opportunity to personally connect with me, and that really makes a difference.

What were your next steps once you finished the course?

Once I finished the UX Design Program, I did the Job Preparation Course and just kind of followed the steps that CareerFoundry laid out. I got my LinkedIn profile up to speed, got my online portfolio where it needed to be, and then just started actively applying.

In the space of a few months, I had a couple of interviews and eventually got to the point where I received two job offers at once. I was able to choose, and I’m now working at Duke Energy, an energy company in about seven states here in the US.

What was it like interviewing for your first job as a UX designer?

It was a little bit intimidating, trying to learn about the whole new concept of lean and agile, for example. The CareerFoundry job prep was almost a course in itself, and I found myself having to learn about a whole new industry and how they approach things—you ultimately have to learn a whole new mindset.

For the job I’ve got now, they were starting a brand new initiative called the Lighthouse Initiative. They’ve built a brand new facility, and their goal is to completely revitalize the software and products for their company. When I came across the job, it really checked every single box on my checklist in terms of what I was looking for in my new career.

Funnily enough, when I applied, I didn’t even think that I’d be qualified, but the interview they put out was really creative! The final round consisted of a three-hour interview and a whiteboard challenge. I wanted to take part in the interview just for the experience, then I ended up getting the job!

That’s fantastic. How did you feel about landing the role?

I was excited to land a job that requires me to go through the entire product development process—from the ideation / problem recognition phase, right through to full execution. With this job, the experience I’m getting is really taking me from A to Z as far as UX design is concerned, which is really not what I was expecting from my first entry-level role! I was thinking I’d take a job that would give me some exposure to the field, but this is pure UX all the way! It’s also an excellent opportunity to work with people who have been in the industry for a while, who have experience, so this is my chance to build a really solid foundation and learn from others as I continue to develop myself as a UX designer.

You’ve been working as a designer for a couple of months now. How are you enjoying it?

I’m enjoying my new role very much! I’m serving as the design strategist for four product teams and I’m learning a lot—not only about design, but about the energy industry as well. You might think that an energy company may not be that interesting in terms of design work, but I’m working on projects that involve the implementation of drones for inspections, machine learning for work optimization, and development of digital solutions that will help prevent accidents and hazardous situations for field workers. A lot of my job involves the application of Design Thinking and helping to create solutions to various problems and challenges among the product lines. While it feels like I’m drinking from a fire hose at times, I’m in a great environment that is committed to innovation, creativity, and helping people continue to develop and grow!

You made your career change after almost twenty years in a completely different industry. How has that been for you?

Being middle-aged, it was a little intimidating taking on such a drastic career change, especially in a field that has the reputation of being oriented towards a younger demographic. However, I’ve found that relevance, creativity, and ability are a mindset and often we can be our own worst enemies. I love working with such a diversity of ages and finding that we each bring our own valuable perspectives, abilities, and experiences. In many cases, our limitations are not based on age but attitude. I’ve found the key for me is to embrace my stage of life while keeping a youthful attitude that embraces change, innovation, and evolving creativity. That’s the secret to success at any age! My perception is that I’m going to be a lifelong learner. It’s not like you ever arrive; you’re always going to be learning and educating yourself, and it’s all about maintaining that attitude if you’re going to be excellent in the field!

Excellent advice! Do you have any additional words of wisdom for those considering a career change into UX?

Get over the imposter syndrome and the intimidation factor. I’ve made this career change later in life, and I’d really like to say that you’re never too old to break into the field. I was concerned about experiencing a certain level of ageism, but I actually haven’t found that. I know it’s out there, but I didn’t experience it. I was interviewed mainly by twenty-something year olds throughout the process, and it was great, it was a wonderful experience. I think it’s about mindset; you have to go in with the mindset that you’re never too old to learn, and it’s really just a matter of you setting your mind and setting your attitude to “I can do this!” There were points where I got really discouraged, especially in the job interview phase, but that’s just part of the process. You just have to learn from that, move forward, and have a long-term view.

Speaking of having a long-term view, what are your plans for the future?

In 3-5 years, I would really like to see myself moving forward in my current role. I have also been approached by a local school here, Tech Talent South; a recruiter who found me through my LinkedIn profile asked if I would be interested in instructing some classes! I emailed back and said maybe in a few years—I’m not there yet! But it did open my mind to the fact that I love to teach, and so I would love the opportunity to really help others once I’ve got my legs under me and got my foundation built. I’d love the opportunity to help others break into the field.

Thanks, Jeff!

Are you feeling inspired by Jeff’s story? Ready to seize the day and start building a career you love? Discover our guide on how to become a UX designer, or check out the links below.

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by Emily Stevens on 23 July 2019

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.