From Gastronomy to UX/UI: How I Retrained as a Designer for Free

After ten years in the hospitality industry, Filipe found himself unemployed for the first time in his life when restaurants closed due to the pandemic. Here’s how he retrained for a new career in UX/UI design for free.

by Alison Ward on 8 December 2021

Filipe Monteiro, UX/UI designer and CareerFoundry graduate

Filipe has a background in graphic design, and extensive experience working in the restaurant industry. However, when the pandemic hit and restaurants closed in 2020, he found himself unemployed for the first time in his life. 

At age 43, he decided to enhance his graphic design skill set and retrain for a career in UX design. With support from the Agentur für Arbeit (the job center in Germany), Filipe was able to obtain a training voucher to study with CareerFoundry free of charge and launch his career in UX. He landed a role as a UX/UI designer at Conrad Electronic Group, which recently led to a new role as a business analyst.

I caught up with Filipe in September 2021 to learn all about his process with the German job center, his experience on the CareerFoundry UX Design Program, and what it was like to job hunt for his first role in the field after such a big transition. Without further ado, here’s his story.

Hi Filipe! Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your background, please? 

Hi Alison! Sure. So my name is Filipe Monteiro and I’m from Portugal. I’ve been living in Germany since January 2012. For the last two years I’ve lived in a small city called Mühldorf, which is about 80 kilometers east of Munich. Before that I lived in Kaiserslautern, which is on the other side of Germany, close to the French border.

In 2011, there was a big financial crisis in Portugal. My ex-wife’s side of the family was living in Germany, which made it easier to adjust when we moved here. In Portugal, I was working as a graphic designer but when I moved to Germany I started working in gastronomy. 

I see. And you were a restaurant manager, right? 

Well, I started working behind the bar, you know, doing whatever I could do. And then I ended up becoming a restaurant manager at the same Mexican restaurant I worked at for eight years. When I moved to Mühldorf, I kept working in gastronomy but then Covid-19 came along. At the start of the pandemic, I was on Kurzarbeit in Germany, which is like temporary unemployment—you’re not out of a job, but you are also not getting paid in full. 

How did you deal with that situation and what made you look towards a career in UX/UI?

I was just waiting for things to get better, to be honest. And then one day I was just browsing Facebook and I saw CareerFoundry and the UX program. I knew about UI already from my graphic design background, so I started researching more as I thought it would be a good opportunity to complement the skills I already had.

I didn’t really act on it, though, at the time; I was not technically unemployed and, in all honesty, the CareerFoundry program was out of my budget. But then, the time came when I did find myself without a job, because lockdown restrictions were constantly being extended and restaurants could not open. That’s when I thought, this is the opportunity to do it. That’s when I contacted the German employment center, the Agentur für Arbeit, as I knew I might be eligible to take the course for free.

How does it work with the Agentur für Arbeit?

Well, first, I learned that the Agentur für Arbeit doesn’t just sponsor any course—your case has to be approved by them. I saw that information on CareerFoundry’s website, but I double checked the details with an advisor at CareerFoundry just in case. They explained the process and confirmed I was eligible to apply for the training voucher. Then I started preparing the paperwork for my appointment at the job center.

How long did the process take? 

It was pretty fast for me. I think you have to be lucky with the person that you get at the job center. I’m delighted to say that I got an amazing person to help me. I’m not sure exactly how long it takes on average, but for me the whole process was complete within two or three weeks, and then I was just waiting for the next course dates to start with CareerFoundry.

You mentioned that you saw an ad for CareerFoundry. What made you decide to study with CareerFoundry in the end?

I looked at reviews, I talked to people who’d already done a course at CareerFoundry and I heard nothing but good things. So I didn’t even think of researching other schools; I just went straight to CareerFoundry.

How did you find the shift from gastronomy, to not working, to instantly being a full-time student at home? 

It was not easy because, at the age of 43, I found myself unemployed for the first time in my life. Gastronomy, which I have been doing for the last ten years, takes up a lot of your time. You have to work weekends and holidays, but I loved it. It’s a job where you have human contact all day long so to then find yourself at home, locked down and unable to go anywhere was hard. But I adjusted, and I was very lucky with my tutor and mentor at CareerFoundry who supported me.

Was there a particular highlight from your time studying?

The student support from CareerFoundry is amazing. Some students that I came across would sometimes say that their tutor takes too long to answer, or their mentor sometimes doesn’t answer emails, but I was extremely lucky with both my mentor, Farley Fernandes, and tutor, Allison Okko. There were days where I was doing two or three exercises and my tutor was approving my work within a couple of hours.

Just a side note, I’m going to Portugal tomorrow, actually, and I will be meeting up with my mentor, Farley, because he lives there! We will go for a coffee and it’ll be nice to chat in person.

That’s lovely to hear! So you’ve mentioned the highlights, what about any challenges you faced while studying?

I felt frustrated at times. I was looking at the example exercises, which I’d use to build my own work, and my tutor, Allison, would sometimes say, ‘No, Filipe, it’s still not good enough, you need to change this’ and I’d get frustrated trying to understand why. But, to those reading this who are also experiencing something similar, know that in the end it will make sense. If you get this kind of constructive feedback it’s because there’s something you can do better. Keep in mind that everything you make better in your work will go into your portfolio in the end.

An image taken from Filipe's portfolio

To see more of Filipe’s work, check out his portfolio.

You already had a background in graphic design. Did that help you when it came to learning UX?

Absolutely. Even though it’s been ten years since I was working as a graphic designer, when the software that I used was CorelDRAW and Photoshop, the transition to Figma and Sketch was very easy for me.

True, the software may have changed, but I think the skills and understanding you learn as a designer stay with you. What advice would you give someone who is studying with CareerFoundry right now and perhaps facing similar challenges? 

Take it to the end, it’s worth it. I know that the job market might seem tough right now, but it’s always been that way if you ask me, and likely always will be. So dig deep and don’t give up! It’s definitely worth it, trust me. I sense that when companies see an applicant with a CareerFoundry certificate, it adds some weight to your skills. Especially if you are applying for a role at a German company—it means a lot to them.

You graduated in March 2021. Did you have to do anything else with the Agentur für Arbeit once you’d finished the program? 

No, with me it was very straightforward. From the moment that I got the last achievement approved by my mentor, I immediately sent an email to my contact person at the Agentur für Arbeit and I told him I’d finished and sent him my certificate. I told him I’d now start with the second part of the process (finding a job), and he was extremely happy for me. We still keep in touch sometimes! 

That’s nice, I’m glad you had such a positive experience. So I know you’re working at Conrad now, but what was the job searching period like?

I was still halfway through the course when I started applying for jobs in Munich, Bavaria, as well as for remote roles. I was sending applications even if they were not looking for UX designers—some companies like to take these applications and keep them for the future. 

But it wasn’t a good experience at all. The worst part is not getting the ‘no’s—the worst part is not getting an answer at all. I applied to over 50 companies and I might have gotten five or six answers. Counting the one from Conrad, I got two interviews.

For the rejections, I sent an email asking if they could tell me why. Generally it was that my portfolio didn’t fit in with what they were looking for at the time. To be honest, I don’t think they really want to tell you why. 

What was the hiring process like with Conrad?

It was very straightforward. It was only two rounds of interviews. The first round was with the head of the UX department, the other UX designer that was currently working there, and somebody from human resources, so just four of us. It then took them two or three days to let me know I had passed to the second round. This next interview was with the head of the whole IT department and the head of human resources. They told me, very honestly, they were also talking to other people, but they’d try to give me an answer as soon as possible. I said ‘Sure, no problem, whenever you are ready’ and they called me the next day with a job offer, not even 24 hours later!

There wasn’t a task involved. I feel that Conrad hires the person first, and then the worker. They look at what kind of person that applicant is. Do they share the values of the company? Because that’s what’s most important to them, and everything else you can learn or develop after you join the company.

To others in the job searching phase, I want to reiterate that although you might read this and see how I found a job in two months and think the job search won’t be that bad, it might be tough. I think I was a lucky one.

Do you feel that the Job Preparation Course at CareerFoundry helped you during the hiring phase? 

I was doing the job prep course while I was looking for a job but actually, I didn’t finish it. I talked to my career specialist and told them that I got a job during this time, so I didn’t complete it in the end. But I did the most important part, which was preparing my portfolio, and that is extremely important. 

A quote from Filipe about the job preparation course at CareerFoundry

I also learned the kind of CV to create, because my vast experience in gastronomy is not relevant to finding a position as a UX designer. You can include what you did during these years but you don’t need to go into great detail.

Could you tell me a bit more about Conrad, about the product itself, and your role as a UX/UI designer?

All right. Besides the brick-and-mortar electronics shops that everybody knows in Germany, Conrad is more of a B2B sourcing platform. Currently we have very few UX designers, but we are developing our team. Mostly my days are focused on UI design. The entire website is divided into teams or departments. Every department has a business analyst and a product owner and frontend developers, and me and my colleague are the only two UX/UI designers for the whole company. We divide ourselves amongst those teams and work directly with those POs doing the designs and everything else relevant.

It sounds like you are very cross-functional, and working in lots of different teams. You must be busy and have a lot to do!

It’s exciting! I love it. And especially because I joined Conrad in May and in my fourth month I was already able to put some UX into practice and we are now developing a proper UX team. 

Conrad is huge. There are 3500 employees across Germany, and we are trying to make sure that all the departments know that we are here and can be reachable for any UX questions they might have.

Wow, 3500 employees, but only two UX/UI designers?

Yes, for the website and for the digital part of the business. Of course Conrad also has shops, warehouses, deliveries, all those logistics, but I don’t get involved in that part of the business. Especially as I’m working remotely.

How do you find working from home? 

I like it, and I’ve got used to it now, but I do miss that human interaction and speaking to people in person, which was so familiar in the restaurant industry. So I found a co-working space in Mühldorf. It’s really nice that there are other creative people working around me, like designers working for other companies. We have lunch together and chat.

Do you feel like you are putting skills that you learned with CareerFoundry into practice day-to-day in your job?

Yes, absolutely. Because although you learn UX in the digital sense, for an app or website, I’ve learned that you can also apply UX everywhere. I try to apply UX to my workflow, my weekly planning, my meetings and all these types of things that occur every day. 

A quote from Filipe about his career change experience

Yes! It’s interesting to think about UX in a non-digital sense, and how it’s relevant to physical products, too.

Exactly. The car you drive, the bicycle you have, they all have UX. 

It’s a great field to get into, which leads me on nicely to my next question. How do you feel that your life has changed since studying with CareerFoundry? 

I feel very lucky, Alison. My life changed overnight. At Conrad I felt welcome from day one. For those who are reading this, check Conrad’s career portal as there are always job offers. It’s an amazing place to work. Just to give you an example: I found out today about a UX seminar taking place next month in Berlin. I contacted my head of department and asked him if Conrad would support this. He said ‘Absolutely, send me the link.’ So I sent him the information and within ten minutes, he said, ‘It looks amazing—go for it. Contact this person, she will arrange a train or car or whatever you need, and a hotel.’ It was all done in one afternoon. 

That’s brilliant. Professional development is so important. Not all companies offer it and not all would do it so supportively and so quickly. It sounds like a nice place to work.

It is. Conrad also has a learning platform which has Google workshops and Udemy courses available for free. You just sign in, and once your access is approved you can learn on your own. They are not the type of company where you have to clock in and clock out when you finish. You can really balance your personal life with your work life.

Outside of work, I’m now a volunteer UX teacher at ReDI School in Munich, which is a digital integration school. We have several programs where we teach refugees, immigrants, and anyone who doesn’t have the financial opportunity to buy a computer or to learn IT. They have three programs: a youth program on Saturdays for kids, the digital women’s program, and coding and UX program with more general skills to learn. It’s going great so far. I volunteer twice a week for a couple of hours. They’re always looking for volunteers to join a program, and it’s really rewarding. 

I also organize a UX meetup every month in Munich. So other UX designers can get together, sometimes software developers too—because we want to know what we can do better for them. It’s a great chance to network, especially for those in the job searching phase. We try to organize it once a month, it was born from the CareerFoundry Slack channel. 

All of this happened within three months of finishing studying with CareerFoundry!

Your life has changed a lot since October 2020 when you decided to learn UX! What are your hopes for the future? Are there any industries or companies you would like to work for? 

I’m extremely happy right now with Conrad, but when I started learning UX, one of the first questions I asked my tutor was: can I apply UX in other fields? She said ‘Yes, but why the question?’ I told her that I have a goal to work in the automotive industry in UX design. I still do. I think it will be extremely hard to get into, but if I don’t find a position like that, then I am more than happy with Conrad.

One day I might go back to gastronomy too, on the side. Maybe just once a week, just for the fun of it. You can also apply UX in gastronomy, right? Reservations, phone calls, suppliers, kitchen, and everything.

If you could give any advice to anyone who is thinking about changing careers or thinking about taking a CareerFoundry program, what would it be?

Don’t be afraid. Career change is possible. I think I’m a living example of that. I also realize that I’m one of the lucky ones to have found a job so fast, and I know it’s not easy. My mum used to say, ‘there’s a lid for every pot.’ So there’s a job for everyone out there. Do the course, take a chance, it doesn’t mean that when you graduate, you have to just work in UX or UI or whatever course you took immediately and forever. You can keep working in your normal job in the meantime, but keep looking, because career change is possible.

Thanks Filipe. I think you’ve tackled your career change very well, and I’m really pleased for you. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

Thanks Alison, and I also want to say thank you to CareerFoundry, as well as my girlfriend Tanja and my family for their unwavering support during my unemployed time, and for always believing in me.

Since I spoke with Filipe in September 2021, we’ve kept in touch over email and LinkedIn, and I noticed he had changed roles at Conrad recently. I asked him more about the switch and how things are going, to which Filipe said: 

“I was offered the position as business analyst for one of the teams while also keeping my UX/UI role for that same team. I am able to combine my design skills with strategic thinking. It’s actually a very good combination of roles!”

Feeling empowered by Filipe’s story? Find out if a career in UX design is right for you with this free, introductory short course.

If you’re currently unemployed and registered in Germany, you, like Filipe, could be eligible to take our UX Design Course for free. Connect with a program advisor to learn more.

by Alison Ward on 8 December 2021

About the author

Alison Ward

Originally from northern England, Alison’s marketing background ranges from gaming, to sports, to the arts. When she’s not writing about CareerFoundry’s inspiring alumni, she can be found doing yoga, reading a weird book, or exploring new restaurants and cafes around Berlin.