Meet CareerFoundry graduate, career-changer, and UI designer Kylie. From working 23-hour shifts in the hotel industry, to navigating possible job scams, to the importance of managing your design environments, this is what she had to share about her career-change journey into the world of design.
Hi Kylie! Thanks for speaking with me today. To kick things off, could you tell me a little bit about yourself and your background?
Hey Alison! Sure, let’s rewind back a bit! I’m originally from Kenya. My family emigrated there from the Seychelles and I grew up in Nairobi.
At school, I was really into sports. I was set to study sports medicine but I went to the UK to look at universities and I got a bit of a shock as I didn’t really like the experience. It just didn’t feel right for me.
My family has been in hospitality for a while, so when I went back home I decided to get into that instead and, actually, I loved it. My grandmother had run several properties and restaurants in the past, and I spent a lot of my summers with her as a child. So it was kind of automatic for me to transition into hospitality.
Did you initially think about carving out a career in hospitality then?
Yes, my passion for hospitality grew, and I really thought it was something I could do with my life. I decided to enroll in a bachelor’s program of hospitality management in Germany.
My husband (who was my boyfriend at the time) is from Germany and was heading there to do his apprenticeship. I thought, ‘Why not take the risk and go with him?’ It was very nerve-wracking but I had a positive attitude. I was open to trying something new and something less traditional.
I stayed in Germany for five years and did my bachelor’s degree there. As part of that, I did an internship in Barcelona at the Ritz-Carlton. It was a fantastic opportunity. It’s a five star, worldwide hotel—exactly the kind of opportunity everyone on my bachelor’s program wanted to get! I love Barcelona too—fantastic city, fantastic people, the culture, the nightlife; it was all great to begin with.
Eventually, it took a bit of a turn. I learned a lot during my internship but also realized that working in a large hotel chain wasn’t for me. The hours and the workload were so intense—I actually think the longest shift I worked was twenty-three hours.
Working for such a big company made me feel like a number on a sheet, where you just need to get things done, and if you don’t do it someone else will just replace you.
What happened after the internship?
I returned to Germany to finish my last two semesters of my degree. I was still very much enjoying hospitality; I just wanted another opportunity in a different kind of environment.
After I graduated, I got an opportunity to manage an eco-lodge hotel in Kenya. It was a paired-management position, and I was married by this point so my husband and I moved to Kenya for the roles. He’s an industrial engineer and was a bit nervous. He thought, ‘What am I going to do at a hotel in Watamu on the Kenyan coast?’
It was great, although it was a very hard job, I have to admit. We weren’t just dealing with one part of the hotel, like I was in Barcelona, but rather the entire organization and all the stakeholders. It was a small property so the budget wasn’t ideal.
This meant we had to basically do everything ourselves—all the accounting, human resources, recruitment, and so on. We also had to do all the digital marketing and manage the website. And that’s where things started to get interesting because I designed the website for the hotel, and I really enjoyed it!
Wow, that’s interesting! How did you go about doing all that?
It was a lot of self-teaching. I was making a lot of mistakes along the way, and watching a lot of YouTube tutorials! It was tough but I enjoyed trying to figure it all out for myself.
I was spending more time in web design, user experience, and digital marketing (trying to generate the sales that we needed to get the property going) than the actual running of the hotel, which was what I was meant to be doing.
What changed then and led you to pursue UX/UI?
It was a great two years at the eco-lodge, but we decided we wanted to come back to Germany. At that point, I sat down and thought about what I really wanted to do with my career.
I now had two things that I was interested in. One I was educated in and trained to do, and I knew how to do well: hospitality, and the other was something I really enjoyed and would love to continue doing, but I didn’t exactly know what it was: user experience design.
I see. Had you heard of UX and UI at this point?
No, so that was the first thing to figure out! What I came to realize is that I had been doing UX research for the last two years. I didn’t know it though; I didn’t know that user experience design was even a job.
My husband was helping me look into career options as well, and he came across UX randomly and said, ‘Have you seen this? It just came up in my search and I really think you should take a look at it.’ I read through it and I thought, ‘Is this a job? Wow!’
If I was going to work in UX, I knew I’d need to learn a lot more about it, so I tried to do that myself first. I read a lot of articles, took free online courses, and watched a lot of YouTube videos which led me to find out about the world of UX/UI design.
I had to understand UX first and then I understood that the other part of the puzzle—UI—was a totally different skillset. It’s a totally different learning curve and the tools can be quite different as well.
What led you to study UI with CareerFoundry?
So, first I’d like to answer why I chose UI over UX. I definitely looked into both areas but I felt more drawn to UI because I saw all the possibilities of going into various other disciplines; such as motion design, animation, and 3D design which to me seemed so exciting and new. After more self-exploration, I felt UI was the best path for me.
I zeroed in on studying with CareerFoundry because I was based in Berlin and it came up a lot in my searches. It stood out to me because I found it more friendly and more appealing than other schools I had looked at.
The first program advisor who called me to talk about the courses, Kevin, was so good. He listened to everything I was saying, he wasn’t trying to sell me something, he was actually trying to figure out if this is really what I should do. He didn’t try to pressure me into a limited offer or anything.
I really felt comfortable with Kevin. I thought that these people at CareerFoundry seem to know what they’re talking about, and they are the kind of people that I would like to take this journey with.
How was your experience studying with CareerFoundry?
Everything from the structure of the courses to the mentorship model was great. I really liked my tutor, and my mentor was fantastic. It was great to be walked through the program by them.
For me, the objective for me was to have a portfolio, so creating these projects to showcase my work was great, and so important to help me achieve that goal.
Well done! Were there any challenges you faced throughout the program?
Not necessarily during the program itself, but something I felt was missing once I started working was my knowledge of how to build design environments.
Learning to build 10 or 15 screens during the course is okay, but I have a project right now at work that has almost 500 screens, so it would have been interesting to have learned how to build reusable components and how to organize files on that scale.
You do learn how to label things appropriately in the course, and the importance of that, but understanding how to manage your design environment, and how to share that information with developers and hand-off your designs would just round off your learning.
Is that something that you noticed when you started working then?
Yeah, absolutely. Straight off the bat. It’s important to know that your work doesn’t just end with you as a designer, it goes so much further. Now that I’m working I know that collaborating with other people, especially developers, is such a key part of being a UI designer.
Actually, in some of the requirements that you read for jobs, you will find hand-off to developers listed, or knowledge of tools that help you do that, like Zeplin.
Can you tell me what happened when you graduated and how you went about looking for a job?
When I finished the program, I did a lot of free projects to build up experience. It’s a growing pain but you’ve got to do it. To others though reading this, I would say be really careful with what opportunities you take because I had a really bad experience. I took an internship with a company where the agreement was that they would pay me quarterly. I did a lot of work for them and they never actually paid me.
It was really weird. I got the opportunity from LinkedIn and it all looked legitimate. They had done everything right. I had video meetings with them and we chatted constantly, but after a while they just stopped communicating with me.
I checked the agreement and, as I said, it all looked legit. I think the red flag was being paid quarterly though. I should have been wiser about that, but I was so desperate for experience, especially after receiving other job rejections.
It wasn’t really about the money in the end either. It was the amount of time and effort I’d put into the internship resulting in such a poor outcome that bothered me.
I don’t think I could have avoided what happened, but I think it’s good advice for other people that if something comes your way with a really low salary, and it’s only part-time or short-term, just be careful. Be vigilant and learn how to identify possible scams.
I’m so sorry to hear that. How did you handle going back to the job search after that?
Well, honestly I did take two weeks off the job search after this experience because I felt so drained, disappointed, and frustrated. I have to say my family and friends were such a strong support system for me. Their positive words and confidence gave me strength to stand up, dust myself off, and keep going.
I think everyone goes through that phase where you just get rejected, rejected, rejected. It’s part of the career-change process, and part of what you signed up for, so it wasn’t really a surprise for me.
What I found quite challenging during the interviewing process were design tasks. Sometimes you only have two hours to do a challenge, and that was a bit of a shock for me. It’s really nerve-wracking.
I had one interview where, during the live interview, they asked me to do a design challenge in 20 minutes. They asked me to turn off my camera, mute myself, and they would let me know when the time was up. It was unexpected and it was so intense! In the end I was happy I didn’t get that job actually, because I don’t think they are the kind of people I’d want to work for.
Did you have to do a timed-challenge for your current job?
Not for my job now at Syndic4you, but I did have to do a design test. I had a week to work on it, and I needed to tell them how long it took me to complete it when I submitted it. That was a much nicer process.
And you got the job! Congratulations! What was that like when they offered you the position?
I think my neighbors could hear me through the walls when I got the offer because I was so excited! After meeting with the product team and the product owner, doing the week-long design challenge, and meeting directly with the CEO, I was over the moon to finally get the offer.
I was so grateful, I really needed this. I really needed something good to happen for me. The application process was unusual for this role too—it wasn’t a traditional recruitment process, but it still worked out perfectly in the end.
I see. What was the recruitment process like?
So, I didn’t actually apply to Syndic4you for a job. I had applied to a company called Elewa, a small startup based in Nairobi. They help companies train developers to improve processes. They have a platform for training solutions for companies and they needed a UI/UX designer.
I got through the process with Elewa and they did offer me the position but, unfortunately, the salary didn’t match my expectations. I explained this to them and I basically asked if there’s anything we could do about it, and they said they’d review everything and get back to me.
When they did get back to me they said they had forwarded my application directly to their client, Syndic4you, who needed a UI designer. They thought that would be a better fit for me.
Kudos for negotiating your salary. Do you have any advice for others on how to handle that kind of situation?
Having the courage to just say it is key. It takes tact to say, ‘I’m not turning it down, but I have to say that it’s really far from my expectation.’ That’s difficult because a lot of people will be in the same position I was. I desperately needed to start bringing in some income after everything I had invested in my career change.
I really needed this to work, but I also needed to be confident in myself and confident in my skills. It’s important to remember that after a lot of rejection along the way.
You’ve been working at Syndic4you for 10 months now. How’s it going?
Great, thank you. It’s a fantastic company. The work/life balance I have is great. My colleagues are such good, nice people, and so understanding.
Just the way people speak to each other and the mutual respect everyone has makes me speechless. It’s not exactly a colorful business model, but the company culture is great!
That’s a good segue to my next question! Could you give us an overview of the company and your role?
Syndic4you is a co-property management platform that provides support for property owners. For example, in an apartment block, there will be a variety of owners and there is a legal responsibility for those owners to manage their properties and account for certain aspects during a financial year.
Syndic4you believes that owners know their properties best. So rather than your building going to a property management company and paying a professional syndic to manage the property, why not provide a platform or SaaS product that helps owners maintain their own property? So that’s exactly what Syndic4you does.
The majority of our clients are not professionals; they’re everyday people who know little about co-property management protocols and compliance. Syndic4you covers that entire space (with help from a panel of experts), making sure that our users have all the right tools and services to run their properties smoothly.
The platform is designed for you to be able to perform various accounting-related tasks such as inputting invoices, splitting costs among multiple owners, providing settlement documents for the financial year, as well as being set up to send reminders. It organizes a variety of different things that you would otherwise need to pay a professional to do.
What is a typical day like for you as a UI designer working on this platform?
So I would like to start off by saying that at Syndic4you I am the only UI/UX designer working full-time on the platform. This comes with its challenges but can also have a very unique sense of freedom. I will be writing an article on the life of a ‘solo’ designer soon so keep an eye out for that! Luckily, we have a great panel of UX members that help me do my job in the best way possible.
On a typical day I usually start with a classic task: checking my emails. Just to make sure that I haven’t missed anything that needs my attention and needs prioritizing.
Then, I have a morning call at 9am with our product owner to align what we need to achieve for the day and run though any questions that I may have. After this call I review Notion and Jira cards for the design work coming up.
At this point I’ll usually jump back into a call with the product owner where we discuss a particular flow that we’re working on within the current sprint. Usually, it involves lots of iterations that I’ve had to pick up the day before. There will be lots of notes from the product owner about what I need to work on next, what needs to change, and what we need to review.
I also take part in user testing. I’ll make notes on the latest version of the platform we’re looking to release: what was correctly implemented, UI changes that are not quite right yet, any of the design that doesn’t align with what the dev team worked on, and so on. We’re in constant communication with developers all day, answering questions and making sure that the style guide is updated.
I also participate in weekly company meetings covering various topics like sales and marketing, customer success, and overall company management. This all helps align our goals as a company and understand what role we each play in achieving the objectives.
So there’s the design part, there’s the dev part, and then there’s popping in and out of these departments and understanding the overall objectives.
Lots of great insights into life as a UI designer there, thank you Kylie! What would you say is the most rewarding part of a career in design?
Seeing your designs go live! We’re going to be releasing a new version of the platform soon that we’ve been working on for nine months!
That’s a huge accomplishment because it’s the first version to be released since I joined the company and since the new designs have come in. I don’t think there’s a better feeling than seeing your designs off the canvas and in the real world.
How do you feel your life has changed since you studied with CareerFoundry?
I don’t know if I even have the words to describe what it has done for my life. I’m in such a good place mentally and emotionally. And that says a lot after what we’ve just been through worldwide with the pandemic and I’ve still navigated a career change.
CareerFoundry has played such an instrumental part in getting me where I am today. The exposure to the world of design was life-changing; from working with my mentor and tutor, to being a part of the entire Slack community.
Being able to exchange information, have people check your designs, and get used to all of that before joining a new workplace was invaluable. I don’t regret it a single day. I didn’t look back then and I don’t look back now.
Do you have any hopes for the future, or any future career goals?
At the moment I’m just sitting in the moment. I want to continue working with Syndic4you and keep the role that I’m in right now. I’m enjoying learning from the company and working with so many departments.
What I would like to do is probably take some more educational courses during the coming year to keep myself updated and aware of what’s happening outside my design bubble. Right now, I’m just enjoying the ride though.
I’m pleased to hear it! Do you have any advice that you would offer someone who may be considering a career change?
Thinking about changing careers is never an easy thing. It’s a really, really difficult thing to do, although in reality, it’s probably not as drastic as we play it out. But it feels that way because we may have invested so much time already in a job or career path we don’t actually enjoy.
So on that, I would say, ‘How much more time do you want to spend on something you don’t enjoy?’
I always think about things in terms of cost. Every decision you make comes at a cost. So if you decide to stay where you’re at and not make that change, are you going to be able to live with the cost of that decision?
With a career change it’s not a simple yes or no decision, it’s more like: can you live with the cost of whatever decision you make?
Don’t focus so much on what you may be leaving behind. You already know what that looks like. You already know what your situation is currently. So focus on what your potential for the future could be. If there’s something you feel you’d be good at, and something you feel is a good opportunity for you, then why not pursue it?
That’s a good way to look at it. Thanks so much Kylie! It’s been great to hear your story and I wish you all the best in your future design career.
Feeling inspired to transform your career like Kylie did? Get a taster of UI design with this free, introductory short course. If you’d like some help figuring out your options for a career change, we recommend speaking with one of our program advisors.