How I Became a UI Designer—And Studied at CareerFoundry for Free!

Tess went from working in customer service to becoming a fully-fledged UI designer in Berlin. Here’s how she changed careers with an educational training voucher and had her CareerFoundry tuition covered by the German Jobcenter!

by Alison Lightfoot on 26 June 2023

CareerFoundry graduate Tess Motherway, who is now a UI designer living and working in Berlin

Meet Tess: a UI designer based in Berlin working at one of the world’s leading scientific research publishers. With an educational background in fine arts and a career that started in film and TV production in Ireland, you might be wondering how she got here. 

As well as making a career change to UI design, what’s also exciting about Tess’s story is that she retrained for her new career entirely for free. Living in Germany allowed her to use an educational training voucher, also known as a Bildungsgutschein, to study at CareerFoundry, with the tuition covered by the German Jobcenter. If you’re unemployed in Germany, a Bildungsgutschein allows you to learn a new skill for free in order to get back into the job market. 

So how did Tess do it? Why did she choose UI design at CareerFoundry? And how did she land her first role in the tech industry? We caught up with her to find out all about her career-change story. 

The good thing about studying with CareerFoundry and retraining for a career in tech is that you don’t need any previous experience. In fact, Tess admits that when she first came across the term UI design, she didn’t even know what it involved:

“When I first found UI design I didn’t know what a product was. I worked in a digital bank in customer service and everyone kept talking about a product. I thought ‘What are they talking about? What product?’”

Unhappy in her customer service role, it was curiosity and a desire to do something more cutting-edge that kicked off her initial career change search:

“I wasn’t enjoying my role and through desperation, I was scouring the company website for other opportunities when I saw we ourselves had a design department. I honestly thought they were designing leaflets for the bank (when is the last time you saw a leaflet for a bank?!) I kept seeing UX and UI designer roles show up in my searches, so I got Googling. 

I had been thinking about a change of career when I lost my job at the bank during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. Initially, I considered working in graphic design (leaflets!) as I have a background in fine art and film and it sounded creatively similar, but given the precariousness of the world at the time and my own desire for stability, I didn’t want to start out hustling as a freelancer—I’ve already done that a few times! I wanted something that provided immediate opportunities and career growth in Berlin, the city I live in.”

Eventually, this led her to CareerFoundry. Being unemployed and considering retraining for a more in-demand position set the wheels in motion for Tess to make a full career switch with the help of a Bildungsgutschein:

“Once I started researching UX and UI design, I started seeking opportunities to support further training when the CareerFoundry courses popped up on my Instagram. I followed the link and spoke with a program advisor who gave me more information about the application process through the Agentur für Arbeit (the German Jobcenter) which I started immediately.

The process was fairly straightforward. I had to speak to someone and fill out a form. I remember having to wait about two months for a decision—I don’t know if that is typical or if it was longer due to the Jobcenter offices being shut during the pandemic, but I remember being very eager to hear back from them!”

When she heard back from the Agentur für Arbeit, it was with good news—they approved her eligibility for the training voucher and with that, she was set. Tess completed the UI Design Program at CareerFoundry and was able to learn valuable new skills to prepare her to enter the world of work as a fully-fledged UI designer.

Learning visual design principles, how to wireframe and prototype, understanding the UX design process, and handing off design to development are just some of the crucial aspects of the program Tess was able to master. Plus, she was supported throughout her learning from both her mentor and tutor at CareerFoundry, industry experts that helped her hone her design skills.

Upon completion of the program, she had created a brand new portfolio showcasing her latest design work! You can see more of Tess’s work on her professional website.

An image taken from Tess's UX/UI design portfolio project, Trove, a second-hand, vintage furniture e-commerce app

Equipped with her portfolio and new skills, Tess turned her attention to the job search. It’s no easy feat making a career change and landing that pivotal first job in a new field (especially amidst the challenges posed by a global pandemic) but through tenacity, dedication, and numerous interviews over several months, Tess’s hard work eventually paid off! 

She is now working as a UI designer at Springer Nature Group, a renowned scientific research publisher that delivers thousands of journals used by researchers, scientists, and students around the globe:

“I found out about my role at Springer Nature through my amazing career specialist at CareerFoundry, Ashley! She was so supportive through the trials and tribulations of applying and interviewing for jobs. She always had her ear to the ground and was full of helpful advice, support, and encouragement. 

She spotted a post on the CareerFoundry Slack job leads channel that sounded like a good fit for me. As it happens, the person who posted it was a mentor at CareerFoundry and worked at Springer Nature—worlds colliding! If it wasn’t for Ashley’s attention to detail I’m quite sure I would have missed the opportunity.”

An incredible achievement! We asked Tess what it was like to start working in design as a newcomer to the field, and it’s clear that she’s putting her newfound knowledge and skills to good use:

“Since starting as a UI designer I’ve learned so much about how websites are built, working in an agile product team, business strategy, branding, metrics, breaking down work into scope, and navigating not one but four domains and style guides!”

Obviously, making a career change from one industry to another comes with its challenges. Tess explained the elements of the role she struggled with most when starting her new job, and also shared how it’s helped her grow as a designer:

“I remember battling a lot of imposter syndrome. I was the first non-senior designer they’d ever hired, so I was in two very mature teams and I had to learn quickly. I struggled to switch contexts between the different teams and products in the first few months, but I started documenting things for myself and setting up 1:1 calls with team members to fill in the knowledge gaps.”

A quote from Tess about her career change journey to UI design

It’s clear there are several elements of her new career that Tess is enjoying. We asked her what she considers the most rewarding part of working as a UI designer and it’s great to hear she’s able to maximize her existing strengths in new, creative ways:

“I love that I get paid and appreciated to creatively problem-solve. The more I began learning about solving user problems—the analysis, testing, and iterating on design—the more it felt like all of my favorite aspects from previous jobs rolled into one. 

I always enjoyed problem-solving and using these parts of my brain in previous roles, but I realize now I was just in the wrong setting. With UI, not only do I get paid for these skills, I’m appreciated for them too. It feels great!”

The world of design is ever-evolving, and one of the pros of UX or UI design is that it’s a field that embraces lifelong learning. Luckily, it’s also part of the attraction of the profession for Tess: 

“I’ve learned a lot about working for a huge global company—the pros and cons and everything in between! My work at Springer Nature inspired me to understand the frontend world in a deeper way and so I completed the Frontend Development for Designers Specialization Course with CareerFoundry at the start of this year—shout out to Anil, my awesome tutor!”

A LinkedIn post from Tess about completing the Frontend Development for Designers Specialization Course at CareerFoundry

By now you can hopefully see that Tess’s motivation to take control of her career and break into an exciting new industry has paid off—and she’s reaping the rewards working in tech!

If you’re feeling inspired by Tess’s story and think a career in design could be a good fit for you too, check out our full UI Design Program and UX Design Program. Or if you’d prefer to get a taste of the industry first, sign up for one of our free, introductory short courses.

If you’d like to learn more about studying at CareerFoundry with support from the German Jobcenter this article covers everything you need to know: Unemployed in Germany? We’ll Get You a Job in Tech

For more information on our career-change programs and what it’s like to study at CareerFoundry with a Bildungsgutschein, book a call with an expert program advisor. They’ll help you figure out your next steps for a career in tech.

To hear from other CareerFoundry graduates who are now working in exciting tech roles, check out these success stories: 

by Alison Lightfoot on 26 June 2023

About the author

Alison Lightfoot

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.