Alumni Spotlight: From UX Newcomer To Product Lead With Nico Arce

Finding a job as a UX design graduate is one thing, but how do you climb the ladder to your dream position? Nico Arce lifts the lid on how he was able to work his way up from junior marketing associate to product design lead in his organization.

by Jaye Hannah on 29 June 2020

When considering a career change, it’s easy to feel daunted by the prospect of starting from scratch. You might find yourself wondering how you’ll be able to progress into a senior role in your new field—and how quickly. 

In our latest alumni spotlight, 2017 graduate Nico Arce talks us through how he went from total UX novice to product lead at his company, and what advice he’d give to those looking to advance in their own organizations. 

Hi Nico! Can you start off by talking us through your educational and professional background before CareerFoundry.

After getting my degree at California State University Long Beach, my first full-time job was working for Enterprise Rent-A-Car, where I worked my way up from a manager’s assistant to manager. After that, I worked in insurance. On the side, I was doing some creative design work, including digital content creation and photography. 

What inspired you to consider a career change?

I was unhappy with my job in insurance. I loved the people I worked with, but the job was taking a toll on me. I’d wake up every day feeling stressed, and I’d dread going to work. That’s when I decided to come up with a career change plan. 

I knew if I wanted to change careers, I’d have to give myself a realistic timeline. Based on what I had saved from my job and what felt comfortable, I gave myself two years. As I didn’t know if I’d have to go back to school, or if I’d be able to keep my job, that felt realistic. Then I just had to figure out what I wanted to do!

What drew you to UX in particular? 

I’ve always had creative hobbies, so I initially considered pursuing those hobbies as a career. After feeling that my lack of experience and formal education in these fields would be an issue, I decided to look for something different. I’d heard about UX design from a friend who was hiring UX designers in her department, so I read up on it, watched a lot of videos, and even took some introductory courses. It really clicked. 

I loved that UX design decisions were based on user research and feedback. When I did digital content creation, I was very particular about my design approach, and I felt like I was never satisfied with the end product. In UX, you know that you’ve reached your goal when the user is satisfied with the end product. UX isn’t as subjective as other creative fields, and that’s what drew me in. 

Why did you decide to take a bootcamp program with CareerFoundry?

When it came to deciding to take a bootcamp program, there were three things in my head. The first was time. Bootcamps gave me the ability to be job-ready within a certain time frame while I kept my employment at my old company. The second was money—and the CareerFoundry program was much more affordable than going back to college. Thirdly was accessibility. I liked that I could work at my own pace, without commuting. It was easy to integrate the course into my daily life as it was. I started the program while I was still working, which wasn’t easy. But I did it!

What were the next steps after you’d completed the program?

I initially tried to keep my job while applying for other jobs, but that became increasingly difficult. Once I eventually had enough savings, I quit my job completely. I found that applying for jobs was like a full-time job in itself, so in the meantime, I continued designing so that I could keep my skills up to date. The job prep course was a huge help along the way—especially the soft skills which were super helpful in my interviews. A fellow alumni, Terri was particularly great at following up and holding me accountable. She really kept me on my toes!

Tell us about how you found your current company.

Surprisingly, it only took me two months to find my current job, at the Economic Research Institute. When I first took the position, I wasn’t 100% convinced I’d made the right call. I had a preconceived notion about the kind of company I wanted to work for, including the perks and the relaxed environment that I’d seen advertised. I soon realized that it’s all a balancing act, and my current position had so much potential. 

The company is a compensation software company. Our main products are used by companies to help determine benchmark salaries and compensation based on job title, location, industry, and size, and evaluate cost of living data. As the company was only just starting to integrate UX into things, I was hired as a marketing associate with UX experience to assist in cultivating the UX process.

How did you start taking on UX tasks at your company?

I was doing the usual marketing stuff as well as junior UX design responsibilities—like creating specs for designs, quantifying user research, and pinpointing inconsistencies in the product’s UI. I had to split my time between marketing and UX when I first started, focusing on marketing in the morning and UX/UI in the afternoon. I had to learn the product inside out, getting to grips with the new tools as I was going along. 

Working with the developers was definitely a challenge for me. I wasn’t a technical designer, so I didn’t quite realize the scope of how developers build things. I soon learned how to pick my battles! 

What was it like starting a new job in tech?

I realized quite early on that UX design involves a lot of autonomous work, which requires a lot of initiative and self-motivation. I spent a lot of time reviewing what I learned at CareerFoundry so that I could feel confident in what I was doing. Luckily I had a lot of guidance from the senior UX designer in the company. 

Talk us through how you were able to progress within your company.

About six months into my new role, the senior UX designer left the company. At the time, the company still didn’t have a good understanding of just how vital UX was to their processes. I was one of the few people left working on UX, so instead of hiring a replacement, they handed the responsibility over to me. I was thrilled—but also terrified! 

My resourcefulness kicked into gear, and I had to quickly learn how to be more assertive with my design decisions. As I was now considered the company’s UX design expert, my imposter syndrome was super present. Having no one above me meant having no one to hold me accountable if my design decisions were wrong. There was a lot of trial and error. 

To get up to speed with these additional responsibilities, my strategy was to just keep learning. Whether it was online classes, tutorials, Behance, Youtube, Adobe, or books—I set daily time aside for learning. I also learned the basics of development, which helped me to communicate my designs more effectively to the development team. 

What are some differences between working as a designer and being in a leadership role?

As a design lead, it’s all about overseeing the UX process in the company as a whole—from research to testing. I’m able to delegate tasks, present projects to our managers, and communicate with the team. I also act as a mentor to our junior level designers. That’s the biggest difference: it’s not about ‘me’ anymore, it’s about ‘we.’ 

What advice would you have for designers looking to advance within their organizations?

Make yourself invaluable. Don’t just point out problems, present solutions. Think of steps that realistically bring you closer to your company’s goals. 

Make sure the work you put in is noticed by the right people in the company; whether that’s speaking up at meetings, CC’ing the right people in emails, or taking the initiative to present your ideas and solutions. I got the job when the senior UX designer left because the CEO knew exactly what I was capable of. Lastly, make sure you stay ready. If you’re not doing the tasks you want to do, ask for them!

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by Jaye Hannah on 29 June 2020

About the author

Jaye Hannah

Jaye Hannah is a London native currently living in Berlin. Coming from an editorial background, she’s now CareerFoundry’s Content Marketing Editor, focusing on creating content around UI design. 

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