When I catch up with CareerFoundry alumna Daniela Cruz, it soon becomes apparent that she’s on a rather exciting journey. Not only is she utilizing her newfound UX and UI skills in her role as product designer; she is also passing on her knowledge as a UX design tutor. A lot has changed since she first signed up for the UX Design Course, and I can’t wait to hear her story.
Daniela’s background is marketing through and through. Following a bachelor’s degree in advertising and marketing communications, she went on to complete a master’s in digital marketing and ecommerce management. After her studies, she spent six years working in marketing and visual design. During this time, Daniela even started her own company—so why the career change into UX? In her own words:
“While I was studying marketing, I already realized that it’s not exactly what I love. I started to learn how to build WordPress websites and was leaning more towards the coding world, but I was still doing marketing. I had my own company and it was going well, but I always felt that something was missing. I was more interested in the technical side of things, and I also liked psychology a lot. Marketing was just too focused on sales. So, after six years, I decided to completely change my life. I closed my company, moved to Amsterdam, and decided to career-change. That’s when I found CareerFoundry.”
This aspect of Daniela’s story is one we hear often. Whether it’s studying the wrong subject or feeling trapped in a certain field, most of us will experience some form of career uncertainty at least once in our lives. The challenge lies in knowing what to do next—a challenge that Daniela tackled head-on.
After closing her company down and moving from Colombia to the Netherlands, she couldn’t help but notice one particular term that kept cropping up: user experience (UX) design. While she’d heard of UX before, Daniela wasn’t aware of what the work actually entailed. So, as any curious career-changer would, she did her research. And, as many career-changers eventually do, she had her Eureka! moment.
“When I moved to Amsterdam, I realized that UX is a really hot topic over here, so it caught my eye! As I read more about it, I felt like, oh wow! This is exactly what I was looking for…this is what I’ve been missing; trying to understand why I design the things that I do. Yeah, I like that green button there, but that green button has a purpose. That’s UX and the psychology behind it.”
With a clear direction in mind, the next challenge was how to make it happen. She considered both traditional classroom-based courses and online options, but found the local, offline courses to be lacking in detail. In the end, it was the comprehensive nature of the curriculum, together with the six-month job guarantee, that set CareerFoundry apart.
“The offline options that I found in Amsterdam were very short courses, and I wanted something more comprehensive. That’s what I liked about the CareerFoundry course; I felt that it was very complete. I also felt more secure with the job guarantee.”
So, Daniela signed up for the certified UX Design Course—and this is where it gets interesting.
The course is extremely practical, with students required to complete and submit exercises in order to progress. Throughout the course, students also complete a portfolio project. In Daniela’s case, this portfolio piece ended up being a real client project! As luck would have it, a friend connected her with an ecommerce startup just as she began the UX Design Course. She helped them design their entire website from scratch, based on what she was learning on the course—from the initial user research to creating user personas and user flows, right through to user testing. They benefited from her budding UX expertise, and she ended up with an outstanding project for her portfolio.
“It’s great that you get to work on a project throughout the course, because at the end, you have a really robust piece for your portfolio. During the course, I found a client, so I told them I was doing the course and asked if I could use their project as my portfolio piece. Basically, my whole project was a real case. I was able to draw parallels from theory to practice. They’re a Colombian coffee brand that wanted to come to the Netherlands, and I helped them design their ecommerce website from scratch according to the course. I did the user research, created the personas and user flows, eventually created the ecommerce platform, then I did the user testing for it—that was really cool.”
When it comes to learning UX, many students fear they’ll graduate with a “cookie cutter” portfolio. But, as Daniela’s approach to her portfolio project just goes to show, there’s plenty of room for creativity. Of course, not everyone will be fortunate enough to land a real client while studying UX, so it’s down to each student to put their own unique stamp on their projects. You can see the project Daniela worked on as part of her course here.
In addition to working on a real client project, Daniela was also very proactive in her job search. About halfway through the course, she was already applying for jobs and going for interviews. She ended up landing a job as a product designer at the very first company she interviewed with—following a lengthy six-step hiring process!
“I went to several interviews, one of which involved a really long process of about six interviews. That’s the company I work for now! I had to do two whiteboard challenges, a presentation in front of the CEO and the management team, and a run-through of my portfolio. I’d never done a whiteboard challenge before, so that was very scary. I prepared for ages—every day for a week!—trying to solve different challenges on the whiteboard and make it structured, explaining things properly while keeping my handwriting legible! In the end, it went well.”
This hiring process may sound grueling, especially for aspiring designers and newcomers to the field. But, with plenty of preparation and confidence in what she’d learned, Daniela pulled it off. She is now working at a company called fashionTrade, an online platform that connects brands with retailers.
Daniela is one of three product designers on her team, using a mixture of both UX and UI skills. So what does she like most about her new role?
“I like the fact that it’s a very flexible company, and that you have the option to make decisions as long as you’re able to justify your decisions strategically. I like that they put a lot of emphasis on being strategic and thinking about the future. They’re really teaching us the value of that. Although I’m using a mixture of UX and UI skills, I definitely enjoy the UX side of things more.”
As our interview draws to a close, I’m curious to hear about Daniela’s plans for the future. As it turns out, she has ended up working at the same company as one of CareerFoundry’s expert tutors—a coincidence which has inspired her to become a tutor herself.
“I was already thinking about becoming a tutor; I like to teach, and I think it’s a great way to continue improving my knowledge. Here at my company, there’s also another tutor from CareerFoundry, and they encouraged me to do it.”
So what else has Daniela got in store? As someone who enjoys the strategic aspect of product design, she can see herself eventually freelancing as a product designer and consultant. For now, though, she’s happy where she is: she’s still learning a lot, and sees every day as a school day!
Before we say goodbye, I’m keen to hear how Daniela would describe her career-change experience in a nutshell, and what advice she would give to anyone considering taking the UX Design Course. She leaves me with these rather honest and inspiring words.
“It was hard, but exciting. I learned a lot; not only about UX, but about myself and what I’m capable of. CareerFoundry are very responsive and on-point with their content and lessons. It was hard, but it was definitely worth it. I couldn’t have done it without CareerFoundry’s support.
To anyone considering following in my footsteps, I would say this: it’s not easy, but it’s worth it. It’s very rewarding once you make it, but it requires a lot of patience. Just don’t give up! It is doable! In terms of studying, I would say that what I did with my portfolio was really helpful. Even if you don’t have a real client, try to have projects in your portfolio that are your own ideas. So, if you have a business idea or something that seems more like a real-life project, that will really help. It motivates you and helps you make sense of what you’re learning on the course. It also helps your portfolio stand out.”
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