From Sales Executive to UX Designer at the BBC: How I Landed My First Job in the Industry

Before studying UX with CareerFoundry, Sara was working in the sales industry. Looking to the future, she wasn't entirely happy with the path she was on. She craved something more creative, in-demand, and cutting edge. The world of UX seemed like the perfect fit. Incredibly, after retraining with CareerFoundry, she applied for just one role—a junior UX design position at the illustrious BBC. And she got the job! Here's Sara's inspiring career-change story.

by Alison Ward on 25 November 2021

Sara Lowry, UX design CareerFoundry graduate

Hi Sara! Thanks for speaking with me today. To begin with, can you tell me a bit about your background?

I did a degree in psychology at Nottingham University. I graduated in 2018 and was pretty clueless as to what I wanted to do after that. I’d always thought I wanted to be a clinical psychologist, but after graduating, it felt too heavy for me, and not creative enough for a career. At school I studied photography, art, and lots of creative subjects. I loved that, but at school I wasn’t told about career options that are more creative, so I went down the academic psychology route thinking there would be more money in it.

What happened after you graduated then?

I did a couple of internships in marketing and PR which also didn’t feel right for me, and then I decided to go traveling. That was a great experience but when I got back I still didn’t know what I wanted to do. I felt absolutely clueless. I was job searching on LinkedIn, applying for anything I could with the ‘Easy Apply’ button. I don’t remember this to be honest but I apparently applied for a job at UberEats in the sales team. The recruiter told me I have the right personality for a sales job, so I went for it. I went to an assessment day, which, looking back, was one of the most stressful things I’ve ever had to do, but I got the job and I worked there for nine months. 

I was chatting to restaurant owners, and the role was all about understanding what they needed from Uber or what their business was lacking so that you could step in and say ‘Oh, well, we can help you.’ 

What made you want to move on from sales after those nine months?

At first, it was really exciting, and it was such an incredible wage for a first job. However, when the pandemic hit, we all got sent to work from home and the fun just stopped. Everyone at Uber felt really similar to me in terms of age and personality. We all got on so well, the offices were amazing, and there were lots of tech perks. But when I got sent to work from home and the essence of the role was all that was left, I found it soul-crushing. I remember saying ‘I don’t think I can do this’ and contemplating my job. I was looking at people above me and thinking ‘I don’t want your job, so why am I doing this?’ I didn’t want to be in sales forever. I think it’s easy to get stuck in sales, because of the money and the lifestyle that comes with that, and by the time you realize that you don’t actually want to do this job anymore, you’re at an age where you don’t want to fall to the bottom of the rung because you can’t afford the drop in pay. I remember thinking that and saying to myself ‘Wow, I don’t want that to happen to me.’

It sounds like the pandemic made you reassess your priorities and passions, which is a good thing—even though it must have been difficult at the time.

Yes, definitely. Working at Uber was a massive step for me, even though it wasn’t the right path. It’s amazing experience for my CV and I don’t think I would have got my current job without that experience. It helped me learn what I want from a company and what’s important to me. So, it was a valuable experience, even if it wasn’t the right fit.

Well said. So what happened next?

I spoke to my friend, Christa, who works at Microsoft. She’s a developer and she asked what interested me. I told her I’d quite like to be a graphic designer—it’s something I had always wanted to do, but I was looking at how to get started and I was worried I’d need another degree, which I couldn’t commit another three years to. It was during this conversation that Christa mentioned UX. She said ‘OK, you’ve got a psychology degree—you loved it, you want to do something with graphic design, why don’t you look at UX design?’ I’d never heard of it, so I started watching YouTube videos and reading articles to learn more. Christa even got me a couple of meetings with UX designers in her team at Microsoft! It was great chatting to them. I asked them loads of questions and asked them the best way to learn.

What a great friend! That’s so helpful of her to not only recommend something to you but also to put you in touch with some of her network.

She’s just one of those people. We’ve been close friends for about eight years. Both her and her Mum are very career-driven, so they were both so helpful for me during this time. 

It’s important to have a support network like that. What made you decide to take an online course to learn UX?

Some people I spoke to said you can learn on your own, without completing a course or a bootcamp, but I knew that I would need guidance to do this. There are free resources out there to learn independently, but I didn’t think I’d have as good an outcome learning this way. I knew I wouldn’t be able to go to an interview and say ‘I know that I can do this’ or ‘I know what I’m doing.’ I knew I’d need reassurance that I was on the right track, and it would have taken me so much longer to study independently.

So Christa and I looked at a couple of online courses and I compared a few schools. I’d been researching UX design and I think it was an Instagram ad where I first saw CareerFoundry offering a free UX short course.

I looked into it and thought it sounded really interesting; it sounded like something I’d enjoy. So I did the free UX short course with CareerFoundry. It’s cliché, but it just felt like something had clicked. I always said I wanted to do a job where you tell someone what you do and they’re like ‘That’s really cool’—UX totally ticked that box.

Amazing! What made you decide to study with CareerFoundry in the end?

After the short course, I had calls with program advisors at both CareerFoundry and another company I had also done a short course with. When it came to making a decision, it mainly came down to the curriculum and what was going to be taught. The fact that you got to have a number of different projects in your portfolio made me choose CareerFoundry. 

So I quit my job to do the UX Design Program full-time. I thought studying part-time would take me ages, and one thing that worked in my favor was that it was November 2020 and another lockdown had just started in the UK. I knew I wouldn’t do this if I wasn’t in a lockdown because I’d be busy outside of work, have more social plans, and no money to commit to the course!

Once I started studying, I was spending five, if not six, days a week doing the course. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t earning any money at this point because of the lockdown—no one was going anywhere and I couldn’t do anything myself, and so I used all the commission that I had saved up from Uber to pay for the course. 

How was your experience on the UX Design Program?

I believe it was a lot easier to focus and not get distracted by things because of the lockdown. I’d say it got me through lockdown actually, because it gave me a purpose and it gave me something to focus on. I absolutely sped through the program, because I was doing it so full-on. I really enjoyed it. 

What was your relationship like with your mentor and tutor?

My tutor was really nice, she was really quick with feedback. I was working through the course very quickly, and it was nice that both my mentor and tutor were happy to keep up with my pace. They weren’t trying to slow me down. My mentor was just the nicest person ever, and so supportive. We got on really well and he gave me really nice feedback. Honestly, I couldn’t fault either of them.

When I start something new, I hate not being good at it. And this situation was no different. But I think because of the feedback from your mentor and tutor, your confidence just grows and grows with CareerFoundry. They’ll tell you ‘This is what you’re doing right, this is what you need to improve’ and it’s a lot less scary than if you were doing it on your own. Having that feedback, for me, made all the difference. 

That’s great to hear it gave you such a good confidence boost and the reassurance you wanted. You did a specialization course as well, what was that like?

Yes, I did the UI for UX Designers Specialization, because I wanted to add another project to my portfolio. Also, at this point I didn’t know if I wanted to go into UX or UI so I wanted to have both bases covered. The UX immersion course doesn’t go into the finer details of UI, and I wanted to have more of the visual skills that come with UI in my repertoire.

Very logical. Do you have any advice or study tips you could share for anyone reading this who is currently taking a CareerFoundry course?

Something that really helped me was mapping my time. Once you get the syllabus, you’re told how long each task is going to take. I found that really useful. I would literally map out my time for the whole program, for example ‘Today I’m doing this, next I’m doing this, then later I’ll do this.’ For the whole four months that I was studying I had it all mapped out. It kept me so motivated because then I could say ‘I’m going to finish on this day and then I’m going to find a job by this day.’ Having that schedule and those goals in mind helped me stay on track. Otherwise, it just felt like a long, endless task. Mapping it out meant I could cross off the days. Obviously, there was a little bit of leeway.

I also made a Trello board to categorize what I needed to do, what I was currently doing, and so on, and it was just so satisfying to move things to the ‘done’ column once I had completed a task. 

Making notes about the work is also good. Not necessarily condensing what you’ve learned, but rewriting it in your own words when you first read it. I found that very useful to solidify my learning.

Some great tips there, thank you. So what happened after you completed the program? Can you tell me about the job searching phase?

I feel like my experience will be quite different to other people. Before I’d started the specialization course, I saw a job advertised on LinkedIn for the BBC as a junior UX designer. My portfolio wasn’t even finished at this point—I didn’t have that final project in it yet, but I’d done a project of my own on the side. So whilst I was working on my CareerFoundry projects, I would also put in a day a week to do an independent project. So by the time I got to the end of the immersion course, I had three projects in my portfolio: the intro course, the main program, and this independent one that I had done, and I felt like that was enough to apply for the job.

What was your independent project?

It was an idea for a festivals app that I thought of myself. One day I would love to work for Spotify or Dice or somewhere like that. So I thought I’d need a project that reflects my passion for the music industry and I wanted a relevant project in my portfolio. My mentor and tutor very kindly gave me a bit of guidance on it too. They didn’t have to do that for me; it was so supportive of them that they made the time.

That’s very proactive of you! Let’s go back to the job searching phase and the role you had seen advertised at the BBC…

Yes, so by the time I’d finished the UX immersion course, I had three projects in my portfolio. I felt like I could start applying for jobs at this stage, and in my head I was going to apply for loads of jobs while I was doing the specialization course. In reality I didn’t—I couldn’t do it. It was too stressful. I was spinning too many plates, so I then told myself to finish the specialization before starting my job search properly. However, I did apply for that one job at the BBC, because it was too good an opportunity to pass on.

What was the application process like?

I sent my CV. They didn’t ask for a cover letter but my career advisor (from the Job Prep course at CareerFoundry) suggested I put in a cover letter anyway—there’s no harm in doing so. So I submitted the application and then, as I was taking the specialization course, I got an email saying I’d got through to the next round! The next stage was a video presentation, which was genuinely the worst thing I’ve ever had to do in a job application! You had to speak to a camera for ten minutes about your proudest project and a time that you’ve been courageous. I talked about quitting my high-paying sales job to risk a career change. After that, I got another message saying that they wanted me to come for an interview. 

And what was the interview process like?

It was an interview over Zoom, which I would actually say made it easier because I didn’t have to travel into London and then sit outside the office feeling nervous—I just went online. During the call you can have notes everywhere too because the interviewers can’t see them, so there are definite perks! 

I had to talk through three projects in 15 minutes, which was really intense. Because it was a junior role, I was expecting lots of technical questions to assess my understanding but they didn’t really ask questions like that. They were trying to see if me as a person and my values matched up with what the BBC wanted. So it was more about teamwork and wanting to learn. 

And you got offered the job after this call, congratulations! Tell me about that time.

Thank you! I would say that I interview quite well—I’m quite chatty, and actually, my friends hate me for this, but I’ve never not been offered a job after interviewing. Which is quite a flex! So part of me was thinking, ‘If I can just get to an interview, I reckon I can do this.’ 

I think I finished the specialization course mid-May 2021, and I got offered the job on the 26th May. I remember that date because I’ve got it on my calendar and I went out to celebrate! I started my job in mid-June so I had about a month where I could relax. I went on holiday and I got the time to chill out after studying. I’m still a bit amazed at how well it worked out—it’s a bit wild to think about. 

You’ve been working as a junior UX designer at the BBC in the iPlayer team for a few months now. Can you tell me a bit about your job?

The BBC is such a big company and, when I joined, they really wanted me to understand the organizational structures and understand what it was I would actually be doing, so it was quite slow to start.

My job involves a lot of project work. I joined at a time where there aren’t that many new projects, so I’ve latched onto projects that are halfway complete or a quarter complete. It’s starting to pick up a bit more now though and I am being given my own work from scratch, and getting more feedback about my work, which is great. I had some feedback recently that my proactive attitude is much appreciated, and I think that’s because after onboarding I was really motivated and raring to go, saying ‘Look, I can do work now, please give me something to do!’  Now I have been given my first project and I think I’ve proved that I’m hoping to take on more. 

They appreciate you throwing yourself into the job, going to lots of meetings, and seizing opportunities. They have a lot of opportunities to learn at the BBC. There’s something called the Blue Room where the media team demonstrates how audiences engage with new tech, and in a couple of weeks we’re going to be given a demo of a new Spotify feature for their new in-car setup, which is only available in the US. They really encourage you to take part in these learnings so I’m trying to do as much as I can. You can rotate teams too, so I can work in the iPlayer team however long I’d like, and then I can rotate into BBC Sounds or the Children’s department or into BBC Future, for example.

It sounds like there are some amazing opportunities to support you and help you grow in your UX career!

Definitely. One thing I’ve realized is that everyone in UX wants everyone else to succeed. Even before I had a job, I found the UX community so supportive. I connected with people on LinkedIn and they’d say ‘Look, this is a Slack channel or group you can join’ or ‘There’s this meeting you can come along to.’ I think all of my team at BBC are exactly like that. The seniors above me are such nice people, which I think makes all the difference. I’ve not met anyone in UX yet that is not a nice person. It’s such a nice community to be in, and not all industries are like that.

That’s lovely to hear. I’ve heard how amazing the UX community is, too. 

I’m hoping to get involved with the wider UX community myself. One of the people above me at BBC is involved with a project in schools called Innovate Her. It’s all about getting girls into tech and design roles. I’d love to get involved with something like that. I think it’s brilliant. Also, at BBC the leadership, it seems, is predominantly women. My creative director for iPlayer is a woman, lots of the chief product officers are women. It’s really inspiring to work alongside powerful women.

What is your team like at iPlayer?

There’s about 17 of us, which is quite big compared to the other teams. I’m the only junior right now because the last junior just got promoted—after being there for just a year as well, which is really encouraging to see that you don’t have to be here that long before you get moved up. Then there’s 4-5 midweights and the rest are seniors. There’s also a couple of researchers. Everyone in my team can get involved in research—in that we can facilitate sessions and watch sessions, but I’m doing some analysis for the researchers too, because it’s such a large workload. There’s two creative directors at the top who oversee all the work and then there’s different seniors for different sections of the product. 

What is a typical day like for you at the BBC?

Every day is very different. One day I’ll be doing some designs, at the moment I’m analyzing some research. We’re very proactive with our project work but there’s also quite a lot of meetings. You also get to sit in on loads of research meetings and projects which is great. 

Do you feel supported in your new role?

When I first started, one of the other juniors—the one who’s just been promoted, was like my ‘buddy’ and if I had any questions she would answer them. I also have a line manager who’s not in my team. He will help me with any emotional stuff or anything I’m not happy with. We have regular meetings where he checks how I’m doing and we just talk informally about my role and if there’s anything I don’t like. So, for example, when I didn’t feel like I had enough to do after onboarding and I wasn’t being challenged as much as I wanted to be, he suggested what I could say to my seniors. And then he offered to help further if it didn’t go to plan. It’s really nice to have someone outside of your team rooting for you. I also have two seniors managing my work streams and they’re just lovely. 

There’s not as much hierarchy as it sounds. People are very down to earth. At one point, I was worried that I was asking too many questions and my line manager said ‘Please never feel like that. I’m here to support you, however much you need.’ But at the same time, it’s also very autonomous. I manage my own work, which was a bit of a shock to the system at first, because at Uber I was micromanaged to the third degree, whereas here at BBC everyone is just trusted to get on with their work. I’m getting used to it now. I’m still asking for a lot of hand-holding when I’m doing things for the first time, but I’m also getting really nice feedback when I learn something new and start to apply it.

Do you feel like CareerFoundry has helped you in your job? 

Yes, it definitely has. I wouldn’t be able to do my job otherwise. I think having an overarching understanding of the UX process is the thing that’s the most important. Knowing that when someone says ‘Oh, we’re at this stage’ I am able to reply ‘I know what that means.’ That also goes for smaller things, like industry terms. For example, with the research analysis that I’m doing, my senior said ‘This might sound weird, but you need to tell more of a story,’ and I was able to say ‘It doesn’t sound weird. I understand what you mean, and I’ve learned how to do that.’ So I wouldn’t say that the program made me an expert, but it gave me the confidence that when someone brings something up in the workplace, I don’t feel clueless. Yes, I need more support, yes, I’m still learning, but if I hadn’t done the course, I’d be nowhere near where I am now.

How do you feel like your life has changed since taking the UX Design Program?

Well, I’m a lot happier in what I do now—I don’t feel as lost. I feel like I’ve got a good future; maybe that is because I am at this amazing company right now. Loads of people at BBC have gone on to work at Spotify, and my manager recently got headhunted by Amazon Alexa. I feel like there are so many opportunities ahead of me and I’m on the way to quite a successful career. I used to worry about the future quite a lot and worry about what I was going to do with my life. Now, I don’t worry about it as much; I’m on a path I’m very happy with. When I graduated from university, the anxiety of what to do next was always a problem for me. Even when I was in a job I’d find myself worrying ‘Okay, but what’s next?’ but I don’t feel like that now. I’m happy with where I am at with my career, and it’s brilliant. 

A lot of other stuff is falling into place because of the job, too. I’ve been able to move to London and I’m now living with my friends. We’ve got this beautiful flat—life’s just good, you know? And I do genuinely believe that it’s because I was brave and I jumped into something risky, but I really committed myself to my career change and it paid off. It’s the best decision I’ve ever made. 

I’m so pleased to hear that! What are your hopes for the future?

I love working in the TV space. I’m designing for mobile, desktop, and TV now, and so the BBC has allowed me to work on TV devices, which not many other companies can offer. As far as the future goes I don’t know yet, maybe another streaming platform, but I think I would be silly not to take the opportunity to move around in the BBC. I’d like to do a stint in BBC Sounds because Spotify has always been somewhere I want to work, so that would give me some great experience.

With the BBC, I love knowing we’re doing something for the public. It’s all about giving value to people, not about making money, which I think is an amazing starting point and will set me up well for the future. However, I would also like to see how it is on the other side in the private sector, just because I want to see another perspective and keep learning.

I’d also like to freelance in the future, when I’ve got a family. I’d like to have time to be with my children, and work at the same time, and be able to bring in my own money. That’s another good thing with UX. You can freelance, you can pick up what elements of the industry you like and leave what you don’t want. But you know what? The possibilities are endless. I’m just going to try and see who wants me and where I get to go!

What advice would you give someone reading this?

Well, from my experience, I’d say if you’re unhappy in what you’re currently doing and if you don’t want to be doing what you’re currently doing, what do you have to lose? CareerFoundry has a job guarantee. If you don’t get a job within six months of graduating, you get your money back (as long as you meet a few requirements), so you haven’t lost anything. It’s a win-win situation. Plus, if after the first 14 days you find out you don’t like it, you can also cancel and get a full refund.

UX is something that actually matters, that’s what I have found. People are using these products every single day. It’s enriching people’s lives. It’s an exciting industry and an exciting thing to do for a job. UX makes an impact, and it’s so rewarding. For me, doing something meaningful like this is good for the soul! I think learning and pushing yourself to do something new and scary is the best thing that you’ll probably ever do. 

An excellent note to end on! Thank you for sharing your story with me Sara, and I wish you all the best in your UX career.

If you’re feeling inspired by Sara’s story, find out if a career in UX is right for you with this free, introductory short course. Alternatively, if you’d like to learn more about CareerFoundry, we can recommend booking a call with a program advisor.

by Alison Ward on 25 November 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.

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