How I Went From Startup Founder To UI Design Tutor

After her business folded, Chiara felt lost. In this interview, she tells us how she found a sense of purpose in UI design.

by Jaye Hannah on 13 May 2019

How I became a UI designer from scratch

Chiara’s journey begins in Italy, where she studied a university degree in Digital Communications—a multi-faceted subject that involved everything from visual advertising to psychology. Having written her dissertation on Musical Crowdfunding, Chiara went on to obtain a master’s degree in Musical Communication.

When Chiara wasn’t studying, she could be found pursuing her passion for photography. On graduating, she was scooped up by a creative agency that was impressed by her broad skill set. She was quickly tasked with everything from photography and video production to graphic design.

With no solid academic background in design, Chiara couldn’t help but feel apprehensive about the demands of her new role. She buckled down and taught herself graphic design on the job, pulling inspiration from the core visual advertising principles she’d learned at university.

“I really enjoyed this kind of work because it introduced me to the digital industry. I’d never worked in tech before, and I learned so much.” 

After just under five years working in creative agencies, Chiara made a bold decision: she quit her job and started her own company. Joined by two of her friends, she founded the startup Musikee: a digital platform that allowed music artists to involve their fans in promotional activities in return for perks.

“It was a moment of madness, but I realized I wanted to do something on my own. I wanted to revolutionize the industry, and use the skills that I’d learned to incite change.”

While her two friends developed the product, Chiara took charge of everything from marketing to branding and design. As the company grew from 3 to 8 people, she found herself branching into more specific areas.

“I discovered that I loved creating a product. Not just selling the product, but also building it—developing it, working with users and understanding their frustrations. Our user base was quite young, and I struggled to get into their mindsets, so I had to do a lot of user research. That’s how I discovered UI design.”

After two years, Chiara and her colleagues faced an incredibly painful decision. Despite their passion, motivation, and dedication, they realized that the startup simply hadn’t grown fast enough. As Chiara explains, the competitive nature of the music industry means launching a product is tough. The liquidation of her company catapulted Chiara into uncertainty. Musikee had been her baby, and without it, her future felt steeped in trepidation.

So how did she find motivation in her darkest hour?

“I wanted to give a specific direction to my work and was reflecting on everything that I’d done so far: photography, marketing, graphic design, psychology. I decided I wanted to do both UX and UI design, as they combine all of my skills and passions. I started researching these fields, and that’s how I discovered online bootcamps.”

Bouncing back from a loss is never easy, and I’m inspired by Chiara’s perseverance. Rather than wallow in her failures, she counted it as a pivotal learning experience. In the end, it was the expert-authored articles featured on the CareerFoundry blog that led Chiara to probe further into our offering. She enrolled as a student, and never looked back.

For Chiara, the relationship she fostered with both her tutor and her mentor became the highlight of her CareerFoundry adventure. Concerned by her lack of academic background in UI, she turned to her mentor for advice—and was instantly assured that even some of the most talented UI designers have backgrounds in totally unrelated fields.

“It’s easy to find things online about UX and UI, but it’s overwhelming because there’s so much information. If you’re a newbie and you’re just starting, it’s hard to know where to start. What I loved on the course is that everything is really clear and ordered. You know what’s better to know at each stage you’re in, it was so good at providing a gradual approach to the field.”

Once she’d completed the Job Preparation Course, Chiara wasted no time in setting off in search of work. She started freelancing for clients she’d had as a photographer, which enabled her to apply what she’d learned at CareerFoundry to small, short-term jobs. Around this time, Chiara moved from Italy to the vibrant city of Barcelona.

Nothing changes your perspective and reaffirms your values quite like a fresh start, as was the case for Chiara.

“Freelancing has so many benefits, and I loved it. But I realized that what I missed was the experience of working with a big team, on big projects. Working on small projects is fun, but I missed getting a bigger view on long-term projects.” 

Following a fruitful job hunt, Chiara landed a job at a British company based in Barcelona. As a UI designer, Chiara works with data analysts, developers, product owners and other designers on a wide range of projects. With so many products in rotation, Chiara jokes that she sometimes feels like she’s working for “10 different startups.”

When I quiz Chiara about her new role, it becomes clear to me that she’s driven by innovation. According to Chiara, UI design is still a new field, unbound by convention. She feels encouraged to experiment, and constantly push the boundaries of design. UI is an exciting and dynamic industry, and Chiara finds herself frequently updating her skillset to reflect its fast-paced evolution. She is continuously facing new challenges, and that’s what she finds the most stimulating about her job.

Having previously freelanced, I’m keen to find out how Chiara finds working in a team of designers.

“I love it. When it’s more collaborative, you can communicate your thoughts, share your impressions and share knowledge. Working in a team is really important for growth.” 

This is a sentiment we hear often. Having the ability to ideate, grow and learn as a team is essential for both professional and personal development. For many, it’s a welcome antidote to the isolation of freelance or remote work.

As our interview draws to a close, Chiara surprises me with some exciting news: she is now a CareerFoundry tutor! Quizzing her about this recent development, I learn that it was our Career Specialist Danielle who brought the opening to her attention; alerting her that we were looking for UI design tutors in her time zone. Chiara admits that it took her some time to come round to the idea, as she struggled to see how it would fit in around her full-time job. Eventually, she decided to take a leap of faith.

“I love being a tutor as it forces me to be up-to-date with the industry. Your students will ask you questions, so you have to have the answers. If there are new software or programs or methods, it forces you to learn them. It’s also a way to make a difference. After all, the students of today are my colleagues of tomorrow, so it’s a good indication of who will be shaping the industry in the future.”

When I question Chiara about what advice she would give to people considering a career change, she asserts that it’s all about the hard work. CareerFoundry will teach you the skills, but you still have to put in the work to get a job. We’re with you, Chiara—hard work will always take you where you need to be!

Chiara’s journey hasn’t been smooth sailing. She bounced back from the liquidation of her company, rose to the challenge of upskilling, and navigated a job hunt in both a new country and a new industry. So what does the future hold?

“Thanks to the UI tutor position, I’ve discovered that I love to teach! This was news for me. I’d love to be a mentor in the future, or even start a video course online.”

Based on her tenacity, ambition and positive attitude, we’re confident that Chiara will excel in whatever she puts her mind to!

What You Should Do Now

If you’d like a step-by-step intro to find out if a career in design, development, data, or digital marketing is right for you—sign up here for a free short course in the field of your choice.

If you’d like to speak to an expert program advisor for free about how you can get a new job in tech—connect with us here.

by Jaye Hannah on 13 May 2019

About the author

CareerFoundry Marketing Content Editor Jaye Hannah

Jaye Hannah

Jaye Hannah is a freelance content writer and strategist, based between London and Lisbon. She's worked in EdTech for over five years, inspiring career changers on their journey into tech. When she's not writing, you'll find her whipping up new recipes in the kitchen.