Like many folks in UX Design I jumped into bootcamp after leaving a non-tech field. It took me soooo long to take the leap of faith because I wanted to make every career move “made sense”. When that failed, I got real with myself and critiqued the professional experiences I’ve had (hence me being a UX-er). Here are 4 personal insights that encouraged me to leave education and start a career in UX design:
1. I’ve designed experiences with intentionality
I had always been told that I do well helping others. That’s how I ended up working on college campuses advising, supervising and mentoring students around the country. The basis of my work came from creating welcoming spaces for students depending on the population I served:
In Miami cohesiveness meant bringing cultures from around the world together, in Oakland comfort was measured by social familiarity with justice practices, and in Chicago maintaining safe spaces for marginalized communities was key. Every population required a nuanced plan and support system.
I loved discovering needs and developing solutions for people.
User Experience Design made sense.
Unfortunately most higher education systems follow a waterfall model, making improvement difficult. This contradicted the needs of students that encounter change and growth throughout college in a more fluid, on-going way. I initially explored UX Design as an alternative to the harsh limitations of problem solving in education structurally and creatively.
2. I wasn’t the biggest fan of my career user experience
I’ll break this down in a UX Designer-kinda-way by using a Journey Map to help you visualize how I experienced my previous career:
I needed to make a change after a burnout.
3. I wanted to practice empathy in a healthier way
Performing Vulnerability is a term one of my old co-workers Miracle Husband and I use to describe how we were trained to support college students. It was a reciprocal endeavor: if you are vulnerable enough, you can uncover student’s problems. As black woman I was constantly asked to use my identity to recruit and retain students of color at PWIs that didn’t care about them.
Don’t get me wrong, this was a labor of love for me and my co-workers of color. We understood that familiarity and shared experiences are what help students feel at home, especially when about 3% of their peers looked like them. But after doing this work for 7 years I realized that I was weaponizing vulnerability as a way to placate students’ issues… knowing I couldn’t change the problematic institution they were a part of.
I can say this experience taught me empathy in the deepest ways. But it led to burn out. Performing vulnerability wasn’t a sustainable nor strategic way of practicing empathy (for my students or myself tbh).
I wanted to find a career that safely allowed me to listen and connect with folks while creating solutions that were tangible.
4. I (finally) noticed some patterns in my life
I write as a way to process and chronicle my life over the years. Before I fully committed to UX, I flipped through a couple of journals and realized UX was inevitable:
Honestly, this work kept on showing up in my life until I did something about it.
If you find components of UX Design showing up in your life, I challenge you to make a note of it, reflect, and let it lead you. Maybe even make your own “Career Experience Journey Map” if you are considering the transition.
No matter how minuscule the sign or insight, listen to it.