One question I keep getting on Instagram is how I got into UX design.
Here’s the TLDR: I got lucky, and I’m oh-so-grateful.
We’ll start with my education: I graduated from UT Austin’s McCombs School of Business with a BBA in Management Information Systems (MIS). When I started business school, I had no idea what I was going to major in. I knew I was good with numbers and people, and I wasn’t sure what field would best suit both of those things. I took my first MIS class and immediately knew it was where I needed to be.
At UT, an MIS major includes all the usual business fundamentals classes plus some entry level programming and business intelligence, strategy, and security courses. Although this course load was fascinating to me and helped build a strong foundation in business, technology, and consulting, it had absolutely nothing to do with design. My introduction to design ironically came from a grumpy afternoon, a clumsy accident, and an understaffed accessibility team.
The grumpy afternoon was caused by one of my least favorite human gatherings to exist on this earth: a career fair. 19-year-old me was sweating profusely in the full suit we were required to wear despite the cool 90 degree weather in Austin, Texas, trying desperately to network with company representatives and being quickly dismissed each time they realized I was only a sophomore (why do they even open these things to all years when companies are clearly only recruiting for juniors?). I gave up after an hour of rejection, and was stomping toward the exit with my head down when I tripped over my uncomfortable business heels and nearly knocked over the person standing next to me. That person happened to be the recruiter that would introduce me to the company I hope I never have a reason to leave.
He helped me collect myself before shaking my hand and asking what the matter was. I confessed that I had been continuously turned down due to my age, to which he asked to see my resume. Skeptical, I handed it over, and he seemed impressed by what he saw. Finally, he turned back to me and let me know that the big tech company he represented had a Sophomore Advantage Program that he wanted me to apply for.
Three and a half years later, I now work full-time for that company. I got into the Sophomore Advantage Program and loved everyone I met, and was asked to interview for an internship in the upcoming summer. That interview went well, and I proceeded to work for the newly created accessibility team in the summer before my junior year. Since I didn’t have as much experience or hard skill development as the upperclassmen I was working alongside, my role was to research and develop an alternative text standard for the accessibility team, which was trying to create documentation and standards to improve accessibility across the company’s internal and external digital presence. I fell in love with the accessibility space, spending all day every day learning more about how to make digital experiences more inclusive, engaging, and usable for people with disablities.
Between those research hours, though, I had a goal to interview at least two employees each week to understand their role and day-to-day responsibilities. At this point, I figured I didn’t want to be a software engineer, and I wanted to figure out what other options existed for someone with my skillset. Of all of the informational interviews I conducted, I was most fascinated by the ones with UX designers - the field was more technical than I thought it was, but still incorporated interpersonal interaction as a central responsibility. Intrigued, when I was asked to return to the company the following summer for a second internship, I asked if I could be placed in a design role. Since my company believed in me and saw parallels between my summer as an accessibility researcher and the responsibilities a UX designer faces, they said yes!
My design internship differed greatly from my summer as a researcher. First and foremost, I didn’t get to interact with users (friendly reminder that at a massive company, the design lifecycle is much longer than an 8 week internship, and even if you’re there for user testing, it’s likely handled by a third party). I spent most days interacting with my design lead, understanding what design changes were needed, and making those changes independently. Although I did miss interacting with a larger, collaborative team and conducting user interviews, I very much enjoyed the design work. I learned Figma and how to use my company’s design system, and spent the summer taking a static, light-mode dashboard design and transforming it into a sleek and modern dark-mode design that was responsive to desktop, tablet, and mobile viewports.
At the end of my second internship, I was offered a full-time remote offer beginning a few months after my graduation with the same company. I accepted, and chose to return to the accessibility team (now an official Accessibility Center of Excellence!) as a product designer. This is where I sit now, and although I’m still adjusting to the changes on the team since I was last there in 2020, I’m loving it so far. My primary responsibilities are dashboard design and accessibility design auditing, and I’m hoping to transition into an education and advocacy role as well to encourage change throughout our organization. This role combines my favorite parts of both summer internships and offers me the flexibility to live and travel anywhere I want, which is exactly how I ended up in Denver starting an Instagram account to review the coffee shops I work from.
I feel so lucky to have landed at this point in my career without any “formal UX experience”. Unfortunately, that means I don’t have a ton of advice to offer to those of you who are interested in transitioning to UX and are looking for professional experience and training opportunities.
What I can say is this: advocate for yourself.
When someone asks you where you see yourself, what you want in life, what you’d change if you could… Answer them honestly (as long as you feel like they have your best interests at heart). Although I didn’t have the formal experience some companies may have required for a design role, I always asked for what I wanted and worked as hard as I could to be an adaptable, effective, and productive employee that my company would want to keep on board. The worst anyone can tell you is no - and if that’s all they’re telling you, it may be time to consider finding a company that empowers its employees rather than boxing them in.
If you made it to the end of this, I hope that your takeaway is that the world and your dreams really are at your fingertips… You just have to go for them. No one I know ever had their dreams handed to them (although damn, that would be nice). You have to work, and you have to advocate for yourself - especially as a woman.
Speaking of advocating for yourself… Stay tuned for a post coming soon about why you should always negotiate your salary, and some tips and tricks for doing so.