After grappling with different majors and classes, I realized my passion lies in a field that combines a lot of what I learned — UX Research.
Phase 0 — Pre-College.
Place: Alexandria, Egypt | Time: Pre-2015
“Yes uncle, I can jailbreak your iPhone…”
For as long as I can remember, I had always been tech savvy.
I used to spend extended periods of time on my computer learning about things (that were mostly tech related). I also used to game. When I was 12, I created a little hack for an online game and got thousands of views on YouTube.
By the time I was in high school, I was the go-to guy among my friends and family for any tech-related advice.
My teachers, friends, and family all expected me to be an engineer — a computer engineer, to be specific. I even remember times where I met people for the first time and they’d ask me if I was one.
It became a self-fulfiling prophecy and without realizing it, I was deeply affected by all the pressure.
After excelling in high school, I got accepted into a prestigious US college and it was time to choose my major.
It had to, of course, be engineering.
Phase 1 — Traditional Path.
Place: Bucknell University | Time: Freshman Year
“I love tech and coding looks cool. I should become a software developer.”
To make sure I wasn’t making any hasty decisions, I started off as an undecided engineer (although deep down, I always knew I’d become a computer engineer.)
And sure enough, that’s what happened.
With virtually no computer science background, I chose it as a major, not knowing exactly what it entailed. I just thought that one day I’ll become an app developer or maybe work on “some cool AI project.”
I finished my freshman year and I was quite satisfied with introductory level computer science classes.
But little did I know what I was getting myself into…
Phase 2 — Frustration.
Place: Bucknell University | Time: Sophomore Year
“I don’t think I like what I’m headed towards.”
During my sophomore year, I took a few more computer science classes and started to get a clearer vision of where I was headed.
Midway through sophomore year, after having taken enough computer science classes to form an opinion, I began feeling very uncomfortable with where I was going.
I thought that all the difficulties and anxiety that I was experiencing while taking CS classes were normal or even expected due to the inherently complex nature of the study. So I spent a long time in denial and kept at it.
But I was doing poorly.
I was not living up to my standards and it sucked! As a matter of fact, I made minimal contributions to one of my class group projects; not because I was slacking, but because I legitimately had no idea what I was supposed to do or how to do it. I was lucky enough, though, to have a supportive teammate who guided me through.
That was a wake up call for me.
I was too stuck in my own head trying to convince myself that “it is just a tough class” or that “this might not be the best professor” only to realize that I simply disliked computer science.
I made the mistake of confusing tech with computer science, and it was time to fix that.
printf("I am done with computer science");
Phase 3 — Quest.
Place: Bucknell University |Time: Second Semester, Sophomore Year
“I love tech and people’s minds fascinate me. I hope there’s a field that combines both.”
At this point, I knew I didn’t want to continue pursuing computer science or engineering. However, it was pretty late to change majors.
I also knew that I needed to find a summer research opportunity to spend that time doing something fruitful and possibly figure out what I want to do.
But what was I supposed to do?
I had literally just decided not to keep pursuing the only thing that I had been doing since I began college. Yes I had so many other interests, but I could not — out of the blue, as a computer science major, without having taken a single psychology course— knock on a psychology professor’s door and just ask for a summer research opportunity.
And to be frank, I still wanted some technical aspect to whatever it is that I was going to do.
Searching for a solution
I kept digging more within the computer science department and heard about this great professor, Evan Peck, who specializes in a field called Human Computer Interaction (HCI). It sounded very appealing to me, but I had no idea what it entailed. So I emailed him and arranged a meeting to talk about it.
We chatted about what HCI is, his research in information visualization, and the possibility of me doing an independent study in HCI with him.
The moment he started talking about HCI, I immediately fell in love! You could see my eyes sparkling as he explained to me all about the field.
It’s basically a hybrid between computer science and psychology. What is there not like about it?!
- I was going to feed my fascination with the human mind ☑️
- I was also going to feed my technical interests ☑️
Although I had no prior experience in the field or even knowledge of it, I think Professor Peck saw how excited I was about it. He agreed to do independent study with me and follow that up with summer research.
By the end of sophomore year, I dropped out of engineering to do a B.A. in Computer Science while minoring in Cognitive Science in an attempt to create my own HCI major.
Phase 4 — Epiphany.
Place: University of St. Andrews, Scotland| Time: First Semester, Junior Year
“OMG! This has a name. It’s called UX Research!”
After spending the whole summer doing HCI research in information visualization, I learned enough about HCI as a field to determine that it is the right track for me.
I decided, after all these changes, that I should take the following semester to study abroad and clear my mind from all the clutter. And what better place would clear mind-clutter than the Scottish Highlands! So I applied for and got into the University of St Andrews in Scotland.
And that’s where everything that would later change my life trajectory happened.
Midway through my semester abroad, I thought it was time to think seriously of applying for summer internships.
The problem was that I had absolutely no experience searching for jobs. I did not even know the right keywords I should be searching for.
So I naïvely got on LinkedIn, and typed in the only thing that made sense to me:
I got so many results.
UX Design; Product Management; Product Design; UX Research; Project Management
But none of those were titled “HCI Internship”. I also had no idea what any of these jobs entail.
So I kept checking job postings one after the other looking for descriptions that matched my experience. Then a posting titled
UX Research Intern piqued my interest. So I opened it and started reading.
After I finished, I spent five minutes staring at my computer screen in awe.
I FOUND IT!
I finally found what I was searching for all along!
Phase 5 — Discovery.
Place: University of St. Andrews/Bucknell University | Time: Junior Year
“I need to figure this field out.”
I was clueless and I had no idea where to begin.
UX Research is so new and does not have a well established community that I can easily network with and get mentorship from. Even when I tried searching for “UX Research” books, I could not find anything that I can easily judge is beginner friendly.
And needless to say, in my circle of computer scientists, I knew virtually nobody who even had a faint idea of what UX Research means.
So I just googled “UX Research for beginners” and I found a few Medium articles in my search results. I started reading them, and they would link to other articles. So I started reading those.
This started an explosion of UX Research articles and resources that I spent most of my spare time exploring.
I began learning about various UX Research methods and tools. I understood how UX Research works in industry, and I was ready and excited to apply for summer internships. Throughout that process, the learning never stopped.
Phase 6 — Perseverance.
Place: Bucknell University | Time: Second Semester, Junior Year
“It’s already April, and I haven’t heard back from any companies yet. Should I just give up?”
I spent over 200 days applying for over 50 positions and I would either get no responses, get rejected, or progress to next stages — and then get rejected.
It was very exhausting; after investing all the time and effort in studying a company, one simple email would put it all to an end.
I believe that this was largely due to the fact that most UX Research internships require some graduate degree in a UX related field.
I didn’t even have a Bachelor’s in that.
By the time we approached mid April, I was so ready to give up. Most of the people I knew who hadn’t gotten any internships had already given up and began looking for alternative plans for their summer.
I even thought that companies would stop recruiting at any point.
But then my wonderful computer science advisor, Luiz Felipe Perrone, came to the rescue! He reached out to me to go grab a coffee and chat about everything that had been going on. We talked for about two hours and he gave me that last pump that I needed.
And so I kept at it. I kept searching for postings every single hour on every single day, and applying for any posting that was titled “UX Research Intern” and sometimes even “Product Intern” if the job description aligned with my experience. I was very desperate to get anything.
Then one day I woke up to an email from Udemy. They had invited me for an interview.
I kept progressing through the interviews and at the last hour on my last day of my Junior year, I was having my final round of interviews for a UX Research internship at Udemy.
That was quite challenging, but in a good way!
Phase 7 — Success.
Place: Udemy HQ| Time: Summer after Junior Year
“San Francisco, here I come!”
Two days later, while pulling in at JFK to take my flight back to Egypt, I got an email from Udemy offering me a position as their first UX Research Intern.
After talking with the team, we decided we’d love to have you come and work at Udemy this summer! We think you could bring great energy, holistic thinking, and a diverse perspective to the team.
The feeling was indescribable.
I accepted the offer and did some of the most fulfilling work over the summer. Because of that, I know exactly what I want to do upon graduation.
Stay on the lookout for more articles talking about my experience at Udemy!