From depressed and directionless to determined and driven.

Sure, 2016 had some really great stuff, Leonardo DiCaprio finally won his Oscar, Netflix gave us Stranger Things and Pokemon Go got us back outside. But, in spite of all the good, I will always remember 2016 as one of my most difficult years.

I was beyond miserable. A decade of trying to survive in a hostile and toxic work environment had finally reached its breaking point and resulted in a severe depressive disorder with a nice side of moderate anxiety. It wasn’t a great time.

To make matters worse, I had spent the last 10 years working with a super-specialized software package that no other company consistently uses. I had developed an outstanding collection of technical skills and experience for which there was no use outside of my current role. Again, not great.

With the start of 2017, I was starting to feel as though things would be ‘not great’ forever. However, Facebook and its targeted ads showed me a way out. Posts about becoming a Designer kept popping up in my feed. Typically I just ignore the ads, but these particular ads really stood out. They were bright, cheery and featured women who looked like they loved life and didn’t feel physically ill at the very idea of going into the office!

It was envy at first sight.

You may argue the evils of Facebook, but there will always be a place in my heart for Zuckerberg’s evil algorithm and those super happy stock photo ladies!

Wow! These ladies are so happy, and just wrapped up a GREAT meeting!

But if I wanted to be like those happy designer ladies, I would need to figure out what exactly UX was. So, I opened a new tab and headed over to Google.

Google explained that User Experience Design is a multidisciplinary career, with practitioners coming from a variety of academic backgrounds. It is a relatively new field that has been increasing in popularity and importance with the shift towards online experiences.

DON’T WISH FOR IT, WORK FOR IT!

With all my research complete, I had discovered that many of my existing skills and passions would be of great value to a career in this field.

I felt like I had finally found the job I was meant to do. YAY!

My digging had also uncovered all the many options for learning the principles and practices of the industry. There were countless articles and videos on the subject, online courses available at just about every eLearning site, and intense boot camp programs!

However, most online classes are introductory and only focused on one aspect at a time. This would be fine at first, but eventually, I would need a more detailed and holistic learning approach.

The boot camp curricula are structured in a comprehensive start-to-finish manner, detailing each stage of the UX Design process and provide graduates with a certificate upon completion. The downside is that these boot camps were expensive and the majority were only available on-campus. I was also unsure if it would be possible to receive the same level of education, insight and experience from an online boot camp.

For the next several months I studied and completed several beginner courses online, but was unsure which boot camp to choose. Quitting my job to go back to school full-time, even if it is for only two-three months, was just not an available option. It was a huge decision and I couldn’t afford to make the wrong choice.

The options were overwhelming and I was started to lose momentum and direction.

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

NETWORKING WAS THE KEY

The general path necessary to transition careers was clear, yet the actual steps needed were uncertain. I knew I needed training, I knew I needed certification, and I knew that it would need to come from a respected and reputable source.

I couldn’t really move forward until I had determined the learning path that best fit my career goals as well as my lifestyle constraints, and Google couldn’t really answer that question. It wasn’t until I attended a local meetup that I got my answer.

The meetup was being held at a local tech company, a company that just happened to be my goal employer. The company where I strive to work once I fulfill my destiny and become a UX Designer. It was at this event where I connected with their lead UX manager, he took the time to talk with me about his own UX journey and how he had approached the same decisions with which I was struggling.

With that one conversation, my top choice company had dismissed the primary concern I had about my top choice program. Things were back on track and I knew what I had to do!

I signed up for the next session and set up a schedule outlining all the tasks I needed to finish before the launch of the program.

MOVING ON TO THE BIG LEAGUE

Finally, the time had come to begin the intense 100+ hour, hands-on design program! The course materials became available, I was matched with my mentor, I was connecting with other students and mentors in the online community. It was great!

At the start of the program, students are required to submit a proposal for their capstone project. This project will be the base for all mini assignments at the end of each chapter.

Over the course of the program, I generated screener surveys and conducted interviews with individuals who best fit the potential user criteria. Synthesized data, generated personas and empathy maps. I conducted a heuristics evaluation of competitor apps. I also developed an effective information architecture and conducted a card sort. I designed user flows and sitemaps. I created rough sketches and low-fidelity wireframes. I created a style guide and designed a logo. I elevated the wireframes to medium-fidelity for the purposes of usability testing. I conducted moderated usability testing sessions. I analyzed feedback and comments and revised the design accordingly.

Just LOOK at that list! It’s very impressive! 😁

ALWAYS SHOW YOUR WORK

But, before I could start applying for exciting UX jobs, I needed a sweet portfolio. Something that really showcased my impressive new design skills and processes. Thankfully, all the chapter assignments are designed to be brought together to illustrate the complete end-to-end process of the capstone project.

My portfolio now had a start to finish UX project with examples and details regarding each step of the process…and thanks to my mentor, it is magnificent. (you can check it out here if you’re interested)

BUDDY SYSTEM FOR THE WIN

I cannot express the value of my mentor enough. Her mentoring over course of my program was such an integral part of my path towards a new career in UX Design. I was so lucky to have had the opportunity to work with her, and it would be impossible to count all the ways that she me in my journey. Each week she taught me something new, and always took the time to explain the reasons and thought process behind her suggestions and recommendations. I am so appreciative of the generosity she showed in regards to her time and resources. My mentor also would frequently review submitted work and answer questions outside the Skype schedule, which allowed me to work at the pace I wanted without having to wait a week for feedback.

LESSONS LEARNED

Sure, 2016 was one of my most difficult years, but it was the foundation for my 2018, which has been an awesome year!

Unfortunately, there are times when no amount of planning or hard work can make things work out the way you want. When you have exhausted all the tools at your disposal to succeed and continue to fail, it may be time to re-examine what you consider success. Only after I accepted the fact that there was nothing I could do to improve the situation at my workplace, and redirected my goals was I able to truly achieve success.

Though I am still working toward my ultimate goal of landing that dream UX Designer position, I am confident that my enthusiasm, passion and determination will make it happen soon.

It is a fine line between determination and denial, and thankfully I am able to see that line a lot more clearly now.



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