My Meandering Path to UX
How I Transitioned from Librarian to Product Designer
Looking back, it should have been obvious. I mean, I spent my childhood participating in large scale problem-solving competitions and pushing the limits of what I could design in Microsoft Publisher. If that’s not a recipe for a future in UX what is?
But still, when I hit my senior year of high school and people were expecting me to make big important decisions about my future I was at a loss. I liked technology, so maybe something with that? I also liked science, especially biology, so biotech?
I dabbled in both during college, majoring in computer science, telecommunications, and biology at various points before graduating with a telecommunications degree and the vague idea that I wanted to do “something techie, but not programming.” So naturally I ended up going to library school.
Yeah, I know, librarian isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think tech careers. I got into because I was interested in how information is organized and how I could make it easier for people find what they’re looking for. When professors and classmates would ask what kind of library I wanted to work in I’d explain that I didn’t necessarily want to work in a library, I just wanted to apply the skills to other fields. I still hadn’t heard of UX design, but I discovered Information Architecture and knew that was a step in the right direction.
After graduation I planned on taking my time to job hunt and figure out what it was I really wanted to do. But life had other plans. When my employer sold my division of the company and laid everybody off I suddenly went from looking for the right job to looking for any job.
I took a position as an Emerging Technologies Librarian at a small academic library where I played the roles of website admin, tech support, social media manager, and more. While redesigning the website I picked up a little book called “Don’t Make Me Think” and suddenly the clouds parted, a light shone down from the heavens, and a disembodied voice proclaimed “This is what you are meant to do.”
Okay, maybe it wasn’t quite that dramatic, but it did feel like a veil had been lifted as I discovered this field that combined my interest in technology with my interest in organizing information and creating usable experiences. I began devouring books and blogs about UX and took a new position as a UX Librarian (yes, that’s a thing) at another academic library.
But alas, I wasn’t happy. I was frustrated with the aversion to change, the glacial pace of progress, and the bureaucratic red tape that are systemic to both libraries and academia at large. I also wasn’t happy with the work I was doing. I wanted to focus on UX, but I spent more time teaching students how to use our website than I did just making easier to use.
How had I gotten to this point? I’d never really wanted to work in a library, but I’d let circumstances guide my path for far too long. It was time to take control and steer my career in the direction I wanted to go. I started looking into HCI master’s programs, but didn’t relish the thought of taking on massive student loan debt. Plus I already had a solid foundation in the theory of UX — I’d read tons of books and I’d been doing UX work in libraries for a few years. What I really needed was more hands-on practice with things like wireframes and prototypes. I also knew from my years in higher ed how long it takes to get curriculum changes approved and that any formal education was unlikely to be on the bleeding edge of the industry. A UX bootcamp was the perfect solution.
I enrolled in Designlab’s UX Academy and spent the next 6 months dedicating 20+ hours a week to learning and practicing UX. I was able to round out my skill set and get some practice in different areas of UX with regular feedback from my mentor and fellow students. Eventually that led to a job as a UX designer.
Making a career transition wasn’t easy. It was a big investment of both time and money, and it was a little terrifying to make such a huge leap of faith. But it was totally worth it to finally be taking control of my career path. I’ve been working full time as a UX designer for over a year now, and I couldn’t be happier with my decision. I finally figured out what I want to do when I grow up.
P.s. we’ve teamed up with DesignLab to offer out their courses to 8px readers. Want to learn UX from some of the industry masters? They offer both short and long courses, where you’re teamed up with mentors from Github, Dropbox and the BBC.