How I became a UX/UI designer in tech with 0 experience

Photo by Valentin Antonucci on Unsplash

Greetings, in this article you’ll find some details of my personal experience on becoming a UX/UI designer at a big tech company (at a full time position) with no previous work experience or related cursus.

First of all, I would like to clarify that I have never taken any class or workshop related to design. Since it is a rather expensive option. 
I went for another one instead: learning it by myself. 
So, here are my takeaway points if you’re aiming to do the same.

Prepare for a marathon, not a sprint.

I was definitely in the right mindset for learning and making changes and I was ready to start a study period which normally takes a long time before getting successful. 
Therefore, I knew that I had to prepare myself for a marathon, not a sprint. This is why I decided to not only learn about design but also about philosophy in order to keep a positive mindset, thankfully, I successfully fought several flaws which were holding my learning back.

Photo by ben stern on Unsplash

My theoretical knowledge at this stage was basically nonexistent, so for 1 year I systematically went through tons of books, articles, blogs, talks, videos and anything really, that I found about design, — with a slight preference for emotional design and psychology related things. 
During this period I devoured as much theoretical knowledge as I could and I stayed away from the practical aspect of design because I felt like I wasn’t ready for it. 
You can consider learning about design like a Maslow pyramid: you first need a base of theoretical knowledge, which can be followed by the practical.

Practicing the craft, futility is the enemy.

After having assimilated most of the UX bases I started implementing them into practical aspects, — obviously I didn’t stop to learn theoretical knowledge in the meantime. I experimented with some popular UX/UI design softwares, Figma, Sketch, Axure and Adobe Xd, I must admit I found myself more comfortable with Adobe Xd probably because it was in beta test which meant that every week a new feature came out allowing me to grow my skills at the same rhythm.

I tried to apply what I learnt previously, and importantly, I must note that I kept writing about how and why I redesigned any UI. 
It helped me to have an objective point of view, allowing me to spot and correct any weaknesses.

Photo by Fleur Treurniet on Unsplash

While in the process, you must stay focused and avoid distractions. 
As I said previously, you run a marathon not a sprint, so obviously you might have some sort of distractions on the way like going out, doing sports, entertaining yourself, keeping a social life.

The kind of distractions I’m talking about are the ones that you’ll bury yourself into in order to avoid dealing with the obstacles on your way between you and your dream job, which could be digging in Dribbble to build a fake network, passing time on Stalk channels or redesigning your portfolio for the 10th time of the month. 
These above can all be considered as dangerous distractions because you feel like you’re achieving something useful for your career, but in fact you’re not, you’re simply wasting time instead of actually practicing the craft.

Surround yourself with great people.

At this point I had a lot of works done but how could I know if it meets the needs of the design industry? Post it on Dribbble? Behance? Reddit? 
Why not, but most of the time you’ll end up with meaningless and stereotypical comments. 
No one is gonna explain to you in depth how you could have considered this interaction or how you should direct your vision on your next projects. 
At this point it becomes hard to progress, you can expect to be stagnant, wandering without any direction.

Having mentors solved these problems for me. 
To find a mentor fitting your expectations you must resonate with their works, you must understand and support their personality in order to have a good communication with them. 
At the same time, you must feel challenged by their works, so they will push you outside your comfort zone.

I personally chose to have two mentors, with different backgrounds:

· Stefanie, UX/UI designer, freelance/agency.

· Yura, UX designer, Electronic Arts.

Both of them have a different apprehension about design thanks to their different working fields. Even their education paths are widely different and I was truly lucky to meet them because I had two successful people with different views on my work which greatly helped me.

I communicated weekly with Stefanie & Yura. Whenever I had an interrogation or a need of advice on a project I contacted them and also with Stefanie I had a monthly Skype call in which she told me what should my next project be, or what skill or kind of design I should practice to add at my portfolio.

Don’t slow down yourself because you have a mentor, continue side projects, do more than they tell you to do, explore every idea they’re giving you, they’ll be glad to see how devoted you are, don’t fall into laziness, it’s all about respecting your mentors and your own career.

Also, most importantly don’t forget that you’re responsible for your career, for yourself and a mentor can show your work around, inspire you, but they will not network you in the industry. 
You must stay respectful toward someone who’s sacrificing some of their time to help you.

Being a mentor doesn’t have rewards, it comes from kind gesture, so be grateful toward people trying to make you a better designer, keep an open mindset and above all, — never cease to thank them for what they’re doing for you.

Here’s a follow-up since I got a lot of questions related to the application process:

When to apply?

You need to be able to design any kind of project you want under professional needs. This means being able to think quickly about a solution for a project and also, possible alternatives, as well as being able to reconsider your work and see the big picture (how your proposal will also solve future needs and could be more profitable to your employer) and the details (micro interaction, copy-writing..). You should be able to merge the things you learnt with the things the company will want you to do with as less frictions as possible before applying.

If you have a mentor just ask them to try an iteration loop on a specific project and see how far you can push it while staying relevant. Stay aware of the requirements by checking job position and try to gather missing skills (but don’t be too hard on yourself, a lot of companies won’t be harsh if you’re missing a skill from their list).
Make sure you have a portfolio, with at least 2 projects: they can be UI/UX redesigns, user case studies, user interview process, articles either work on redesign of existing products or on new concept, as you wish. Describe carefully your workflow, how you got these ideas, why you are taking this decision, what your solutions for solving problems are.

You can have a strict structure divided in parts, it can look academical but do whatever you need to help you clarify your workflow! And do not forget to add an “About me” part in your portfolio, your future co-workers will definitely want to know more about you.

Where to apply?

It all depends on what you want, if you’re willing to be in a specific industry or if you’re more general about this choice.
Be curious, try to find some people working where you’d like to work and ask them some question about the atmosphere and see if you can see yourself working there.
Don’t be afraid to apply, you’ve nothing to lose and if you experience some rejections it’s actually a blessing, you’ll be able to learn from them and correct what’s wrong for your future interviews.

To apply you can consider country based websites, LinkedIn and Angelist..
Importantly, check regularly career websites from your favorite big companies, usually you’ll find plenty of open positions even if they’re not seeking actively on other social media platforms.

How to deal with the interview process?

From my experience it was mainly in 3 steps; some chat with the recruiter to have a first approach, them seeing if your CV / portfolio isn’t bullshit and if you could be a cultural fit for their company.

A phone call, with most of the time people from the team where you’ll be affected, it should be a lead UX/UI designer and with a developer, project manager, graphic designer, recruiter.. They’ll ask you some specific questions, to see how your work flow looks like and if it fits with their way of working. Don’t feel illegitimate because you’re a self-learner, actually you should use it as a strong point about yourself, it says that you can fight the odds, you’re not afraid of challenges however big they might seem. You should have a larger spectrum of skills and be more open-minded than anybody else, also, most importantly show that you can adapt quickly to their work environment because you’re a quick-learner.

Finally, the last step is the interview. You will most likely meet the people from the phone call and probably also a director or CEO, they’ll ask you some personal question (where are you from, what is your current situation, etc..) and still specific design related ones. After these, there is a high chance that you’ll have to pass a test — since you don’t have any real professional experience they want to check if you’d be able to work there.

Most of the time it’s a rapid test, 20 minutes, it can take the form of a simple discussion in which they’ll ask you to solve some quick user problems. Or it can be about redesign an app which suffers from UX/UI flaws, this time they’ll ask you to do some rapid wireframes on paper.
If they like your way of thinking, your workflow, and your knowledge you should get an offer pretty soon.

However, if not, learn from it, identify what went wrong and correct it, but don’t’ be too harsh on yourself. You cannot fit in every company, and also consider that you need to be at the right place at the right time, good opportunities can take time until they occur.