Latest Update: April 2019
Since transitioning from medical speech-language pathologist (SLP) to user experience researcher (UXR), I’ve had a ton of people inquire about how I did it.
Below is a rough guide on how I made it happen.
Please ask questions and share thoughts in the responses section at the very bottom of the page.
While working per diem (PRN) for four different home health companies, I enrolled part-time in an online UX/UI Fundamentals program through an online bootcamp. I worked on the course about three days per week and met with my mentor(s) 1–2 times per week via video chat to review my assignments.
Although making a basic income was helpful while studying part-time, it was still very much an expensive decision. I took my time in evaluating and talking to representatives from multiple programs before deciding to enroll.
After a few months of working on the online program, I determined that it wasn’t the right fit for me, as I felt I was at risk of finishing the program without real-world impact (i.e., true client projects versus student case studies).
I withdrew from the program and went back to the drawing board in figuring out my career change to UX.
Neither a DIY nor a part-time approach worked for me. I felt I needed an accelerated career change. The constant context-switching between patient care and studying was to my detriment. I wanted to be fully immersed and focused.
After a few months of considering other UX programs and helping run a major health tech conference at Stanford, I decided that the best way to make the change was to take a risk and enroll in a full-time program. I decided to join Tradecraft’s full-time onsite program in San Francisco.
Volunteering to help run a conference was life-changing and exploded my network. Although it didn’t result in any job offers, one of the panelists I hosted ended up becoming a client at Tradecraft and another panelist sponsored my application at his company.
After being accepted to Tradecraft, I visited and spoke with a few staff members before making the decision to enroll. This was important to me because I wanted to see the location and get a feel for the dynamics.
I started the Product Design program at Tradecraft. While working on learning and applying the fundamentals of product design, we quickly jumped into real-world client project work.
I decided to focus on three major projects, with the intention of gaining different experience:
- For a not-for-profit client, I decided to be a “generalist” and focus on the product design experience from beginning to end (including research, low/mid/high fidelity mock design, etc.).
- For a gov tech client, I decided to focus solely on UX research for a minimum viable product (MVP).
- For a health tech client, I was the project lead for a mobile app MVP but also jumped in to conduct research, design, and prototype where needed.
Although I had a great time leading a project, I felt that it was a signal to me that product management wouldn’t be a fit for the near-term. I also felt that my visual design skills would require much more in-depth study in order to become a Junior Product Designer.
Through my focused approach in splitting up my responsibilities across projects, I determined that my interest and confidence landed best in UX Research.
Since I typically make decisions through process of elimination, it was absolutely critical for me to learn-by-doing. At times I felt like I was back in grad school, hustling to conquer a mountain of learning and demonstrate my skills appropriately.
There was nothing easy about this program, and it was life-changing and it “worked.” I also continued to explode my professional network and make new friends while at Tradecraft.
With the support of my family and being a longtime saver, I recognize I had the privilege to take several months off work to make this happen. Not everyone has this type of support structure available to them.
I completed all client projects and had initial discussions with the gov tech startup to join their team as a part-time UX Researcher. In addition to this, I made sure to piece together a basic online portfolio and continue to improve my online presence (through LinkedIn, writings, etc.).
I consider the opportunity to continue working with this client (post-Tradecraft) to be the turning point for me. Had I not had the opportunity, I would have had to conduct a conventional job search like many of my colleagues.
After joining the gov tech startup as a part-time UX Researcher, I was referred by leadership at Tradecraft for a part-time position for a stealth mode proof of concept project at Samsung. I interviewed for the position and accepted the offer.
I worked part-time at the startup and at Samsung simultaneously, splitting my week between working in San Francisco and Palo Alto, including travel for some of the project work.
This wasn’t easy, either, and I decided to make short-term sacrifices in order to focus on the long-game.
Due to personal needs, I had to start looking for a full-time position. I was referred by a friend to a recruiter who then submitted me for two positions as a contractor at Google. I interviewed for both positions. Things moved quickly, and I accepted the offer for the position in San Bruno, where I worked as a UXR on the Google Ads team.
In addition to “grit” and “hard work,” I feel that the primary reason why I was able to make the career change successfully (and rather rapidly) was by fostering positive relationships in the tech community.
In some ways I had to work doubly hard because I had moved from Chicago to the San Francisco Bay Area and had to start over completely with networking in a new region AND new industry.
Once again, due to personal needs, I had to start looking for a full-time position that was permanent (i.e., not contract). After a few interviews, I accepted a full-time offer at a startup in San Francisco. I was referred by the co-founder of the gov tech startup that I worked with previously.
Similar to the healthcare sector, tech is a big small world. I’ll say it again: it’s all about relationships.
I continue to learn and grow into my new role, and I’m excited to see what the new year brings. I’ll plan to update this article as appropriate in the future, including additional resources that I come across. Thanks for reading!