How Taking a Step Backward Can Be the Best Way Forward
Last year I made the decision to leave my job in Miami and move to New York City to attend grad school. I had been working as an Interaction Designer for five years and had, what others would consider, a great career. Though I felt very unfulfilled at my job, the thought of stepping away from the comfort and financial security to become a student again made me nervous.
I was working at a senior level at SapientNitro, leading the UX and prototyping on some big projects. I felt like I was really starting to make an impact in the office, and in the community as well. When I moved to Miami I was taken back by the lack of UX meetups so I started a local chapter of the Interaction Design Association (IxDA). I began organizing monthly events that started out quite small, and over time it grew into a solid community of UX practitioners.
When the time came to make a decision about school, I felt very confused. I had been accepted to a few different programs but I still wasn’t sure I was ready to walk away from my job and leave Miami. There was something pulling me towards the MFA Interaction Design MFA Program at SVA. I remembered the feeling I got when I went to visit the school and the talk that I had with Liz Danzico. She made me feel like I would be supported in whatever I wanted to do. I also got to speak with Jeffrey Zeldman and sit in on his class which was a great experience. Still stuck, I ended up writing to Zeldman for advice the day before my decision deadline and he responded with a very thoughtful email. He told me “The fact that you acknowledge your fear makes me think you are ready to transcend it.” and ended by saying “In your heart you already know what you want to do. Do that.”
As I near the end of my first year of this program I reflect back on that moment and realize how much my life has changed since then. Coming here has expanded my knowledge of interaction design into new areas through physical computing and creative coding. Most importantly, it has given me the space to explore my passion around inclusive design with a focus on Autism Spectrum Disorder. The first semester I conducted a lot of research and even attempted to build a few different solutions that tried to address communication for nonverbal people with ASD. Since then, I’ve taken a step back from trying to create a product and have instead focused my efforts on cultivating a community around designing for autism with my classmate Kohzy.
A couple of months ago, my classmates started applying for summer internships and once again, I felt very lost. I didn’t think it made sense for me to be an intern with my previous work experience. I read this great post from a former student in my program who took an internship after 20+ years of design experience. I started to change my perspective and let go of my ego. I became more open minded to the idea, especially if there was an opportunity to learn something new. I asked Liz for advice and she told me that there were internships out there for graduate students that are highly regarded in the industry. I decided to put myself out there and see what happened.
I filled out an application to Google not sure where it would lead. I ended up hearing back from them a couple of weeks later saying that they had noticed my resume. A few emails back and forth led to a great conversation with someone from the Material Design team about an interesting project in Mountain View this summer. I recently accepted the offer and am excited for the opportunity to work on something at this scale.
In retrospect, quitting my job to become a student again was probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. My goal has always been to keep learning and remain teachable, but in order for me to do that I have to continually drop my ego and remember to stay humble. Coincidentally, I’m going to be starting my internship on my birthday, and I can’t think of a better way to turn 30. I just hope I don’t stand out like Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson in the movie The Internship.