A road less travelled
How an English grad ended up in tech
I was asked to write a little careers piece recently and it got me thinking. Careers rarely work out as planned, do they? I’ve ended up doing a job I didn’t know existed when I was at school. Here’s how I got there.
How was your University time?
Amazing! I always wanted to go to university. It gave me the opportunity to move away from where I grew up and meet new people. I loved reading and writing so I chose to study English at Nottingham University. I enjoyed student life; the freedom and the friendships. It was like taking a practice run at adulthood.
Having said that, I found the academic world tedious. Diversity was lacking in the books we had to read and in the lecturers themselves. I didn’t feel inspired by the teaching and I didn’t get a lot of feedback or encouragement. I was ready to leave after 3 years and start working.
What path did your career take?
I found a job in market research and discovered I was very interested in understanding people’s behaviour. I worked in research agencies for a few years. I learned a lot of skills like how to analyse data, respect confidentiality, ask the right questions and give presentations. However the companies I worked for were very hierarchical environments and I knew I didn’t want to be there longer-term.
I made the move into User Experience (UX) whilst working at Reed Business Information. UX includes all aspects of a person’s interaction with a product or service and it’s about making technology easier to use. RBI had been a publishing company but wanted to build digital products, and UX was a critical part of getting that right. I was inspired by watching usability testing and persuaded my managers that I wanted to study for a Masters degree in User Interaction Design. I worked full-time as a UX professional and studied at weekends. It was a leap of faith that helped me to change my career path.
I developed my skills as a manager and was given responsibility for hiring a UX team. We set up a graduate scheme which I shaped, through which we trained a number of amazing UX Designers. I led the strategy and development of the team before leaving to become a freelance consultant. I now run my own business, Creative Product Consulting, and currently work with a start-up.
What helped you to get to where you are today?
A lot of my growth has been about building the confidence to go for what I want and battling imposter syndrome. The job market is tough and it’s easy to be discouraged if things don’t go your way. I was lucky to have good managers along the way who believed in me, although I had a few bad ones too!
Finding a support network in your professional life really helps. I started going to UX events years ago and made good friends. We keep in touch and help each other through career ups and downs.
I thought when I was growing up that I couldn’t work in the media, creative or tech fields because I was from the Midlands and I didn’t know anyone who did those kinds of jobs. It’s important to see people like you succeeding in your chosen field, which is why increasing diversity in business leadership is vital.
Another thing I’ve learned is that sometimes you have to move on. Not every company is a place you can do good work and if you run out of inspiration and motivation, it’s time to go.
Can you recommend a book that helped you?
Designing your life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. It’s about taking a design approach to your career. You research the things you like and dislike doing, create alternative options and prototype them. It’s great for anyone looking for a career change.
Advice for someone looking for a job?
Get really clear on what you want. Be active in the community you want to work in and go to events. Approach people you admire and ask them to connect. Tell your story. Try different approaches. Consider volunteer work or alternative ways into your industry. Keep believing in yourself. Careers are often multi-faceted these days so don’t be afraid to try something new!