Sneaking Into the UX Industry as an Undergrad Student

Hi. I’m Maya, a current senior at a prestigious — yet vastly unknown due to poor marketing and a hideous name— university. I’m studying psychology and if I didn’t luck up on having a mom who owns a technology company, I would have never known about the amazing field of User Experience.

Here’s my issue with the field of User Experience/User Interaction/Information Architecture/Visual Design/Etc./Etc.: it’s widely understood that UX is an ever-evolving industry filled with opportunity and that the supply/demand ratio is extremely unbalanced. The digital world needs more UX designers! However, most students and young professionals around my age have never even heard of this field. And the ones that do — usually they’re a fellow intern or extreme tech junkie— seem to have stumbled across the field accidentally.

I was introduced to the field at the end of my spring semester freshman year after my mother hired her first User Experience Architect. After a landing a great internship managed by a small UX department I decided that this was absolutely what I wanted to do with my life. Although I was still struggling to choose a major, I felt more confident beginning my sophomore year course registration now that I had a general idea of the path I wanted to take. Then the misery begun. Naturally I reached out to my academic advisor and expressed my interest, but he had never heard of the field and wasn’t able to give me any advice on classes to take other than computer science or graphic design — both fair suggestions for someone who had never heard of UX. The rest of my sophomore year was filled with the same frustrations of looking through course catalogues, talking to advisors, brainstorming with my UX mentor from the summer and failing to come up with an undergraduate path that would provide me any sort of meaningful skill set related to UX — although I did end up taking a JavaScript course and hated every bit of our Engineering Department.

Fast forward to today, after a series of painfully unfortunate events, a ton of UX blog reading, and a bit of lucky networking, I was able to construe an academic path that would satisfy my User Experience ambitions. I would argue that my experience is not abnormal. After talking with a fellow intern this past summer at an amazing Experience Design internship, I learned that she only found out about UX her spring semester senior year (she had just graduated with a bachelors in graphic design). I cannot tell you how many times we ranted about how we wished that UX was more visible during our undergraduate careers. Because up to that moment I had been so use to never being able to fully express my inner UX-geek due to the fact that most of my friends and acquaintances at school had never even heard of the field, it was beyond refreshing to connect with someone my age and share our experiences, excitement, and frustrations about User Experience.

All of that being said, I have come to realize that User Experience is a forgiving field, meaning it is open to a wide range of backgrounds. More so, my psychology degree is supposedly pretty coveted in this field. So yes, I do understand the need for a diverse community of designers rather than a bunch of students with the same major. However, it would have been not only insightful but also comforting to have had a UX program or concentration coupled with my degree. I recently found out after an enormous amount of digging — paired with the use of proper key words — that my school’s art school had an interaction design program (not degree) Fall of 2012 and 2013 (my freshman and sophomore year)! You can imagine my intense reaction to my computer screen after I read that. Yes, it was partially my fault and lack of researching skills at the time, but it was also the fault of my school — along with many other schools — to not widely broadcast opportunities like that interaction design program (which was open to all majors and concentrations) to students. It is also the fault of the UX community. We are the main ones who understand the need for fresh innovative minds, so why are we neglecting such a large portion of our target audience?

Currently, if a student doesn’t recognize they have a passion for User Experience early on like I did they end up missing out on a boatload of opportunities in their surrounding communities. But if there was a push to make these UX programs more salient, understandable, and applicable to undergraduate students I believe the great world of UX would be pleasantly surprised at the eager audience of young students they would attract. Seriously, there’s a ton of Millennials waiting to be molded into great digital designers during our undergrad career, not after.

Because of those insights, I want to play a small role in pushing this movement forward. I would have killed to read blogs written by someone around my age pursuing the same UX passions. So I plan to expose my plans on Medium of how to sneak into the crazy trendy world of UX as an unprepared college kid.

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