My UX Journey

How I made the transition to UX Design

The man who invented terms for things that I always took for granted. He is also lowkey my idol.

When I reveal to people what I studied before completely immersing myself in all things UX, I always (well, almost always) get shocked looks. Then of course, these looks are followed by “How did you get started in UX?” or “Why UX?”. I am just at the beginning of my career in the User Experience Design world, but these questions have driven me to think about the steps I took and the circumstances that led to where I am right now. Hopefully, sharing my journey so far will also motivate others out there who are interested in this fascinating field.

My College Years

My interest in UX started before I even knew what UX stood for. My sophomore year of college, I took my first computer science class and I was hooked. I was fascinated by the complexity of programming. To me, coding was a tool that I used to teach the computer how to accomplish a specific task. The psych enthusiast in me however, couldn’t help but ask the question: how do computers teach humans how to accomplish a certain task? Little did I know, I would find the answer to this question my junior year. That year, I joined an organization called Women in Technology. The president at the time was a budding UXer and our faculty advisor, who ran our school’s media lab, had a masters in Human-Computer Interaction. These two ladies were my personal heroes. They embodied the person I wanted to become: a techie that solved users’ problems using psychology and design. They did not only inspire me to look further into UX, but they introduced me to a whole new world within tech that truly spoke to me.

My senior year of college I became the president of Women in Technology and remained closely in touch with our faculty advisor. Through her, I also started working at the media lab as an intern for that year. As part of the internship, I developed a prototype for a mobile app concept that was created by a professor at my university. This was my first “UX related” job. I was responsible for all stages of the process: research, ideation, design, and prototyping. This is when I started educating myself by consuming everything I could find online on UX. These were some of my favorite resources:

  1. Udacity course on The Design of Everyday Things (Or anything related to Don Norman on the internet, including his book The Design of Everyday Things)
  2. Lean UX
  3. UX Magazine
  4. UX matters
  5. UX Beginner (Good blog for when you have yet to learn everything about UX and don’t know where to start)

One semester into my senior year, I had fallen in love with User Experience Design and I wanted to learn about it more in depth. The traditional path to start a career in UX would have been to get a full time job in the field after graduation. For me, it was different. I craved for deeper knowledge in anything related to human centered design. My personal goal was to continue my education and learn as much as I could about UX so I could become the best professional I could be. So naturally, I applied for a masters program and decided to attend in the fall after college.

Graduate School

This is where I am right now. One and a half semesters into my masters program (and 2.5 more semesters to go!), I have to say that this was the best decision I had ever made. I have gained so much more from pursuing this degree than I expected. I have learned how to blend my technical skills with UX Design, how to define (and refine) my own UX process, and how to apply UX to technologies that will define the future. I signed up for courses that would challenge my UX Design skills and through them, I was able to participate in projects that were beyond my imagination. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to be designing interfaces for Hololens applications or to create a prototype for a music application that could be used by blind children. All these opportunities have helped me experience the boundaries of UX design: what I call “futuristic” UX Design. UX best practices have yet to be defined for these new technologies and getting to learn more about UX by being given the freedom to contribute to this new knowledge was amazing.I have also looked for opportunities that were at my disposal as a graduate student. I became a fellow at one of my university’s incubators and I’m working as a UX Designer for one of their startups. This work has been very fulfilling since I was able to experience the fast-paced work environment that comes with being the only UX Designer on the team. Some of the other perks are that you get to be in charge of your own work and you get to learn a lot from your boss! In addition to all this practice, I have naturally also been reading about UX on the side. These are two brilliant UX must-reads:

  1. Universal Methods of Design
  2. Don’t Make Me Think

Lessons Learned

This has been a very long journey so far and I can’t say that it was easy. It took a lot of hard work and self reflection to go from wanting to be a UX Designer to becoming one. For those of you who are on the same boat as my undergraduate self, my piece of advice is to never leave your future to chance. If you want to become a UX Designer, become one today and not someday. Start googling “user experience” right now and see what you come up with. Start absorbing all the knowledge that the internet provides you with. Start following your UX idols on twitter, direct message them, even ask them out for coffee! Most importantly, be an active learner. Look for opportunities that might lead to the career you want a few years from now. Volunteer your time to design apps for friends or even local non-profits. Be creative in your approach to shaping your future and be open to any new opportunities that cross your path.

What is your UX story? I would love to hear from you! Reach out to me through twitter at @oli_cab.

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