Goodbye teaching, hello UX design

A more rewarding moment in teaching: running English and teaching methodology sessions for local primary school teachers in Nekemte, Ethiopia, in 2010.

Teaching English as a foreign language has taken me to some brilliant places and has given me colourful memories that I will hang on to for the rest of my life. However, ever since I began my teacher training on the PGCE in 2011 I was recoiling from the demands of teaching in UK schools. A dark dread crept over me whenever the thought of planning popped into my head, which seemed to be way too often. Say, on a Saturday morning.

I’d been searching for an escape for 3–4 years, determined that teaching wouldn’t be my life-long career. At one time I was seriously looking into becoming a carpenter, something I had absolutely no experience in or, to be honest, much interest. It was probably the magical idea of creating something with my hands on my own in the relative peace of a workshop. This bubble was burst when I visited a friend’s father’s carpentry business. Another time, after I’d began supply teaching in London, I was so desperate to do something else that I registered with lots of secret shopping websites and thought it would be a more pleasant existence than grappling with thirty children every day. You know, floating into shops, doing the fun stuff (buying and eating cakes) and then writing a little report. It turned out that the gains are so small unless you’re doing high-end stuff like luxury car showrooms etc.

Fast-forward to Sept/October when I met my mate Bill on the eve of him moving to Japan with his wife and son. It turns out that over 3 years-or-so, Bill has transformed himself from being an unsatisfied, under-appreciated, and over-worked college instructor into a very successful User Experience Designer. I winced slightly when he said those words. It sounds like the title of someone who finds new ways to trick consumers into buying more stuff on behalf of greedy corporations. A way of maximising profit at the expense of customers. UX design could be used to do that I suppose, but it’s more to do with making interactions with things (usually websites and apps) easy and pleasurable. Steve Krug explains it nicely:

After all, usability really just means making sure that something works well: that a person of average (or even below average) ability and experience can use the thing — whether it’s a Web site, a fighter jet, or a revolving door — for its intended purpose without getting hopelessly frustrated.’

Steve Krug, Don’t Make Me Think, 2000.

Bill’s quality of life improved ten-fold and he suggested I should take a look. I was wary of user experience but he had definitely planted a seed. I decided to look at coding bootcamps — could I really be a coder? Me? Maybe… But then a Skype call to Bill in Japan really brought it home about UX design. I could use all those people skills gained from 14 years of teaching, and indulge my belief that I have some ability in design. In short, I’d still get to work with people — adults (better than children?) — and be able to apply some creativity. Digital carpentry of sorts? Building something that works well, is easy to use and visually pleasing.

I am now three days way from starting the User Experience Design Immersive program at General Assembly in Aldgate East, London. I’ve had tons of pre-course tasks to complete (this being one of them) and I’ve had to invest in a Mac Book Pro. After three defective refurbished MBPs from Maple UK and a full refund, I bit the bullet and purchased a brand new one. I had to trust that it would last a decent amount of time. Here it is. It is nice. It is expensive.

So I’m all set: 11 weeks of tech-speak, meeting new people, and general hard work ahead of me. This is my slip-road out of teaching. Here I go, I’m signalling… I’m moving… I’ve exited the teaching motorway of traffic jams and terrible drivers and I’m speeding on to that cheeky slip-road, taking me away, leading me up onto a… well I don’t know. Hopefully somewhere less shit. Wish me luck.