Women in Voice
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Women in Voice

8 Conversation Designers Share EXACTLY How They Broke Into The Industry (and How Long It Took!)

This Blog Post is Co-Authored with Elaine Anzaldo.

I’ve teamed up once again with my favorite blogging partner, Elaine Anzaldo, to share more insights for conversation designers, this time on breaking into this emerging field. I know it can feel like an intimidating and near-impossible feat for aspiring designers, especially when coming from a completely different industry, but I hope that these real stories can serve as a bit of inspiration and guidance as you continue your journey! Let’s get into it.

It’s no secret, conversation design is a very in-demand role in a rapidly growing field. Though, when you see job postings for “conversation designer,” “VUI designer,” or one of the many other versions of the title, it seems like most companies are looking for a laundry list of skills and years of experience, despite the field being relatively new.

So how can you break in and land your first role? How exactly do you become a conversation designer?

We asked 8 conversation designers with a variety of backgrounds and skill levels to share their real experiences on finding their first (or second) role in conversation design, how many roles they applied for, and how long it took them to get there.

Meet our contributors:

Emily Banzhaf, Content Designer at Willow Tree, Host of Voice Spark Live and Volunteer at Open Voice Network

John Anderson, Conversational Architect at Quiq

Kattiya (Duke) Chan-Urai, Conversation Designer at Salesforce

Karen C. Siu, UX Designer, Conversational RPA at IBI Group

Adam Woollacott, Conversation Designer at Heyday by Hootsuite

Millani Jayasingkam, Conversation Designer at [24]7.ai, Host of Voice This! Podcast

Nate Bishop, Sr. Conversational AI Specialist at Discover Financial Services

Elaine Anzaldo, former Conversational UX Designer at NLX

Hey — Why not me? I (Hillary) work as a conversation designer at a company that I helped start. While I have worked in CxD with other companies and helped a lot of people get hired through coaching, courses, my community and my job board, I haven’t had the same experience of breaking into the industry that most of you will have. My story certainly is one worth sharing, and being freelance or starting your own company is a path in, it just doesn’t fit with this blog post! 💖

How Did You Find Your First Role as a Conversation Designer?

Tell us the good and the bad, don’t leave anything out!

Emily

Before my first conversation design job, I was doing freelance voice design and UX writing work. I transitioned to the design field during the pandemic and started exploring conversation design during the UX design bootcamp program that I took [at CareerFoundry]. After the bootcamp program, I took additional conversation design courses and started networking and getting involved in the community.

Eventually, I was connected to the recruiter for my first CxD job through a friend. The timing was perfect because by then, my portfolio had been built out from the courses I took, I felt confident with the skills I had, and I had real work experience to talk about. Everything together helped me get the job.

John

I was running Facebook ads for clients when I started to use ManyChat as a part of those ad campaigns. I loved it and enjoyed building an automated tool that was both a great experience for users, as well as an effective method of connecting for businesses.

After doing that for a while, I started to hear more about “conversation design” and began meeting people on LinkedIn who were in the field. I did a few virtual networking events and read more about conversational AI and I was hooked. I took a look at some jobs and ended up at a fantastic company where I am pretty newly installed in my role and really enjoying it.

Duke

I decided to switch to UX design right before the pandemic. Since I no longer had a commute and could work from home, I enrolled in a bootcamp with a job-guarantee program (the same CareerFoundry Bootcamp as Emily). The bootcamp suggested I should land a new career within six months of graduating. I quickly started building my portfolio and resume and applied to 100+ UX Jobs. I got 3 interviews, but 0 offers.

I learned from my bootcamp that the key to finding a job is “networking, personal connection, and getting an informational interview.” I’m extremely introverted, so I avoided this strategy in the beginning. But after my cold application approach failed, I changed my strategy. Living in Hawaii and with a return to office mandate in May 2021, I struggled to find enough time to meet people or join events. Sometimes I had to get up at 4 am to join conferences or connect with others worldwide.

At the same time, I started a Voice User Interface Design specialization course. I gravitated to it because I have always been fascinated by voice technology. That’s where I was introduced to conversation design. I found the role of a conversation designer so fascinating and it led me to attend the Women in Voice 2021 Summit. At that event, I met so many people who were supportive, kind, and willing to help me on my journey! It was also how I met my devoted mentor, Elaine Anzaldo, a professional conversation designer. Elaine was very committed and sacrificed her personal time to mentor me since June 2021. She helped me in every area I could improve: my resume, portfolio, and interview skills. She also referred me to several of her connections and listened to me vent.

Unfortunately, another 200+ job applications later, I still didn’t get a job. So, in Jan 2022 , I took a break. I stopped applying to jobs and instead prioritized learning how to have conversations with people. Storytelling is essential in the interview process. To practice, I watched a lot of interview prep on YouTube, booked more mentors on ADPList, and I met a UX Design group in Hawaii (UXHI) in person. All of this helped loosen up my socially awkward personality. I almost gave up many times during these past two years, but I would have hated to disappoint the people who support me so much. So I tried again. Finally, in April 2022, I got an offer as a Conversation Designer for Salesforce. I want to use this space to express my gratitude to all my mentors and everyone who supported me, especially Elaine, who never gave up on me. I couldn’t go this far without her. It’s a long journey, but I hope it inspires you not to give up.

Karen

If I were to describe my journey into the CxD field in one word — I’d say “serendipity” (n. an unplanned fortunate discovery), haha!

Before I became a conversation designer, I was working as a UX Designer at an AI startup in Hong Kong. I was initially working on websites and product interfaces. One day, I was told that we got a major virtual assistant revamp project for a multinational bank and that I should be taking the lead in redesigning it. At first, I thought, “Woah! I’m used to designing websites and mobile apps, but an AI chatbot? I’m very interested but it’s gonna be my first time and I’m not sure where I should start.” I hesitated a lot because I was scared of taking a responsibility that I wasn’t 100% confident in. But after a good while of careful consideration, I was like, “YOLO, Karen! If you’re interested in it, why don’t you just take it and learn it as you go?” And well, that was exactly what I decided to do.

I took on the project as the conversational UX designer and spearheaded the entire redesign process. I took the time to study and research best practices and industry standards. That was when I became even more fascinated that I began looking for communities to engage in, as well as people to talk to. However, due to CxD still being quite a niche field back in HK, I could hardly find a local mentor to gain insights from. So I hopped on LinkedIn Premium (so I could reach out to people I don’t have any connections with yet), gathered my bravery, and messaged a few design leaders in this field across the US and Europe! To my surprise, a few got back to me. We kept in touch — and the rest is history. Generally speaking, I received so much guidance and tips from them! Even resources that I wouldn’t have known if I was just exploring alone. Shortly after that project, I relocated to Canada, and fortunate enough, I got hired by a leading architectural design firm in Toronto, where I continued my passion for Conversation Design! 🤖

Adam

My first interest in Conversation Design started when I attended “Voice of the Car Summit” in April 2020. With my previous experience in Audio Engineering and Sound Design, I became interested to know more about voice-first technology and its use cases. At the summit, the talk about Conversational AI by Shyamala Prayaga (prev. Product Owner for Ford’s Autonomous Digital Assistant; currently at NVIDIA) truly fascinated me and made me want to learn more about it.

After taking some free Voice UX courses, I knew this was the new direction I wanted to take, so I enrolled in an online course to become a certified Voice Interaction and Conversation Designer with The Digital Assistant Academy, run by Shyamala. It also provided additional career coaching and although CxD qualifications are not required for jobs, I personally felt that it was definitely worth the 8-month investment and the long nights writing research papers and fixing multiple design errors in Voiceflow! By the end of the course, I’d completed three capstone projects (1 chatbot & 2 voice apps), developed an understanding of the conversational design process and built up the confidence that I needed to be job-ready! By adding to my portfolio and resume throughout the course, I began to apply to jobs towards the end, where I had a number of interviews and design challenges, taking each one as a learning experience and motivation to succeed. I finally became part of the Heyday (Heyday by Hootsuite) team as a Conversation Designer and fast forward a year, I’m still here, loving every minute of it and I can’t wait to continue my journey in this exciting industry!

Millani

My mindset about conversational AI was always about learning and expanding on what I’ve learnt, I wasn’t really thinking of getting a role or transitioning into it at the time.

The concept of conversational AI was always fascinating to me. On my journey of learning more about the world of conversational AI, I stumbled upon Voice Tech Global events which led me to Civic Lab, allowing me to get some hands on experience in building a voice product. There wasn’t a traditional way to learn about conversational AI at the time, so I decided to create my own route by combining my drive to learn and my passion in communicating and sharing knowledge by creating a podcast called “Voice This!” (Yes, I was one of those people that created a podcast during the pandemic). It was a way to connect with experienced practitioners (and honestly, amazing people) to learn from while connecting back to the UX knowledge and experience that I was familiar with.

As I was building the podcast, I then took a foundational course in conversational AI to put my learnings in place to develop a capstone project for my portfolio. Although it wasn’t a linear or a typical route to getting a role, I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Nate

Having studied English in college but also working in technology to cover my tuition, I knew that I wanted to work at the intersection of technology and writing. Originally, I was convinced this could only realistically exist within the realm of marketing and public relations, but I later discovered the field of conversation design.

After graduating college, and leveraging my network to start my career, I found the role of AI conversation designer at Drift and fell in love with it. AI conversation designers at Drift work on the professional services consulting team, servicing a book of business of 4–6 enterprise customers — Drift’s product team builds the platform, professional services uses it to build solutions for their customers. Some of the big logos I got to work with were Adobe and HPE, as well as assisting team members on projects for ServiceNow, Peloton and Glassdoor.

After just over a year, I moved to an in-house role at Discover Financial Services where I play a small, but crucial part in a large cross-functional product team focused on building the best support assistant possible for our app, website, and Apple Business Chat.

Elaine

I first made it into the voice tech industry back in 2019 as a Speech Consultant for SRI International, which is basically just a fancy way of saying: I listened to audio recordings and made sure every part of the recorded conversation was properly labeled! I found the work so interesting (I was helping improve an ASR model), but didn’t know how I could actually contribute to the field without going back to school.

A few months later, I started working at a call center at Google. One day while going back home from work, YouTube (strategically) recommended a conversation design talk to me. It was James Giangola’s Google I/O 2017 presentation! Suddenly I was obsessed. I took courses, entered design competitions, attended online webinars, and connected with people in the industry to learn more about what being a conversation designer was and how I could become one.

My first career “step” toward conversation design was actually a contract position as a Metadata Curator for the Siri team at Apple. Finally, I was in the middle of the action, seeing users interact with some Siri’s capabilities that I worked on! It was so exciting, but I knew my true calling was design. I decided to level up even more by taking Voice Tech Global’s (former) Advanced Conversational Experience Design course. After that, looking for jobs became a lot easier and I was able to find the perfect fit :) One month after getting my course certificate, I accepted my first role as a Conversational UX Designer at NLX.

By The Numbers

Our conversation designers share exactly what it took to land their roles

Any Advice for Aspiring Conversation Designers?

John: Don’t be afraid to reach out to people in the field and ask questions. There are great resources available to learn from and everyone I’ve talked to has been fantastic in their willingness to help me.

Duke: Informational interview, practice storytelling and selective presenting, make your interviews conversational, and never give up.

Adam: It’s an exciting industry to be in! Best advice to anyone wanting to get into the field; Work hard, push yourself outside of your comfort zone and speak to people in the industry, but also enjoy and embrace the journey! (Feel free to reach out to me if you like!)

Nate: Give more than you take, whether you’re networking or helping team members in your role. It pays dividends!

Elaine: Your timeline is your own! It’s okay to go at your own pace. Your journey is wonderfully unique. Just because someone else could get hired in CxD in less than a year doesn’t mean you have to push yourself to meet that timeline! It’s more important to make sure you understand the conversation design process rather than know only a few things here and there and have to learn everything else on the job (because that can be super stressful).

A note from Hillary: I’d like to say a special thank you to our contributors for their openness to share their experiences. The more voices in conversation design we can hear from, the better picture we all have for the future of our industry. I’m looking forward to continuing my exploration in this series, from portfolios to interviews, salaries, real stories, career paths and more!

And lastly, I want to leave you with my biggest pieces of advice for aspiring conversation designers. If you want to be a conversation designer, you CAN! Anything is possible when you stay curious, take initiative and keep moving forward. Focus on positioning your existing background and skills, learning new ones related to the field, and networking with this incredible community. There are so many helpful resources and free content available, communities, courses, and even a job board dedicated 100% to conversation design! Whether you’re just beginning your journey or you’ve been at it for awhile, keep your goals in mind, and embrace your own unique path.

Who Wrote This? Meet Your CxD BFFs ✨👯‍♀️

Elaine Anzaldo is a conversation designer & content creator based in the SF Bay Area. She first entered the voice scene as a speech consultant for SRI International and most recently worked as the lead conversation designer at NLX. She often writes and shares about the realities of being a conversation designer and publishes resources to help junior conversation designers get started in the field. When she’s not thinking about bots, you can find her watching Tollywood movies and taking pictures of her cat, Caesar.
LinkedIn |Twitter | Medium |Instagram

Hillary Black is a conversation designer, marketer, content creator, career coach, etc. based in Southern California. After 10+ years in social media she brought her passion for creating brand personas to bots and never looked back. Today, she’s the head of design at Mav, founder of Conversation Designer Jobs and host of the Conversation Designers Internet Club community on Facebook and Twitter. She’s a contributor to Amazon’s Discover.bot and regularly shares her insights on CxD at events.
Linkedin | Twitter | YouTube

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