Everyone I meet who is a UX-something has had a different road to UX. Some folks started out as programmers, others as graphic designers. I find it extremely interesting to learn how others come to UX and I thought I would share my path as well. My path is long and winding and still evolving.
Back in the nineties when I was in college, I started out as a biology major. I wanted to be an environmental scientist and save the world. Then I got into psychology and got pretty far in that. My best friend at the time was an art major and she encouraged me to take some art classes. I have always been into arts and crafts but never considered them viable career options. I took some classes and found them to be really rewarding. Another friend encouraged me to take a graphic design class-I didn’t even know what graphic design was. I excelled at graphic design and decided to change my major for the third time. I took a computer graphics class and fell in love with Macromedia Director and creating interactive presentations. I got a student gig working on the university website and that is how I got started in the digital realm.
Even though I finished the graphic design program, I have never actually been a graphic designer. Sure, I’ve designed print pieces here and there along with many, many logos, but I have never had the title of graphic designer. I went straight into web design and production and have been an interactive something-or-the-other for 17 years now.
Over the next few years, I taught myself HTML and CSS. I started writing functional specifications filled with wireframes and information architecture diagrams and user flows. I began to lead web development projects from start to finish, all the while doing all of the UI design and front-end production. I learned how to do QA testing. Then I became an expert in SharePoint branding and site collection administration.
I started to get into analytics and search analysis. I did competitive analysis and research and wrote a bunch of reports. I started to create training documentation, then I started to conduct in-class training.
After many years, I became a Creative Director and was responsible for large-scale redesigns of major e-government projects. And now I spend my days as Sr. UX Analyst and Designer at an investment firm. My days are filled with research, wireframes, mocks, sketches, user testing and interviews, and UI design. I don’t do any front end development anymore, at least not at my day job. I also consult on the side doing expert UX reviews.
I have met many UX people who claim it is not possible to be a UX person and also do good UI. I beg to differ, as the dozen or so awards my work has won should prove it is quite possible to be good at more than one thing.
After all these years, it is easy to feel like you have it all figured out, but I feel like I am just getting started. I make a concerted effort to constantly learn new things, new techniques, new ideas. I also believe that a person’s career is in their hands and if your company won’t pay for training, pay for it yourself. Read books, blogs, newsletters, whatever. Teach yourself whatever it is you want to know-I did, that’s how I learned HTML/CSS and pretty much every thing I know that I use on a daily basis. I have subscriptions to Safari online books, Lynda.com, Treehouse, over 30 Udemy courses, and a membership to the Interaction Design Foundation. I got my Certified Usability Analyst certification last year and I will be attending the NNG UX Week that is in Houston in March and will be going for that certification as well.
I’ve worn a lot of hats and have a wide-ranging set of skills. I feel like everything I have learned has helped me to be better at anything I do. I am able to solve problems quickly because chances are, I’ve solved it before (benefits of having a long career and working in different industries). I’ve worked at small agencies, at a death care company, an e-gov agency working with elected officials, and now, an investment firm. I have always done freelance on the side, both for money and for the experience of working with more varied clients and projects. I am looking forward to another year in this industry and another set of skills that I hope to pick up.
Wherever you have started, you can use it as a stepping stone, just keep going and never stop. I sure won’t 😉
NOTE: That pup up there, yup, that’s critter number eight, Princess Buttercup. Adopt the planet!