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Insights from experts: How to kick off your UX career

by Michael Rummery

Insights from experts: How to kick off your UX career

In a previous post I talked about “How you can get on the path to UX Career success” where I gave a few tips about getting a start in UX.

Following on from that article, I’ve interviewed three UX experts and I’ve asked them to share their stories and career advice that would help others getting started in UX.

Rohan Irvine

UX Researcher

What was your journey?

I studied Behavioural Science at Griffith University in Brisbane and went into a support role at a bank after I graduated. I moved to Melbourne and decided to go back to university to study IT. After one semester I stepped away from Uni and took a role as an IT Helpdesk Analyst for a large private hospital provider.

A couple of years later, a friend told me about User Experience — an industry where people worked to understand how user’s experienced products and services. Seniors in the industry were studying psychology degrees similar to mine so they could learn research methodologies and human behaviour. I saw so many problems my users had, and UX was a way to address them — it was an industry I wanted to be a part of.

They were UX Designers, but the title never resonated with me. As I learned more about the industry I started seeing more and more UX Researcher roles appearing in the US and UK. I figured that if these roles exist overseas, Australia would catch up in a couple of years. 

I positioned myself as a UX Researcher, kept developing my skillset, and sought opportunities to use my new skills both within my current role and as an independent UX Researcher. 

What helped you the most?

Reading everything. There are so many resources out there. I explored topics that resonated the most. Reading gave me the vocabulary to start having conversations with people which lead to more reading and eventually opportunities to break into the industry.

The next step was getting out there. I thrive in extroverted environments, so I went anywhere where I could start conversations about UX — meet-ups, conferences, and drinks. People were very generous with their time, which is something I try to pay forward now. 

I knew it was important to put all these new techniques I was learning into practice, so I changed my mindset to be open to opportunity. I was always looking out for situations where I could apply research methodologies and have conversations with people about why UX mattered.

What tips would you give to people looking to make a start in UX?

Find the people who excite you. Networking can be gross, so try to make genuine connections with people.

Read as much as possible. Start with UX Magazine & Erika Hall from Mule Design — great resources on research.

Catherine Hills

UX Practitioner

What was your journey?

I began my career in user interface design in 2002, after completing an Advanced Diploma in Interactive Design at RMIT and a Bachelor of Fine Art from University of Melbourne. I then went on to work for digital agencies, publishing companies, educational organisations, and startups. 

Writing stories or interactive narratives along with building prototypes was part of my interaction design training, and I moved towards hybrid design and development roles at the beginning of my career. I started learning more about heuristics and accessibility when I started moving towards usability testing and design research, which has lead me on to all my other roles.

What helped you the most? 

I would recommend finding mentors to help you along your journey. These can be UX experts or someone in your workplace — having someone to help you along you journey and inspire you is fundamental to career development. 

Attend meet ups and conferences if you can, but most importantly, get to know people in the UX community. Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know" and always be curious. Always collaborate with your colleagues and other people — the best ideas almost never come from a single source. 

What tips would you give to people looking to make a start in UX?

Look for information to help educate yourself; be a life long learner.  

Use Twitter as an aggregator — not just by following UX experts but also follow interesting companies and startups that release material related to their product or a new technology. Search the Internet, find topics and do heaps of reading. 

Most of all, have empathy, care about the user and have a customer first approach  

Lisa Burns

Experience & Product Designer

What was your journey?  

After working as a Graphic Designer for quite a few years, I decided to move into an account management role for a small software as a service technology company. This was my first foray into understanding users of a system — observing their behaviour and listening to their feedback during installs and training, and then working with the project team to make it a better experience for them. 

From there I moved to the UK and continued in digital account and project manager roles, where requirements gathering, user journey mapping, wireframes, and user testing were a regular part of those jobs. 

Since then I’ve worked in various UX roles — agency, consultancy, and client side, and more recently roles involving experience and service design. 

What helped you the most? 

I’d say foremost it would be learning from fantastic people in the industry. I’ve been so lucky to have worked with some amazing practitioners over the years that have strong backgrounds in human centred design and human behaviour. They’ve taught me loads and helped me hone my practice.  

Secondly, just practicing the craft has been essential. I’ve found that just getting stuck in and trying the tools and techniques, producing the outputs, and receiving critique has been super important to growth. 

And finally, reading is hugely helpful — to answer my own research and design questions and to learn completely new things. There are loads of resources out there (and lots of noise too), but a few of my fav twitter feeds and blogs are:

  • @humanfactors
  • @MeasuringU
  • @UIE
  • @cooper
  • @Nngroup
  • @thebrainlady 

What tips would you give to people looking to make a start in UX?

This could be a novel in itself, but I’ll keep it to 6 key things:

  1. Firstly, build your knowledge and skills of the craft by focusing on resources that teach the foundations of sound UX methodology (e.g. HCI, HCD/UCD, human behaviour etc.). Gaining Tertiary education in any of these or cross over areas is advantageous, however if that’s not an option, you could start with online resources like Ideo. Learn the techniques (how and when they are used etc.) and have a go at practicing them — even if it means interviewing a family member or creating mock problems to solve. You can then further your learnings of these techniques via other online training resources like UIE, Udemy, Lynda, and Coursera.  
  2. Practice and capture your critical thinking skills and your approach along the way using an online platform (e.g. Dribble, Behance, Carbonmade etc) that allows you to share your research, design, and thinking easily. 
  3. Go to events, seminars, meet-ups, and conferences that can give you hands-on face-to-face learning with experienced practitioners in the industry. 
  4. Reach out to people in the industry for mentorship. You’ll find many of the senior leaders in the field only too helpful, but remember to do your homework first. Here’s a good article on planning for and finding a UX mentor.
  5. Apply for UX jobs but be honest about your skills, experience, and the level of job you are going for. You don’t need to 'big-up' your CV, just let your portfolio talk and get you the interview. In today’s UX skills climate, many employers are looking for candidates not only with time on the job and experience, but ones that demonstrate aptitude and emotional intelligence. Your folio should demonstrate this.
  6. Lastly, I’ve not mentioned UX certification. There’s still a bit of industry conjecture on this one I think, largely due to it being a self-reported accreditation system and the relationship of these certifications to the actual job market questionable.
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