Photo by Ross Findon on Unsplash

The User Journey of Pivoting Careers

A month ago, I started my first full-time role as a product designer as part of SAP’s Silicon Valley Next Talent Program. I’m now a part of a 30+ cohort of designers, data scientists, and developers that will embark on an 18-month surf ride across 3 different teams for 6 months each. My current team — SAP Fiori Mobile (pronounced “Fee-or-ee” or if you say it fast, “Fury” 💨) is the creator of a design system that both internal SAP teams and clients use to build their mobile applications. We’re on iOS and Android — check us out here.

How did I land here without attending a bootcamp?

In previous lives, I was a marketer, consultant, teacher, government bureaucrat, and a journalist. Am I a cat yet?! Product design is now the sixth job I’ve learned the ropes for. Don’t worry, recruiters who are trying to catch whiff of a career hopper…in design, I’ve finally found my niche. I’m a strong believer that without trying and “failing”, there is no success. Every one of those jobs taught me what I enjoyed doing and what I despised doing for work. I’m also a huge advocate of matrices:

Many attempts leads to one success — and no attempts means no success stories! I advocate trying often and failing hard.

But wait, this wouldn’t be a story about my journey without drum roll please…a user journey map! I started getting a lot of questions on how I made this transition without attending a UX design bootcamp. I hope this article is helpful for peers early in their career who are looking to pivot to user-experience design from a different job.

For those who are trying to transition into UX from another industry: this was how I got here.

My user journey map: navigating the job search post-undergrad.

I went from excited and intrigued to wanting to strangle someone and cry within a span of a month. My lowest emotional point was building my portfolio — attempting to overcome the largest barrier-to-entry for the design industry — without a design degree or a strong industry network. I broke this phase of my post-grad job search into 3 anxiety-inducing “pain-points” (experience design speak for when your user wants to pull his/her hair out). Here are the solutions I offer for each:

1. I felt overwhelmed learning what a design process should look like — (what even is a design process, can’t you just MAKE THE THING?!)

My solution: I used this nifty booklet from Stanford d.School, and swear by it as my product design bible. When I was first starting to understand what designers do, it was helpful to practice doing it with a more seasoned designer, and “role play” as if we were in the same team. The d.School “bible” is full of design artifacts — you can think of these like the tools in your design toolkit, or the ingredients you need to bake a cake. Every designer has their own recipe of ingredients. Have another designer show you how they bake their cake…and then pick and choose the ingredients you want as part of your design process.

2. I felt confused on the “right” technical terms and software to use.

My solution: grab a (warm) drink of your choice with designers you know and admire. Research shows our judgment of a person’s character can be influenced by something as simple as the warmth of the drink we hold in our hand (thanks, Caitie!) Ask them what they use at work. If it’s publicly available, try it out yourself — or politely ask if they can show you how to use it. Design is very much a soft-skill. I believe the best teacher and school is life — and there’s no need to go back to school for knowledge you can glean off of asking people respectfully for their time. You can find the tool that feels most comfortable to you, stick with it, and become an advocate of that product. From my experience, hiring managers don’t expect early talents to know every single tool from Adobe XD to Flinto — they’re more interested how your brain ticks as a designer and if they would enjoy having your presence around. Here’s an interactive tool from Prototypr to help you choose one based off of your unique preferences.

3. I felt inferior not having “enough” projects in my portfolio to show on my website.

My solution: I didn’t have any design internships to use for my portfolio, so I created “concept work” — meaning I took pre-existing apps and put spins on them based off of my design rationale. It’s conceptual in the sense that the company is likely to never see it and implement it, but if you’re lucky, a neat concept could land you a design position at that company. Imagine this: 8-months from now, you’re interviewing for your dream company. How do you want to show them you care about their product? What do you want them to see you’ve worked on that’s relevant to them? Create that. My portfolio piece on WeChat Pay landed me my very first design interview at a fin-tech company that was working in the payments space. I believe in the rule of threes — pick three applications or companies you love, but you think could do better. I love to reference portfolios that have little to no technical jargon because if I can explain it to my mother who hasn’t lived in the US for years, I can explain it to anyone. Here are three portfolios that show simple yet solid concept work: 1, 2, and 3.

I’m looking forward to the rest of the 6 months and it’s safe to say I’m very lucky to be working with people-oriented managers, talented designers, and helpful colleagues. If you are an up-and-coming designer interested in the Silicon Valley Next Talent program — let’s chat! If you’re a designer in the industry, what are some solutions to these pain-points that you’d recommend? Don’t forget to explain your ideas well. Let’s build things that matter together. 😉

💌 Kait is listening to working on the weekend, like usual

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Kait

Kait

Kaitlyn (Kait) Cheung is a third-culture designer, writer, and artist.