Picture this: The year is 2020 and I’m stuck at home with the rest of the world. Except for making banana bread and starting a TikTok account, I’m pouring over every career blog I can find.
Deciding to make the switch
At 22 years old, just a year after graduating college, I perceived myself to have the wherewithal to make a career decision that would significantly impact the future of my working life. That decision was to spend the next two years studying translation and interpreting in a master’s program. The program itself was fantastic and I genuinely enjoyed all of the subject matter and material. The language industry is full of interesting folks from all different backgrounds and nationalities, which makes for a very stimulating environment. It was this environment that I looked forward to entering in the workforce.
From what I could gather from mentors and counselors during my program, there were two major career options for me as a translator. I could freelance and build up a steady clientele or I could work as a project manager at a translation service agency. Since I saw myself being independent and creating a stable life after graduation, I decided to go the route of project manager. It seemed like a rational and logical approach to apply my education and also achieve my personal goals.
Upon graduation, I received an offer for a position as a project manager with a large translation service company. At the time, I believed it to be my dream job. It would not be long, however, for me to start feeling unsettled. This was my dream job in theory, but in practice the complexity of the role left me feeling overwhelmed. I began to feel inadequate as an efficient project manager and took my difficulty adjusting to the role as a sign of failure. In reality, it was simply a signal that maybe I should be moving in a different direction.
When you have invested a significant amount of time, resources and energy into a certain field, it can feel daunting to even begin to think about starting over. So, for three more years, I tried to make myself into the perfect project manager. I chalked it up to not being a quitter but it was like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.
Assessing personal goals
I knew that there was a creative and analytical part of my brain that I was not utilizing as a project manager in the language field. In fact, part of my job required me to perform desktop publishing on the files that we received. I would spend hours perfecting the same document in two different languages to make sure that they looked as identical as possible. This was tedious work, but I loved it and for me, it was the most satisfying part of the job. I started to wonder if there was a role or career that entailed this level of attention to detail that I so enjoyed.
I spent day after day analyzing different career paths and myself – gifts, talents, and skills. Eventually, I decided that whatever I did next would have to be creative but also technical. It would also have to be a job that I could picture myself doing for the next 10 years.
It was then that I discovered Product Design via Google search.
Until then, I had honestly never heard of digital product design as a career. This is one disadvantage for certain populations of people who have little exposure to people working in tech. I started to see if I could draw parallels between the skills that I had already acquired and the skills that would be required of me in product design. It turns out that the two fields have a lot in common, and I decided that I could augment my existing skills to lead me into the direction of a designer.
Once my mind was set on product design I began looking for bootcamps. I was accepted into a bootcamp that would cost me $10,000 with a job guarantee. This seemed like a reasonable bargain given that I had no experience. But, there was a part of me that felt uneasy taking on more debt to my expensive graduate education. I did further research about the program and discovered that the content was not original, but pieced together from online resources. With that knowledge, I was desperate enough to think that I could create my own curriculum in the same manner.
Applying knowledge and gaining experience
I researched every free online learning platform to read reviews on the most top-rated courses and put together a 400-hour curriculum. I worked vigorously through this curriculum for the next three months and spent the fourth month creating a portfolio.
After that, I joined Slack channels and online communities with other product designers in order to learn how to break into the field and to also find volunteer opportunities. I was able to volunteer for the California Coalition of Clean Air and another well-known agency. These two volunteer experiences gave me the confidence that I could apply what I had been learning.
During the six months, I started to apply for full-time positions and was hired by H&R Block. I could not believe how happy and fulfilled I could be with my job. It was truly remarkable. Not only did switching my career to Product Design change my life financially, it restored the sense of joy that I previously found as a student. No longer would my work have to be daunting or lead me to strive for an idealized concept of perfection. Instead, I could explore, learn, test my knowledge and create real life experiences for users.
If I could manage to achieve that level of change within six months, so can you. If the career for you is not product design, I encourage you to take inventory of your skills, talents, and personal goals to develop a strategy to help you move forward and in your working life.