My return to work was in 1 month and like most new moms I faced that date with mixed emotions: anxiety at leaving my 9-month-old, excitement at being part of the workforce again, and, more significantly, dread at returning to a career I had long stopped being passionate about.
What I loved and what was most important to me
The latter I resolved to do something about so I sat down and really took stock of what aspect of my work in finance has given me the most joy:
- Working with clients
- Managing stakeholders
And what was most important to me in a future career:
- Flexibility: Something I knew I could probably get within my current career but to a certain point due to the nature of financial markets.
- Constantly learning: This has been the driving force behind every move I had made within Finance. 13 years and 6 Investment Banks later, I realised that at the core there really wasn’t any more new information I desired to learn within the field.
First stop on my alternative career quest was Software development. After a few coding classes, I joined a Hackathon to flex my “coding muscles” and get a taste of what it could be like to function as a Developer. We had a UX designer on our team and his user-centric way of communicating resonated with me; certainly even more so than my role in the team as a Developer.
Unfortunately, we didn’t place in the Hackathon but I sure did feel like a winner after having discovered UX design and more so when the designer accepted my invite for a coffee chat to talk about this wonderful career of UX design.
One coffee chat later I was spurred on to do more research into UX design and how to transition to that field. My research involved mainly googling but also reaching out to newly transitioned UX designers (via LinkedIn) to hear their stories. With each UX designer interview, my desire to move into this field grew more and more eventually leading me to take the plunge with the Skillcrush UX Bootcamp. Skillcrush was less than a tenth of the price of the mainstream bootcamps but as they say “it does what it says on the tin”. It gave me the basics of UX design but at the back of my mind, I knew I was going to have to do some real legwork to complete my transition.
Sometimes you don’t have to leap very far to transition
By the time I was 1 month into the Bootcamp, I was already back at my Finance job trying to do the usual balancing act of nursery drop-offs, pickups and of course running on 4 hours of sleep a night (Thank God for “Mommy juice” aka coffee). Despite the long hours at work, and longer evenings “twinkle twinkling little star” through bedtime, I still adored immersing myself in the world of design thinking, wireframing and personas. At the back of my mind, I was keenly aware that Bootcamp wasn’t going to last forever and I needed to execute this plan to transition.
Most of the newly transitioned UX-ers I had spoken to had gone through the main bootcamps and had paid the big bucks for their education for that job guarantee. I also spoke with Skillcrush alumni (again found via LinkedIn) and most had freelanced for a long time; eventually working for Startups. As a new mother who had just taken a mortgage, the idea of living from month to month just didn’t float my boat.
After some deep thinking on the problem, I realised that I may not have to leap very far to transition to UX, there may be a UX department within my company. A quick LinkedIn search brought up a Head of UX who had recently started with our company. Here I was thinking I would need to start from scratch to become a UX designer but I already had a relationship with my company and knew the product. My investment in my education would only make me more valuable to my company.
I reached out to the Head of UX and had a very relaxed chat with him about his background. The conversation didn’t lead to me getting a job (due to cost cuts being around the corner within the Bank) but it did fill me with hope that I may not have to start from absolute zero in order to transition.
Life after Bootcamp
June 2020 brought the end of my UX Bootcamp and I was still no closer to understanding how I was going to transition. I spoke to a few recruitment agents who stressed how important that practical experience would be. With the world in lockdown, there was a wealth of UX communities out there with newbies like myself looking to gain that real-world experience. Through contributing and showing up to these communities, I fell in with a group of 2 fledgling Product managers, 2 developers and 3 UX designers. We were aligned in wanting to create a product together that would make a positive difference to our Covid-ridden world - and so Nteract was born - a game-based approach to learning new skills.
I was able to leverage my skills learned during Nteract to gain a 3-month internship with an Immigration SaaS start-up and after this a paid (yes Paid!) part-time Junior UX designer internship with another startup. Bear in mind all this activity took place with me still holding down my full-time job in Finance and also trying to raise my toddler since nurseries had closed in lockdown…. Fun times :-) Each internship/freelance position bolstered my confidence and conviction that I was getting closer and closer to fully transitioning.
3 Internships later, time to restart my job applications
6 months of building practical experience and I felt in a stronger position to begin applying for roles. Not only did I have my portfolio but also 3 pieces of work I could present (with some bit of pride) to an interviewer.
My UX double life made me realise that I didn’t want to just jump into any company. So, again, I revisited what was most important to me within a career but also my core values with the intention of finding a company that resonated with me. In this way, I wasn’t just blindly applying, I was being deliberate in my applications.
What did this look like in practice? I created a spreadsheet to track all my applications and, more importantly, before applying I had a look through company websites not just paying attention to their values but also if there were pictures of people who looked like me (Afro-Caribbean or Female) on their website. Seeing people who looked like me on a company website gave an indication that not only did the company “talk the talk” they also “walked the walk”.
I also held myself accountable during the process - asking myself the question each day “What have you done today to bring you closer to your goal of transitioning?”. The answer could take the form of reading a UX article, setting up a coffee chat with a designer or joining a forum amongst other things. Anything really, as long as it fed into that overarching goal.
2 months of interviews and Voila!
I was fortunate enough to have a steady stream of interview invites which gave me much-needed practice in how to interview for a UX design role. In addition to my portfolio pieces and UX qualification, most companies were intrigued by the unique mix of Finance and Psychology in my background. This gave me the confidence to really sell this background to them in interviews and vocalise what value this could bring to the companies. Eventually, I found a great match which led to an offer to join the company full time as a UX designer.
About 6 months into my first full-time UX designer role, someone told me how lucky I am to have transitioned to such a competitive industry as an “older” candidate. Yes, I do feel very lucky. I feel lucky to have had all those years of professional experience that helped me understand what my core values are and the courage to be true to them. I feel lucky to have the depth of self-awareness that allows me to not only take in feedback but also act on it. I feel lucky for social media which has put a wealth of UX design experts at my fingertips and has given me access to so many communities (all from the comfort of my home). And more importantly I feel lucky to have held on to the belief that I as an “older” candidate could transition to a competitive industry in 11 months.