Why Did I Get Into UX?
It’s pretty hard to believe that I got my first job in User Experience six months ago. As I reflect on these six or so months, I have found that there are a few topics my mind has been fixated on. This is the first in a series of posts that will talk about my first lessons learned in my job as a UX generalist.
One of the things that strikes me most about UX professionals is the wide variety of places they come from. On my team alone there are people from marketing backgrounds, arts backgrounds, and programming background.
I think that UX ends up attracting people from such various realms because everyone who gets to UX really cares about people more than their respective vocations. It's a natural landing place for people who found their skills and passions were more about understanding people and being the user's advocate.
Similarly, my path took me from the IT world into UX.
Side note: I think it's a little strange we expect 17-year-olds to decide on the career path for the rest of their life. A lot of my peers went to college for a degree they didn't end up wanting and wasted thousands of dollars en route to dropping out early. I don't think college is the right route for everyone and I think we as a society are slowly moving towards an increase in job opportunities for those who chose alternate methods of learning after high school. In fact, a lot of jobs like UX design, programming, and other new skill-based professions would be better taught in the same way as one would teach an electrician, plumber, etc. None of that is here or there, but I wanted to mention it before I went on.
I came out of high school certain that I would go to Michigan State University, get a degree in Computer Science, and go work at a video game company. I took some introductory coding courses in high school, was very into technology, and figured that I would do great. I was so confident that I decided not to try my first year of college.
I realized how mistaken I was when I realized how out of my depth I was in math. Calculus concepts that peers were well versed in were impenetrable to me. The drive to work for days on end on a single coding project was foreign to my mind. It took me all of 3 months to realize I didn't want to code for the rest of my life. I'm lucky that it happened so quickly.
I switched majors to a specialization in Information Communication Technology, because I realized my passion was more about technology than it was about programming. I began the very next semester to learn about all sorts of Media Communication Technologies, and was influenced by some of MSU's first professors who had an interest in User-Centered Design and User Experience as a field. The bulk of my time in those years was spent learning the core of IT: tech principles that laid the foundation for me to become an IT professional. Having a few courses where I was able to focus on UX principles was enlightening to me; I didn't know what user experience was, but it started to be very interesting to me.
I graduated in 2013 and immediately started a full-time desktop support role at Michigan State University. I spent two years acting as the go-to guy for 60 users. Over those two years, I witnessed so many different problems, and my colleagues often saw it as their fault that the computers broke.
I'm not here to tell you that it was never user error; I am here to tell you that user error was the exception, not the rule (thinking back to when a user couldn't get her password to work… only to find that her wrist was resting on the number pad as she typed her password… oops).
I started getting actually frustrated with software and hardware companies that would release products that were so clearly difficult to use by normal people. I could understand them, but I had an uncommon skill set compared to average users. Why would Apple, or Google, or Microsoft release a product with deficiencies that were antagonistic to their user base?
I got so fed up with it I started researching it. I found that User Experience seeks to correct these flaws; rather than rely on support staff after release, why not put in the initial investment to make sure the software meets the needs before release?
Next, I discovered two things:
MSU just started a new Master's program in Human-Computer Interaction
Being a full-time staff member at MSU gave me the opportunity to pursue a Master's degree at a greatly reduced price.
I started classes in January 2016 and finished in December 2018. In that time, I was fortunate enough to study under professors with practical experience in the professional and academic worlds. I learned so much about UX and was able to put it to use designing solutions both to theoretical and real-world problems.
While I took these courses, I continued in my role as an IT professional at MSU, but pivoted into more of a business oriented role. While still dealing daily with technology, my job was less and less about support and more about connecting business needs with technology solutions. I was glad to have a supervisor who was willing to let me apply UX thinking in my role in IT, but the truth is that my role was constrained; I don't think it's possible for my (now former) colleagues to see me as anything besides tech support. I knew this, and so I was keeping my options open to pivot in my career towards UX.
I received an opportunity at Auto-Owners in June 2018 and accepted it. I have spend the time since then immersed in UX work every day. It's been very rewarding and I'm thankful I found my way to UX.