This month, we're talking to Glenn Ryan, a graduate of UX Academy's Hadid cohort. After completing the course, he successfully moved from a software engineering role at Hewlett Packard Enterprise to a UX Design position within the same company. Read on to find out how!
Hey Glenn! What got you interested in UX design? And how come you chose UX Academy?
I got interested in design while investigating a career change. I hadn't even heard of “UX” design before trying out Designlab’s Design 101 course. Actually, I learned about UX as I went through the course and from my mentor, a professional UX Designer/Researcher (shoutout to Ray Luong!).
Even then, after the course, my original plan was to self-study into a UX design career. But I noticed that Designlab were offering UX Academy as a new program, and it was suggested as a follow-up to 101. Compared to what I might have done if I was self-studying, the weekly workload on UX Academy was more intensive, and the topics covered were much more thorough. More importantly, the prospect of having experienced mentors to guide me along (thanks Alex and Andrew!) made it much more attractive. I was sold.
Did you have much design experience before applying for UX Academy?
I only took Design 101 before UXA. In that short period between the two courses, I took on a tiny bit of freelance work for my friend's boss. That quick peek into the life of a professional designer gave me an important perspective for my work in UXA.
Did you consider other options for a new career besides design?
I was switching out of Software Engineering – I enjoyed working in tech but felt it was time to try something new. I wanted to continue to have good career prospects while also moving into something more creative and expressive, where I could learn more soft skills.
I did consider other options. In fact, my decision to take Design 101 was about trying out web design versus learning computer graphics to become something like a Technical Artist. I also briefly thought about becoming a Business Analyst or Recruiter as well, but these didn't feel quite right for me.
If design or graphics didn't work out, I would most likely have gone to graduate school to do research in a field like Linguistics or Computational Linguistics. In a way, studying in the UXA program and becoming a UX Designer has brought all of these possibilities and paths into one.
Icon designs from one of Glenn's UX Academy capstone projects
Lots of people are reluctant to take the plunge and retrain. Did you have to overcome any fears or reservations before enrolling?
It felt like a dangerous decision at first. I was leaving my lucrative career for an uncertain new creative path, in a field (UX design) that was new to me. A big motivation for going into Software Engineering was to have the financial stability to take care of family. I felt I couldn't just back away from those responsibilities.
My family was ultimately supportive because I think they knew staying in my old career path was not sustainable for me personally. My engineer friends were a bit confused, but they eventually understood.
Is there any single consideration that almost prevented you from signing up?
Not really. Because of the job guarantee, I felt pretty confident that signing up was a good idea. Without that, and because I didn't know any UXA alumni, I would have questioned whether the program would prepare me adequately for a new career.
So what was your UX Academy experience like?
The UXA experience was good overall, though I am quite jealous of all the new features that have been rolled out to recent cohorts! I think each component plays a big part in the success UXA students get from the program: the curriculum itself, the Slack community, Group Crits, and of course the 1-on-1 mentoring.
These pillars support the overall course experience. In particular, I think the mentoring complements the curriculum effectively, because mentors can share their own perspectives and professional experiences.
How did an average day shape up during your time as a UXA student?
- Go to work
- When bored, check Slack channel
- Come home, eat dinner, get situated, exercise, etc.
- Join a Group Crit or mentor meeting, if I’ve got one scheduled
- Finish the day with 1-2 hours of coursework
- On Saturdays and Sundays, I’d spend around 5 hours on UX Academy work
What aspects of UX Academy did you find the most challenging?
Two things: moving between phases of the design process (e.g. moving from research to ideation); and maintaining a solid trajectory during a project. I think the latter was exacerbated by the demands of my day job. I overcame these challenges by asking my mentor for advice and using tools from places like Design Kit.
One of Glenn’s landing page designs
What insider advice would you give to new UXA students?
Early in the course, find an organization system that works for you (I did BuJo for half of the course, then switched to OmniFocus because I lost momentum). If you’re extra ambitious, I’d also say preserve your energy and focus on producing consistent output, rather than pursuing "extracurriculars". For example, I made the mistake of reading several books outside the course, while also trying to hone hand lettering and visual design skills – this was on top of my 20 hour per week UXA commitment, and my 40+ hour per week day job! It's easy to get burnt out and, conversely, hard to recover.
The one thing I'd encourage UXA students to pursue in addition to the normal program is more design collaboration. This was something that was pointed out to me in my panel interview for my current job.
How did you approach the job search? How long did it take you to find your new position?
I told my manager about my plans for a career change, then, with his support, applied internally. I waited out the whole process, so I never applied externally. Luckily, I was able to keep my employment with HP, instead of having to execute on my original plan of living from savings and looking for jobs in the San Francisco Bay Area or Austin, Texas.
What is your new job like?
I’m working on the company's enterprise design system (Grommet), advocating for design within the company and with partner organizations, overseeing some product design, developing logos and icons, and interfacing with the open source community. I’m using a lot of the skills I learned in UXA, including Sketch, InVision prototyping, and how to give and take feedback in critiques.
What are your longer term goals? Where do you want to take your career next?
I want to continue to improve on foundational design skills to a be more well-rounded designer and possibly illustrator (see Mike Davidson's "The Five-Tool Designer"), not just for UX and not just for screens. Eventually, I would love to work in areas like VR and conversational user interfaces, perhaps even make a move into the gaming industry.
Thanks for talking to us, Glenn! Finally… would you recommend UX Academy?
Yes, I would recommend UXA to anyone interested in UX who cannot go to a local design bootcamp for monetary, geographical, or schedule reasons. Since most of these programs are only in a select few metropolitan areas, that's a lot of people!
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