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In a previous life, Rachel Carton was a teacher for the New York City Department of Education. On her summer vacations she would serve as a National Park Service Teacher Ranger Teacher at the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island National Landmark.

Rachel received her Bachelor of Arts in Art History, Rhetoric and Composition from Oberlin College, and her Masters in Museum Education and Childhood Education from Bank Street College of Education.

With that comprehensive background in education across multiple mediums and age groups, Rachel came to clearly understand the importance of empathy and communicating with multiple stakeholders to achieve a shared goal. 

Rachel taught kindergarten, first, second, and fifth grade before embarking on the path she’s on now with UX design. She enrolled in Designlab’s UX Academy during her last year as a teacher. 

“I did the part-time track of UX Academy and did my design work primarily in the evenings or on weekends. I used to joke that I was a teacher by day, designer by night.” 

Through UX Academy, Rachel actively nurtured her empathy and research skills to successfully make a career pivot from elementary school teacher to UX designer. 

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Rachel created a mobile app design for this surf forecasting widget.

Currently, Rachel is a Leap apprentice with Microsoft. Leap stands for Leap Engineering Acceleration Program. It’s an immersive 16-week program that provides real-world experience through an apprenticeship. 

“As a bootcamp graduate coming from a teaching background, it has been a great environment to continue to build on my design skills while working alongside experienced designers.” 

Candidates that apply for the Leap program come from non-traditional backgrounds or are returning from time away from the workplace. The first month of the program is based in a classroom and the rest of the time is spent working directly with a team at Microsoft. 

“I like the challenge of working on projects that have the potential to impact millions of users.”

As a Leap apprentice, Rachel was assigned a manager, a mentor, and a buddy to support her in her new UX designer role. Her manager oversees her projects, her mentor works with her on the project, and her buddy is there just to talk and be a friend. 

Rachel is considered a true part of the team during this apprenticeship, so she participates in all of the team meetings, critiques, and weekly stand-ups. 

“Everyone has been really friendly and the team has been great at making sure I feel included.”  

Apart from her team, Rachel also meets regularly with the other Leap apprentices and the Leap leadership team to discuss how things are going and how she can be better supported in my role. 

“The Leap program encourages us to develop a growth mindset, so it’s important for us to meet regularly and reflect on our practice and what we’re learning.” 

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As an exercise in adding a new feature to an existing app, Rachel created a recurring payment feature for the peer to peer payment app Venmo.

Rachel relocated in January 2020 from San Diego, California to Seattle, Washington for the apprenticeship program with Microsoft—unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was a short lived stay. Rachel has since returned to San Diego to ride out the pandemic with family.

“I feel fortunate that I was able to keep my apprenticeship and that I’m with my family during this time, but I of course still would have liked to have experienced the normal track in Seattle.”

Pre-pandemic, Rachel was spending her weekends exploring Seattle and the surrounding areas. She’d often meet up with fellow Leap program members and would go rock climbing, sightseeing, or just hang out.

These days, Rachel and her Leap teammates still hangout, but it’s usually over a Teams chat or a collaborative Figma file. Right now, she’s also participating in a remote book club and playing online video games with team members.

“Pre-pandemic, I enjoyed engaging in creative and mindfulness activities with the Leap cohort. We also had a session at the Microsoft Garage where we soldered these cool LED animal pins.” 

Currently Rachel is working from home on a project for Microsoft’s OneNote. 

“I can’t share any details about it right now but I’m enjoying the work. I will say that I like that the scope of my project allows me to go through the entire design process from beginning to end.”

Rachel shares that Microsoft has been incredibly supportive as an employer during the COVID-19 pandemic. The work from home orders were issued early on and they’ve kept all employees informed every step of the way. 

“I appreciate that my team has been flexible and responsive to what we’re all going through during this time. Even though this event is unprecedented, the response has been more than thorough. I feel good working for a company that continues to pay its hourly workers alongside its engineers and other employees.”

While the Leap program doesn’t guarantee employment at Microsoft by the end of the apprenticeship, there’s definitely a possibility of Rachel being hired full-time, depending on the usual factors of headcount and budgeting.

“While I certainly hope to work for Microsoft, my biggest professional goal for 2020 will be securing a job as a UX designer. 

The vendor company that helps run the Leap program, Aerotek, has a large network and a lot of resources for us to use as we enter the job-seeking process. I’m hopeful that with my experience at Microsoft coupled with those resources, I’ll be hired on somewhere.”

Rachel knows it’s important to continue to learn and study no matter where you are in the process. After she graduated from the UX Academy, she spent a lot of time practicing on her own to better her UX design skills. 

“I revised my portfolio more times than I can count as I learned new information and new tools. UX design is a moving target which makes it challenging but also exciting.” 

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Rachel designed this dashboard for a no-code database app builder.

Here’s Rachel’s advice for students graduating from UX Academy and those learning a new skill like UX design…

“You have to continue immersing yourself in that space. Additionally, I think it’s important to find yourself a mentor, no matter where you are in the process. I’ve learned so much from working with other established designers, both through Designlab and at Microsoft. Feedback makes your work that much stronger.”

Starting an apprenticeship in the middle of a pandemic has been a unique experience, but one that has already taught Rachel so much.

“I’ve learned that it’s important to be flexible and to always seek out the bigger picture. When you learn about the design process, especially with mock companies, everything happens in an ideal space. The real world isn’t ideal. 

You’ll need to pivot and make changes to your designs that you probably didn’t anticipate based on the changing needs of your stakeholders. It’s important to keep things in perspective and to redirect your designs back to user needs.”

Rachel is undeniably enjoying her new career in UX design so far. 

She concludes, “As a field, UX design is very dynamic, which is so important for me because I need to be challenged by my work. 

I really enjoy the push and pull that comes from going through the design process and working with the needs of various stakeholders. I like that the journey is just as important as the solution, and that oftentimes, there’s more than one solution to be explored.” 

Connect with Rachel Carton on LinkedIn or check out her portfolio.

Interested in making a career switch to UX design? Check out our UX Academy program.

author avatar

Alexa Harrison

Designlab

Content Writer

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