This month, we’re talking to Zach Fichman-Klein, a graduate of UX Academy’s Eames cohort.
Before joining the program, Zach was working in Saudi Arabia as a survival swimming instructor – “teaching people how to not drown if they fell into the Arabian Gulf”. We talked to Zach about his experience in the course, his job search, and how he landed an awesome new role as UX Designer at Tyler Technologies in Portland, Maine!
Hey Zach! So, what made you choose UX Academy?
I got interested in UX design after reading a blog post by someone who had forged their own path to become a UX designer. Although they hadn’t studied with Designlab themselves, they linked to Designlab and said that they provided the same training in a more structured format. Attracted by the dream of creating something out of nothing, I started off with the Design 101 and Branding courses. I liked them, so I signed up for UX Academy!
Is there anything that would have prevented you from enrolling?
I wouldn't have been able to do UX Academy if there hadn’t been a part-time option – I was still working a full time job during the first few months I took the course.
Did you have any concerns coming into the program?
No – I already had a high-paying job, but knew that this was the path I wanted to take.
What did you think of UX Academy overall? How did it go?
I loved the mentorship and the project based learning system UX Academy provides. I feel like you get out of it exactly what you put into it. If you’re purposeful, determined, and eager to learn, then you'll put yourself on track to learn the principles of design.
Were there any unexpected challenges? Or any pleasant surprises?
At the start of the course, the major challenge was balancing my time between UX Academy and the job. I followed the course schedule for the most part, but I definitely had more time to go through iterations of my designs in the previous courses. Mentor sessions were a significant help in shaping my view of design.
What was your favorite part of the course experience?
I loved learning that I enjoyed doing user research – I thought I would be more on the visual side of design when I entered the course!
A screen from one of Zach’s UX Academy capstones
What recommendations would you give to current or future UX Academy students?
Save your work! Many employers want to see your process. I used a couple of my capstones as examples of my work on my portfolio so I went back and had to sift through what I wanted to include. It's easiest if you keep everything – then you can just choose from all the deliverables you created.
What did an average day look like for you while you were studying?
- Work from 7-4pm
- UX Academy from 4-6pm
- Dinner from 6-6:30pm
- UX Academy from 6:30-8pm
- Sleep at 8:30pm
- My weekends were devoted to UX Academy when I was working
Congratulations on the job! How long did the search take – and what’s your new position?
8 months, including some time freelancing. I got a job as a UX designer for a software company called Tyler Technologies. Coming from a high-paying job made me quite ambitious once I completed UX Academy – which did made the first few months of my job hunt more difficult.
Zach presents at a hackathon in December 2016. Read more
What were those difficulties? Can you offer advice for others who are currently job hunting?
The two major pain points I experienced when I was looking for a job were my location and my experience.
I used to be based out of Orlando, which it turns out is not a hotbed for UX design. So, if you can, move to a major city that has a thriving design scene (in the USA, places like New York City, Chicago, San Francisco). Alternatively, consider moving to a smaller city that's known for tech (Boston, Austin, Charlotte, Raleigh, Durham, Denver).
As for getting the experience, complete as much freelance work as you can coming out of UX Academy. Go to hackathons, work with early stage startups, and design products yourself. You have to be proactive and make yourself stand out. Also, don't waste too much time on online job boards. Meet people in person, and explore networks through friends and family.
What skills are you hoping to work on moving forward?
I feel like learning more about how to code will make me a better designer. I'm also interested in data science and machine learning. I'm also considering getting my MBA or another Masters program, since my new employer supports further study.
Would you recommend UX Academy?
Yes. It provides a solid foundation in the principles UX design. No course can make you an expert, though – be prepared to continue independent learning after completing the program.
Any final tips for students who are just starting out?
I’ve learned that part of being a successful designer – and landing a job – is how well you can sell yourself and your designs. When you go into networking events, or into an interview room, think of that famous phrase from Dune: “Fear is the mind killer…”. Own the room, rock the interview, and you'll get a job.
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