“When somebody I'd just met asked me about what I did for work, I'd wish I didn't have to tell them.”
What work were you doing previously?
I used to work for a very big bank, in IT infrastructure.
What are you doing now?
I work for a tech studio that specialises in User Experience (UX) design.
My job title is UX Designer, although I don't do so much of the things usual UX designers would.
I'm much more focused on the user research side, which I really enjoy. I interview the people who are going to use the things that we're going to make.
A good day for me is doing a lot of one-to-one interviews with different people, and then at the end of all the interviews I analyse for themes, which I really enjoy.
How did you feel in your work before you decided to make the change?
I got into it by mistake.
I’m really interested in what I now realise is human-computer interactions, but somehow I ended up in backend technology where I never saw real humans (beyond my colleagues).
There was also a long feedback loop between me doing something and seeing the result or impact – it felt like I wasn’t making any difference to anyone in the world.
I got paid a lot of money to do my job but it just didn't feel like it made any impact and if it did, I never got to see it.
Why did you change?
I just couldn't identify with what I did.
I knew I needed to change because when somebody I'd just met asked me about what I did for work, I'd wish I didn't have to tell them, and didn't feel happy about sharing.
When was the moment you decided to make the change?
A few months before the start of the pandemic, my team was disbanded.
My workplace said we could either move into another team doing the same thing (but worse, moving to a new manager who was known for micromanaging), or take a redundancy pay out. I didn't know that Covid-19 would be coming, so I decided to take the redundancy option and left.
I might not have done that if I'd had been able to foresee the pandemic, because it was very difficult navigating career change during that time having already quit my job. But it was what it was.
I sought out the Career Change Launch Pad for a bit of support and structure during this time.
How did you choose your new career?
In hindsight I'm surprised I didn't connect the dots sooner, looking back I can see all the clues now. But I didn't know about UX or that it would be UX that I'd shift to when I left my role.
Initially instead I was exploring options around marketing and publishing. I did around 10-15 broad initial informational interviews to explore options.
When I took the ideas of marketing or publishing to their conclusion, I decided that those areas weren’t right for me, and I then came to start thinking about UX.
When I settled on the idea of UX as something I wanted to focus on, I had more targeted conversations with people in the UX community.
Are you happy with the change?
How I feel about work is so different from before.
When I get to the end of a holiday I feel like ‘oh I'm going back to work on Monday but that's okay’, whereas in my old role I just felt awful.
How did you go about making the shift?
Ultimately I decided to not formally retrain, but instead I read a lot, used a lot of online resources, and formed my own projects.
For example I worked with some people that I knew from my previous role who had set up their own design studio, doing UX work for a product they had.
I worked with Scottish Tech Army at one point and I'd highly recommend them to anyone looking for a shift project involving technical skills – they connect volunteers up with nonprofits who need projects done and form project teams.
So that's how I trained myself for free, pretty much.
I then applied to an advertised role in an agency.
My (now) boss has a very conversational, personal approach to interviewing so all the informational interviews I’d conducted were good preparation.
How did you handle your finances to make your shift possible?
I received a redundancy payout when I left my previous job which helped.
You can spend a LOT of money on UX bootcamps which I ultimately decided wasn't a good investment for me. I felt quite anxious about spending any money at all because I didn't know what I would do when it ran out.
I set a little budget of 10% of what I could have spent on a bootcamp (which was still a good few hundred pounds) to see what I could achieve myself with books, free resources and applying what I'd learned on my own projects.
Some of my other shift projects generated a bit of money too – I did a series of watercolour animal illustration Christmas cards which I sold on Etsy. But to be honest the most valuable thing I got from that was learning how much I don't like dealing with operational, marketing and admin things myself!
What was the most difficult thing about changing?
It's easy to forget how difficult it is not to know where you're headed.
The awkward bit in the middle where I'd explored quite a few things that weren't quite right was very doubt-filled and difficult for me.
At the time I had no idea how long it would be until I got a hold of the right idea, or what ‘right’ would feel like, or if there even was a right thing...
I just had to keep pushing on and staying open to new ideas.
What help did you get?
Having an accountability buddy was huge for me.
There was another shifter from my Launch Pad cohort that I'd clicked with and we kept in touch to check in after the course, as we continued to move forward with our shifts.
It was really nice to have someone to talk to who knows what it’s like to go through a career change. Making the shift can be hard, and people who haven't been through it themselves don’t really know what it’s like.
What have you learnt in the process?
To tell people out in the world about what I want to do, rather than keeping it to myself.
If you do everything by yourself and don't tell anyone what you're doing, any assumptions you might have go unchecked and can influence what you do, and how successful you're likely to be.
I think some assumptions I had would have held me back if I hadn't brought them out into the light and shared what I was doing with others.
What would you advise others to do in the same situation?
Something I found really helpful was to keep a bullet journal, which was not only a really good way of tracking what I had to do, but also as a way to look back and see my progress.
It's easy to feel like you haven't moved, but I could look back through my journal and see that at least I'd done things and had been taking action towards my shift.
Emma took part in our Career Change Launch Pad. If you're ready to join a group of bright, motivated career changers on a structured programme to help you find more fulfilling work, you can find out more here.