Posted on Feb 23, 2021
The time to discover a career that drives you is always now. At Matcha Design Labs (MDL) formally known as AMSD, we are proud of the diverse backgrounds that come together to define our team. Today, we invite you to join us for a Q&A with one of our Design team members, Allison Verville. In reflecting on how she got here to MDL, she shares details of her journey and advice for others who are looking to make their move and transition to, or grow, their early careers in the space.
What inspired you to search for a new career?
I loved my job as a fundraiser. It was a great role where I could see the tangible impact that my work had on the lives of others. Beyond that, it was a wonderful creative outlet. In my role, I was able to act as a copywriter, an amateur graphic designer, and even an event organizer and host. I appreciated the variety of the work and the front-line connections I was making within our community.
After about 5 years of growing in various roles and applying my talents across projects, I felt like I had hit a stalemate. In my present environment, I had plateaued. I had the chance to see multiple annual cycles which afforded me the opportunity to reflect on my career progression so far. What I gleaned from this reflection was that I always felt the greatest sense of accomplishment from the projects where I was creating, where I was building. So, I set out on the mission of finding a new type of role where I could create, and maintain the positive impact I was enjoying having on others around me while facing new challenges and continuing to grow.
How did you discover UX?
Truthfully, I hadn't heard about UX until I was actively pursuing my new career path. As I set out to find my perfect fit, I had two leading criteria for my role: something that would push me to new heights and something in the start-up space. I had long admired the entrepreneurs I had crossed paths with and the scrappiness I observed in start-up settings where all teammates had an overflowing hat rack. I also was fortunate that my, now fiancé, had diverse experience in the space and was a cheerleader of the environment.
Setting out to find a role where my practiced skills could be applied in this new world, I started with Customer Success, Copywriting, and People Ops. After reading through hundreds of job applications to try and find one that resonated strongly, I discovered the shiny world of UX. A sparkly new world where I could marry my analytical and creative mind - I never looked back.
What was the first step you took to prepare yourself for your transition to a career in UX?
As someone plagued early with a sense of imposter syndrome, I knew I would need formal training to test my hypothesis that UX would be a good career fit. With that goal in mind, I researched the many ways beginners have kicked-off their journeys into UX. I was thrilled to discover CareerFoundry as a launching pad for my new career. Here, I would be introduced to the fundamental concepts of design while building a presentation-ready portfolio and even network with professionals to officially launch my new career.
As the risk-averse person I was back then, I started taking my classes with CareerFoundry in the evenings after my 9-5. It was the perfect crash course in UX skills and also a humbling reminder that there is always time if you're determined enough to find it. Quickly, my 5-9 studying and skill development was the part of my day I looked most forward to. After the better part of a year, I would enjoy the reward of interviewing for my first role as a newly minted UX Designer.
How did you position yourself for your first UX role?
The Junior Designer's dilemma of needing job experience to get an "entry-level" role is real. Applying for my first role as a career changer was a masterclass in patience and persistence. Above all, I needed to rely on my resourcefulness to frame my past and current experience as relevant for the roles I was looking to land. Thankfully, having completed my CareerFoundry course, I had a few portfolio-ready projects underway. Having said that, so did every other peer graduating alongside me. To differentiate my offering, I got creative with where I would source my first clients.
Beyond the total overhaul of my resume to reflect relevant experiences, I actively pursued projects that would allow me to "create my own job" as a Junior Designer. I was inspired by a pair who presented their TED talk in my community and approached them with a pitch. I believed in their mission and vision, and I asked them to believe in my growing abilities as a UX Designer who could elevate their online presence. It would be a mix of deliverables I was well versed in, while also offering me a chance to practice my new skills.
With this first official project under my belt, it gave me the momentum I needed to chip away at the wall built by imposter syndrome. From there, I was able to polish up my portfolio and resume with real-world experience. This energized my application process and gave me the confidence I needed to respond to a job posting as a part-time Junior UX Designer. For this posting, I was honest about my expertise and drive to improve. This would be my first gig. Then, a few months into my engagement, I was introduced to Avani. As I reflect on how I was able to position myself initially as a teammate worth investing in, I land on three primary values: effective communication, resourcefulness, and drive.
What was the number one thing that helped make your transition successful?
It's truly difficult to identify one thing that made my transition most successful. From a practical perspective, I would have to say organization. It can be daunting to consider how to manage a career transition with all of your regular ongoing responsibilities. I used everything I had at my disposal to keep me on track.
Finding a job is a full-time job. Because I wanted to enjoy the security of keeping my current job while in transition, I decided to manage two full-time schedules. I was also keen on figuring out sooner rather than later if UX was even a good fit for me! Here are a few key features of my routine that kept me hyper-organized:
- I kept a strict time blocked calendar with a color-coded system for work, school, and job search (oh, and food and friends!)
- I managed a neat Trello board for listing job applications with details of contacts and status
- I also introduced meal prepping and designated time for exercise so that I could ensure I had the energy to keep up and make the most of this time exploring
What resources do you turn to most to help you continue to level up?
Landing the first job is the end of one journey, but only the beginning of the next. To continue to feel as though I am learning at a rate that will help me grow, I focus on three main resource areas: articles & opinions, tutorials & classes, and networking.
Subscribing to newsletters, tuning into podcasts, reading books, etc. are all great ways to feel like you're "part of the club". Here are a few of my favorites: UX Collective, Dare to Lead, User Friendly and many more! It's important to keep a pulse on trends in the space and expose yourself to other approaches to design. I love to throw on a podcast or an audiobook whenever I have some downtime; driving, out for a walk, or doing chores around the house.
Tutorials and classes are an obvious but important resource to take advantage of. There is endless content out there that can help you level up. I recommend setting out to learn a specific skill or process each week, month, year, etc. Putting these on my calendar helps keep me on track with making sure my toolbox is always filling up.
Networking can be tough, especially in a remote setting. Thankfully, there are many ways to network that don't involve an awkward conversation in a speed-dating like event. (Although, those can be great too!) For example, I participate in a handful of Slack groups: Friends of Figma, Design X Canada, and Hexagon UX where participants are always ready to connect and learn from one another in a completely approachable setting.
What advice would you give a newly minted UX Designer?
Embrace the uncomfortable and ask questions. It can definitely feel daunting to be the new person at every table when you're getting started. The great thing about being the new person in a room of UX-ers - you can practice your research skills! Ask thoughtful questions, be humble, and communicate often. It's ok not to know everything, in their nature your colleagues should be open to approaching you with an empathetic perspective. Help yourself by being proactive, staying curious, finding answers and paying it forward.
If someone was contemplating a career change, where would you advise they start?
Write down all of the things you love about the roles that you have had (even if as a student!). Next, dig deeper and accompany these with a reason why you loved them. Breaking your career down into first principles will help you discover what you should be truly looking for in a career path while hopefully helping you avoid the allure of some of the flashy and shallow promises of some ill-fitting job prospects.
What is your favorite part about working at MDL?
At MDL we are an engine of growth. We are inspired by one another and our clients to reach new heights in each engagement. In the two years + I have worked with Avani and the growing team, I have never felt unsure as to whether or not I was growing as a Designer. It is a privilege to work with clients who dream big and who trust us to take the reins in helping them bring their vision to life.