Career change - UX research / app testing
February 3, 2017 5:09 PM   Subscribe

What's the most efficient and effective way for a middle-aged person to get into it (with the mostly unrelated experience sketched below)?

Education: one completed BA and 99% of a psych degree (with a fair few courses taken in cognition - but no involvement in projects). Did well in a logic course (years ago). Some other qualifications that aren't related and won't help.

Work history: mostly junior to intermediate admin/coordination etc in do-gooding sectors, some stuff in publishing. Low-level tasks in design, database, and html were mixed in with admin stuff, for some jobs.

This person
- loves apps and is fairly nerdy about them (for a consumer with zero IT or programming background)
- is very inclined to consider form, usability, aesthetics, and efficiency (in general, and definitely wrt apps. No training involved, here, just a natural pickiness)

Looking for the shortest, most legit (according to hiring managers) path to a job. Spending $8k on a coding camp is not really ideal - though would consider it, if it's the best way. Same goes for a graduate degree. (If you think a specific coding camp or graduate degree would help, please name it! Especially if it's in Canada.) Preference is to avoid further education if poss. (Programs like Carleton or Western HCI programs appeal, but not sure Person fits the profile of typical applicants or has the right experience.)

Ideally, person would work on apps/programs related to health and wellbeing (or some other evidently useful domain) - probably not e.g. banking, so much. If $60-70K CAD is the most that person could ever make, that'd be ok. A ceiling of less than $40K CAD would not be ideal, given local COL.

Please share thoughts on the potential impact of age bias, along with any ideas you may have on addressing or circumventing it. (It's also worth mentioning that Person lives in a very competitive city.) TIA
posted by cotton dress sock to Work & Money (16 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have local IXDA or UXPA chapters?
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 5:20 PM on February 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Yes, Google says there is a local IXDA chapter, and there are monthly meetings! (What specific goal should Person have in relation to them [and how should they prepare, so as to not look like a fool]?)
posted by cotton dress sock at 5:27 PM on February 3, 2017

Best answer: Our UXPA chapter just requires showing up. It's a great opportunity to meet people, and just be candid -- you're looking to shift into a more UX-focused role.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 5:31 PM on February 3, 2017 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Speaking as someone who's now in this field from a similar background, all of that background is actually very good and helpful but for whatever reason people I interviewed with were never very interested or impressed by it. The best thing Person can do is invent some direct experience for themselves. I went to school but that didn't really help either - except in that it gave me some portfolio items that we could talk about in interviews wherein they could assess if I knew anything.

The thing about that is what interviewers really want to hear is that you know:
- what types of questions ux-ers have to ask (who is using this interface? what information do they need? what's the best way to structure it? what are they expecting?)
- what kinds of decisions ux-ers have to make, and how do you approach them.
- what's the process that ux fits inside of

So how that worked was they would ask me about the pieces i showed - how did you make these decisions? Why did you put that button there instead of over there? Etc.

I would advise that Person downloads one or more apps like Axure (my favorite) or Sketch and make some things that they can talk about. Think of an idea of an app and design it head to toe. Read about usability tests and conduct them. Then just be able to talk about it.

I also got started getting jobs through temp agencies that place skilled workers; it was a lot easier than getting traditional internships and I was getting paid right away.
posted by bleep at 5:47 PM on February 3, 2017 [10 favorites]

Best answer: Oh yeah and just about everything I learned in ux school can be found online for free. Read read read.
posted by bleep at 5:48 PM on February 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Bleep has a lot of good points. Especially about building a portfolio and educating yourself.

Join those groups and go to the meetings. Go to the local conferences. Take a look at UX-centered programs or cert courses. Can you finish the psych degree without much hassle?
posted by canine epigram at 7:28 PM on February 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Maybe, canine epigram - thank you :)

Which certs are worthwhile?
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:30 PM on February 3, 2017

Response by poster: Thanks! I've seen the Coursera and MIT open courseware options, and will be doing some of them! I really appreciate that they're free :) But how much do hiring managers actually care about that kind of certification? (Be real with me folks, please :) )
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:27 PM on February 3, 2017

Best answer: right, how much do hiring managers care about certs?

In my experience (i'm not a UX person, but I have hired a few, and have worked with dozens), it's all about portfolio. Now, that portfolio might be courseware that's part of a cert, or it might be self taught, but if you can walk the walk, we don't care where you learned it.

You say Canada... let's craigslist UX jobs in, say Vancouver. The first one I find asks for the moon, as they all do, but they link to a video that shows some of their products. Maybe work toward designing an app that'd be part of one of their products. You can do that low-fi... with post-it notes. There's your first portfolio piece.
posted by at at 12:11 AM on February 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I am a UX hiring manager whose been doing some form of this work for 21 years. Don't waste time or money on certs. I got the HFI CUA cert a couple of years ago and 1) it was because I work with the government and they love letters behind your name, and 2) the cert is garbage, built on outdated info.

Bleep is right: build a portfolio around projects you created for yourself. For example, redesign a major website or app that most people know about. Conduct interviews with current or potential users. Redesign the navigation and test it using free versions of TreeJack and Optimal Sort. Make low-fi mock ups and test them in person with current and potential users. Follow Jakob Nielsen's usability testing 101 guidance. Revise your mockups with what you learned in testing.

Your portfolio contains all these artifacts, plus anything else you need to tell me the story of how you chose this site/app, what problem you were trying to solve, what you learned from user research, how you solved the problem, and how your solution matched user expectations during testing. (Or didn't--because that too is extremely valuable info.)

Then, in addition to going to local meetups, find local UXers on Twitter and LinkedIn and ask if you can treat them to coffee or beer in exchange for conversation. Ask them their advice in transitioning, yes, but also find out what qualities they think makes a good UX designer, what skills are transferable from other fields (for example I nearly hired a former narcotics detective with little UX background because he was great at building rapport during interviews), what the local hiring scene is like, what UX looks like where they work, how much executive support they get, local salary ranges, their biggest challenges is working with business stakeholders, etc. Be as curious about what it's like to be in the job as you are about what it takes to get a job. Developing these relationships is the best way for newcomers to the scene to get hired where I live. And I know, because I hire and because I run the local UX meetup where I always get these questions.

Oh, also ask around to see if there's a local UX Slack.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 4:35 AM on February 4, 2017 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I've seen this book being used as a textbook in university UX courses, it could be helpful in organizing or focusing your self-learning.

Read the local (and non-local, if you're willing to relocate) job ads for UX positions, to get a sense of what tools and skills are being asked for in general. So if several job ads mention Axure, say, but only one mentions some software package you've never heard of, that tells you which one you should devote your time and energy to learn. I differentiate between local and non-local job ads because sometimes you might just be in a locale without many UX jobs, or you might be in a city where local university is pumping out X graduates a year with HCI / UX specializations, which could make entering the field more challenging.

Do go to local meetups. Go to some tech-oriented meetups groups, not just UX ones - "How to enter the UX field" type panels in my local area have been presented by women in tech groups. When you go to meetups chat up the attendees - what do they do, where do they work, how did they get their position, why they're looking to change fields, etc. And you can follow up to meet them for coffee or such for more conversation, if cold calling through Twitter or LinkedIn feels a bit awkward to you.
posted by research monkey at 5:05 AM on February 4, 2017 [5 favorites]

This is for sure not a guarantee but especially at smaller startups it's not uncommon for people to get into these roles starting from a general purpose business operations role such as customer support. You want to be smart, this works at small but growing startups but not so much at bigger established ones. However as a middle aged person they may hit a bit of age discrimination trying to go this route. Just another bit of food for thought.
posted by ch1x0r at 5:27 AM on February 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: cotton dress sock, I am in almost the exact same boat as A Person: a middle-aged person changing careers into UX, though my background is a bit more in visual design (with a break recently in management in an unrelated field) so I’m leaning more towards the design end of UX, but with flexibility and curiosity about all of it. Thanks to everyone for their advice here. I have also found it very helpful.

FYI I found David Travis’ Udemy course super helpful for getting started — it’s practical, very low tech, and helpful for getting the hang of all the terminology, and he’s mostly research-oriented (though he also goes into design and prototyping) so you might find it helpful. He’s also very responsive to questions by email and in his Facebook group. I was able to get a $50-for-your-first-Udemy-course deal, so if you can find something like that it’s definitely worth it. I continued with online classes in specific areas like information architecture, software like Sketch, etc. and an in-person for-credit class at a local university in mobile UX design, which was a bit $$, but very helpful to get professional, immediate feedback on my work.

However, I’ve been coming up dry in the job hunt — I can’t seem to be able to find any entry level or many junior level jobs. I’ve heard rumblings (don't know if true) they all go to new grads or people slide in by taking not-really-UX jobs then making them UX. I can’t afford to go back to school (and am not sure how much more I would learn). YMMV, but I’m really struggling on the job-finding front.

Personally, I would love to hear more from those with experience any further specifics of what makes for a good UX portfolio. The examples I’ve been shown online have either been glossy eye candy without much real UX substance, or amateurish.

I’d also value any more anyone can share about agencies as a way to get a foot in the door. I’ve been avoiding them as many seem kinda scammy, reposting listings already posted elsewhere, obviously don’t know anything about UX from the way they’ve worded the listing, etc. Maybe that’s just here in NYC? Any advice about how to track down better quality agencies? I definitely need to get some money in the bank ASAP, and wouldn’t mind short term jobs, especially if they would help me learn and get another line on the resume/item for the portfolio.

And cotton dress sock, while I’m a n00b as well, I’m happy to offer A Person solidarity by MeMail at any point if that would be helpful. Best of luck!
posted by rafaella gabriela sarsaparilla at 9:58 AM on February 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

There are some UX programs at various universities in the Northeastern US that have certificate programs that can be taken online (Northeastern, Bentley,) that are pricey but may be worth it if you learn better with a structured curriculum.

What's most useful in a portfolio are going beyond just glossy examples of deliverables to more of a case study format that demonstrates your ability to figure out the best approach to solve a particular problem and implement it.

I changed careers less than ten years ago. There are very few recruiting firms that understand UX well enough to help people get jobs. Vitamin-T is one, I'm blanking on the name of the other, but if you read their web pages, you will get an idea whether they have a clue or not.

That being said, the first job or so is the hardest to get. Internships are super useful if you can find one (often announced at UXPA meetings or lists.) I know mine was key in making the jump.

Incidentally, I'm going back and forth from NYC for my current project and always happy to chat about UX via PM or meeting.
posted by canine epigram at 10:57 AM on February 4, 2017 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Memail me.

I would advise doing some work for free rather than doing more schooling. Yes, you can do this. Some clients prefer older advisers. I know I would.

Basically, build a portfolio of projects and a story about yourself and your work. Your age even might help you get hired as a full UX employee. You may have to live in a city for a year or two.
posted by xammerboy at 7:37 PM on February 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

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