I'm Dean Birkett, and I'm the User Experience Designer at Europeana (http://www.europeana.eu), like Lis' story I also fell into this position, and I'm very thankful of it!
I am originally from North West England, and not knowing what I wanted to do after leaving school at 16 I ended up working for a biscuit manufacturer in the town. I started in telesales, then when asked why the department had no computer problems by the IT staff manager, I was outed, and moved to computer support. I was there for 10 years before an opportunity arose that I couldn't turn down.... I became a Support Analyst at the European Space Agency in the Netherlands.
I was happy(ish) in support, but it wasn't very creative or challenging, so I did find after a couple of years I was beginning to feel a bit dejected about the path my career had stumbled along. Then in 2003 I was struck down by illness, which eventually led to the diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis.
I was off work for 5 years, which was a very dark period - the only real good that came from it was that I taught myself web design. I set up a number of music forums, and eventually an online music label. Then after my neurologist told me that he thought the MS was dormant, then I started to look again for work.
I had some horrendous interviews for support jobs, trust me, 5 years out of the business is a lifetime! Then I decided by chance to apply for the very web 2.0 job title of "webmaster" (yes, I hate both web 2.0 and webmaster I should say!) at Europeana. After two interviews I received the dreaded phonecall, "Unfortunately there was somebody who seems to fit perfectly, we really liked you and wanted to call you just to let you know that you were our second choice. I think you need to hear this as we had 20 other applicants". It was nice, and appreciated... but I didn't get the job.
Six months passed without any luck - finding work after illness, and with a chronic illness is not easy! Then I received another phonecall from Europeana. "It didn't work out.... are you available?.... can you start on Monday?"
I was unknowingly doing underground UX after about 1 year of working there. I had a "playground" area of my personal website where I would test out ideas, and show how things could work. A couple of years later I found out what UX was, and realised that was what I had been doing all along. I am now in the very fortunate position to be a UX team of one. Working from stakeholder meeting through to delivering wireframes or HTML5 prototypes.
I'm absorbing as much as I can, and learning inside and outside of work. One of the greatest things that has happened is that I have found I am now working in a job that I love, and I want to learn as much as I can - self doubt and lack of belief is something that you get a lot of when you are met with closed doors, it is also one of the best things to help push you on.
Like Lis' story, the man who hired me is retiring in the next couple of months. He works in the UK now, and so I rarely see him, but before he goes I will be sure to thank him for my career.