Hi, I'm Matt, one of the founders of UX Mastery. Here's my story about how I became a UX designer. Sorry it's a bit long—hopefully it's interesting for some of you!
I did an engineering degree at university, and got a graduate position as a software developer at a large multi-national consulting firm. It was a fun job at first—it began with three months of training in Florida, with apartment, car, per diems etc all provided (yes, it was as indulgent and amazing as it sounds). But after a while I realised that the culture at the organisation was a bit poisonous. Essentially it was a big boys club, where bullies were promoted and unprofessional behaviour such as screaming and abusing juniors was accepted and sometimes encouraged. I needed to get out, but didn't know what to do next. So I ran away to teach English in Japan as a bit of a professional sabbatical (Kimberley, my girlfriend at the time—now wife—came with me).
I loved teaching, but I worried while I was away from Australia that I would lose my technical skills. I needed a way to keep up with technology, so I started playing around with building websites. It was then that I realised that the web was really where I wanted to focus—it was a platform where I could be both technical and creative—both things I needed for job satisfaction. I started designing and building personal websites, then redesigned the website of my employer in Japan and gradually took on additional freelance clients.
When I came back to Australia, I went back to my consulting job (the money was good) but it turned out that things hadn't changed much in my time away. I studied a 12-month part-time course in graphic design, to polish my design skills, then I met the team from SitePoint at a conference. They were looking for a technical editor to work on their books about web technologies, and working for those guys was one of the best career choices I've made. I took a paycut, but for 5 years I woke up every day and had fun, was passionate about my work, and got exposure to an extraordinary range of projects, roles, and contacts. I worked my way up to Creative Director, managing a team of designers and having input into the strategy of the business.
One of the last projects I worked on at SitePoint was Learnable, a marketplace of courses. It was the first time I'd had the opportunity to design a complex web app from the ground up (previous projects had been redesigns or simple blogs or brochure sites). I was a little nervous, because while I was comfortable with my visual skills, the design process I'd followed to date hadn't always been successful (one redesign was received badly by the community that visited it, and another suffered from becoming a compromise between too many decision-makers). I wanted Learnable to be a success from the get-go. So I got help.
I found a mentor—a senior interaction designer who I knew and respected—and asked him what his view of "best practice" was for digital design. I'd heard of this term "UX" that had been gaining momentum lately, and I wanted to know more about it, but there was nothing online that spelled it out in a way I understood. Over a series of coffee meetings, my mentor spelled out his process and how he approached his projects: types of research, lots of sketching, collaborative design, prototyping, regular user testing—all activities that I was vaguely aware of but never actively included in my process. I took notes and went back to work and tried it, and what do you know—it worked. The user interface for Learnable was a hit from Day 1. An article on The Next Web described it as "one of the simplest interfaces for putting together online content I’ve seen–and I mean that in the best possible way." The interface has evolved since that first version, but I was sold on the idea that user-centred design was a process that could be relied upon.
I left SitePoint nearly 4 years ago to become a freelance UX consultant, and that's what I still pitch myself as today. However in that time my career has evolved in a couple of unexpected ways:
* I've started creating whiteboard animations for clients. This evolved out of the sketchnotes I had been taking at conferences, and my increasing use of collaborative, visual activities in design workshops that I'd run. They're fun to create (the first one I made, for this site, now has over 100,000 views on YouTube!). I mention this not to advertise my services, but as an example of how the skills necessary to succeed as a UX designer can set you up well to explore other ventures.
* I started UX Mastery with Luke. We have some ambitious ideas for what this website and its associated community could become, and that's where I see myself spending most of my time moving forward. UX Mastery lets me revisit my love of teaching and writing, and it lets me pass on the knowledge I've learned from my mentor and my time spent designing for web and mobile over the years. Plus it gives Luke and me an excuse to get up on stage at conferences dressed in silly costumes.
So that's how I got to where I am now. On top of all that, I like coffee, cycling, swimming, rock climbing, hanging out with my family, and making children's books. I look forward to getting to know you all, and helping make this the most supportive, helpful UX community on the web!