I studied photography in college. During my senior year, I got involved helping start a print shop in our new art building that had opened that year. I ended up volunteering a lot of my time to the print shop in exchange for free prints for my senior project.
After graduating, I got hired—albeit part-time—to work in the shop, which would allow me to use the photo facilities to work on my portfolio for grad school. I got so involved in building the business, though, that I spent little time on my portfolio. During my time at that job, I helped develop customer workflows, helped with graphic design and marketing, created guides that explained to customers how to prepare files for printing, helped lots of customers one on one, trained and managed numerous student-interns in printing and customer service. It was a very rewarding experience, but after about three years, I had to leave due to low pay, no benefits, lack of support from the school, and no more room for personal growth.
I went to my current company, where I work as a contractor at an in-house print shop, doing prepress, printing, and finishing. I quickly realized that the company was horribly mismanaged and that there was no real room for growth or advancement for me either. I began looking for other jobs I could do outside of printing, but I never really followed through on any the jobs I applied to probably because I wasn’t really interested in them.
Over the next few years, I spent a lot of time trying to learn new skills that I could use to market myself for a new job, but I never really had a real goal or direction for what I wanted to do with those skills. One day last summer I was complaining to a friend via text about my job situation and how I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and he responded with some great advice:
You should try to take this weekend to figure out where you ultimately want to be, and if a new job can get you there. And then figure out what path you could take to get there. And once you do that, be malleable to accept whatever road that is.
It sounds pretty simple, but I just hadn’t thought it through. It ended up taking a lot longer than just a weekend (more like 3 months), but I eventually found my way UX. I didn’t know anything about UX prior to this (other than reading somewhere that it wasn’t the same as UI), but the more I learned, the more fascinated I became. Since my initial discovery, I’ve been learning as much as I can through a variety of online courses, books, blogs, videos, and podcasts.
In terms of courses, I tried UXTraining.com, which was helpful for learning the theory side of UX but not really the practical application. I tried a Designlab course, but I didn’t like the format. Even though I had my mentor to provide good feedback on my projects, I still felt like I was doing everything in a vacuum. Over the past few months, I’ve been trying to work on projects for my portfolio on my own based on the suggestion of my Designlab mentor. However, I’ve found it really difficult due the limited time I have since I’m still working full-time. Because of this, I’ve been considering enrolling in General Assembly’s UX Design Immersive course for probably the fourth time, and I’ve reached out to some friends and family to see if any of them knows someone I could rent a room from in one of the cities where GA has a campus.
In the meantime, I’m currently still at the same awful company in the same mind-numbingly boring job that I can do in my sleep, so I try to work as much UX learning as I can throughout the day so that I have some brain stimulation. In a typical day I’ll read a UX blog or book a breakfast, read blogs during any slow parts of the work day, watch videos at lunch, and read a book before bed.