Hi Lynne, welcome to UX! It’s great to see you’re considering it. =)
UX roles across companies will differ a lot - depending on the people you’re working with (what other roles are present, people’s personalities) and the company culture in general (whether the business area is suited to a customer-centric approach, how far UX is already valued, how overworked people are, how invested the projects are in particular design processes).
Did you study much industrial design as part of your engineering? Have you had some experience designing for the web?
My own work here in Sydney and Melbourne in Australia is often as a freelancer/subcontractor and sometimes as a small agency (by organising projects and pulling in talent to work with me). If you’re getting started, you may like to angle yourself for work somewhere where there are other supportive UX designers, such as an agency where you can get a broad range of experiences across different projects. But you may need to start off with some sample UX projects on the side until you can get a position. [LIST=1]
Most of my explicitly UX roles have been in larger companies, and thus often based in the city, but I also apply the same approach to smaller ‘web design’ clients for suburban businesses too - with a different scope.
I think most big cities will have a reasonable UX contingent, especially if they have industries like technology, customer-service or design. Matt and I have just come back from teaching UX workshops in Kuala Lumpur and Manila, and both of those places are pretty hungry for UX.
I always have more than one project on the go, usually between 3-5, although sometimes a lot more depending on how I juggle things or stay involved in a project.
Because I work as a freelancer, the hours are flexible, but that means I might sometimes feel obligated to work long hours to make sure something goes through. When working embedded in a company the hours are usually pretty regular 8 hour days. If you make friends with the people driving business or digital strategy you might find yourself staying back later to have interesting discussions with them. I try and be pretty upfront and make my hours productive, so that I can feel okay going home at hometime. I usually invoice a fixed day rate or project rate, so tracking hours isn’t critical and I don’t often ask for overtime.
Yes, theres often a bit of travel - working onsite at different businesses, or travelling to them from my home office. Then there’s going out to meet people for research - interviews and contextual enquiry sessions. I could theoretically do most of it from my office, but I think that compromises some core UX principles, and I think working with people onsite is much better.
The UX community itself is pretty casual and informal, but some of the companies can sometimes be more formal. Neat business dress isn’t always necessary as a freelancer, but can sometimes start you off on the right foot with the board or business stakeholders. Presentation and facilitation skills are pretty important, and because you’re often helping drive projects some solid project management skills are very useful too. I usually push back when asked for lengthy written reports, but I always make a point of communicating as often and as transparently as I can - lots of summaries, catchup chats and teamwork to keep everyone informed and working together. And yep, as a designer I like to have interesting bits and pieces on my work desk or in team meetings that open up conversations or provide reminders or inspiration. =)
[*]Training a development opportunities - hmm, kindof. There is a lot of overlap between UX and other parts of the business, whether that is design, development, strategy, project management (or may I’m just curious). There are also a lot of different methodologies that span UX as well as other roles, so some companies encourage professional development there. At this point in time in Australia if a company is open minded enough to give UX a go then they’re probably also open enough to give you training if you ask for it. But in the UX space itself I think it’s still mostly a self-initiative thing. Most big cities have a UXPA chapter, a UX MeetUp of some sort, or an inclusive design or active web design community. More and more UX training short courses are opening up. I learn and hear about most new UX things through my peers.
[/LIST] You may also be interested in the ebook Everyday UX - it shows a day in the life of 10 different UX designers around the world and could be quite handy for getting your head around what it’s actually like to work as one. I had a lot of fun taking the photos of their tools and of them working in their work environment!