30 yo and wanting to break into UX, but wondering whether my education background is a good fit--any advice?


#1

Hello everyone!

I’m so happy to have found this lovely community, but after some lurking I finally decided to make an account to join the conversation.

Thing is, I’m a complete newbie to UX–in fact, I only discovered its very existence several months ago. I was completely enthralled and have been reading up on it since, but somewhat recently I thought this could be something I could pursue professionally. I’ve just started looking into online resources and courses and hope to use this summer to do more serious studies.

However, I’m not here to ask about that. I was hoping for some input from professionals like yourself about whether I would be a good fit for this, but I have a rather unusual background.

I’m currently 30 years old and spent most of my 20s in University (I live in N-Europe where education is quite cheap) and have acquired 3 separate degrees: First I did a BA and MA and Linguistics but then finished a BA in Architecture last spring and currently work as an intern in an Architecture studio.

So I guess you see now what I mean with “unususal”! I suppose I have a diverse set of interests but I love intellectual problem-solving (and just learning things in general, especially languages) but I also have a creative streak and love drawing and design. After my years in Linguistics I grew really restless and Academia seemed off-putting in many ways, so I decided to pursue something creative. I got accepted into both Graphic Design and Architecture but decided on the latter, although in hindsight the former my have been a better choice. While the research/design part intrigues me, the technical part is absolutely daunting! And since I started interning I see even more clearly that the fun part is maybe 10% of the (very long) process.

I’ve been trying to pluck relevant factors from my studies that could translate into UX-related skills. From Architecture, I figure all design thinking is a plus, not to mention its focus on people and their experience of the environment. I’m also well versed in the Adobe Suite and have some basic HTML/CSS skills. My studies in Linguistics also focused on cognitive research, specifically, during my MA I was an assistant in a project centered around empathy and how different writing styles can affect the reader’s perception. I also did some peer tutoring and enjoyed helping people one-on-one but also tried some teaching but didn’t really like that as much. I miss contributing in a more direct way to people, but also not overly as I’m a pretty private person (I’m an INFJ in the Myers-Briggs test, for those into that).

Anyway, didn’t mean for this to be endless! But what I wanted to ask you:

  • does my education seem like a practical background to build upon for UX?
  • do you think employers would see it as a plus rather than a downside?
  • would yet another u-turn in my studies put people off?
  • is there some way to turn this all in my favour?

I feel like I’m already so old but haven’t started a proper career yet and this is really gnawing at my self esteem :frowning: I’ve just been feeling so lost since I started interning, not really knowing what’s ahead. I honestly don’t feel like applying to a Master’s in Arch. My gut feeling tells me it’s not right, but I also know I don’t have endless time either. Not to mention another intense two years of study…I’d honestly rather want to start working and contributing. UX (and also UI, really) seems like a beautiful combination of my strength and interests but I’m hesitant to make yet another u-turn.

Oh, and to make things a little more complicated, I am currently 6 months pregnant! That’s absolutely a happy thing and I’m engaged to a wonderful man, but that does put a little time constraint on me. Although I also figured I could use some of the free time during my maternity leave to study UX, so maybe it’s a good thing.

Thanks for reading. Any advice or input is greatly appreciated.


#2

Glad to hear it. Welcome Asa.

Yes! I have an architecture degree. The solid foundation in design theory is a powerful advantage. Your research and cognitive focus are further pluses.

Yes! Don’t stress about the diversity of your background. UX is a relatively new field so everyone is coming to it from different directions. Very few people have ‘formal UX training’ as such, outside of bootcamps and online courses. An affinity with people, a curious nature, a willingness to be flexible and learn, and real life experience are important. So all you need to work on is the experience.

I’d take a few online courses, do some pro bono projects and build up a portfolio.

Does that help?


#3

Hello Hawk, thanks for the welcome and answer.

Yes, this absolutely helps, thank you! I realize that UX is a young discipline and people are approaching it from different backgrounds, but I’ve mostly seen people with a Graphic Design, CS or maybe Psychology backgrounds so far. I therefore felt like my education wasn’t quite up to par, but it’s actually very encouraging to hear that someone else here has an Architecture degree.

May I ask, did you ever practice as an Architect or did you make the switch to UX before that came to be? I’m just curious in what way you felt that degree/practice benefited you.

And yes, I’m currently filtering out what online courses work best for me, so that’s definitely the next step. Thankfully the resources and reviews here are very in-depth and have been a great help.


#4

That sounds fascinating. It also dovetails nicely with psychology.

I also agree with Hawk on your diverse background. My personal belief is that diversity is always a strength. I have a mentor who got a job as a software analyst even though she didn’t have any computer background. She has degrees in math and fashion design. The company liked that combination and decided they would teach her what they wanted her to know.


#5

Welcome to the community!

Wow, your background sounds so interesting! I’d say both linguistics and architecture are going to be an asset to transitioning into UX.

I would imagine that the architect background would give you foundations of methodologies and problem-solving skills, as Hawk mentioned above.

Additionally, linguistics and language are very important in UX. People read a lot of content off of digital interfaces. Since you have experience doing cognitive research AND that it focused on the perception of content, this is very similar and in line with the work people do as UX researchers. I have seen many people present at conferences on the understandability of content and similar topics. A lot of what I have seen ties to government work and making sure that everyone can understand the forms that they need to complete or understand the websites to get the assistance they need.

(PS I’m an INFJ too most of the time :wink:)


#6

Yes – I was a practicing architect for 3 years. I was also working as a CAD operator part time and found that I loved computers. From there I transitioned into a dev role (I learned on the job) and wrote software for 13 years before leaving to have kids. During that time I discovered UX.

I should add that I don’t work as a UX practitioner. All UX work that I’ve done has been as part of other design and dev (and now community) roles.

The design process doesn’t change just because the medium does. It can be applied universally and I find that having a strong understanding of the concepts has given me a good foundation from which to build.


#7

The same for me.

I’ve also found this.

The specific techniques and technologies you use will change. This is normal even within a specific discipline, just more so when you cross the boundary into a new discipline and have to grapple with new concepts and theories.

Although aesthetic design figures much more highly in architecture than UX, aesthetic style becomes more useful the closer you get to working with the UI.

Incidentally, I’ve deliberately studied and changed career every decade (industrial engineering and systems, IT (development, planning, support, training), corporate planning, community work). Nothing I’ve done before has been wasted because each new conceptual framework and perspective broadens my thinking and experience.


#8

Hi. So your background in linguistics would actually make you really valuable in UX for voice user interfaces (IVRs and the newer chat-bot voice assistants like Echo, Google Home and Home Pod. Or even automotive speech tech, but I pity anyone who wades into automotive because it’s always seemed a particularly painful realm for a variety of reasons). A visual background combined with speech is also a good fit.

I have a crazy all over the map background, but somehow I never did a linguistics track, which I often feel is a missing tool in my toolbox, especially when industry networking at conferences :slight_smile:


#9

Thanks everyone for their insightful replies, this has been tremendously helpful and encouraging! While I realized that parts of my education had some relevancy, you have really opened my eyes to the possibilities it can be applied within the UX field.

Thank you, that field within Linguistics is indeed fascinating! The research I was part of was actually interdisciplinary, I was part of the Linguistics team but there was also a Psychology and Literature team.

And wow, a background in Maths and Fashion Design does at first seem a little out there for the field you mentioned, but I can see how it could synthesize. Definitely encouraging to hear anecdotes like that.

That’s very good to know, thank you. I enjoy working with language but I felt the research focus within Linguistics was too narrow, i.e., it mostly resulted in papers and conferences within the academic field. I wanted to do something more practical, something that will directly affect the “real world” in a tangible way.

Hey, cool! We make a funny mix, don’t we? Practical and organized but with a real need to connect and help/affect people. I’m not too surprised that UX is attracting more INFJs :slight_smile:

That’s very encouraging to hear, thank you. It’s also interesting to hear how you transitioned from Architecture into your current field, it appears like a good use of your skills.

A good reminder, certainly, thanks for that. I’ve been so stuck in more traditional thinking, that I could only be an Architect or a Linguist with those degrees. I was afraid my education would be deemed somewhat useless if I would make yet another u-turn but I see that I can absolutely turn it to my advantage in regards to UX. It’s also encouraging to hear how many here have approached UX from so many different backgrounds, I guess there’s really no straight path to it, at least not yet.

Interesting! Thanks for pointing this out, that could be a fun angle to approach. I wonder whether a stronger background in Computational Linguistics would’ve benefited me here, but that was actually a specialization in my Master’s that I didn’t choose. While coding interests me, I decided to focus on Cognitive and Historical Linguistics. But in any case, that could be a further option to look into relating to UX.

Just wanted to thank everyone again for their helpful replies, this community is so welcoming. I’m feeling much more confident that I can transition my education into useful UX skills, along with some online courses. On to that, then!


#10

Hi @asabryndis44! Welcome!

You’re not alone in these feelings. I am also 30 and 5 months pregnant! I have a theatre degree, a background in non-profit fundraising, and now I’m working as a paralegal at an immigration law firm. I’ve been all over the map too!

I just finished a UX Certificate course which was full of people in their mid-30’s from all different backgrounds - one of them was an architect transitioning into UX.

If you’re excited by UX, I’d say, just hit the ground running! There’s always room in the profession for people who are excited about it.

Best of luck with your journey, and with the new baby!


#11

A quick bit of background on me and my career path:

I started my professional life as sports journalist, before flaming out and taking a job as a call center rep. I eventually moved to being a corporate trainer, then onto internal communications for a major credit card provider, then onto a training designer, then a software engineer, then an interactive digital designer and developer, and finally onto a position as a UX Engineer.

At times in my professional life, I was living out of my 1998 Ford Escort. I’ve never had any formal education in either development or UX. I’m entirely self-taught.

If someone with as varied a professional, educational, and personal background as my own can make it in the world of UX, anyone can, so long as they meet a couple of requirements (which I’ll talk about in a moment).


In my experience, we’re in a very interesting phase of the evolving UX industry. Practical experience is valued much more than formal education. If you show that you can do the job, you’re much more likely to get considered for the position.

With that in mind, I wouldn’t worry so much about formal education. If you believe getting something additional will help you be prepared for the world of UX, then by all means go ahead. Otherwise, I’d start in on trying to get some practical experience.

Your education shows that you learn quickly, that you have the curiosity to continue learning, and have the capability to learn a variety of new skills. I’d think that, overall, your education would be a positive for most employers.

Likely not. The tech world in general, and the world of UX in particular, is constantly evolving. Continuous learning is an absolute must to keep our skills up-to-date.

The big question I could see coming from a potential employer would be whether or not you could show that you were serious and dedicated about pursuing a career in UX. Given your previous career changes, it might be a bit more difficult to convince an employer that you’re set on a career in UX.

I would think that getting some practical experience by volunteering with nonprofits, working open-source projects, blogging, and working on your own side projects would be a good start down that road. I’d also be careful to frame my previous experience in terms of how that has helped me come towards the decision to take up UX, and how the experiences you had can be applied towards the position for which you’re applying.


Keep this in mind: UX professionals are coming from all walks of life right now. From software developers to architects to housewives, those that are joining the profession and being successful in their endeavors all have two things in common:

1.) They are passionate about solving problems and helping people.
2.) They are tireless in their learning and continuous education.

I’m a firm believer that anyone who can do both of those things can be an excellent UX professional.

If I were you, I’d give it a go.


#12

Congratulations! Exciting. Is it your first?


#13

Thanks @HAWK. Yes, this is my first baby. It’s just as scary as making a career change into UX. The timing is good though, because I just wrapped up my UX Certificate program. It might be worth a separate post, but I have lots of reservations about finding a new job, or possibly freelancing while pregnant.


#14

Congrats on your baby @JenniferLong Funny to see another one in such similar shoes, age and all, and with such a diverse background. Although you’ve already finished a UX, so you’re one step ahead :wink: May I ask which one you took? Online maybe? I’m still figuring out which one to take, although I don’t think any of the “big guns” (CF, UXA etc.) will work out for me for the moment, so expensive! But thank you for the encouragement and best of luck with your new career and new baby!

Alrighty, that’s a lot of diverse experience! Thanks for telling your journey towards UX, @dougcollins , I’m feeling much more encouraged having learnt about all the different paths people have taken. Not to mention since you’re self-taught, something I expect to do too mostly.

Right, practical experience is really key, it seems. I keep seeing that iterated. While I’m anxious to getting my hands dirty, I don’t quite feel confident enough yet to tackle anything, I’m such a novice. Still just absorbing the fundamentals about UX. But on the bright side, I’m relieved that having a certificate/degree isn’t mandatory (yet?), as I’ve already spent so much time in school. I was hoping to get most of my knowledge online in my free time and then venturing soon into the real world.

Thank you for that, that’s very relieving to hear. I think in today’s world, it’s pretty much a must to be a life-long learner, you’re never really “done” with that. So I’m very keen to continue studying, although not necessary in a traditional academic environment.

Yeah, this is definitely something that is worrying to me. At the moment, I’m really pumped up about an UX career and it’s something that feels “right” for the first time. While I enjoyed my Linguistics studies, I always had an inkling I wouldn’t have a career in Academia. And my Arch studies were somewhat of a struggle so taking it further didn’t really appeal to me. I’m horribly selective, I’m aware!

Good advice, thank you. I understand there’s a long road ahead but I’m excited to start.
And on the previous note, I absolutely agree, framing my education/experience so far is probably imperative to really “sell” my dedication. I hope that won’t be a big hurdle.

I may have to tape these 2 points to my fridge! That’s real good encouragement.

And I guess yet another factor, that I haven’t mentioned here, is the fact that I live in Iceland and the UX field is really young here. I’ve only very recently seen ads with UX/UI positions and the UX community (so far just a FB group I joined) is mostly programmers and some graphic designers. I don’t really fit in there just now, but maybe this is a good time to jump in, before the aforementioned people take over! But the career prospects here are still somewhat vague, not a lot of companies yet looking for UX people. I may have to start doing online freelancing. That being said, I’m still excited for the field and hope it will continue to grow.

Thanks again for the insightful and helpful reply :slight_smile:


#15

I’m really glad I could provide some advice and encouragement. A few extra thoughts for you.

I’m sure you’ve heard it said that there’s never a perfect time for anything. Whether it’s getting married, having children, starting a business, or changing careers, if you wait for the time to be perfect and to feel 100% ready, you’ll likely never begin your journey. This is doubly true in a field like ours, where changing perspectives and knowledge play such a big part in our current best practices.

What’s more, many in our profession deal with imposter syndrome frequently. I deal with it literally on a daily basis, and the chances are, as someone new to the industry, you’ll deal with yourself at some point. There are many good pieces of advice out there on dealing with it, but I’d remember this-- if you are good enough at something to convince someone to pay you to do it, you are ready to do the job. New or experienced, it doesn’t matter if you’ve actually been hired. If you can start getting the work, then by all means, go out and get it!

This is such an important piece of staying up-to-date in our world. I always encourage people to read something, interact with the community, and problem solve on a daily basis.

(Somewhat unrelated, but @DavidJay – I’ve been meaning to tag you with the link to my blog article, above, as it answers some of the questions you posted about on the “what to write about” thread. I hope it’s helpful for you.)

If you are well-prepared and speak as passionately about the subject as you do here, I think you’ll be just fine :slight_smile:

I should make this up as a framed photo and sell it :slight_smile: I’m really glad you can use it as your mantra when exploring the industry!

The wonderful thing about starting a career in UX right now is that we are all uniquely placed to be among the first wave of highly-recognized experts. I’d look at the small UX community in Iceland as an advantage rather than a challenge. By studying, you likely already have more UX knowledge than a wide band of professionals already in the industry. When you get to applying that knowledge and working with other UX professionals, you’ll have a chance to really build your personal brand. You have an opportunity to be one of the leading UX professionals in your country. How cool is that?

In any event, I hope this all works out for you! We’re a pretty friendly bunch around here, so I hope we’ll see you around quite often as you continue your journey.


#16

Thanks @asabryndis44 ! I actually enrolled in an in-person course in Seattle at the School of Visual Concepts. I found in-person learning to be absolutely vital, despite the long commute to classes.


#17

Very, very true. I kind of feel that way with being pregnant now without having launched any career of sorts, but I’m at least not in uni anymore, so I’ve got that going for me, at least! But yeah, I definitely intend to jump in sooner than later.

Imposter syndrome is just the worst, isn’t it? I’ve definitely felt that a lot during my studies and even more so now as an intern. Your blog post was an interesting read, thanks for the link. I wonder why it seems to be so prevalent these days–maybe it always has been and the Internet makes it seem more prominent. But it’s definitely something I have to keep in mind. Particularly because I feel like I’m making yet another change, going back to square one, so that’s actually another incentive to really take this path seriously and stay on it.[quote=“dougcollins, post:15, topic:3995”]
This is such an important piece of staying up-to-date in our world. I always encourage people to read something, interact with the community, and problem solve on a daily basis.
[/quote]
Yup and yup! I’m an avid reader and love learning new things, I think that’s partly what draws me to UX, the ever-changing scenery that keeps you on your toes. I could never stand being in a stale job/career.

Thank you :slight_smile: I really do feel passionate about this, which is funny, as I’m only making my very first steps into the game. Just thinking about this as my future career gives me this really good gut feeling that I don’t think I should ignore. It feels right, almost like my journey so far was supposed to bring me here.

Haha, I say do it! I’ll be your first buyer :slight_smile: [quote=“dougcollins, post:15, topic:3995”]
The wonderful thing about starting a career in UX right now is that we are all uniquely placed to be among the first wave of highly-recognized experts. I’d look at the small UX community in Iceland as an advantage rather than a challenge. By studying, you likely already have more UX knowledge than a wide band of professionals already in the industry. When you get to applying that knowledge and working with other UX professionals, you’ll have a chance to really build your personal brand. You have an opportunity to be one of the leading UX professionals in your country. How cool is that?
[/quote]
How cool? Very cool! This put such a smile on my face, thanks for the encouragement. You’re right, I should absolutely look at the advantages of my situation. Just now I saw yet another ad post looking for a full-stack digital designer for a large company here (big emphasis on UX) so it seems like it’s growing fast around here. I don’t feel confident applying just yet, not to mention I’m popping a baby in 3 months, but it definitely gives me incentive to use my time wisely and grow those skills.

Thank you! Indeed, the community has been so tremendously welcoming and helpful :slight_smile: I intend to stick around for sure.


#18

Thanks for the info @JenniferLong ! Ah, I envy you for being able to attend an in-person course, a more hands-on approach is always so rewarding, not to mention being able to network and learn from your peers. Not an option for me at the moment, so online will have to do.
But best of luck again, I’m sure the course can only open doors for you :slight_smile: