Getting Started In UX: 5 Pros Share Their Stories And Wisdom -- Part II

08/05/2016 11:27 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

After writing Getting Started in UX: 5 NYC Pros Share Their Stories I received great feedback from colleagues and many of my students. They continuously mentioned that they found the resources and stories shared to be helpful. They also thought the variety of backgrounds in user experience professionals was very interesting, and kept asking if I would interview any other UXers.

In the spirit of good UX, after listening to my reader's feedback I decided to turn these stories into an article series + sharing their wisdom with others makes me happy. Now, to make the stories even more meaningful I asked the participants to do a little introspection and answer an additional question that I think you will find very interesting. The new question is: What piece of advice would you give to yourself at the beginning of your career?

Without further ado, here are the stories of other great pals from the UX community. Enjoy!

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Brian Best:

My first exposure to UX really began back in 2002 when my then professor of Interactive Media, Ricardo Gutierrez Zubiaurre handed me a copy of "The Education of an E-Designer.". That's when I started to think carefully about the end-user's role in everything I designed thereafter. In Ricardo's class, I took on the ambitious goal of taking the offline-only, LIU newspaper online. It seemed like a good idea at the time; sigh.

Linkedin profile

How did you get into UX?

My career in UX really began when I took on the challenge of solving a website redesign problem for a former employer. I was a graphic designer at the time, and I felt the delivered mockups failed to solve a lot of key issues; primarily a lack of site UX/UI continuity. I took a stab at the project ­­-- without permission of course -- won the assignment, and a promotion soon followed. From there I immersed myself in HCI, typography, color theory and other design principles. My ultimate goal was to be able to thoughtfully justify my design decisions. These days, I find myself relying more on analytics and customer monitoring tools (RUM + Synthetic) to move the UX needle forward by guiding site functionality and optimization decisions.

What resource helped you the most?

I currently work for a fashion startup as a Director of eCommerce, plus teaching part-time this summer at FIT, but I still find myself leveraging the same resources that I started out with; colleagues, the internet YouTube, Lynda.com and skillshare.com), and continuing education (SVA, FIT and General Assembly). They've provided the fastest route to invaluable hands-on experience/credibility that has led to some amazing career opportunities.

What piece of advice would you give to yourself at the beginning of your career?

If you're not curing cancer, relax! Don't take yourself too seriously. Cliché but true. I remember working for a very conservative company right out of college, and everyone there took themselves way too seriously. It colored my experience, and I vowed then and there to treat people the way I wanted to be treated; graceful under pressure, but maintaining a sense of urgency.

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Colleen Diez:

I held various jobs in Communications, Graphic Design and Web Development before I transitioned into UX Research about 6 years ago. For me, working in UX was like a light bulb going off in that I could finally combine my analytical skills with empathy to produce something impactful. I started the UX Research practices at Nature Publishing Group and General Assembly, and now I'm at Shopbop. I also enjoy encouraging that light bulb in others, so I'm a mentor for the NYC UXPA.

Linkedin profile.

How did you get into UX?

My intro to UX came about with the redesign of an e-newsletter. The designers chose a drastically different design, and I coded it up. Within 24 hours of the re-launch, the response from customers was overwhelming; they hated it and found it impossible to use. A UX Designer friend suggested doing user research, and I saw the opportunity to bring real value to the company. So we secretly initiated user research, bringing customers into the office at lunchtime and after hours. I loved the whole process -- I convinced senior management to let me "pilot" an Agile UX Research initiative, which turned into a new role for the company.

What resource helped you the most?

I have to give credit to my mentor from the NYC UXPA program, who has been enormously helpful. Scott Klemmer's HCI Coursera course was a thorough introduction to UX. As a researcher, various books and industry blogs have been a goldmine for me, like UX Matters, UX Booth, MeasuringU, Boxes and Arrows, NN/g. And of course collaborating with other UXers.

What piece of advice would you give to yourself at the beginning of your career?

Listen to your instincts, represent users, and learn more about analytics. Do what's practical to best serve the customer. So much of UX is about practicing what most people would call common sense.

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Bernard Boey:

I was promoted into the Senior UX role after being a Web Designer/Front-end Developer at Weill Cornell for 3 years. During my transition into UX, I discovered that the scope of UX is far beyond the UI design. Driven by the courage to learn, I attended classes at Human Factors (HFI) and Nielsen Norman Group (NN/g), subscribed to User Experience groups from LinkedIn, attended events by User Experience Professional Association (UXPA) and later became an active member of the group. Today I lead the UX team at Columbia University central IT. My goals are to educate by promoting user-centered design and offer a different level of usability services to the University community.

Twitter: @BernardBoey

Linkedin profile.

How did you get into UX?

I rallied all my designer colleagues and begin to promote the usefulness of UX research. My colleagues and I convinced our manager to include UX research as part of the project discovery lifecycle. Through Design Thinking, I learned the importance of user-centered design and how to design systems and products around people, instead of teaching people on how to use the products.

What resource helped you the most?

My thirst for knowledge and information about the field led me to read books that included Steve Kreg's Don't Make Me Think, Lean UX by Jeff Gothelf, It's Our Research by Tomer Sharon and User Experience Team of One by Leah Buley. I subscribed to the n/n Group Weekly Newsletter. I also joined UX meetup groups, NYC UXPA, and User Experience LinkedIn Group.

What piece of advice would you give to yourself at the beginning of your career?

Be curious and open-minded to new ideas and techniques. It's okay to let go of what you already know like graphic design, CSS and HTML skills while transition into full UX role. UX has a very broad practice from research to testing. The skills that you have is transferable. The interaction or interface designs skills can help inform and make better screen flows.

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Sophie Masure:

As UX was not a dedicated field back then, I started my career as a visual designer, in France, where I learned design through art schools. Visual was not enough for me and I quickly focused on user experience. I now live in NYC and I work as an independent Creative Director, managing a team of UX and UI designers, solving problems all day long with a big smile on my face. For the past years I worked with innovative startups as well as big financial corporations like Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse.

Twitter: @sophiemasure

Linkedin profile.

How did you get into UX?

Even when I was a visual designer in 2000, I was convincing my employers to first sketch out some simple basic layouts before discussing the colors, fonts, and visuals. I deeply felt that something was missing in my Graphic Designer jobs.
After a few years working at some agencies, I became the independent Art Director I thought I always wanted to be. But it's only when I actually worked with a collaborative team and became a Product Designer who regularly interviews her users that I finally felt in the right place.

What resource helped you the most?

When I moved to NYC in 2012, I quickly joined a few Meetups and design
organizations, such as NY Tech Meetup, Product Hunt NYC, Brooklyn UX, Product Secrets, and Design First. I also went through a UX class at General Assembly in order to boost up my UX skills and speak the same language as other collaborators and clients.

Joining UXPA as a mentor was definitely a huge help for my career and network opportunities. Being part of organizations helps to be part of the community, specially when you are new in a city. I already knew the benefits of it as I was in the direction of Girlz In Web when I was living in Paris.

What piece of advice would you give to yourself at the beginning of your career?

Even though you know - or at least you have an assumption of what will work for your users - convincing and getting other teammates on board is definitely a huge part of our job.
We need patience and pedagogy as a UX designer: with our many years of experience, very often we arrive at some solutions faster than others and we need to help them go through the same path we just took, holding their hands so they can arrive at the same conclusions. This is slow but inevitable.

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JZ:

Call me JZ, like the rapper, even though my name is Jenny Zhang. After living in San Francisco and working in UX in NYC, now I'm in the DC area as a Product Manager at Capital One. My favorite skill is paper prototyping. I have spoken about card-based UX, and I'm passionate about involving designers, developers, and analysts early in the product planning process. I received my degree in Anthropology from Stanford University.

Twitter: @initialsjz

Linkedin profile.

How did you get into UX?

It's more about the "why". I wanted to apply my anthropology studies and work experience in cool-hunting, market research, and advertising. I wanted to be involved in an idea from theory to reality, and to work in an in-demand industry. Now that I have transitioned to being a Product Manager on a mobile app for Capital One, I get to advocate for the value of UX in a customer-first design environment. I get research resources on my features, but product management is an opportunity for me to own complete digital products. We are always looking for start up and enterprise talent nationally. Capital One's digital culture gives UX designers opportunities to thrive, and also grow into new areas where your skills and background are valued.

What resource helped you the most?

General Assembly's bootcamp gave me my start in UX, which resulted in my portfolio creation. That initial work combined with intense networking landed me my first job.
After I started working in UX at start ups in NYC, I joined UXPA's mentorship program, and went to Meetups every week. This helped me build a community and resources for when tough questions came up on projects.
Then, I sought speaking opportunities at conferences like World IA Day to teach others about card-based UI.

What piece of advice would you give to yourself at the beginning of your career?

To my younger self, I would say to understand the role of UX in decision making at a company when considering a job offer. Ask if you will be involved at one stage, or all stages. Find out who helps projects get started. If resources shifted on a project, why, and who was involved in the decision? Find out if the company does design sprints, and how many they do to plan a feature, or optimization. It will help you find the user-focused and product-focused workplace and culture that is best suited for a user experience designer.