Switching careers to UX? Patience is your ally

Anyone who knows me well will tell you: patience is not my strong suit. I’ve learned to hide it reasonably well at the office, but as a general rule I hate waiting.

Back in early 2008, during Alan Cooper’s opening keynote at the first Interaction conference, I suddenly realized that I wanted—desperately—to be an interaction designer. At the time, I had been running my own design firm for almost 10 years, doing print and web design for associations, museums, and NGOs. Print work was becoming commoditized and I really couldn’t see myself doing graphic design into my middle age. When I discovered interaction design, I knew that this was it.

The only trouble was, I knew virtually nothing about the discipline and I had no idea how to get that kind of work.

Despite my ignorance, three and half years later I got a great job in UX and was finally able to hold up my head and say, “I am an interaction designer!”

The first thing I always tell people who want to switch careers into UX is—be patient.

It’s very unlikely you’ll get your dream job in a month, or even several months. Expect it to take several years.

Several years of feeling like you’re making no progress at all and getting no closer to your goal. Several years of despairing that you’re not young enough, talented enough, or well-connected enough.

But in between the bouts of despair, keep reading, attending conferences and workshops, taking classes, networking, and following the blogs and websites. Keep trying to do the work you want to do, even if you’re doing it on your own time for non-paying customers or just for practice. Surround yourself with the trappings of your chosen career—the books, the tools, the apps. Tell people you’re an aspiring interaction designer and you’re really interested in getting that kind of work and do they know anyone who needs help?

Perhaps I could have made the transition faster if I hadn’t been trying to nurture my business along at the same time. The fact is, I couldn’t get the kind of work I wanted as a two-person visual design agency—but it took me a long time and many rejected proposals to come to terms with the reality.

In retrospect, though, three and half years to change careers doesn’t seem that bad. I won’t say that it taught me patience, but it did remind me that the things worth having often take a while to get.