Leaving Psychology for a Career in Tech. Becoming a UX Designer

My roundabout path to finding this field that I didn’t know existed.

◘Photo by Studio Dekorasyon on Unsplash

This is part of a series on getting into UX, in hopes that it will help and inspire others.

Series:

I’m now leading my own projects and presenting innovative ideas to Senior Directors at the company; all while working remotely from my RV and traveling the country.

I love helping others find their way into tech, so please feel free to reach out. — Thanks for reading!

You don’t need my entire life story to understand my current trajectory, but let’s go through it anyways….

I’m just kidding; we’ll skip ahead.

I graduated from the University of Florida with a B.S. in Psychology, a B.A. in Sociology, and I picked up a minor in Philosophy along the way. To be honest, I was just after my Psych degree and the others came through my chosen electives that interested me the most. How is society and the social construction of our reality and individuality not one of the most fascinating things you’ve ever come across? For me it was, and I ate it up.

While I was in college, I did some volunteering in a Social Psychology lab, which eventually led to me becoming the lab manager. We got to run deception studies, and then debrief the subjects on what we were actually testing. That was a great experience for me, and I loved having my hands in the kinds of research that you hear about in all of your Intro to Psychology classes. Usually, undergrads just get to help out with entering data into large excel sheets, but I was lucky enough to work with an amazing Grad Student who wanted us “in the trenches” of it all. Easily one of the most fascinating experiences of my life.

I had basically decided by that point that I would be going to grad school for Social Psychology so that my life’s work could be studying the interactions and inner workings of human beings. Nothing would be off limits! The social & psychological implications of space travel and an interplanetary society, how to best disseminate pseudoscience in an era of misinformation at your fingertips, or even how to incorporate existential philosophy into a treatment for depression. I went to conferences, presented posters, became close with my professors, and worked on my own research projects while working on other people’s as well. Everything was in line with what I should have been doing. I was all set for my chosen trajectory.

I was dead set on taking a gap year. During my Senior year I had been working part time at a local business as their Marketing Coordinator and Organizational Consultant, and I decided that going full-time would be a good way to make major improvements in the business and my own skill set in the meantime. This was originally a position that I created out of thin air after seeing so many pain points as a cashier. After 2 months of working there, I came to the Owner and GM with a list of plans for how to improve their business, complete with mock-ups for content strategy, and prototypes for welcome packets for a Brand Ambassador program I wanted to launch. I then worked on bringing them to life and was able to turn around a 10% loss in revenue to a 14% increase that year(+24% increase from our original dip), using the techniques that I had picked up when I started my own small online business the year before.

This all gave me a high level of autonomy in this job since I created it, which I knew would be a great aspect to leverage when it came time for applications and interviewing for Grad School. As it turns out, marketing became less of a priority over the summer that I went full-time, and I was working 60 hours per week as a retail associate with the occasional approval of an Instagram ad. Although I loved the creativity that was required to fix the business and implement the changes, I knew that it was time to move on and I had been missing my research roots.

I moved on to become a Research Coordinator at the University of Florida, where the study I worked on was aimed at finding early cognitive markers for dementia in Parkinson’s Disease. Our study involved a neuroimaging aspect, searching for bio-markers in their blood and spinal fluid, and then looking at their cognitive scores from over 5 hours of paper and pencil testing that I administered and scored. I was in DATA HEAVEN, and was thrilled to be working so close to the individuals that we were aiming to help. I got to make a new friend each time we brought a participant in, and each person had their own resource needs that I was happy to help with whenever I could. I loved this job, and am so grateful for the experiences I had and the people I was able to become close to.

My turning point for my decision to no longer go to Grad School came after realizing that the job that I had idealized (Becoming a Social Psychology Researcher and Professor) didn’t fit well with my idea of work-life balance, or financial independence. After being in close proximity with Professors, Researchers, Post-Docs, and Grad Students, I knew that I needed to find a more creative way to apply my passion for human behavior and creative solutions to find my next direction. Enter the influence of Computer Science…

My partner has listened to me ramble on for hours about App ideas and social tech startups built on the back of the social sciences that I love. Everything from a personality profile travel app, to creating a virtual reality experience aimed at socializing individuals with Autism, or Social Anxiety. The common denominator became clear after hours of me fleshing out ideas about how to transform our education system.

I didn’t just want to have these ideas, I wanted to make them. I wanted to help them flourish and reach as many people as possible so that my field was no longer relegated to expensive therapy sessions too far removed from the people that needed them, or the mountain of self-help books that are too riddled with pseudoscience to take seriously.

What could I do moving forward? Up until now I was just the idea person, with the background in research enough to know that some of them might just work. I felt lost, and like the path that I had depended on following had disappeared beneath my feet.

My Software Engineering partner suggested that I might want to learn to code. So I did. I woke up at 5 am every morning for 6 months and coded for 3 hours before work every day, and 3 hours after. I started with the basics of HTML and CSS (which I found baffling), and moved through a ton of different online resources. I went through Free Code Camp, Code Academy, The Odin Project, and multiple Udemy Courses. During my lunch breaks, I worked on fine tuning my basic JavaScript projects, and read anything that interested me on Wired.com. I was able to go from a basic “Hello World” page in HTML, to a weather app designed with Bootstrap which interacts with the OpenWeatherMap API. Check out my GitHub if you’d like to see what I was able to get done!

Above all, it was a humbling experience. There came a time when I stopped blaming my computer for not doing what I thought it should, and instead knew that I was to blame. I would reassess, learn the new skill, and keep going rather than getting stressed to the point of frustration. That was when things started to pick up, my projects got better, and I got more confident venturing into areas that were brand new to me. I had learned so much about how to learn, and I had gained the confidence of knowing that I could learn anything. (Super Cliche and cheesy, I know). It was empowering, which was a feeling that I desperately needed at the time.

I started going to meetups and really connected with the programmers that I met, who were extremely helpful and open to offering advice moving forward. The more I talked to people in the field, the more I knew that I wanted to get involved with Tech, and it seemed like a Web Development gig might be the best way to get my foot in the door while also more than paying the bills.

By many of their recommendations, it seemed like the best return on my time and investment would be a bootcamp (trust me there is no shortage of options in this realm). Although I knew that coding all day was not my current ideal dream job, I knew that it would afford me the opportunities that I was looking for, and that it was a step in the right direction.

As I started looking into bootcamps and talking to their advisors about my goals, it was consistently noted that I might be far more interested in UX/UI Research and Design. Another moment of honesty, I had never even heard of it. If I was going to be spending so much money on a program, I wanted it to be something that had some financial security behind it. So I carefully started looking and realized that this field was that mix of the social sciences and tech that I was hoping to find after I got my foot in the door with that Web Development gig. It seemed like I might not need to start off with a purely coding job after all. I was intrigued.

For anyone unsure here like I was, UX (User Experience) Research and Design is about the human interaction and experience behind a product; whether that is software or something else entirely. Think: doing research, creating personas, finding pain-points, developing strategies to overcome those pain-points, creating wire frames and prototypes etc.

UI (User Interface) Design is akin to what you would think of as a Web designer; very focused on the visual side of things like colors, fonts, and layout of the screen.

They’re both an umbrella term to be sure, and they break down into specialties depending on what role you take over or decide to find your way into. You can see how this would be that human prioritization in tech that I was mentioning earlier, with a good mix of things I’ve already experienced doing. This field that I hadn’t even heard of before.

I started a Udemy course online that went over the basics of UX, made it through a Lynda Learning Path, and started reading blogs and listening to podcasts on the subject. I worked through my own ideas for practice, and was loving it. I reached out to people in UX Research & Design positions and asked for their favorite resources.

You would be amazed at how helpful and open people are, even people at the top of their fields when you show genuine interest.

Currently, I’m looking for my path forward, and am excited about what it has to offer. I’ve been to a meetup in the South Florida area so far and met some more amazing and helpful people, and am even looking into a UX/UI Design bootcamp to help springboard me into the job I want more quickly.

In the meantime, I’m looking for job and internship opportunities that will help move me in the right direction. In the next few years, I would like to be working with social startups to help them make their ideas into the best version of themselves so that they can do the most good for the most amount of people. Bringing my own ideas to life is still a huge part of that plan as well.

As per most millennials, I have a desire to make an impact even if that means stepping off of the beaten path to do so. The confidence that I’ve gained in picking up an entirely new skill set is the wave that I’m using to guide me out of my comfort zone and into a better fit.

So there it is, me on my soap box about the importance of the social sciences and how I want to be a part of bringing them out of the shadows and into the technological revolution. I’m looking forward to meeting more like minded people, continuing to pursue my passions, and grow in ways I can’t imagine now. Humans are meant to be fluid, and that’s exactly how I plan on living my version of a good life.

Thanks for taking the time to read through my story. Feel free to let me know what your favorite resources are or to leave any advice below, I would love to hear what you have to say! I’ll keep this updated as I go for others who are looking to get involved as well.

About me

3 years ago, I decided to get into UX, and I’m now a UX Designer at a top tech company in South Florida, where we have consistently been at the very top of the list for Fortune’s Best Companies to Work For. I managed all of this with a background in Psychology, Sociology and Philosophy.

I’m now leading my own projects and presenting innovative ideas to Senior Directors at the company; all while working remotely from my RV and traveling the country.

Don’t hesitate to reach out here or on LinkedIn. I love helping others find their way into Tech as well!

You can also grab a totally free 30 minute Mentor/Mentee session here.

Designing my best life & helping others do the same | Digital Nomad | UX Designer & Innovator

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store