How I got here: Amanda, UX designer
Hello! My name is Amanda and I am a UX designer here at EF Go Ahead. I’ve been in my role for about 3 years now and I can definitely say UX is where I am meant to be. But, it took me a while to get here. I’m going to share my path to UX to show it’s ok if you aren’t in your perfect role right now–sometimes the journey is necessary. So grab your favorite donut and come along.
I went to school for graphic design (go Northeastern!) and at the time I don’t really remember the concept of User Experience being taught. I learned the fundamentals of color and design and was sent on my way. At the time I really wanted to work in publishing, specifically doing production work at a magazine. So to get my foot in the door, when I graduated and started at a publishing company in Boston that did educational publishing (textbooks). I started as the Creative Associate, which really that meant I was everyone assistant and just did whatever people asked me. I processed invoices and fixed the copier too many times, but I was sitting in on the design team meetings each week. There, the team was talking about how the designers didn’t have enough time to both concept new work, and do all the edits that came back on stakeholder routing. Because I had a design background I asked my manager if it’d help if I took on some of the production work from the designers–they could do all the initial concept work and I could do all the edits that came back on routes. She agreed and let me start assisting the designers. Eventually the designers became to rely on me and I became a full-time production associate, taking all the projects to completion and getting them to the printers, and soon taking on larger design projects of my own.
Rolling with the punches
About a year and half into working at the publisher we merged with another large publishing company. It all happened very quickly. Because essentially we now had 2 people in every role, there were redundancies, and the design department felt the best way to deal with it was doing the inevitable layoffs early on and quick. One day we all came in and were each called into our directors office one-by-one to learn if we still had a job. People either came out and sat back at their desk, or packed up their stuff. It was a terrible day to experience. When I got called in I learned that I was going to be moving over to the project management team and was now a project coordinator - oh and also all the other project managers were being laid off. So, while grateful I still had a job, I realized I was moving into a new role, that I wasn’t super familiar with, and there was no one to tell me what to do. The next day I had to come back and keep hundreds of projects moving forward. I followed what I had seen previous project managers do, but also eventually saw where I could improve on things. I read books, blogs, whatever I could get my hands on about project management. I also learned that my company would pay a significant amount of degrees that related to your job. So, I jumped on that and got my masters in Project Management (go Northeastern, again!). What initially was a role forced on me, became something I loved doing. I really enjoyed being at the center of projects and needing to know all the roles that impacted a project.
Making a change
I was at the publishing company for about 7 years before I felt the itch to try somewhere new. Over those seven years I had proven myself to be someone that could be put in any role and figure it out–for better or worse. I had continued in project management, eventually being a Senior Project Manager managing a team with coordinators in offices all over the country. I then moved over into a Production manager role, that worked on both print and digital production. For a short stint I oversaw the digital asset management and archiving teams. Towards the end I was leading the webinar & email team, which had such great people on it that I was almost not needed. I then saw an opportunity at Go Ahead Tours for a project manager role. It sounded great - it would bring me back to project management which I liked, but also was in the travel space, which lets face it, is a lot more interesting then the textbooks I was working on. I had also done my co-op at EF back in college, so I already knew the atmosphere of the company, which is important when going somewhere new. I applied, interviewed, and a week later had the job!
I came to Go Ahead in 2014 as the Senior Project Manager on the marketing team. I was a team of 1, but over the next few years it would grow to a team of 3 awesome project managers. It focused mostly all on print and after a few years I started to think about what a next step could be–I loved project management but I was learning the marketing space wasn’t where I saw myself staying. There was a UX designer on the team, but I didn’t manage any of her work and I wasn’t super involved with what was going on our digital space. But, the company soon started really focusing on technology. The engineering team was about 6 developers and a project manager at the time handling all the work for all areas of the business (the website, user accounts, internal software, and more). They were starting to evolve into a lane structure to have teams focused on specific areas and were hiring Product Owners for each lane. One of my teammates, Jessica in marketing, let me know about the roles and that she thought I’d be a great fit. She also told the VP of Technology the same (thanks Jess!). So, even though I hadn’t actually worked in the technology space at all, I had my interview and showed how everything that I had done prior- project management, working with stakeholders, figuring out timelines, etc- could all naturally translate to the digital side. And somehow I convinced him because I became the first Product Owner at Go Ahead!
This put me back in a familiar spot. Being the first, and only, product owner meant I was my own guide, without a manager telling me what I should be doing each day. I needed to teach myself everything that was expected me. I was sent to become a Certified Product Owner at the ScrumAlliance, which was a good course to get a baseline of what would be expected of me. But after that it was all about me and my team of developers figuring out how to work together and build cool stuff. It was definitely on-the-job learning. I made my fair share of mistakes-but that was how I learned what I needed to do to help build successful features in the future.
I was a product owner for about 2 and half years and really loved it. I was focusing on the user account platform which I really enjoyed, as with every release we could tangibly see if user’s experiences were improving or not and get real-time feedback from our sales and service phone staff. I was working with designers from our creative team who did all the UX for the account, and it was through working with them that I realized–hey the UX side of technology looks pretty interesting.
It was also during this time that the VP of Product, who was hired about a year after me, left the company. Instead of filling his space I was promoted up to Director to lead the product team, which was both exciting and daunting at the same time. Also, through another turn of reorganization I started to manage the designers who worked on digital products. This allowed me to really focus on everything that goes into UX work and learn what makes a UX team successful or not. Because the designers were mainly working on UI, I started to focus a lot on user experience work–the discovery, research, user flows, wireframes, etc that all needed to be done before UI could be worked on. It was an interesting dynamic balancing product work, where you try to get stakeholders to focus on opportunities and outcomes, with UX work where you focus on actual solutions. I found myself trying to hold back in Product meetings from talking about solutions too quickly, even though I had a sketchbook of ideas in front of me.
At a certain point balancing the workload of the two sides of the role became a lot and I looked at which part was the most fulfilling. I thought about if I would rather go into work and have a product-focused day or a UX-focused day. After really looking at what the journey would be if I went down each career path I decided UX was where I wanted to focus.
Because I didn’t have a whole UX portfolio I knew it’d be difficult getting a job at another company. Plus, I still had that sketchbook of ideas that I wanted to see come to life and years of knowledge about Go Ahead’s issues and opportunities that I wanted to solve. I set up a meeting with the new creative director, who at the time was back to managing the UX designers again, and let him know that I thought I could be much more impactful as a UX designer. I showed the UX work I was doing behind the scenes, and asked if he felt there could be a place for me on the UX team (which actually wasn’t even a true UX team at the time). Deciding to move into UX actually wasn’t an easy decision. Technically, going from Director of Product to UX Designer was moving ‘down’ the ladder. Some people didn’t really understand why I’d do that. But for me the title doesn’t really mean anything, its the work I would get to do each day. Plus, moving to UX meant I’d still be working every day with the Product team–I’d just get to focus a little less on roadmap meetings and stakeholder management and more on the solving the puzzle of the right solution, which is much more fun in my opinion.
Luckily, the creative director was excited about the idea and thought i’d be a good addition to the team (yay!)-but it wasn’t a quick transition. We were in the middle of a giant revamp of our website so I stayed in my product role to help manage that to release. It took about a year from deciding I wanted to move into UX to officially starting a role as a user experience designer, and it’s been a crazy ride since then. UX now sits on the engineering team and the whole team–engineers, ux, and product- have all grown and are creating new and more innovative features –all while working at a travel company during a global pandemic (more on that in another post).
So that’s my path to UX - it was a long and winding road but every role and experience has only made me a better UX designer. I’m also thankful to work for a company that is open to letting people move and grow their career in different directions. If you have questions or want advice about moving into UX roles, feel free to connect with me on Twitter or Linkedin.