I have something to confess.

 

I had never held a full-time (or even permanent part time) job until a few months before I turned 30.

And here I am, a self taught UI/UX Designer in Melbourne with a background in Theatre.

This is how I got here.

 

Backstory

I’ve jumped between hospitality work since my early 20’s. Making less than minimum wage, and bouncing between working long hours and a few years of study.

 

In 2016 I graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Art in Theatre. It had been a dream of mine to go through Drama School and learn to be an actor. I began 2017 with a new agent and one hell of a fragile ego. See, the thing that everyone says about trying to forge a career in the performing arts is that it’s really tough, maybe only 1% of all performers find a way to make it work.

Turns out they are correct. It is a soul crushing industry. I made it to every audition early, I performed and created my own works, and still after giving all I had I felt I was getting nowhere. To keep this dream alive most actors (Musicians are often in this position too) work part time jobs like hospitality or drive Uber to survive.

 

It broke me.

The food stopped tasting good. I remember crying in the toilet out the back of my café job because I was deeply depressed and couldn’t afford to go to a psychologist every 2 weeks to get the help I needed.

 

Then 2020 rolled around and everything changed.

 

I lost my job, everything shut.

Christian Lue Unsplash.com

I have another confession to make.

 

I loved this.

 

Finally everyone was getting a taste of what it was like to be so vulnerable. Welcome to being poor and at the mercy of a world difficult to navigate.

 

But me?

 

The first day of lockdowns I opened up my old Mac and began looking for a new life.

The Pivot

 

I’d played around in Photoshop as a teenager and made all my own posters and marketing collateral. I was going to teach myself GraphicDesign. I picked up a book or two, downloaded the adobe suite (which was free for a short time) signed up to Skillshare (which was also free for a time) and started learning how to use Illustrator. A few months down and I was getting the hang of it but I felt I needed some guidance, I signed up for an onlineCert IV in design, after seeing my work the Uni asked if I’d like to do the year long diploma instead. My email response.

 

“Fuck it, why not.”

 

I hauled through the course, I found I wasn’t bad at the tools, but something else fundamental to Graphic Design was missing. I’m just really terrible at drawing. Basic sketches, fine. But drawing something. Man. I just could not get the hang of it. There were Fine artists in my course, amazing painters and people skilled with the pencil. I looked around and realised, if I had to compete with these people in an already competitive industry I was screwed.

 

I did my research, I looked around, I was a creative, empathetic person with rather good social skills (my Theatre course was fantastic for soft skills, I learned HOW to be creative, a skill that can be taught, and should be) not only that Hospo has given me plenty of opportunities to find ways to make people laugh or enjoy themselves.

 

I learned of this “new”, “in high demand” career, UX Design.

 

I read a few more articles, I picked up a book.

 

I loved this.

 

In Theatre we find ways to empathise with a character or a story. I had studied people, how they interact with each other and the world, investigating what people “actually” do instead of what we “think” they do. It engaged an analytical pert of my brain that I wanted to use more of, the creative problem solving part. “How might we” is a question that is posed in devised performance and ensemble work (How might we explore the topic of death whilst also engage and make our audience laugh). I loved the big problems, the thorny questions, the mental gymnastics.

 

The Second Pivot

A few months out of graduating from my Diploma (might’ve been during Melbourne’s third or fourth lockdown) I start calling around the Bootcamps I had seen advertised, General Assembly, Academy xi etc. A fast track to a brand new career in UX with a guaranteed job. Sign me up. The only problem was that those courses went for around $10,000-$14,000 for 3 months full time study. I grew up in a blue collar family and had been attempting to start a career in performance. Needless to say this was not an option.

 

I told myself “Fuck it, I’ll teach myself”. I knew it would be hard, possibly not possible. But I thought it would be way cooler to have taught myself rather than have taken the easy route.

 

This is how I did it.

 

During my studies I started reading “The Essentials”. TheDesign of Everyday Things by Don Norman (fucking brilliant and I wish I could convince more of my friends to read it, Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman (I knew that I needed a bit of psychology in there, it seemed perfect, tough read at times but blew me away), Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug (Just read it, it simplifies so many things). I scheduled myself to read a chapter of one of these books every night, this way I slowly got through the information and allowed it to digest.

 

The day after graduating from my diploma I began the Google UX Design course.

Lauren Mancke Unsplash.com

I completed the first month in a week, the first month is a lot of introductory information, but it’s really great.

 

My Google UX study slowed down a little after this because I also realised that I should start learning the tools, I picked up Figma, watched beginner tutorials, struggled with auto-layout (I still do).

 

During this time I also dedicated a day or two each week to job hunting, which is a part time job, along with working a part time café job to stay afloat.

I kept reading, kept learning. I put together a graphic design portfolio of the work I had done at school, some classic first year content, I’ll be the first to announce it was not great. I educated myself onMedium, I joined Linkedin and chowed down on the resources via Linkedin Learning.

 

I would say I applied for 50 jobs, with barely an interview.

 

But then.

 

I got lucky.

 

I landed my first time role in a real job.

 

A week before I was to start, I was ready to head into the office and then.

 

The gate shut. Melbourne entered its sixth lockdown.

 

My first day was virtual, my first 3 months were virtual. I’ll be honest, it was super stressful trying to learn a new role, in a brand new career online. But I wanted this. I kept reading, I’m still reading. I signed up to the 100 days of UI. I started a blog.

 

And here I am.

 

I transitioned into a career in UI/UX at 30, with no previous skills.

Brett Jordan Unsplash.com

And so to recap, this is how I did it.

 

1.    Read up – will you like this?

+ Online

+ Books are your best friend here

+ Youtube

+ Medium

2.    Start a course

+ Google UX is really good

+ Try Skillshare or Youtube for learning the tools(Figma, XD)

3.    Schedule

+ Block out time for learning, whether it’s just a chapter a day, or an hour of your course. If you do 30 minutes a day after work on your course at the end of the week you will have spent 3.5 hours on improving yourself.

+ Prioritise your learning

+ Foster a growth mindset

+ It’s a marathon not a sprint (Unless it’s an actual Sprint)

4.    Apply

+ Apply for jobs even if you don’t have the skills

+ I applied for an account manager role at my current company, but they saw my resume and cover letter outlining what I’ve been studying and instead offered me a role in UI/UX instead. And on that:

+ Tell people what you are doing, share and show your work.

5.    Continue

+ There will be set backs, but just keep learning.I landed my job, and haven’t stopped reading and learning. This blog now existsto share what I’m learning, something I never thought I would be doing in my life.

 

UI/UX is real hot right now, but there are more ways than one to work your way into the industry. Not only that, it’s not too late. I was scared that I was 30, too old and unskilled to ever apply for a job that wasn’t the bottom of the barrel.

 

I’ve got a heap of catching up to do, but, Fuck it, life is for learning.

 

Tom