How did I get into UX?

I am often asked how I got from my previous career in software quality engineering (QE) to my current career in user experience (UX). Given that I am sometimes bemused by the trip it’s taken to get here, this seems an entirely reasonable question.

Quality Engineering

Greater NH Linux User's Group Logo

Greater NH Linux User's Group Logo

Partly due to my membership in a local Linux User's Group (LUG), I got an internship in quality engineering at a nearby Linux-based startup. During my time in QE, I realized I was more interested in the research aspect of the job than the testing. In addition, usability problems that I reported were rarely fixed, because they were not technically bugs.

To address these points, I left behind my 10 years of working in QE and went to school for a masters in social psychology.

Psychology Alphabet

Psychology Alphabet

Graduate work

Masters research certainly addressed my interest in research, although in a more in-depth and human-focused way than what I had been doing in QE.

During my year of master's work, I took a human computer interaction (HCI) course, and did a variety of psychology research tasks. Specifically, I put together the materials and script for a research study, and did statistical processing and analysis on the resulting data. That HCI course strengthed my interest in the interaction between humans and computers.

Cindy the robot

Cindy, the robot I was most often using in the Ph.D. program

After the masters degree, I began a Ph.D. for human interaction with robots. This research increased my knowledge and understanding of statistical analyses, and helped me become comfortable talking with and guiding study participants.

Having done analyses for psychology graduate work and UX, I find that the two are quite different. I greatly appreciate the additional perspectives and ideas generated by people working together on UX analyses.

Maybe UX?

When I left the Ph.D. program, I took time to reconfigure my career plans. Initially, I spoke to various friends in UX. Those conversations helped reorient my ongoing interest in research as relevant to UX, and prompted me to consider that UX could help avoid the usability bugs that had bothered me so much before. I also revisited my experience in the HCI course that I had taken, and my interest in the interaction between humans and robots in the Ph.D. program.

These points all suggested that a career in UX was the right way for me to go.

What does the user need? I don't know yet!

From "How to make the most of your UX expert", By Satu Kyröläinen

Initially, I took online UX courses through Coursera, perused a number of UX blogs, books, and other resources, and exposed myself to as much UX knowledge as I could.

However, other than the brief stint in the HCI course, I had not had an opportunity to practice UX. A friend offered to work with me on a design idea that he had, so that I could learn on the job. This helped me get a basic understanding of the proccesses and skills involved in UX, and also confirmed that this was a good career direction.

Definitely UX!

Hubs logo

Fedora hubs logo

Mo Duffy, a former colleague and long-term UX professional mentioned the existence of Outreachy. She suggested that this program might offer the chance for full-time mentorship during a design project, and mentioned that she would be happy to be my mentor. Long story short, I have completed my time working with Mo through Outreachy, and it was a fabulously useful and enjoyable experience.