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

My career started with an internship in quality assurance engineering (QE) at a nearby Linux-based startup, which turned into 10 years in QE. During this time, I realized I was more interested in the research aspect of the job than the testing. In addition, I found it frustrating that usability problems that I reported were rarely fixed, because they were not understood to be bugs.

Eventually, I left QE behind and went to school for a masters in social psychology.

Graduate work

Psychology Alphabet

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

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

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 clarified my interest in the interaction between humans and computers, and the various career paths available therein.

After the masters degree, I spent three years in a Ph.D. program for human interaction with robots. The related research increased my knowledge and understanding of statistical analyses, and helped me become comfortable conversing with and guiding study participants.

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!

Fedora hubs logo

Mo Duffy, a former colleague and long-term UX professional mentioned the existence of Outreachy. She mentioned that I could get mentorship while I did a design project for Fedora, and mentioned that she would be happy to be my Outreachy mentor. Long story short, I did a 12 week design project through Outreachy, and it was a fabulously useful and enjoyable experience. I miss having UX projects to work on, although working on my website and helping out with Patternfly scratches some of that itch for now.