I always get DMs across my social media platforms about how I got into tech and design, so I thought that I’d take this opportunity to create this post about my journey thus far.
My journey started when I dropped out of my first college and decided to go to another one. I didn’t know what I wanted to do back then, I was just going wherever the wind was taking me. When I was enrolling at this new college, initially I had wanted to study Health and Social Care. Not because I enjoyed it or even knew what it was about, but because it just seemed like the easiest option for me at the time. I was met by disappointment when I was told that they no longer offered this course. I already had my heart set on going to this college so I said I’d just do Business Studies and History, but then later switched History to IT.
During the two years I was at this college I had amazing teachers that made my courses fun and interesting and that’s where my interest in technology started. I couldn’t tell you what I learned back then all I know is that I enjoyed it and I finished with 3 Distinction* (Which is the equivalent of 3 A*s at A-level).
I then went on to university where I initially studied Philosophy. Originally, I wanted to study Computer Science but everyone I asked about this course, would always tell me it’s super hard and has loads of maths, and anything with numbers makes my brain go blank. So I settled for philosophy. During this period I never really took interest in technology I was more focused on just getting on with my degree.
Towards the end of my first year, I felt burnt out. I had my own personal issues I was trying to deal with that was affecting my mental health, and it all felt like it was too much so, I decided to drop out. I didn’t put much thought into it at the time, I was kind of just like yeah I don’t want to do this anymore, my mum might kill me but oh well, I’m out. And I left.
Now I was back at square one and didn’t know what it was that I wanted to do. I started thinking to myself, What do I enjoy? What am I good at? I quickly made my conclusions and decided that I would go back and get a computer science degree, then I’ll figure out the rest once I’ve done that. Although previously I was told that it was hard, which was what initially put me off, I just felt like everything in life is hard, so you have to just pick your struggle.
I started my new degree, and it was great. I was thriving, I enjoyed it. Especially my web development module. During my time at university, I started learning how to code and was amazed by it. I could create anything I wanted to and little by little I started to get better at it. Outside of university, I started making websites for my friends (I was doing free labor guys don’t ever do this!). I didn’t know at the time that it was something people get paid to do. All the little projects I did back then not only helped me become a better developer, but I then had a portfolio I could show people of my work, which got me more work!
Towards the end of the first year of my CS degree, although I was enjoying my degree, I just didn’t want to be a student anymore. I wanted to just be an adult and I wanted more money. By now you’ve probably figured that I struggle to finish things, so yes as expected I dropped out… again.
I enjoyed learning and I loved the lectures, the people, and the university but I just wanted more money than a part-time job could offer me. So at this point, I was just like, I have no money, I’m relying on student loans but I have this new skill and a portfolio to back it up. So, I started applying for full-time jobs. After a long summer of figuring out what it was that I wanted to do, coding, being broke, applying for jobs, and getting declined, I finally got a job! It was a junior software engineering role for TalkTalk. I was so happy and I felt so proud of myself for getting to that point. At this point I knew my mum was going to kill me so, I didn’t tell her I had left university and I lied for like a year and a half that I was still going to uni all whilst working a whole full-time job. I spent almost two years at TalkTalk, and I was surrounded by some incredible people, actual geniuses. After some time, it didn’t work out for me how I had initially wanted it to and I was very much over having to sit at a computer all day coding so, I left.
My advice for anyone looking for a similar kind of role would be to figure out what it is you want to make using code. Is it websites? Apps? Computer software? Games? Or figure out what problem you would like to solve. With this knowledge, it will determine what programming language you should learn. Once you have your chosen language learn the foundations. You can do this using Youtube, Udemy, UdaCity, Coursera, Free Code Camp, Code Academy. My personal favorites when I was learning how to code were Coursera, Udemy, and occasionally Youtube. As you start learning, start to build things simultaneously. Keep doing this and come up with projects that interest you, think of problems, and create solutions. Learn how to use GIT and Terminal rather than saving your work locally on your desktop. Knowing how to use GIT means that your work will be on GitHub, in a repository and will allow you to track changes, collaborate with other developers, as well as using it as a portfolio for your work so that employers and recruiters can look at your code.
Before I had left I had already taken an interest in UX/UI design and started doing my learning to prepare me for when I did eventually leave. Looking back now I didn’t understand what UX/UI was, I literally just thought it was putting website and app screens together, how hard can that be I thought, but so much more goes into it than that.
User Experience Design (UXD or UED) is a design process with the objective to design a systems that offers a great experience to its users. It includes user research, user flows, wireframes, user personas, empathy maps, affinity mapping, and usability testing.
User Interface (UI) design is the process designers use to build interfaces in software or computerized devices, focusing on looks or style. It requires you to Design graphic user interface elements, create mockups, prototypes, adhere to style standards on fonts, colours and images. Both UX and UI combined make great usable software.
Once I had left my software engineering role, I was committed to learning UX/UI so I could transition into my new career. I took it upon myself to find a course so that I could learn the foundations. But before I did this I first tried out a few Youtube and Udemy tutorials. After watching numerous tutorials I felt like I had some understanding of what UX/UI was. I then began shadowing friends of mine who were designers. I would watch how they would put components together and typography which is what then became an App/Website design. When I started to get the hang of it I started adding in my contributions and helping out with designs. At this point, I had more of an understanding of what UI design was but still couldn’t grasp what exactly UX was. I then decided to take my first paid course with General assembly, which was a UX 2 day boot camp and it cost me around £190.
After this, I felt like I had an understanding of what UX/UI was, but I still felt like there was more I could learn. I wanted to have a solid foundation and be able to take a project from ideation to delivery. My solution was to find a course! I spend a while trying to look for the perfect UX/UI course for me. There are so many courses online, I came across courses that guaranteed you a job after it but the costs were around £15,000 (Which was out of my budget), I came across free courses but I still didn’t find one that I felt like was perfect for me. I searched for ages till one day a friend sent me an email of workshops and meet-ups relating to design. There was a Product Design taster workshop that interested me. I booked and went and I liked the presentation. I liked that they told us exactly what we’d learn, the course content gave me the reassurance I wanted that I’d have a solid foundation. Along with that, the price was appealing and they partnered you up with a start-up, which meant that I’d have real-life work to put on to my portfolio as soon as I finished.
So I did the 10-week Product design course with Experience Haus who are a design agency based in Shoreditch. I outlined everything I learned here in my last medium post. The course cost me £1950. I highly recommend the Product Design (UX/UI) course. If you think about it, once you secure your job after this course, you would have made the money back in your first paycheck. I could have easily used the money to buy a holiday, a new handbag, or some designer shoes but it’s important to make calculated investments in yourself first to reap the long-term benefits.
Along with my course, I had managed to get a commercial graphic design job at a watch company. I went to the interview and got the job on the spot. I didn’t realize at the time but this was a red flag. The same way the opportunity was easily given to me, is the same way it was taken away from me. A week after I had started I was fired and told “You don’t have an eye for design, and I don’t have the time to train you”. Baring in mind at my interview I was told that I would be trained because of my lack of design experience. I wanted to take it personally but I just used it as fuel to become a better designer. I wasn’t fazed as much because I had just co-founded a tech agency with four of my friends known as CLAMP and I was doing my own freelance design work with clients. Although it wasn’t always UX/UI related freelance work, it still taught me a lot about the world of freelancing such as how to deal with clients, taxes etc.
After I completed my course, I felt like nothing had changed. But I hadn’t realized that I had gained so much knowledge and confidence in my work. Once the pandemic started and we had gone into a lockdown I started doing a daily design challenge. It was a nice daily exercise that allowed me to think of problems and then find solutions for them. At the same time, it was allowing me to exercise my newly learned UX/UI skills.
Gradually through the design challenge and freelance work, I had more things to put on my portfolio. By posting my work frequently on social media I got more work and more clients! I would say the key here is being consistent. Consistency allows you to improve and sharpen your skills as well as building your online presence/personal brand.
There were times where I doubted my skills especially when I constantly kept receiving job rejection emails, but I kept going. You shouldn’t let this discourage you, job rejection just means that that role isn’t suited to you. Why would you want to work somewhere you’re not suited to? I was so eager to get a full-time job, freelancing is cool but for me personally, I love me some STABILITY. So I kept applying for jobs. I redid my CV and then my portfolio showed some of my friends, got some feedback, and then applied some more.
I finally got a call one day whilst I was on holiday living my best life and I had been given a job offer, during a pandemic. It was a UI designer role for a start-up that worked with robots. I was really happy to have been given this opportunity because despite my lack of commercial experience I wasn’t given a junior position. I’m given quite a bit of responsibility and I have full ownership of my work. Essentially I design the interfaces that users use to interact with a robot that dispenses food. Things have worked out for me thus far and this is only the beginning of my career.
If you take away anything from reading this I’d like you to take away that; with consistency, you can achieve your goals. I have commitment issues but I’ve found something that I can easily commit to and it comes naturally to me, and so can you in any field if you work hard and show up for yourself. The being a “Boss” narrative isn’t for everyone, some people want to work 9–5S and that’s okay! You don’t need a degree to get a job in tech or design nor do you need to be a technical person. Just work with what you have, everything you need is available on the internet. Your beginnings don’t have to define your journey. Don’t doubt yourself and whatever is meant to be will be. The money will come just get better at what you do and do it well. Not knowing what you want to do is great because you get to try out new things and you learn so much along the way. Trial and error is okay, don’t watch what anyone else is doing focus on YOUR end goal, because that’s all that matters.
Connect with me on socials: @perolajanice – If you want to ask me anything just email me firstname.lastname@example.org (it’s easier for me to reply rather than it being on social media DMs, I’ll literally forget.)
Some tools you’ll want to download to get started is Figma or Adobe XD and below are some links to get started with UX/UI. Watch a few tutorials then try to redesign your favorite website and then make up your own projects.
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