Written By Jess Feldman
Jenny Kim spent 8 years working in finance, but wanted to pursue a career she truly loved. Jenny thought that tech wasn’t for her – until she found UX design. She chose Springboard for their adaptable program, dedicated mentorship, and career coaching. After graduating three years ago, Jenny’s tech career has grown from freelancer to digital strategist at a mass media company to entrepreneur as a content creator and UX researcher! Jenny shares her career insights for future UX designers and job hunting tips for those new to the field.
What inspired you to pivot from finance to UX design in 2020?
I spent 8 years in finance, advanced as far as I could, and I was not happy! I wanted to find a career that I loved doing, beyond just making a paycheck. I was searching for a career that doesn’t feel like work because I’m so happy doing it.
For a while, I associated tech jobs with engineering, so after taking a coding class and hating it, I thought a tech career wasn’t for me. I googled “tech jobs without coding” and after extensive research landed on UX design: what user experience truly is and what it's meant for. Listening to a YouTuber talk about user experience got me excited, so I took a diagnostic test from three schools and my UX journey was underway.
There are so many UX design bootcamps now — What stood out about Springboard?
I chose Springboard because they offered flexible scheduling and payment options. This meant that I could work, study, and pay for the bootcamp in my own time.
Did you need basic design skills in order to apply to Springboard?
I had zero knowledge of the tech world! I barely knew what user experience was; all I knew was that it had nothing to do with coding! Something in my gut told me I might be good at UX. I followed the hunch and passed the application process with flying colors.
Overall, what did you learn in the UX Design Career Track bootcamp?
I was a blank canvas, so I learned everything: from heuristic testing to user flow. Springboard also taught us software tools like Figma and Miro, which I immediately used in my first job in the real world. My first job after graduating from Springboard was a freelance UX research role for an e-commerce company specifically for influencer platforms. It’s hard to land a research role as a newbie in the field so I was proud of myself for getting this first job. Typically, juniors start in design, but I had a pulse for research. I took the chance and it worked!
Mentors are a key component of Springboard. What was your mentorship experience like?
The mentor match was excellent! Springboard matches students with different mentors based on their goals. I wanted someone with entrepreneurial experience, since I was planning to transition into running my own business. My mentor was a consultant at the time, and now works for a bigger company as a Senior Designer. He offered invaluable insight to starting a UX design career.
My mentor saw things from my perspective and offered insights as a tutor every week. If I was completely lost or needed clarification, my mentor was there to support me. Completing a Springboard bootcamp is rigorous work, but the consistent check-ins from my mentor helped me keep going.
I was new to the tech design world, so I found that the curriculum took longer for me to grasp than the estimated time. That said, I put in my hours and whenever I had questions my Springboard mentor was there to help.
When you graduated from Springboard, could you still reach out to your mentor?
I think at this point we are genuinely friends! He was there when I was looking for a job and offered empathy and emotional support the whole way. In the three years since I graduated, we send each other updates on our careers and any new changes in our lives.
What was your favorite project that you worked on in the bootcamp?
For one of my projects, I had to build an app from scratch using everything I learned as a UX designer. As someone who loves food delivery, I made a hypothetical online food ordering app. My mentor helped me a lot on this one to make sure I stayed on track. I also had to be mindful of operating systems, like iOS and Android. This project taught me about current trends and what I need to know to jump into the real world.
You also had an internship experience through Springboard. What was that experience like?
Springboard asks each student about their interests, then pairs students with a relevant startup. The internship was 10 hours a week for four weeks, so 40 hours total. It’s not a lot of time for a huge project, so I definitely recommend keeping your intern project manageable.
The internship was a game changer for me because I learned that I loved UX research and strategy more than just design! I was partnered with a fellow colleague from my class, which was a great opportunity to collaborate. Our project was to build a training tool app for lacrosse players going into NCAA and pro-athlete level so they could practice throughout the year. The app already existed, but it had so many problems because they chose to do it in a cheaper way. It was cool to show a company what happens when corners are cut and to implement everything we had learned at Springboard.
Which tech roles did you feel qualified to apply for after graduating?
I gravitated toward UX researcher roles. I wanted to find a job I loved and get paid well. Coming from finance, I was already prone to logistics and research, as well as presenting and negotiating. I also knew that compared to those with design backgrounds, I might struggle to stand out as a general UX designer. Since I love learning about people, UX researcher sounded perfect for me!
How did Springboard prepare you for the tech job hunt?
When we graduated, we had a career coach that helped me immensely. We had weekly check-ins and I had other career coaches that supported me with my resume and highlighting my transferable skills. It’s an emotional journey finding a job! It was hard changing careers and feeling qualified, especially when they’re mostly seeking senior-level roles. I felt very supported throughout my whole journey at Springboard.
Having worked as a freelancer, full-time employee, and entrepreneur in the UX field, what is your advice for recent UX design bootcamp grads who are now on the job hunt?
Don't rush! Sometimes great things take time. If you truly want it, you'll make it! Capitalize on any transferable skills you have that can help you negotiate a better salary.
You’ve been working in design for 3 years now! What was the first design role you landed after Springboard?
After graduating from Springboard, I landed a freelance UX research role for an e-commerce company specifically for influencer platforms. It’s hard to land a research role as a newbie in the field so I was proud of myself for getting this first job. Typically, juniors start in design, but I had a pulse for research. I took the chance and it worked!
What kinds of projects did you work on in your first design role as a UX researcher?
The first project was pretty straightforward. The company wanted three months of one-on-one interviews with customers via Google Meets to determine how to change up their influencer platform to make it more convenient for influencers to use. They had a database of thousands of influencers to choose from and I was assigned an amount per week to interview, so we could get the insights that we needed.
After the research was done, I created the user flow and gave a presentation of what should be immediately implemented, what could wait, and based on the cost and the time frame, what is highly recommended.
Do you recommend other recent UX design bootcamp grads consider contract roles when starting their new career?
The first thing companies look for is real life experience, beyond an internship. Having that freelance role and my transferable skills gave me a leg up on landing my next job as a Digital Strategist at Hearst, which I started with a big title. Freelancing means you have to prove you can do it all yourself, so they trusted I could do the job.
What is the difference between a Digital Strategist and an UX Researcher?
Digital Strategists consider more of the marketing side of a project, but because this particular role at Hearst had more UX components, they needed someone with very strong UX knowledge. Although it sounds generalized because it's an agency, many projects are based on apps and websites because it's a digital platform, which means they need a lot of UX research!
Digital strategist is a mid-tier role, so I had people working under me and managers above me. When it came to client projects, though, I was the lead presenter. It was a wild ride to go from bootcamp student to freelance designer to strategist!
Now you run your own consulting business as an influencer and UX researcher! What kinds of things do you work on now?
I’ve built a hybrid business. As an influencer I have a brand that covers lifestyle and fitness products. As a UX researcher, I’m working on an international dating app. There are times when I get to do projects that collaborate all my skill sets but for now they are separate tracks under one name.
Do you think you could have been a self-employed designer right after bootcamp? Or do you recommend new bootcamp grads work within an organization first?
I don't think it could've happened without any on-the-job experience because every industry works a little differently. Having corporate and freelance knowledge helps me understand my clients, which is vital in UX. My job experience also gave me the confidence to communicate with tech clients.
Over the past 3 years, have you continued to use what you learned at Springboard on the job?
I’ve used everything I've learned since day one at Springboard. Even when I’m designing Instagram stories for my influencer work, I still return to the lessons on user experience, considering how people would interact with it. Attending Springboard has forever changed me and how I create experiences for people.
After working in the field, it was cool to realize how that design jargon felt native to me later. Sketch used to be the main language used by UX designers, but it switched to Figma by the time I enrolled at Springboard. I like using Figma because it offers online collaboration. It was cool to enter the workforce with an advantage over some of the senior designers on the team that had to adapt to Figma. We also used Miro brainstorming client presentations, so I was grateful that Springboard covered languages that were realistic to the modern workforce.
At this point in your tech career, was Springboard worth it for you?
Yes! Before enrolling at Springboard, I considered self-study, but who knows how long that could have taken. Springboard highlighted the important information that can’t be learned on your own. It was also an advantage to have insiders like mentors and career coaches who showed me the journey of job hunting versus working to create your own business.
Jess Feldman is an accomplished writer and the Content Manager at Course Report, the leading platform for career changers who are exploring coding bootcamps.
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