Written By Jess Feldman
After starting her career as a Digital Archeologist, Isabelle Pinard’s interest in how people used devices led her to pursue a career in UX research. She decided to enroll in Berkeley UX/UI Boot Camp, offered in collaboration with edX, and, three years later, Isabelle is a UX Researcher III at Google. Isabelle shares her tips for acing your UX research interview, how to move up the UX career ladder, and how the curriculum at Berkeley Boot Camps still helps her today.
What inspired you to make a career pivot from anthropology to UX design?
My interest in UX was piqued after taking a few classes taught by Don Norman (who wrote “The Design of Everyday Things”) at the UC San Diego Design Lab. I decided to pursue a degree in Social & Cultural Anthropology to research people and their relationship with devices. From there, I worked for several companies like the startup Milestone (later acquired by Amazon) and Owaves, and I helped these organizations create digital products and apps. Many of my colleagues encouraged me to pursue a career as a UX Researcher, but I wasn’t totally sure what that role entailed or how to pivot into it. At the time, UX Research boot camps did not exist, so I enrolled in classes focused on design thinking, product design, and app development in my spare time. Once UX design boot camps popped up on my radar, I wanted to enroll to have a more intensive UX learning experience.
Now that you’ve worked in both roles, what’s the difference between a Digital Archeologist and a UX Researcher?
There are three areas of UX research: foundational, generative, and evaluative. When I was a digital archeologist, I focused primarily on foundational research. Today, a UX Researcher spends time thinking about solutions user issues, identifying problem areas, understanding user wants and clarifying user needs. The UX researcher will be focused on all three areas of UX research throughout their research process rather than focusing on just one to make sure they capture key user insights throughout the customer user journey for the product. .
Why did you choose to study UX design at Berkeley Boot Camps?
Before Berkeley Boot Camps, I completed several, short UX courses with the Nielsen Norman Group (NNG), Udemy, and Coursera, and these classes focused on specific topics within the field. I decided to enroll at the Berkeley UX/UI Design Boot Camp in 2019 because the boot camp was a longer course that really pushes you to learn with hands-on experiences.
What was the difference between the courses at Nielsen Norman Group and the Berkeley UX/UI Boot Camp?
The UX/UI program at Berkeley Boot Camps teaches you the technical skills needed to transition into a UX career. For example, when I started my career at Google, they were training their staff to use Figma, which I was already proficient in thanks to my UX/UI boot camp training!
NNG is more academic, focused on honing your skills as an expert in the field of UX design. Their two-week long course is led by various instructors who teach a research methodology they created that is used widely in the field. This course is most beneficial to those already in the UX design field who want to upskill.
What did you learn about UX/UI design at Berkeley Boot Camps?
The UX/UI Design curriculum was robust and covered a wide variety of topics, including:
During the boot camp, I conducted interviews, created my digital portfolio, and worked on a series of projects that helped me become more comfortable executing what I learned.
What was the community – your classmates and instructors – like at Berkeley Boot Camps?
My instructor, Andy Thompson, was a UX designer at Samsung. He was a great instructor, and it was helpful to have someone who had a diverse array of experience and knowledge in the field. He taught us the technical and soft skills we needed to navigate the UX design field successfully. Our two Teaching Assistants were very complimentary to Andy, and they had different teaching styles and experiences to bring to the table. Regardless of your learning style, the UX/UI boot camp had an instructor that could meet you where you were.
I was in a cohort that came from diverse backgrounds. It was rewarding to meet people interested in UX and learn more about what is possible in the field. We worked collaboratively on a variety of projects during the boot camp and provided feedback to each other. This was helpful preparation for the UX field, where you receive feedback all the time! It’s necessary to practice taking feedback to improve your products.
How did Berkeley Boot Camps prepare you for the job hunt?
Interview preparation from the boot camp helped me tremendously in my job search! At the boot camp, our instructors told us what to expect in the interviews, what the typical interview process looked like, and how to present ourselves in an interview. They often used hypothetical questions to see if we could walk through a methodology that is adaptable to different situations. This practice helped us learn how not to panic and not to ramble.
My cohort ended up landing great UX jobs at Sephora, Google, and NerdWallet. Before the boot camp, none of my cohort had UX titles or worked at such big companies before! We really think the boot camp helped us get our careers there.
What are your tips for acing the UX researcher interview?
I typically recommend a 4-step strategy for your UXR interviews inspired by NNG:
The idea is that when you get a hypothetical question in an interview, your response can be structured as well as adaptable to different research scenarios with these four steps. For example, “According to your question, in the discovery phase, I would conduct these methods to capture these outcomes, then I would explore them with these methods…” I tell people that I mentor that they can adapt these titles to titles they feel more aligned with or they can add/remove steps.
What was your first UX Researcher role after graduating from boot camp?
My first UX job after boot camp was with Android TV at Google as a research assistant. I assisted the lead UX Researcher by planning studies, organizing moderator and observational notes, and conducted chosen methodologies to capture our objectives.
Now you’re a UX Researcher at Google! What is a project you recently worked on?
I helped create VPN by Google One, a premium subscription service offered by Google, that helps protect people’s online activity by providing a virtual private network. I conducted usability testing, user interviews, a/b testing and other methods to ensure the desired features were implemented in VPN and collaborated across Google to ensure cohesion.
Are you still using everything you learned at Berkeley Boot Camps today on the job?
Yes, I am still daily using everything I’ve learned at the boot camp as well as new skills on the job.
What is your advice for recent boot camp graduates on how to move up the career ladder in the UX field?
Create a digital resume to document your career in the UX design field. This digital resume should capture organizations you’ve worked for, projects you’ve worked on and their impact, recognition you’ve received in your work, and your contribution to your team or community. I share my digital resume with my manager when discussing professional development, compensation, and promotions.
Each organization will have a different career ladder. Figure out what the career ladder looks like at your current organization, what each job requires in qualification and experience, and what you need to do to get there.
How have you evolved as a UX professional since graduating?
I have evolved tremendously! Instead of learning the basics of the UX design field, I am finding my footing as an expert and leader in the UX field. I am working towards using my skills and knowledge to mentor and teach those who are new to the field.
Since you graduated from Berkeley Boot Camps, are you seeing more boot camp graduates working alongside you?
Yes! Surprisingly, I’ll get a few alumni from the Berkeley Boot camp reaching out to me and grabbing coffee with me on-campus asking me how my experience has been at Google so far.
Looking back on your UX career journey, was attending Berkeley Boot Camps worth it for you?
For me, the bootcamp was worth it because it challenged me to be independent, which is a huge part of being successful in tech and in UX. You have to learn how to own your own projects, establish yourself, and think outside of the box to achieve abstract goals. At the Berkeley Boot Camp, I conducted user interviews in the field, worked with professionals from different backgrounds and crafted a portfolio showcasing my work.
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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