Career changes can be scary, right? It comes with uncertainty and new beginnings which is not easy for most people. However, more people are recently making the conscious choice to leave and pursue a new career path that will hopefully improve their well-being. Tanya Yuen is one such person who decided to leave an unsatisfying career in social work and make the change to UX/UI design.
In today’s installment of the Guac we sit down with Avocademy Alumna Tanya Yuen and discuss how she made the switch from working in social work to finding a fulfilling career in the UX/UI design field. Tanya explores her process of making the decision to leave social work and identifies the steps she took to become a UX/UI designer.
Ready to hear how Tanya made her career change? Read on!
Q: Would you mind sharing a little bit about yourself? What were you doing before you changed careers to UX UI design?
A: Before I transitioned to UX UI design I was a social worker. I have a Bachelor's in Family Science and a Master's in Social Work. I was a social worker in child welfare for about five years until I made the transition, which started last year, and then I fully transitioned to my UX design job this year.
Q: What led you to start thinking about UX UI design? What led you to kind of start the process?
A: Well, I was really burnt out in social work, just very unhappy, and feeling like I needed to change for my mental health and sanity. I had heard of UX design very briefly, I had two friends that made the career change, but I had only just heard about it. I didn't know what it was and so I googled it. I just thought it was so interesting to learn that there's this whole other side to tech that involves more creativity, really thinking about people, and putting their needs first. Also, solving problems in that way I thought was really interesting. Before I learned about UX/UI I thought it was only coding for tech, and that's something that I am not interested in.
I had also spoken to my friends who made career changes to UX design. One of them was a teacher and my other friend transitioned from nonprofit work. Just hearing about what they do now and learned that there's this whole other side to tech. I think it really aligns with social work, in terms of the soft skills you need, and even some of the technical skills as well. I feel like UX design is similar to work just in a digital tech space and social work is a person-to-person 3d space.
Q: What were some of the similarities that you found as you were learning?
A: I think the biggest similarity is that as social workers we are helping people again in that direct service way such as child welfare. All of the issues or problems that we faced were about children's safety and a lot of drug use and homelessness. In order to effectively do our job and work with our clients we have to understand the problem that they're facing, and all of the circumstances that surround that. Then try to help provide them with the resources to meet those needs and have a better situation. Again, to solve the kind of barriers that they have and that relates directly to UX design. As designers, we need to understand the problem that the users are facing with the interface or platform, and we need to gather information on their pain points (what has worked in the past and what's not working). Then try to think of a solution to eliminate those barriers and give them the best experience they can with the product that they're using.
So in that way, it's very similar. It's just that in social work I'm dealing with people's direct lives, as opposed to in product you're dealing with the things that they're using. I kind of touched upon this but you need to do research. That's a big thing. I think a lot of times we make assumptions about a lot of things, especially, as a social worker and in dealing with people. Then when we're doing our designs sometimes we make assumptions about what could work but it's really important to talk to the other person. Information gathering I think it's really important in both fields, and a lot of the soft skills such as needing to collaborate and be a team player.
Whether or not you're in a small design team or a big design team, you're going to be working with a lot of different people such as product managers, project managers, developers, and things like that. In my role as a social worker I worked with attorneys, judges, therapists, and school personnel. In both situations you just have to be open to hearing other perspectives and have empathy for other people. Knowing that your suggestion, design, or input might not always be the best idea, and you have to be willing to accept that.
Q: Can you walk us through what the process looked like from when you decided to commit to this career change, and what you were thinking through that process?
A: When I started thinking about wanting to switch to UX design I did my research on different boot camps. I knew I wanted to do a bootcamp and that I wasn't going to go to school again. I didn't want to have to go through that whole process and pay all that money again. So I started looking at different bootcamps, and narrowed it down to Avocademy and a different one. I decided to go with Avocademy. I remember I spoke with you and it was great to be able to speak before joining the program since you’re the co-founder. You answered my questions and I was sold on Avocademy because of the timeframe, and wanting to transition as quickly as possible.
Then I looked at the curriculum and I asked my friend, also in a similar program, what do you think about this? She said that it seemed to go through all the things that you would need to know such as the foundational knowledge of UX. I also reached out to some students who were either in the program already or had already graduated to get that input from them. I talked to two students and they both gave their honest reviews and said great things about the program.
I was sold and then signed up for the program which started in December. I finished foundations the first week of February and then finished Career Jumpstart afterward. I finished up my portfolio and started applying in mid to late April. While applying, I ended up doing a third project which was just research-based. I got the job offer for my current job which was in June.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your job. Do you like it and what do you do on a day to day basis?
A: I really love my job. It's an incredible feeling to genuinely love your job. I feel as a social worker, that's something I wanted to do and I don't regret going down that career path at all. There were days where I loved doing what I did and it's really impactful work what I was doing. Yet, looking back I feel like I never loved that job or loved being a social worker. Honestly, I can say for the first time that I love my job and it really is an incredible feeling to wake up and not feel stressed automatically about how my days be. Not feeling stressed on Sundays about how my work week is going to be.
Now, I have a really supportive boss and team which is smaller because we are a startup. I think having the boss that I do just really shows how important it is to have supportive management. Even though she and I are the only designers it's great because she's super patient and supportive. I don't feel overwhelmed at all and I don't feel dumb asking her questions. In terms of my day-to-day I have a few projects that I'm working on in the morning, we have daily and bi-weekly meetings, and then we have our daily standup where we meet with engineering and our product managers. This week, for example, I'm working on a new feature where I am meeting with our providers in a pediatric teletherapy company, going over my ideas and how to improve them.
Q: If you had one piece of advice to somebody who is not sure if this is for them or not, what advice would you share?
A: I would say do your research to see if this is something that you really want to do, because a career change is scary, time-consuming, and costly. If and when you get to the point where you are confident that you want to do this and are interested in it then go for it. Like I said before, it's hard to explain how happy I am and how great it is to really love your job again. If you're a person who's really stressed about your job right now or just really unhappy it does impact other things. You’re probably too tired after work to do things because you've just been stressed all day. Then it's hard for you to enjoy Sunday's because you're dreading Monday.
When you're in a job that you really love it doesn't feel like work. Ever since I started my job which was on July 1st every single week has gone by so fast. The advice I have is more so about career change, and it can be really scary because you don’t know if you're making the right decision. However, if you are interested in doing UX design I think it would be worth it. It's about being open to change and to taking that chance. I think for the most part it should pay off in the end if you work hard.
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The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Meggen is an SEO content writer who loves hiking, drinking coffee, and traveling. She loves her avocados on toast with egg and bacon.