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Q&A With Avocademy Alumni: Kathy Nguyen

q&a Jun 22, 2021
Avocademy Alumni

We are turning the spotlight to Kathy Nguyen, an incredible Avocademy alum. Kathy shares her struggle to find a job during the outbreak of the pandemic, how Avocademy came into helping her land her job, and her journey and experience as a working UX designer. 

Ready to learn what it actually is like to work as a UX designer in the real world? Want some advice for new UX designers who want to break into the industry? Kathy has a lot to share. So, grab some chips, and let’s dig in!

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

 

Q: What led you to pursue a career in UX design?

A: When I first started declaring my major, I  declared it as computer science. But I switched to Technology, Arts, and Media, which is more of a creative technology major.  I learned about a lot of different subjects like coding, UX,  and UI design. That was my first exposure to UX. Basically, I had no idea that user experience design existed in the first place before that. So that was a really cool thing to learn about.

I started UX design because it just seemed like a really nice path to go down. Because it kind of was like the intersection between what's best for the person and also making something aesthetically pleasing. 

 

Q: What’s the biggest challenge you faced while learning UX design?

A: I think there's a lot of challenges, mostly because this feels still kind of new. It's existed for a long time, but it's still evolving. And there's still a lot of information out there that's not always accurate. 

There's a lot of videos and websites and articles out there that kind of misconstrue what it really means to be a UX designer. 

I think what it really comes down to is finding information that's really applicable to you. And that's not something you get unless you're actually working on a job. And that's a hard lesson I learned. Because I want to make it look pretty. I think something is great for the user, but you have to really back it up with research and testing and that doesn't necessarily come with what you're learning in college.

 

Q: Where do you currently work and what is your job title?

A: I currently work at Charter Communications, which is also known as Spectrum. And we're working on redesigning the call center experience for agents. So whenever you're a call center customer, agents get a display and we are designing the UI just specifically for agent calls.

I just want to help them get their jobs done better.  

My position is UI, UX prototype. I'm prototyping. I'm creating a lot of our mockups to act like a real website or a real web app,  so we can use it for testing. I’m giving feedback. I'm taking notes. I'm participating in the process with my team. Our team is very collaborative, which is great. 

 

Q: How long did it take you to find this job?

A: It took me a while. I started really looking around March 2020, and then the pandemic hit. I graduated in May. And then I enrolled in Avocademy.

I redid my portfolio and redid my resume. I started looking seriously again in November. And I was looking up until February. 

After I enrolled in Avocademy, it took me about three months.

 

Q: How did Avocademy/Maca support your journey in finding a job?

A: While looking for a job over the summer I posted online in response to this person who said: “I'm really having a hard time. I keep applying, but I can't find anything. “

That resonated with me. And I responded with “Hey, I'm going through the same thing.” 

Maca reached out to me, she said that she saw that I might need help. And we set up a meeting for me to go over my portfolio. 

At the first meeting, she gave me really good feedback. And she wasn't really expecting anything in return. 

She's really genuine. She's really helpful. And she really has an eye for how to get you to improve.  When people give critique, it's either not actionable and not specific enough, or it's not even helpful. But Maca, she goes through it with a really fine comb. It's very actionable, very specific. And that's what I really, really liked. 

So I enrolled in Avocademy.

Since I had a lot of knowledge, I skipped the classes, and I went straight into the job search because that's pretty much all I needed. That speaks volumes about Maca because she wasn't going to force me to relearn everything. So I took a month off from applying for jobs. I  completely redid my portfolio and redid my resume.  I was able to really refine and make sure that I was really happy with my portfolio.  

When I launched it, I found that I was already getting a lot more responses back. I was already getting a lot more interviews. I was already getting a lot more opportunities that came by. And Maca was also really helpful when it comes to interviewing tips, and connections in general. She's in the industry. She knows what the industry is expecting. 

Yeah, I got interviews. I was moving forward with those interviews as well, from the first round to the second round, and I wasn't even getting that before Avocademy. 

In February, I was able to finally land a job with Charters. 

 

Q: What is the best part of your work?

 A: I think the best part is honestly, the team. There are barriers and stuff like that, but we're a family. It feels like we are all on the same page. We might disagree but we're going to talk about it, and that's a sign to me that this is a really mature team.

 I also really like that we work for the agents. So I'm not doing this to necessarily sell something. But we're actually helping out our users and making sure that their experiences are good.

 Everyone is just there for the same reason: to help people.

 

Q: What’s the hardest part of your work?

A: You have to consider business. In our job where we have requirements, we have business rules that might conflict with our user experiences. It's a lot of negotiation and a lot of rules we have to work around with. 

Our job actually moves really fast. We're doing design sprints every eight weeks in our design cycle. I've been working a lot and my role has actually evolved a little bit. It comes with a lot of challenges, like, being able to balance my workload, but I think that this comes with being professional. 

 

Q: Who are your current users & what unique needs are you trying to meet (through the work you are doing)? 

A: We're trying to make a better user experience for agents. So we're not working with consumers, but it feels similar. Even though they're employees of our company, they're in a completely different branch. So they have different experiences. 

They have unique needs because they are taking calls from the customer and solving the customer's problems through the telephone. 

It's hard to translate between what the customer wants and what the agent needs because the customer might need something and an agent might have to go look for it somewhere. We want to make that as easy as possible. 

What is also unique is that the agents need a lot of information. So while a lot of times, you have all this information and you want to condense it down, our agents still need all that information. They need addresses. They need what the customer's bill looks like, and they want the information all on their screen. 

So that's a really fun thing to balance. It's a super fun problem to solve. 

 

Q: Tell me about your favorite projects that you have worked on as a UX designer?

A: One of my favorite projects, aside from what I'm working on currently, is from my past experience, where I created a dashboard for our students. It was specifically for housing and dining services. We took everything that they needed, and we put it on one dashboard. 

At my current job, we're working on a dashboard now. I took that experience and am applying it to what I'm working on, currently. So I'd say past experience does matter a lot.

 

Q: Now that you have broken into UX/UI, what are your new career goals? How are you learning and growing?

A: I don't have a super linear path or goal I'm going towards.  I'm just learning whatever I can, and that's UX/UI.   I'm learning a lot on the job, and I'm pretty happy where I am. So I don't feel the need to really go anywhere. 

But I'd love to become a senior UX designer, and so on, and maybe be a lead or supervisor.

 

Q: How do you feel UX design plays to your strengths?

A: I'm a pretty empathetic person. I wear my heart on my sleeve. I cry at movies. It doesn't matter how cheesy it is. I'll cry. I really want to help people. And I love the aspect of mentoring.

I also feel like I'm really creative.  I have a lot of hobbies. I crochet. I draw. I do a lot of creative stuff, and I enjoy visual design. 

I think I have that desire to be creative. That is a really big strength of mine and it helps me think out of the box sometimes. 

I also learn fast and pick up things really fast. That was important for my job because I had to adapt.

 

Q: What advice do you have for newcomers/learners in the world of UX/UI? 

A:  I'd say figure out what you like about UX because the reality is, you're going to have to present to stakeholders. You're going to have to really think about the business side of things sometimes. And for some people, that's a deal-breaker. 

In general, it's usually really tough for newcomers to break into the industry. Be patient and keep applying. You'll get something where you're going to be happy at your job. If you put in the work, if you're really willing to learn, UX is really a field where your value doesn't come from what you learn is how you apply it.  

I think networking is really important, too. I know everyone says this, but just reaching out to people and asking, what is your process? For me, I am really happy to give my insights. I just got a job in February, so I'm not super senior either. But I've learned so much over the course of these four months, and I feel like, at my job especially, people value my feedback. And that's not something that I really learned. It's something that comes from you. 

Your voice is always valuable, especially when it comes to UX. 

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