For this installment of The Guac, we spoke with one of our incredible Avocademy graduates to get the scoop about life as a new UX designer.
Our spotlighted alumna, Kelsey Horowitz, graduated from the Avocademy UX/UI Foundations program in April 2021. After a few months of job searching, Kelsey joined the Simons Foundation as a UX Designer in July. Although getting started was overwhelming at times, Kesley has embraced exciting new projects, learned to collaborate with developers, and found a work-life balance that lets her thrive.
Read the conversation below to explore Kelsey’s UX learning journey!
A: I think I found Avocademy through a targeted Instagram ad, actually! When I was thinking of doing UX, I was looking up General Assembly and a few different bootcamps. And then Avocademy came into my email one day after I clicked on a targeted ad. The email said, “Check out our bootcamp! If you don’t want to talk on the phone, feel free to text.” Then, on a Saturday morning, I was like, SOS! I asked Maca a million questions.
A: I'm Kelsey! I’m 24, and I turn 25 next month. I went to Elon University and studied psychology and communications.
After graduation, I really didn't know what I wanted to do. I had studied abroad in Copenhagen my junior year of college, so I knew I wanted to go back or somehow work abroad. I was originally considering PR and a bunch of different things. My abroad program had a post-grad internship, so I did an HR internship in Copenhagen that started January 2020. And that was supposed to be about a year, year and a half.
Because of COVID, the internship was laid off early. I was abroad for six months, and then I came back to New York in June 2020. At that time, I basically had no idea what I wanted to do. I had a million midlife crises, and I was like, what do I do now? I took the summer off and started pursuing graphic design, but realized the job wasn't really for me.
Then, I saw a TikTok about UX one day. I was like, ‘this looks cool,’ and I filed it away. Then, on the day I decided I didn't want to do graphic design, I looked up UX design again. The skills seemed like a mix between design and psychology. I was super interested in the psychology part, because of my major.
I started looking up bootcamps, and then I found Avocademy.
Long story short, after doing the course and a bunch of job searching, I’m working for the Simons Foundation as a UX designer. It’s a nonprofit science foundation in Manhattan.
A: I applied to a lot of jobs and had about 20 interviews with different places. It was difficult because a lot of them said “we like your portfolio but you don't have enough experience,” because I didn't have a full-time job after college. That was a little frustrating.
The interview process for my job took about three months. I started searching in April and I started my job in July, so it was a long process.
I would use a job tracker list, and I would have a certain amount of jobs to apply for each day. I would try to do more if possible. I would apply through LinkedIn, and I also tried to network, so I just messaged people on LinkedIn. Everyone was pretty nice, and I kept a whole spreadsheet of people I talked to. It was helpful to hear about peoples' perspectives on the field, even if they didn't directly lead to a job. I had little idea what UX was before the course, so understanding their jobs helped me learn.
Maca was really good with answering all my questions. Honestly, having someone to support you is really helpful to hold you accountable.
Ultimately, I just kept interviewing and got my job. Now it seems like the market is good and people are getting jobs pretty fast.
A: In my current role, I help the Simons Foundation manage many websites. So my team helps to maintain those websites and helps with any new changes. I'm still adjusting but it's gotten a lot easier!
The Simons Foundation’s mission is to advance the frontiers of research in mathematics and basic sciences. So basically, the Foundation supports discovery-driven scientific research. This includes topics ranging from autism to space, physics, biology, math, neuroscience, and more.
The mission is important to me, and I think it’s fulfilling working here. Down the road, I would love to look into somehow combining mental health as well.
My company also has a good work-life balance, which is also very important to me. Especially after working in Copenhagen, I've realized how important it is for me to have a good balance, and be around caring people.
I also really like collaborating and working with others. I'm slowly meeting other people, and there are like 400 employees at this company, so I'm just starting to get to know others.
A: Starting off, I think I was super overwhelmed. The course is very step-by-step. Whenever I had any questions, I would just ask them and get help. Starting my role, I was adjusting to a new work style and trying to figure it out as I went. I think I was just very overwhelmed, but not from the pressure my job was putting on me. It was more like self-pressure.
I started on smaller projects, and I learned who to ask questions. My boss is a developer, so he doesn't do my job, but he was pretty understanding. I feel like slowly, I just realized who I should go to for questions. I started mid-July, and now it's October, so I feel a lot more comfortable, but I still feel pretty new.
A month ago, we hired a senior UX designer. She wants to collaborate with me and she has more years of experience, so I can go to her with questions, too. Knowing how to structure my day has also been important.
Imposter syndrome is real, but I am working on that by continuing to learn new skills and becoming confident in my abilities.
I would say the best part is the chance to work on projects that I like.
I also really like my team, their different personalities, and my boss has been awesome as well. He really cares about projects we want to work on. For example, I have an interest in accessibility so he gave me the ability to work on a few accessibility projects. I feel like I have the chance to deep dive into projects, based on certain timelines.
And as our team is growing, it seems like it's going to be more collaborative, which I also enjoy because I can learn from other people.
A: I think there's so much to learn and so much out there, it can feel hard to keep up. We also have many different websites with different design systems, so learning how to work with that has been a challenge as well.
A: Technically, all the other teams I work with are called our stakeholders. So for me, I’m mostly working with other teams who are our stakeholders and trying to meet their needs.
We also have different audiences for Simons Foundation sites. The hard part is knowing what site caters to who, because there are so many different things. I would say mostly I'm working with the other teams. We have check-in meetings twice a week just to update them with what we’re working on.
I really like the accessibility review that I did for my current role! I used a plugin to create a report. It’s called SiteImprove and I highly recommend it. It reports all the errors on your page, and then it shows how you can fix them. I feel like I'm making a difference and helping the site improve for users with disabilities or other accessibility needs that I wasn't even aware of. It was cool to feel like I'm helping people.
I also completed a contact form and a collaboration page that I enjoyed. It gave me a great chance to work on design skills and work with stakeholders.
A: So my team is mostly developers, and as the designers, we work closely with them. I try to work one-on-one with others so I'm getting their feedback along the way if I have questions. So then, when it's time to be done with something, I have their approval from early on and I don't have to present the entire project at once. I try to avoid that, which works better for me.
During my interviews, it was important to talk about working with others and developers on different projects, which I did through The Guac Group.
A: I think, for now, I'm focused on getting gaining experience. I'm still adjusting to the team, I'm still adjusting to the work. For now, I’m working to settle in, get experience, and I get to work with some cool people.
I think career goals down the line, I would like to do something maybe in mental health. I also want to learn more about designing for accessibility. I feel like it would be cool to see that kind of impact.
And I feel like now, learning-wise, there's a lot I could do with my company for professional development, which I haven't done yet. I plan to take advantage of that and look into refresher courses or other programs.
A: So I studied psychology, and I was also super interested in design. So I think understanding how people think, and wanting to talk to people and ask questions is a big thing. I also like being creative, and I like problem-solving. I like getting to meet different types of people, which this career definitely allows me to do. And as I said, I also want to do something impactful, so I'm hoping that this career will let me.
A: Harass the mentors with questions every day! Just kidding.
I would say find mentors. Maca was so helpful with me, and I feel like that's the support you need when starting a new career. Whether you need to ask questions about the job or just life in general, find other people like Maca who you can ask for guidance. I networked with a lot of people when applying for jobs, which helped me even with just general industry information.
For applying, basically apply to anything you think would be remotely interesting or somewhat of a good experience. Starting out, you really just need experience.
Also, practice negotiating. It can be intimidating, but it’s important to do!
For your portfolio, show that you've collaborated with people. In my interviews, I was often showing how I collaborated, what I contributed, and showing how I could work with developers. They want to know more about the real-life setting of your experience.
Q: Thank you so much for all of these great pointers! Any closing thoughts?
Honestly, Avocademy and Maca are just the best. Doing the course was such a good thing for me. I was trying to figure out my next steps with my life when I signed up and had no idea if this was the right move. But it was such a good experience for me, and it enabled me to have the life I want now. I think mostly, I felt very supported. And that was the most valuable thing.
Interview edited for length and clarity