The Grind

This is part 2 of a 3 part series of the story of what it was like discovering a career in digital product design (UX/UI) and figuring out how to pursue it.

The Grind
Photo by Do Nhu / Unsplash

I also shared a variation of this story on my podcast:


The startup scene

Senior year was all about design and tech. I took a design class with the New Media Certificate (even though I had completed everything I needed). I also began integrating myself with the startup scene in my college town. The first introduction was with the Startup Internship Program (SIP). A small group of student interns were paired with startups to work with them. During this time, there were also seminars/presentations with startup founders talking about their experiences. Something stuck with me being able to listen to these entrepreneurial stories. The innovation and problem solving gave way to exploring opportunities in this space. I had entered the world of startups and loved it! I began going to startup pitch nights and other events where startups and companies shared their presences with the community.

Some old designs for the NMI Design class

I began to dabble with freelancing as well. Much of my designing was conceptual because of design challenges like the Daily UI Challenge or using generators sharpen.design. Getting involved with the startup scene helped me connect with founders who needed design services along the way. That's when I got my first gig. It didn't pay very much, but that didn't matter. I was here to learn and apply the things that I knew in a real-world scenario.

An example of an old sharpen.design challenge

I needed a job and more schooling

May 7, 2017, I finally graduated from college! But now what? I knew I wanted to pursue a career in UX/UI design. I had a degree that wasn't necessarily going to get me there, and I didn't have very much experience. A lot of my work was conceptual, and I was still in the process of freelancing and gaining experience.

My tactics were not thought out, which is why I ended up applying to any and every type of design job I could. My hope was to take advantage of the brief window (of about 6-months) where a newly minted college grad can still pursue internship opportunities. At the same time, I had decided I needed to have a little more structure in how I went about learning design. I began to look into other avenues of learning, also known as "design bootcamps," the most popular being General Assembly. I researched a little more on other course options out there and stumbled across bloc.io (acquired by Thinkful). They offered a design track that was online with varying timeframes for a student to complete the course. What intrigued me the most was having a mentor who would review your work and guide you along the way.

The 1:1 aspect you could have with your mentor Bloc offered was what pushed me over to pursue that option. I would structure my time my way and have someone who works in the industry guide me. I was sold and signed up!

My job hunt, on the other hand, was a little more chaotic. I worked for this one company called Designity as a freelancer. The model is similar to an agency where you get clients to work on specific projects. The catch here is that Designity creates the creative teams for their clients. I'm not sure I explained it very well. All I knew was it wasn't a full-time role. I got to work as a graphic designer with a startup developing software to gamify corporate training. It wasn't until I finally got my first big break working as a design intern at a health tech startup in Atlanta, GA, a few months later.

Figuring it out, juggling life

We were a small team of 2 working on the marketing and brand of the startup. I wasn't necessarily working on UX/UI design projects. Still, I was getting insights into what it's like working on a team and applying design foundations.

I was still going through my bootcamp at the time. In the beginning, it was exciting and motivating to go through the course. But as time passed, my motivation began to wane, especially when I got to the development part of the course. That's when my motivation and discipline took a hit. The way the curriculum taught the development part, I felt like I didn't have the support I needed and didn't think the information shared would help me as a designer. I was slow to submit assignments and began to cancel meetings with my mentor.

One side of me felt like I needed more discipline to push through this part of the course. The other part of me felt like it would have been nice to have my mentor check in on occasion to see how I was doing to guide me a little more. I finally did get through the development part and got back to the design portion. I was super behind though, and to add, my mentor was off-boarding out of the program, so I had to pick a new mentor.

My overall experience with going through the bootcamp was "ok." It gave me an introduction to the world of design in a more structured way. I gained affirmation in the self-learning I was doing because I saw a lot of overlap with the course content. I technically never finished the course. I only completed up to 70% of the way through and finished one portfolio project. Do I regret it? Looking back, maybe financially, but it was part of what got me where I am today.

While working and bootcamp-ing, I was in the Atlanta area connecting with the design and tech community. Some of the most impactful experiences were participating in hackathons! I wish I had known about them while in college (woulda, coulda, shoulda). Hackathons were impactful in connecting with other individuals, learning to be scrappy, and working in a collaborative environment. I got to apply the design skills I'd been learning about in a more realistic situation.

Real-world vs. conceptual is an integral part of my journey. Finding those opportunities to work with clients, other roles in tech, or other designers begins to change your outlook on the design practice. I sought constant collaboration because it can make all the difference, especially when you're on the hunt for a job.


Part 1 - A Career in Creativity

Part 3 - Making the Shift


I love to learn about people's motivations and ambitions. I've recently been mentoring individuals who are pursuing a career in design. I'm always happy to talk to people who have questions, need practical feedback on their portfolio, resume, and/or interview, or need an encouraging word to keep pushing them forward!

Reach out here, and we can start the conversation!