Lori Chai’s journey into tech was unlike any other. After years of working in the travel industry in Tokyo, Japan, Lori sought a change of environment and was eager to switch to a more creative career. She was convinced that pursuing a career in UX, which merged tech and creativity, would make her happy.
So, she moved back to Canada, where she discovered General Assembly and joined its User Experience Design Immersive Bootcamp. After two months in the program, Lori secured a job at Avanade where she now works as a UX designer.
Here’s her story.
Tell us about your background. What were you doing before enrolling at General Assembly?
I worked abroad in the travel and recruiting industry for about three and a half years in Tokyo. I served in Japanese and international companies and focused on building my life and career in Tokyo. I imagined I would live there long-term, so I worked hard to learn Japanese and move up the corporate ladder there.
What motivated you to explore a new career, and why did you decide to pick General Assembly’s UX Design program?
I was looking to enter the tech industry because of the opportunities it presented in working abroad. I wanted to work in a different country. I was also looking for a job that was creative. At the time, my job focused on completing specific tasks and processes. I felt UX would meet my aspirations—to be creative and to work in tech.
How did you finance your education, and what were some of your biggest considerations when making this choice?
I saved money from my full-time job as well as cut back on a lot of leisure expenses. I lived a modest lifestyle. I chose to enroll in a bootcamp as I am a person who needs to be accountable to someone and has to have a structured curriculum for my learning.
What did you like about the program? Please share some of the highlights.
I liked that the program had a structured curriculum for UX fundamentals because when you’re studying by yourself, it can be overwhelming. I also liked that General Assembly had a well-thought-out curriculum, which is regularly updated to meet the changing demands of the UX industry. It’s easier to have an expert teach the concepts, guide you, and provide feedback.
How did you fit the program into your schedule?
When I moved back to Toronto from Tokyo, I was unemployed. So, the timing was perfect for me to join a full-time bootcamp. I started the bootcamp a month after I moved home.
Kindly provide some examples of projects that you worked on during the program.
I remember we worked in groups a lot, which is very realistic in UX Design as all the work we currently do is done as a team. We didn’t only create mobile apps or websites as our digital products, but we also had one project that required creating a Smart TV experience. I literally had to study the mechanics of the remote control and how certain buttons and icons would work when using a remote control compared to when using a phone or computer.
Do you have any advice for someone considering this program?
It’s very fast-paced, and there would be days when you feel extremely exhausted by the amount of information you absorb. But I think the best part of bootcamps is that there is a lot of hands-on training, and that helps you learn faster than reading a textbook of the concepts.
Did you find a new position after the program?
Yes, I found a new job [as a UX designer].
How did the program support you in finding a job?
They mostly helped by having weekly stand-ups where we share our job hunting struggles, and the career coach will provide insights and feedback on how to improve. They also shared new job openings and tips on networking.
Was the job search process different from what you expected?
I felt like it was different because most of my professional experience was in Tokyo, where the job-hunting process is very different from Toronto. When I left Toronto, networking was picking up, but it wasn’t the only method of securing an interview.
But now, I can see how networking is vital in getting an interview. So I had to learn to network effectively and remotely because I was job hunting during COVID-19, and there were no networking events then.
How many companies did you have an interview at? How did you choose which one to work with?
I interviewed with three to four companies. I chose the one I am working at now because I really liked their work culture. I got along well with the management team during the interview. Everyone was super nice and knowledgeable, and I felt I could learn much from them. I was looking for a role where I could work with other UX/UI designers to improve my skills.
What do you think is different about your life now versus before the program?
Before switching careers, I was really miserable with where my career was heading. Living as a foreigner in Tokyo was exciting, but I was not happy there because my job wasn’t fulfilling then.
I had to give myself an ultimatum—to live in a foreign country where I was miserable or return to Toronto and take a chance on pursuing a career I wanted. In the end, I chose career fulfillment as it would make me happier, and it was what I needed for my personal growth. I was sad to leave the life I built in Tokyo, but I knew pursuing UX would make me happier.
What do you find fulfilling about your current line of work?
I love the strategy involved and the creativity. It’s a nice blend of having that business acumen that I was used to in my previous work but also being able to use design and creativity as solutions. I was always a problem solver, so I love that I can do this for a living and impact people’s lives.
What do you enjoy about working at your current company? Are there any specific perks you enjoy?
My work is very remote-friendly, so we are not forced to go into the office, but we do go when we want some human interaction. I also love that they have many employee resource groups and are very passionate about diversity, equality, and inclusion. I get to network with coworkers of different backgrounds and learn much from them.
Do you have any job search advice for someone considering a career in your field?
I do think UX is getting very competitive now, and I definitely believe that you should highlight projects in your portfolio that made an impact. [For example,] if it’s a school project, show how it was impactful to users and include project testimonials.
It helps to get some volunteer experience. While it’s always beneficial to combine theory and fundamentals from a bootcamp, having that additional practical experience through volunteering would help a lot more.