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User Experience Design Intensive

Michelle Usdenski

Although she had been a relationship manager for 10 years, Michelle Usdenski recalls still earning less than her partner who works as a Product Manager. Determined to create a better future for herself, she opted to follow in the footsteps of her partner. So, she enrolled in the User Experience (UX) Design Immersive Bootcamp at General Assembly to get quality training and launch her career as a UX Researcher.

Read on as Michelle shares her experience with switching to tech.

Tell us about your background. What were you doing before attending General Assembly?

Before the program, I had worked with international students in multiple capacities. I organized fun events, found housing for them, and dealt with complaints. A big part of my day-to-day was interviewing students to understand what was wrong, mediating, and meeting the needs of students and their hosts.

What motivated you to explore a new career, and why did you decide to pick UX design?

My job security was compromised due to the pandemic, and there was no room to progress professionally. After working in the field for over 10 years, I was making half of what my partner was. My partner took a UX course for fun through his work and came home raving that it was something he thought I would love and be good at.

I took the time to research what a UX course entailed and went through the process on my own time. I created a dummy app and interviewed family and friends. By going through the process on my own first, I realized that UX was something I liked and wanted to get better at.

How did you finance your education?

Luckily, I had enough savings to keep me afloat. General Assembly was also awesome enough to provide a payment plan. I could pay a bit of tuition each month for a year with no interest.

What did you like about the program? Are there any highlights that stood out to you?

I really liked the focus on all aspects of UX. I did not just learn about design but also UX research, writing, workflows, and more. Because of this broad view, I realized I preferred conducting research more than creating designs. The bootcamp also helped me transform into a more well-rounded UX professional. On top of that, I learned how to optimize my resume, website, and LinkedIn specifically for the UX field.

How did you fit the program into your schedule?

By the time the course started, I had lost my job, which created a lot more time. I did the full-time program, and it definitely demanded a lot from me. I was lucky to be able to lean on my partner to help take on more responsibility at home, so I could focus on the course.

Can you give us any examples of projects that you worked on during the program?

On one project, I worked with three other UX designers. We did a redesign of the job search site, Indeed. The redesign was focused on making the process of posting a job easier on the side of the employer, as well as making it easier to find the right job on the job seeker’s side.

By making optimizations on the poster’s side, the job seeker sees a much more organized and easy-to-understand job post. Each UX student took on a different part of the project, but we all worked together and helped each other. It was cool to work on the project from beginning to end, where we had to take the lead on the entire process.

Do you have any advice for someone considering this program?

As mentioned earlier, I created my app to try out the UX process. I recommend working on your own project first to make sure UX is a good fit for you. If you still like UX by the end of your experiment, apply for a program. You’ll learn more, get feedback, network, build your portfolio, get certified, and be better prepared for a career in UX.

Did you find a new position after the program?

I found a new job [as a UX researcher].

How did the program support you in finding a job?

During the interview with my current employer, I showed the portfolio I had created while at GA. After being hired, I was told that I was a shoo-in because I was the only candidate with a proper portfolio and could demonstrate my knowledge with lots of visuals.

Was the job search process different from what you expected?

Yes. Although General Assembly absolutely helped, I was still entering the job market with almost no real-world UX work experience. On average, it will take six months to find a job. This proved to be true. It took a long time to apply to over 300 jobs, but the job I finally got was a perfect fit. So although it was unexpectedly long, I was really happy with the outcome.

How many companies did you interview at? How did you choose which one to work with?

I applied to many companies but interviewed with about 40. Anytime I received an offer I was unsure about, I would think through the pros, cons, future potential, and how well the job aligns with my goals. When I accepted the position at OpenText, I started with a four-month internship.

Although it wasn’t a permanent full-time position at the time, I got to do UX research with very supportive people. At the end of my internship, my manager worked hard to create a position for me to transition to a permanent, full-time role.

How are the skills you gained from the course useful in your current career?

Every day is different for a researcher since each project has different needs. Being able to assess projects, conduct a form of data collection, analyze the data, and present the data in a way that is easy to understand for multiple different roles are all skills I learned and improved on at General Assembly. The fact that I learned to design and had the opportunity to work with several engineers while at General Assembly prepared me for interacting with other professionals as well.

What do you think is different about your life now versus before the program?

Financially, I’m much more secure and feel better about the future because I can save for anything I need. I also love that I can continue working from home since I have a tech job. I know that if I were to move to another city or country, I would be able to keep my job is really great.

What do you find fulfilling about your current line of work?

I like being able to talk directly with users to understand how to make their experience even better. The people I work with are awesome, so it’s like having a friendly conversation, getting to know your users, and learning about all the cool ways a product could be improved. Users have different and cool ideas that they get excited about and like to share. It’s a fun and uplifting environment to be in.

What do you enjoy about working at your current company? Are there any specific perks you enjoy?

I enjoy being able to work remotely, and the hours are flexible. It’s amazing. As long as I’m doing my job and getting things done well, I can also care for myself during work hours. I can just let my co-workers know I need to lay down for a nap, and I’ll be back at a particular time. The team is supportive, and there are some excellent incentives like discounted stock purchasing plans and RSU grants.

Do you have any job search advice for someone considering a career in your field?

UX designers are some of the most friendly people you will ever meet. Don’t hesitate to reach out to someone at a company you want to work at. Google informational interview questions if it helps you feel more prepared. You’ll learn more about the company, which can give you an edge in interviews.

Also, don’t be shy or embarrassed to ask if other people could refer you. Most people get referral bonuses, so it’s mutually beneficial if you get hired!

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