2017 Recap — journey to a career in UX

2017 was my last full year as a master’s student. Therefore at the end of 2016, I knew that I’d need to take great strides in my journey to a career in the field of user experience. 2017 was also my last year to take advantage of many “student opportunities” like internships and conference scholarships. After being selected to attend Epicurrence in the fall of 2016, I found inspiration and motivation to reach towards goals that seemed beyond my capabilities and outside my comfort zone. I knew that in order to grow and make progress I’d need to take some risks and participate in these opportunities, even if doing so made me uncomfortable.

Overall, I’d say my year has been successful. It served as a reminder that opportunities may not come when or from where we expect them to, but if we keep working towards our goals, they will come eventually. I am on the right path and taking steps towards finding a full time role before graduation this May*. I’ve learned new things, met new people and given back in small ways. I will continue this momentum in 2018 and beyond.

Here are some things I did that made for a rewarding year:

My hunt for an internship

Attended a major career fair

I needed to get more work experience in the field of user experience design. Therefore, landing an internship was my ultimate goal for 2017. It was also the riskiest. I’d have to leave a stable salaried position to get this experience. Given there are not many opportunities in the Philadelphia area for UX internships, I thought I would leverage the resources of my alma mater, RIT.

In March, I took a few days off work to fly to Rochester and attend RIT’s career fair. Having attended in undergrad, I knew that top companies from across the nation would be in attendance all interested in junior tech and design talent. I invested time and money in hopes that I’d speak to some established and thriving companies, do well in a handful of interviews and earn a few internship offers in the months to follow. That’s how it happened when I attended their career fair back in 2012. I expected the same experience as an alumni with a few years of working in tech under my belt.

I worked the hell out of that career fair. I practiced my introduction. I wrote down the nine companies I wanted to speak to and found out exactly where on the floor each of them would be. I estimated how much time I would have to stand in line for each of them based on company popularity to strategically think through the order in which I should approach each company. I printed off 1 pagers of my top two UX case studies and prepared my 5 minute walk through of each. I gained access to a gym locker across the hall so I’d have a place to stash my coat and all the trinkets and free things companies were handing out so I’d never have my hands full and mess up a handshake. I wore a suit and pinned up my hair. Doors opened at 9 am and by noon I had talked to all nine companies I set out to. I rocked that damn career fair.

However, not one company invited me to interview the next day. I felt defeated and confused. I was more polished, prepared and experienced than undergrad. I spent the next day in my hotel room crying, sending follow up emails to the people I met the day before, and applying for more internships.

I’ll never know what happened but I refused to give up. I decided I’d apply for the few internship opportunities that were being offered through my current university.

Attended a smaller career fair

I took a day off work to attend a smaller career fair at my school. This was risky, as my job at the time was in attendance interviewing for positions as well, and I was afraid if they saw me interviewing for other companies I’d face some kind of push back at work. A mentor gave me advice along the lines of:

“What’s the worst that could happen? They could fire you for wanting to grow your career in a direction which they knew you had always been interested. In that case, is that a company you would want to work for?”

I took the risk and went to the career fair. I smiled at my coworkers from our UX and design teams as I walked past their table to sit for an interview for another company. Much to my surprise, they were supportive when I went into the office the next day.

Landed a UX Internship

I was really surprised when I was asked to come in for a second interview for one of the companies I’d spoken to at the smaller career fair. After all, it was a fashion and e-commerce company which I had never shopped at previously. It was not a brand I could afford. Even if I could, I was really far off from being their target audience and the clothes were the total opposite of my style. I was even more surprised when they made an offer of an internship.

Sometimes the opportunities we are given provide us not only experience in new environments and skills we enjoy, but also teach us what we don’t want to do and where we don’t want to be. My summer internship gave me experience working in house on a e-commerce team. I collaborated with lots of different roles. I learned how to write more effective questions for remote usability testing. I even got my feet wet working in Sketch for some small projects. I learned about my working style and what kind of support I need in order to grow in ways that are both beneficial for the team and fulfilling for me. I practiced asking for support and experienced what it was like when those requests went unanswered. I learned to listen to my gut when something just doesn’t feel right. I learned we should never force ourselves to “fit in” anywhere. I learned to be myself and to trust that if something isn’t right for me, eventually I’ll find something that is.

Landed another UX Internship

The highlight of my year was landing an additional internship for the fall at a dream company to work for in the Philadelphia area. I am about halfway through this internship and am learning a great deal about what makes an ideal junior level user experience researcher.

I entered the internship believing that I needed to prove myself and impress my team. I was sitting around a table where a third of the team has PhDs and even the more junior level researchers are leading projects, so I felt that I needed to show the team all I had learned about UX and user research. I wanted to be able to add value as soon as I could.

I quickly found out that my belief that I needed to prove myself could not be further from the truth. In reality, the key to being a successful junior researcher is to be a sponge. To always have a learner’s mindset. To listen, to understand, and to ask good questions. It’s okay to fail and not do things right the first time. With time in job comes the experience and technical skills of being a good researcher. We can teach someone skills, but it’s harder to teach someone how to learn.

I managed to overcome some of my self-doubt and push myself in making big efforts and accomplishing my goal of finding a internship. I could not be more grateful to be working at a great company, with an established UX team that is supportive and encouraging.

Other highlights of 2017

Attended ELA Conf

ELA Conf is a local tech conference for women, trans men and genderqueer people. I had been following it on Twitter for two years and attended for the first time this fall. I learned about:

It was really empowering to attend an event where I felt no pressure to perform or be anything but myself. Many of the speakers were doing so for the first time and I’ve never seen a more supportive audience. The conference didn’t have so many attendees that it felt overwhelming. There were lots of familiar faces from the Philadelphia tech community and everyone was approachable.

Participated in my first Hackathon

Before I attended a hackathon, when I heard the word I pictured a room of software developers typing away lines of code on their computers for 48 hours straight, building the next big “thing”. Though I had heard about local organizations hosting more inclusive hackathons, I still never imagined myself attending one. I couldn’t see how someone like me, an aspiring UXer, would fit in and add value.

In an effort to learn more about the space of Reentry in Philadelphia and bring the value of user experience to what I thought would be a development focused event, I signed up to attend my first hackathon, Power Up Reentry.

The hackathon was unlike anything I expected. Everyone from developers to writers to social workers attended the two-day event. On the first night, designers facilitated the session. They brought previously-acquired research on the various problems people coming home from prison face. They shared their research with all participants so we could more effectively brainstorm possible solutions. Some of the people we were designing for attended. They gave testimonials and were actively part of the conversations with us.

My team and I working on our concept


The next day we got to work! I was blown away at how far teams were able to go in developing concepts for solutions. I found myself as the team lead collaborating with people of diverse skill sets including writing, software development and social work. Together we created a concept for a texting platform to connect people with resources when they are returning home from prison.

Presenting the Help By Text concept

Supported other aspiring UXers

This year I was surprised to find people reaching out to me for advice. Some were fellow students in my classes, some were budding UXers from work, and others were people I met through Twitter. Whenever this happened I immediately questioned why they were asking me. After all, I am far from an expert on any topic and am still in my journey to my first full time role. However, as mentioned in a previous post, we don’t need to be experts to teach someone. We just have to know something that another person doesn’t or have had an experience that another person hasn’t.

This year, I’ve given people feedback on portfolio case studies, helped classmates through hangups when stuck in a user research funk, and shared what I knew about remote usability testing to newly a launched researcher. I hope that no matter where I go in my career, that I am able to give back and help the way people have helped me.

Met awesome new people and had great conversations with people I’ve known for a while

BabsJulia ElmanAnne GibsonAngela ColterVictor YoccoMike BegleyAngela AndrewsLauren DillardVivianne CastilloLaura OxenfeldJessica IvinsDustin SenosDylan WilbanksNomaan AhgharianZalyia GrilletBecky ChanAshley BernardKris PuckettDevin MancusoAngelina SimmsJane Von BergenRocco DiCicco and Aaron Bauman

To everyone above, I am so thankful for your support and encouragement. I’ve learned a lot from you all in 2017 and couldn’t have made it this far without you. Thank you so much!

*I am open to discussing opportunities. Please reach out to me!

Author: Talisha Payton

Putting together the puzzle pieces of websites by day, User Experience and Interaction Design Masters student by night. Aspiring UX Designer, Philly native, and former taco addict.