Today’s interview features Jennifer Houlihan. I met Jennifer through Austin Digital Jobs. Jennifer told a hilarious story about a mishap in a class she was taking and after I learned more about her, I decided to share her career change success story with you.
Jennifer, let’s start with the story I heard you tell on a video that inspired me to interview you. Can you please describe what happened?
It was my first day of class at General Assembly and I was late, which is my least favorite thing ever. There was only one seat left, against the wall, in front of the instructors. I tried to sneak in with my giant backpack filled with school supplies and it knocked over a bottle of water behind me. The water headed straight for the instructor’s laptop. I didn’t see any paper towels, so I threw my backpack in my chair and shimmied back out of the row, bolting for the kitchen. I grabbed some paper towels, but couldn’t find my way back to the classroom. By the time I finally made it back, the mess was cleaned up…and everybody knew who I was.
You certainly made an impression! User Experience (UX) is a career change for you. Can you tell us about your career path?
I was in nonprofit development for years and years, and eventually burned out. I was working part-time for a tech nonprofit and had the chance to shepherd one of their projects – a social impact database – through an accelerator, and that opened up a whole new world. I hired a career coach to help me see what skills I had that I might transfer to tech, and where I’d need more training. That’s when I first heard about user experience design, and it was a great fit for my skills. I researched a number of programs and selected a 10-week immersive (boot camp) program at a school called General Assembly. I knew I was in the right place from day one. The program included resume rewrites, mock interviews, and a lot of other support for career changers. I was freelancing within a month of graduation.
What attracted you to the General Assembly program?
I was looking for a time-efficient way to upskill – I wasn’t interested in a year-long program, much less another degree. I also wanted a program that offered career placement support and a flexible payment plan. Once I got started, I really liked the application process. Communication was clear and detailed every step of the way, and I knew I’d be in experienced hands.
What types of students are a good fit for the General Assembly program?
For the Immersive program, I’d say anyone who’s willing to work hard and make a lot of mistakes. As a student, and now as an Instructional Associate, I’ve seen fantastic students in their sixties, and I’ve seen millennials struggling. It really depends on what you’re willing and able to put into it.
What are your next goals for your career?
I’m enjoying freelancing and I love being in the classroom, and both are helping add to my design portfolio. I also network and volunteer a lot. I hope to move to a full-time position as a UX researcher or designer in the next few months, and be on a team with a strong mentoring culture. And I definitely want to keep giving back to my new community of designers.
Anything else you want to share with career changers?
The time is going to pass whether you make a change or not, and – like buying a house or having a baby – it will never be the perfect moment to make that leap. So get yourself organized, focus on your destination, and jump. I promise you can build your wings on the way down.
Where can UX recruiters find you?
Thank you, Jennifer!