Reflecting on a Terrible Year & Giving Thanks

By a number of measurements 2020 has been a terrible year, and so I am almost embarrassed to say that it’s actually been a very good year for me and my family. I am really grateful for the year we’ve had.

A Year of Service

As the Federal and State responses to the Covid-19 pandemic became increasingly bungled, I decided that one thing I could do to make the world a better place was to offer my expertise to others. This was also encouraged by my employer and I am grateful to them for their support.

Through my employer I volunteered on a number of projects, from transcribing letters from the 18th century slave trade, to helping close the Opportunity Divide by mentoring young adults in my city who have historically been denied access to networks in Tech.

I also volunteered with General Assembly, joining alumni panels as well as performing mock interviews with current students seeking to transition into new careers. I met with at least 44 people through these organizations.

The Gifts of Mentoring

I have been very fortunate to have been supported by a large number of people throughout my life. This has been especially valuable in the last two years as I made my transition from academia into UX. I knew that I had to reciprocate in 2020.

So I dedicated time every week to meet with folks who were new to UX. Through this I met with and mentored at least 28 people in 2020. Mentoring sessions were generally an hour long conversation and we would typically meet at least twice but in some cases we met nearly weekly over a period of months.

I am grateful to each of the folks who met with me because they have included my in their sacred journey toward self-improvement. It’s not often that we have the chance to grow with others.

Mentoring has helped me feel especially enriched in a year that has been marked by an ongoing sense of doom and hopelessness.

If you are reading this and we’ve met to discuss your UX career transition: thank you for saving me from what has been a dark and sad year for so many of us.

Top 10 Mentoring Questions

I have been tracking the questions that folks ask me during our mentoring sessions. This year I will try to write on these topics here in the hopes that my responses might be of use to others as they grow in their careers.

  1. What does my day-to-day look like as a UX Researcher?
  2. Should I apply for Senior UX roles (this gets asked in several ways, like, “how do I know if I’m senior enough for this job ad”)?
  3. How do I rebrand myself for UX?
    • This one is especially interesting for folks who, like me, have a strong academic background.
    • But it’s also great to talk with folks with established careers in other industries as well.
    • Related to this is also a conversation about using LinkedIn and networking.
  4. How does a typical UX (Design/Research) interview go?
    • Related: how can I best prepare for such an interview?
  5. Portfolios: how important are they; how do I improve my portfolio; what’s in a portfolio?
  6. Are UX Research portfolios different from Design portfolios?
  7. How can I effectively network?
  8. How do I get the experience I need to land that first UX role?
    • This is a chicken/egg dilemma that’s related to rebranding.
  9. How do I prepare for a Design/Whiteboard Challenge?
  10. How do I prepare for a Research Challenge?

I will try to write-up responses to each of these questions. Maybe I’ll make a video instead, we’ll see.