How Wendy’s Desire for Experience & Confidence Led Her to Co.Lab
Read about how Wendy went from Interior Design to UX Design and gained enough experience to land a job even before the end of her program.
Wendy has had quite the journey to arriving at her current destination as a UX designer. Her original plan was to become an elementary school art teacher, but she was convinced out of that and instead went for a degree in fine arts and interior design as the balance between the creative work she wanted to do and a degree that would be a money maker.
After getting her degree, however, she did not work as an interior designer. Instead, she worked an assortment of jobs until the COVID-19 pandemic hit and she decided that she needed to do what she really wanted to do. Recalling how much she had enjoyed one of her jobs supporting the design team from an admin level through duties such as participating in usability testings and liaising with stakeholders, she decided to look up the ways in which she could become one of those people she supported at the time. Thus began her journey to tech.
She signed up at Co.Lab as a response to a crucial issue. Following a nine-month long, part-time UX Bootcamp during which she built her portfolio and acquired foundational knowledge that she needed at that stage, she applied for jobs and went in for interviews. With her background in design and her qualification from the Bootcamp, she was pretty confident about her chances. However she quickly realized that her lack of experience was a major setback that affected her employability.
It turned out that her friend was a recent Co.Lab alumni who landed a job soon after her cohort ended and shared with Wendy how instrumental Co.Lab had been to the process, the product she built and the skills she had acquired at Co.Lab that made her irresistible to employers. Wendy was convinced and decided to join Co.Lab as the cherry on top of the cake that was the Bootcamp.
Her experience turned out to be far more than the ‘cherry on top’. The cross functional team experience, the structure of courses and the mentorships she was exposed to at Co.Lab completely changed the game for her.
“Co.Lab was an opportunity for me to work within a team and with other teams and that has been an amazing contribution to my career. I had never worked with a team before and I was not going to find that opportunity any other way unless someone hired me which was proving to be difficult. So being able to do that at Co.Lab was such a valuable experience”
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Her goals at Co.Lab were specific. She had begun interviewing and knew exactly what she needed to get out of the program to land the jobs. In her experience, employers advertised for entry level positions but they were looking for someone with real UX team experience. So Wendy was looking to build confidence in her work and to be able to talk about the experience of building something under real life working conditions and Co.Lab delivered.
“In my team, we worked together from the very beginning to identify our problem space. Then we moved to brainstorming how we would go about finding different solutions to the problem and everyone played a role.”
The developers looked at it from a technical standpoint so they understood the build of the project. As the designer she weighed in on the different steps within the design process that needed to be considered when designing and building the product and their Product Manager kept them all in check. This is how their meal planning app “Zesty” was built.
They succeeded in building an app that solves the user’s pain points because they were very transparent with each other. They were respectful of each teammate’s abilities which helped them identify an MVP that played to everyone’s strengths.
Working on Zesty gave Wendy the opportunity to be creative again and to design another thing by herself but not alone. The team was crucial as they provided feedback. For example, the developer would help her see how a feature she had included would not work at that time or they would explain how a design would turn out after coding. The feedback greatly improved the quality of my work.
She feels “blessed” to have worked with a team of amazing women who had the same drive and the same goals as she did. As a person who does not think that there is enough visibility for women in tech, working as part of an all-female team from all over the world to build a product from the ground up was empowering. It felt like they had built something they could show to the world to say “This is what we’re capable of, we can be as successful as everyone else”. That was awesome!
Wendy also loved the sense of community that permeated the entire experience down to the Discord channel. She was always on the channel because there was so much help available there. If she had a question, there would be someone with an answer and even when they could not help directly, they would send a resource or something else to help out.
She especially loves that it was not all serious either. The ability to have some fun even while doing work is important to Wendy as she has experience doing what was expected of her and not particularly what she enjoyed and she struggled with it. Now, especially with COVID at the back of her mind, she’s committed to having a good time and enjoying her work. Her Co.Lab cohort ticked this box with the banter they interspersed with their work on their Discord channel and Wendy’s team always set aside time usually at the start of the meetings for chit-chat and small talk to get themselves comfortable before settling into the nitty gritty of the project.
A few weeks into the Co.Lab program, Wendy knew that she had gained the confidence she sought. She had been able to identify not only her strengths but her weaknesses and felt more than ready to attend interviews and talk about her design process and the experience she had acquired; so she started applying to jobs. By the sixth week she had accepted an offer in Optimal Strategix Group Inc., a behavioral analytics company where she supports the product team in terms of identifying any areas of improvement within their products.
The company is global so that means working with people from India, UK and other places around the world. In her Co.Lab team, she was the only one in the US. There was someone in Canada, another in the UK and someone in Nigeria so time zones were all over the place and that meant quickly learning to navigate and prioritize. There she learnt to manage her time wisely and to be respectful of the time zones of others. This reflects in the way she has organized her work schedule today, to allow for meetings with others to be at a time that’s respectful for them and then do the work which does not involve others at her appropriate time.
Her journey has included a few full circle moments. First, her childhood dream of wanting to be a teacher has sort of come true because her work today involves leading those who aren’t familiar with the design thinking process and making corrections and observations. In a sense, it’s like she’s teaching them the design process.
Then, after a negative experience with asking questions at one of her earlier jobs, she generally stopped asking. However, she believed that what she put in was what she would get out of her time at Co.Lab and so she didn’t want to make the mistake of assuming things. She summoned courage to ask questions and the questions were received warmly and answered to her satisfaction. She took this attitude to her current job and within weeks of starting the position, she was complimented on how inquisitive she was. They liked that she asked questions because it showed that she was willing to learn.
This is why she now advises: "If you have a question, ask that question. If you want to make a comment - a positive comment or some other comment that might help you and your team, send that comment. At the end of the day, you want to help each other. So be confident in that, do your best and don't feel too bad if you don't get to something in a day. You'll get to it later.”
It is for reasons such as this that she describes her Co.Lab experience as being rewarding. It gave her the experience and the confidence that she wanted and that is why she shares her experience with anyone who would listen, also encouraging all who can to participate.
Sometimes as a designer, imposter syndrome catches up with her and she worries that the work she is doing is not enough. Most times, she’s worried for nothing. So she encourages anyone plying this route not to be too hard on themselves, to remember that we are all a work in progress, as is the work that we do and simply to always put in their best.
For more information on how Co.Lab can help you gain experience and improve your confidence to take on a new role in tech, click here.