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Join Yeyen on her journey to make positive social impact in a different light
We all know by now that one’s career is rarely carved an obvious linear path. Take Fawkes’ journey for example, where we explored last week how they went from working with animals to working in tech. Set on a career in the veterinary world, Fawkes quickly pivoted and carved a spot for themselves in tech, of all places!
Yeyen began her professional life in a similar manner. She had always seen herself making a big impact in the international development space, hoping to improve the quality of lives in developing communities. So how did she find herself in tech?
This week, we dive into Yeyen’s career journey and learn how there are many ways to create positive impact in people’s lives, aside from the obvious approaches.
(Curious to see who was featured from COLAB3 and what their journey was like? Check out our spotlight on Alexander!)
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Yeyen O. had set her eyes on a career in international development and social impact. She went to UCLA for international development and went on to get her Master’s at Georgetown University, the school renowned for its education foreign service. She had the opportunity to work for the United Nations as a research consultant in Fiji, as part of the UN Development Programme.
The experience, however, quickly left her disillusioned from the wonders of diplomacy when Yeyen quickly realized how slow it could take to make a real impact in this line of work. Upon returning home to Los Angeles, she decided to switch gears.
Tech was already something Yeyen was familiar with, having been involved with the fintech project during her time in Fiji. So when she was unemployed in 2020 for a while, Yeyen chose to use that time to explore UX design.
Yeyen had always been a creative individual. Growing up in a traditional Asian household meant having a profession in the arts wasn’t much of an option. But now with an opportunity to dip toes in foreign territories, Yeyen charged head on and attended a bootcamp to understand more.
And what did Yeyen find? A newfound passion.
“I loved how it [UX design]. How it feeds to the problem solving and leverages researching. It was all the things I liked, all into one. I could still be analytical, I could still do research, but I could also be creative with it.
So it’s like being a visual designer with purpose and a cause. You may have users who might be colour-blind, the text might be too small—and to be able to ensure all users can have a great experience with any tool…that is where I see the value.”
Yeyen realized that she didn’t necessarily need to be a diplomat to make a social impact.
When it came to looking for her first design job, Yeyen had a big lesson to learn.
Those past experiences and your seemingly-unrelated degree? Do not disregard them in your process of rebranding yourself. Your educational background and previous jobs may seem irrelevant at first, but always find ways to connect them to your dream job and show recruiters how the skills you developed are transferable.
In the beginning, Yeyen was strictly focused on product design and approached her career-transition as a way to start from scratch.
“I didn’t realize that [her past experience] was my advantage. In the beginning when I started searching, I focused only on my visual portfolio and my design process, trying hard to present myself as a designer and not really acknowledging my past experiences.
But when I was speaking to my mentors, they asked why I didn’t leverage my past experiences. They pointed out how my work at the UN demonstrated research experience and showed my capabilities to be empathetic.
That’s when I realized too: this is my entry into product design. I can maybe get my foot in the door through user research and I already have a lot of experience in that. So after pivoting and leaning more into my research background, I started getting interviews.”
It’s a skill in itself - finding the connection between what you know so far and your next goal. There is a particular way to articulate and tell the story to recruiters and hiring managers of where you were, why you’re here, and how you can apply your learned skills to future unexplored roles.
Have you got any similar stories to share? Share some tips and tricks on how to leverage your past roles in new ones in our video featurettes: https://paperform.co/submissions/participatecolab
Something Yeyen encountered frequently in her interviews is the question of collaboration. Hiring managers often gauge how well UX designers work and communicate with others:
“It’s hard when you don’t have the experience. The bootcamp case studies weren’t sufficient enough - you don’t get to work with cross-functional teams. This is what I noticed in interviews.
They always ask, ‘how do you work with people? Who do you work with? How do you take feedback?’”
Having started in COLAB4 only a mere week and a half ago, Yeyen could definitely attest to the valuable lessons she’d already learned. Working on a real project with a real product manager is on a different level than group assignments. The stakes are higher and the people and expectation management is real.
What she has learned from their Co.Lab experience so far as a designer, both individuals provided insightful responses. Yeyen touched on the benefits of going through a real agile project.
“Learning about agile methodology, learning what it really is. I’ve heard of it in bootcamp, but we’ve never really gone through it.
So for example on the Kanban Board, we didn’t know what to exclude. We initially put everything on the board and things didn’t move around much. They should’ve been in the backlog – I didn’t know they should’ve been in the backlog in the beginning.”
Talk about hands-on experience!
It’s also understanding more what a product manager’s role is in a team. Yeyen got to witness firsthand how a PM organizes, prioritizes, plans, and strategizes the vision of a product and having that practice knowledge is priceless for a designer.
“I only used to work with only designers, but now I’m working with different people which is such a different experience. I realized it’s super important to have a team that’s aligned and now that I’m actually working with a PM, I realized how effective it is for a project to have a PM.”
With still a few weeks left in the program, Yeyen is working hard with her respective team to build an exciting product. Their problem space is finance-related, with the aim to help new investors easily research stock information. We won’t spoil you in exactly what the ideas are so stay tuned until Product Showcase Day to find out!
And what does post-Co.Lab look like for our UX designer? Yeyen is actively going through the job search and hopes to land their design role soon. It just so fortunately happened that Yeyen was able to leverage her recent experience at Co.Lab to speak confidently in an interview.
“I mentioned Co.Lab and they [the recruiters] asked about the project I’m doing. I told them about what we’ve done so far and where we are in the design-thinking process. I mentioned the research studies that we did and I could really talk to it because we just did that last week!
If I didn’t have Co.Lab, I wouldn’t have that much stuff to talk about in that interview.”
It looks like she’s well on her journey to transition into UX design. Sure, there were a few bumps here and there on the way; but what is a rewarding journey without lessons learned from missteps?
Enjoying reading about how people with non-traditional backgrounds are or have transitioned into tech? Check out our video featurettes to meet more individuals: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLQF4B84vwvplNIOcPl1uKK838CaUATDi_
And sign-ups for the upcoming cohort in Co.Lab are now open! Don’t miss your chance to be a part of something great in building real tech solutions for real people 🚀🚀🚀