Making the Switch into a Design Career

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Getting Started

Whether you’re making your first big career decision or a mid-career pivot, changing jobs can be overwhelming. The tech industry is vast and there are many paths to take. I will walk you through all the necessary steps to find the path that is right for you, creating a plan and executing it successfully.

Assess Where You Are Now

The first step is to acknowledge your current state and be objective as to how committed you are to making this life changing decision. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you enjoy telling other people about your current work?
  • Are you proud of the work you do and feel like they are useful contributions to the world?
  • Do you respect your supervisor?
  • Are you rewarded and noticed when you work hard?
  • Are you compensated adequately?

If you answer no to all or many of these questions, it’s time for a new career. Now that you know you need make a change, you need to decide whether you are ready to set your intentions and make a commitment. Ask yourself, “Is this the right time in your life to make a career change?” It may very well not be and you need more time to contemplate on what matters most to you. Go through the pros and cons of taking this big step.

  • Will this drastically affect your schedule and are you willing to relocate?
  • Will it hinder your commitment to your relationships or children and is the outcome worth it?
  • How is your financial situation? Do you have any savings or do you need a loan?

Perhaps you need to do a part time program instead of an intensive course that demands all of your time. However, juggling a job and a new expertise can be too much and you need to find a way to study full-time.

“I think one of the hardest things in life is to decide whether to try harder or admit that something isn’t right for you and give up. I’m determined to do things wholly and completely, so whenever I would find a new interest or possible career path it would be hard for me to give the idea up and admit that it wasn’t for me. I kept thinking I just needed to try harder to get better at it or to learn to love it. I’ve learned to trust my intuition more and do what I like, rather than what I think I should like.”

Anja Harris
UX Researcher at GetSet Learning, Designation Alum

Don’t be discouraged if you decide that it isn’t the right time to make a leap. You can always set milestones and hold yourself accountable to a plan. I recommend setting short term, intermediate and long term goals. For example, what do you hope to accomplish in your career goals in 3, 6, or 9 months? Set measurable, specific and realistic goals to not overwhelm yourself. Perhaps it starts with revamping your resume or taking a one week online class to learn more about coding. Also, find a close friend to be your support system. Sometimes we all need a good push and encouragement to be productive.

Fear will be a constant voice that creeps in when you don’t have the answers right away. Do not let it intimidate you! For those who are making a mid-career change, do you recall having sluggish mornings where you dread going to work? Don’t ignore that dissatisfaction, because you owe it to yourself to do something with your life that makes you excited to wake up and challenges you to be at your best. The key word is you. Although the steps are here, only you and your own determination can make this happen.

Learn about yourself and what you want from a career

“I want to do something I enjoy and can be proud of something I call my own. Too much time is spent at work to not be happy with what you are doing.”

Erinn Barr
Creator of, Starter School Alum

I once had a supervisor tell me that we look for at least two out of three things to determine whether a job is acceptable and that is money, friendship and your work’s level of fulfillment. Although many people might deem that money equates to more happiness in life, a new study from Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School makes a case that while this is partially true, it only really matters up to $75,000 a year. Economist Angus Deaton and psychologist Daniel Kahneman analyzed the responses of 450,000 Americans polled by Gallup and Healthways in 2008 and 2009, and concluded that no matter how much more than $75,000 people make, they don’t report any greater degree of happiness.

Before deciding between money, friendship and work fulfillment, you need to take a deep look into your own personality. Your personality plays a big part of deciding what kind of social ties you’d like to make, what kind of life you are willing to live, and what kind of work would interest you for years.

Discover your natural talents and innate interests.

Every one of us possess a unique set of talents. These talents give us a special ability to do certain kinds of tasks with ease, while some tasks are practically impossible. Can you imagine Michael Jackson as an accountant? It would be unfathomable and a waste of talent! Natural talents differentiate from acquired knowledge, skills and interest. Your natural talents and innate interests remain with you most of your life. Why not use them to your own advantage?

Try taking Switch’s career quiz. Another resource is Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, Strong Interest Inventory and Campbell Interest & Skill Survey may give you more insight into your personality and natural abilities.

These are your assets. If you know who you are and what you excel at, you are at a vantage point at figuring out what you should do. This the difference between just doing a job that you’ve stumbled into and doing a job that feels aligned with your purpose in life.

Ask for help

Don’t leave these crucial personal discoveries all up to impersonal quizzes. You need to reach out to your friends, family and professional network. Ask a supervisor what you did better than anyone else at your job. Ask your partner what traits they admire about you. You would be surprised at what others observe about you that you can’t see.

Also – check out for local programming and design groups. The programming and design communities are very helpful and host many events throughout the year!

Test your Results

Now that you’ve considered these important facets to a job, it’s time to do the groundwork and test your options. You’ve got to have the guts to push yourself to try a variety of things and be uncomfortable. You can spend a great deal of time theorizing that you might be good at something, but you’ll never know until you actually do it.

Work on side projects or freelance to test the waters. If you’re not ready to take the sink-or-swim approach, you might want to consider contributing to small projects tangentially related to your new area of interest. Because they’re not full-time business ideas, this will allow you to quickly build a body of work and experiment.

Take a class. Learn or refine the skills that’ll enhance your discovered talents. Local workshops, accelerated bootcamps, and online course platforms like Codeacademy, Coursera or Udacity are just some of the recent popular options addressing the skills gap in ways that are potentially more effective and affordable than traditional continuing education.

Volunteer or help a friend out on a project. Providing good will to your community or assisting a friend while gaining new skills can boost your confidence and enthusiasm to learn more. It also relieves some of the pressure of exchanging money or investing into 3 month course.

Shadow or interview a professional. Find connections whether through your own network or scavenging LinkedIn and ask if you can either shadow them at work or interview them about their work. Being in their workspace might trigger a positive or negative response. Picking their brain might bring up questions or concerns you didn’t consider from your own research.

“Don’t go in blind. You’re going to be spending three months in an intensive learning experience, so make sure that it’s something that you want. Look at it and ask yourself, “Does the possibility of making stuff like this make me excited?”

Avi Gilligan
Developer apprentice at thoughtbot, Metis Alum

Let’s face it: you’re going to stumble a few times. If you’re aren’t falling and picking yourself up, you’re doing it wrong. This process is about trial and error. The goal is finding something that makes you excited, not succeeding at every project you try. Before sinking in thousands of dollars, you need to make sure your heart is in the right place.

Kathy Tran is the community director at Switch, the yelp of programming bootcamps. Switch aims to make research, admissions, and the switch into a technology career quick and easy. Check out our website and follow our updates @switchorg!


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