10 best pieces of UX career advice offered by professionals

Please note, throughout December we’ll be updating and republishing a few of our favourite articles from last year to give them a new lease of life.

Here’s our former editor Timi Olutu with a UXchat asking the UX community for their favourite pieces of career advice.

sign that says "to become whole first you must let yourself be broken"

UX careers don’t benefit from a curse/blessing enjoyed by many other vocations – the “this is how it’s done” convention.

There are many (many) roads UX professionals can take… and while they all lead to Rome, they can also be unpredictable. Medicine, for example, has benefited from centuries of trial and error, making the path to success rigid and defined.

So we thought we’d help spread the wisdom UX practitioners have acquired so far.

We asked two questions of our UX community on Twitter: 

  1. What’s the best work and career advice you’ve ever been given?
  2. What’s the best work and career advice you wish you’d been given (but weren’t)?

Maybe one day, the challenge will be devising ways of breaking tried-and-true career tactics – rather than wondering what works to begin with.

Please note, this article was originally published one year ago. We’ve updated and republished it to give the post a new lease of life.

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever been given?

1) Adam Engstrom, a social psychology and UX aficionado, thinks you should be making friends in all places.

“Honestly get to know everyone in the office and their work so you know what can be done and have allies.”

Adam’s reasoning reminds me of an article about how people used to break into mass media advertising, when the field was still new.

Up-and-comers would start out in the mailroom and by the time they started working on ads, they’d have gained an encyclopaedic understanding of the business, its people and capabilities.

They’d be aware of what and who was needed to get things done – and what was (realistically, honestly) the best possible thing to do, in a given situation.

An understanding of the different pieces that make a business tick – and what each wants from a UX professional – would be an asset to veterans and newbies alike.

2) Joe Pendlebury, a UX and ecommerce mastermind, channels Jay Z by reminding you to harness your desire for success.

“Jay-Z said it best, ‘I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man.’ Don’t forget to focus on you and your desire to succeed.”

If students of solipsism and psychological egoism are to be believed, nothing supersedes the individual’s self-interest. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – if the drive to enhance one’s self empowers us to do a better job of helping others.

3) Paul Randall, a sage of UX architecture, urges us to adopt the curiosity of children.

“Another mantra I like is, ‘be child-like but not childish’. Don’t be afraid of asking why?”

In fact, one of our mantras at WhatUsersDo is ‘why is the most important question’. Without knowing why, the creative, problem-solving process cannot truly begin.

4) Olly Van Gaal, a football coach (and possible secret offspring of Louis Van Gaal), shares a simple (yet often forgotten) truth.

“Do something you enjoy. If you enjoy it, it doesn’t become work!”

If you’re stuck doing something you’re not enjoying, keep making changes until you find your joie de vivre.

5) Robert van der Elst, a front end developer and UI designer, reckons experience is the best teacher.

Grok is a wonderful verb which means ‘to understand or feel something intuitively’ – as opposed to detached, intellectual comprehension.

I believe this is the difference between learning by doing (which helps you grok new lessons), and learning by studying (which helps you comprehend new lessons).

Both are important, of course… just don’t forget to grok, after you comprehend.

What’s the best work and career advice you wish you’d been given, but weren’t?

6) Jennifer Ross, UX designer at Asthma UK, wishes someone had told her that while love may not cost a thing, UX skills certainly should.

“Don’t work for free!”

Anyone who values your skills enough to need them, should value them enough to pay you.

7) Tom Starley, a UX/UI specialist and founder, wishes he’d been warned about how the lens of perception can distort reality.

“Learn to see things as they are. Observe, do not perceive.”

In short, don’t add your baggage. Observe occurrences as objectively and dispassionately as an outsider would. This quality is particularly valuable when it comes to getting maximum value from UX testing.

8) Nadia Aleksieva, a proud UXer and geek, would’ve appreciated encouragement to reach for the stars… even if her arms weren’t quite long enough.

“Especially for women – apply for the job even if you don’t cover 100% of the requirements. Everyone grows into the role.”

It’s hard to disagree with Nadia here. This advice also goes nicely with Robert’s approach of learning by doing, while on the job.

9) Tom Starley thinks problem-solving should start small and manageable, before growing in ambition.

“Ask what is the smallest group of people I can make a real difference to, then connect with them and concentrate on that niche.”

A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step – it makes sense to fix issues within user journeys one step at a time too.

10) Elizabeth Chesters and Nadia Aleksieva, wish they hadn’t been pigeonholed when they decided to pursue tech careers.

Nadia: “I wish I knew about all sorts of career options when I was applying for uni. I thought I could only be a programmer.” Elizabeth: “This is my issue with a lot of tech courses. They only focus on code, so I should stress there are other options.”

Unless you live in the Matrix, remember there’s more to the world than code.

Get a newsletter that isn't all about us...

Subscribe for weekly, hand-picked articles about UX, design, and more every Friday—from the Be Good to Your Users blog and the rest of the whole darn web.

...get a little taste right here. 👅 🍭

Timi is a London-based copywriter and full-time marketing sceptic – there are now more unvalidated opinions out there than ever.

He became a UX testing enthusiast after seeing its power while working at TUI – the world’s largest travel, leisure and tourism company. He then joined WhatUsersDo to sharpen his UX knowledge and work side-by-side with the field’s best and brightest.

Leave a Reply