I remember precisely where I was when I decided to change careers. I was walking down South Street, talking to my friend Bryan on the phone after work. At the time, I was 29, and frustrated with my career in higher education. I sighed, and told him: “I just want to make flow charts all day.” He said, “Why don’t you do UX?” Once he explained what UX was, I knew that it was the perfect career for me.
I wish I could say it was all easy from there. It was a huge relief for me to finally know what I wanted to do, but I struggled with going against the societal expectation that you:
- Go to college
- Pick a career, and
- Stay in it for life.
For me, that meant going into a career that didn’t necessarily use my bachelor’s and two master’s degrees. My parents were not thrilled.
The idea of making this jump was also incredibly intimidating. Wasn’t I too old to change careers? No one would actually hire someone like me, would they? Did I need to go to grad school… again? (And there was no way me or my bank account was doing that for a third time.)
In terms of actually getting a job in UX, I had to figure out where to start. I ended up googling “User Experience,” and fell down a rabbit hole of resources.
Somehow I stumbled across the Philly chapter of Girl Develop It. Even though I was sure everyone would think I was a joke because I didn’t know anything about technology, I began to attend GDI classes and events. Fortunately, that was not the case. In fact, I met others who felt the same way I did and met inspiring women who had already successfully transitioned to new careers.
Over the next year or so, I tried to learn as much as I could. I created a UX portfolio, coded my own website, found mentors and worked on building a network in the Philadelphia tech community. I spent a lot of days at coffee shops, nights at classes and meetups, and a lot of time at every hour of the day pushing myself out of my comfort zone. Two years later, I’m a UX Specialist leading design for a new product at Elsevier, as well as the Events Lead at GDI Philly.
Through my experience at GDI, I have met countless others considering a career change to work in technology in some capacity. I can’t tell you how many times someone has walked into a GDI event and sheepishly said, “I literally don’t know anything about technology.”
Many career changers are scared, frustrated, confused, or even embarrassed.
To create a welcoming space for these career changers, I decided to launch our first Career Changer Happy Hour in July 2016. It is one of my favorite events that I’ve ever organized. To see people at a turning point in their lives meet each other and realize that they aren’t alone has been truly amazing. It’s also a great time to share resources, network, and get a little more acclimated to the Philadelphia tech scene.
This year, GDI is excited to bring a special version of our Career Changer Happy Hour to Philly Tech Week 2018 presented by Comcast. We will host a panel of four women who have successfully transitioned into tech careers answer questions moderated by yours truly. After some audience Q&A, there will be general mingling time for attendees to meet each other, our panelists, and additional career mentors.
For those who don’t know, Girl Develop It is gender-inclusive, which means that all are welcome. (We are frequently asked if men are “allowed” at our events. They are!) We do ask that attendees abide by our Code of Conduct and assist us in creating a positive, supportive environment for women.
I’m honored to be able to host an event like this, especially during Philly Tech Week 2018, and I encourage all the career changers out there to attend. If you’re nervous or don’t have anyone to attend with, know we’re taking special care this year to make sure that GDI members, panelists, and mentors are easily identifiable, so you’ll know who is eager to give you advice and share their own career-changing stories.
Remember that whether you want to be a developer, designer, data scientist, project manager, or anything else, it doesn’t matter where you start, as long as you do.
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