I have been a person that has always found change to be exciting. In the moment change may feel hard, even painful, but I have found myself throughout life embracing it and the inspiration and the burst of energy it brings me. I have a tendency to take unwanted unforeseen change and use it to drive me to a phase of “aggressive self improvement.”
So I enter 2020. I am in a place of complacency, almost limbo, but overall content with my life. I had been working as a bartender in Seattle for years. Even though I have my bachelors in mechanical engineering, I was more drawn to the service industry because of the connection I felt with my co-workers, the high paced and energetic work environment, and the flexibility. Flexibility that allowed me to travel the world and across the country, go to music festivals on a whim, and seek out adventure closer to home through camping, hiking, and nature.
This was a lifestyle that was greatly changed by the Covid 19 pandemic. I was laid off from my job, my plans for spending the rest of the year traveling and going to live music events were canceled. Not long after that I broke up with my boyfriend. This combined with the fact that my parents had moved out of the state in late 2019 left me feeling adrift. I had built my life based around experiences, and when those were taken away it felt like there wasn’t enough substance underneath. I felt unstable, without much that I could rely on.
I decided to slow down and take some time for self reflection, a bit out of my character. This was quarantine after all, what better time and it seemed as if I didn’t have much of a choice regardless. Knowing so much change was on the horizon for myself and the world in general, I allowed myself some time to assess and process my feelings, gather my thoughts.
As June approached and the reality of returning to work as a bartender became more real, I realized that I needed to find a way to create the stability and consistency I craved for myself. I wanted to leave the service industry and find a more meaningful career. I considered seriously pursuing mechanical engineering. But while I love physics and materials science, it wasn’t an option that excited me or brought any inspiration. I wanted a career where the creativity was more fluid, based around human interaction and behavior. I did a lot of exploring, reading articles and blog posts and watching youtube videos. I considered graphic design or marketing.
As I investigated my options at some point UX design came up. To be embarrassingly honest it wasn’t even really on my radar before this point. I watched a few youtube videos where UX designers explained the work they did and their day to day activities. I began to feel excited. The more I learned, the more the career resonated with me. It is corny to say, but I have never felt this for mechanical engineering, bartending, or any other potential career path.
To me UX design is a place where I can be creative with ideas, identifying the route of a problem to create the most simple, effective and intuitive solution. It combined human behavior with technology and visual design. It checked all my boxes and rang all my bells. In a short amount of time I decided that I had to pursue a career in UX and the next step was to figure out how to do that.
I settled on a 12 week immersive bootcamp learning UX from research to ideation and delivery at General Assembly. All classes were being taught remotely, which had its drawbacks, but ended up being a blessing. I met instructors and students from around the country. I was able to learn from and collaborate with people I never would have met otherwise. The remote learning setting also helped prepare me to work remotely which is the most likely scenario when I do land my dream role.
The boot camp was incredibly challenging. I continued to bartend part time throughout to pay my bills and keep myself from going too far into debt. That balancing act was tough. But learning the UX process and my engaging instructors and peers kept me coming to class every morning excited. I learned a lot about myself in that time.
I realized that working in the serving industry had caused me to create this outer shell when dealing with customers. You never know when you will be dealing with a person who has had a bad day and will take it out on their bartender. My experiences had caused me to be outwardly friendly and bubbly, able to talk to people and help them feel engaged with me, but inwardly closed off and cautious. I was not even attempting to empathize with them in order to protect myself. UX helped me to open up so much, I actually found myself greatly enjoying conducting user interviews and usability tests, getting to know people.
I also learned that I thrive in a collaborative environment. My ideas develop and are better when spoken aloud and bounced off of others. I get an energetic boost having a conversation about a problem and working with a team to find a solution. I truly find that I have a greater mental output when brainstorming alongside peers and collaborators.
Before I knew it the 12 weeks had passed and the bootcamp was over. It felt like it flew by and I was disconnected from the rest of the world while I learned UX. As I finished the bootcamp I realized the unfortunate news that Covid 19 cases were rising and were at an all time high in Washington State. It was soon after that a mandate was issued that restaurants in Washington stop dine in service and I was laid off from bartending, again.
While these events have caused me a lot of anxiety and concern for those suffering from this pandemic, I do have a slight silver lining. My original plan had been to continue bartending while I worked on my portfolio and applied to open UX positions. Now I am able to work on UX and my job search full time. It also reaffirmed for me that while bartending paid my bills it was not a solid long term career I could rely on. I also took the opportunity to move to Southern California to be closer to my family and friends.
This year has been a true rollercoaster. It started with a lot of change that felt outside of my control. Change I did not necessarily desire. But at some point I took charge of the changes and then actively began to seek them out. I still feel out to sea, but no longer adrift, no longer in limbo. I have taken control of this ship and I am steering it in a direction toward my dreams, my goals, and my future in user experience design.
Finally as I wrap up this story and wrap up this year let me introduce myself. Hi, I am Megan Hewitt: dreamer, creator, collaborator and UX designer.