Part 2/2 | How did you chose user research?
Short story: I wanted a role where I could apply the things I learnt at university, which by and large were research skills, with something digital and preferably in the public sector.
My expectations in the past couple of years have not been met. I got crappy a-level results, I didn't get into a red brick university like I wanted to, I finished university and wasn't inundated with job offers, I did a Master's and still wasn't inundated with job offers. For a long time I felt very very sorry for myself. I blamed everything and everyone else. My school didn't support me enough, my parents didn't pay for extra tuition, all my friends knew someone who got them a job, that kinda thing. And whilst I still think there are so many things in contemporary society that need changing to improve the odds for young (and marginalised) people. Everything changed for me when I started to take accountability for myself. And that included taking care of my mental health.
At the end of my undergraduate, I came to the slow realisation that NO ONE else is going to make the effort for me. No one else is going to network for me. And no one else is going to solve my problems for me. Actually, it is highly unlikely that anything will *just* come my way. I think taking more ownership of myself and my future helped me chose a suitable job role.
So, back to the user research thing. As I've touched upon in other posts (how to get a job in tech & what is user research) I knew I wanted to get a job in tech/ digital. This is something I did figure out at uni (for all the university naysayers), thanks to a module on contemporary social problems, where we discussed the future of work. It didn't take long to figure out that I didn't have enough experience and while I loved studying it really was time for me to earn some money and to take adulthood seriously. So I needed to start learning fast and I needed to do so on a very very VERY tight budget.
I, like most people, assumed to get into tech or digital I would need to be able to code. So I searched for free coding courses and events. Fortunately, at the time Leeds International Festival was on and there was a weekend long event for Entrepreneurial Women, that was not necessarily relevant, but free nonetheless. I learnt so much over the weekend and I was inspired to start my own project to prove my interest and to increase the visibility of women in tech, and so CyberWomen was born.
My next port of call was to attend a Ladies of Code meetup, the lady that runs it spoke at the Entrepreneurial event, so I tweeted and asked her if it was alright for me to attend even though I didn't have any coding skills. Of course she said yes, so off I went. At the meetup there were a number of fascinating talks, but the one that sparked my interest the most was a talk by a product owner, who spoke a bit about user research. Research? In tech? Oh yes! But I have research skills, is this something I could do?
I hung around at the end of the event and I somehow plucked up the courage to ask the lady in question if she would mind me shadowing her, literally for a day or two as I didn't want to bother her too much, and couldn't take any time off work/ away from my studies. Thankfully she said yes. She taught me so much in those couple of days and the exposure was just enough for me to learn some of the jargon and ways of working.
A couple of weeks went by and because I was writing my thesis I didn't really have time to be applying for jobs, but I continued going to events here and there. Especially the ones that promoted equality and diversity in the industry, as I always left those events feeling elated, inspired and empowered. At one of the events I met a recruiter who I connected with on LinkedIn. Some time passed and I saw that she had posted a job for a user researcher for the civil service. I assumed I didn't have enough experience, but I messaged her anyway and asked for her opinion. She told me to go for it. I did and I still didn't assume I would get an interview, let alone the job. But, I did think it would be a perfect amalgamation of my research skills, desire to work for the public sector and passion for digital. I obviously wasn't giving myself enough credit, because I was offered the job and got incredible feedback.
All in all, I think my success so far has come down to two things:
1. Taking more responsibility for myself, my actions and responses to things beyond my control
2. Having the support of all the kind, inspiring and empowering individuals I've met at events and meetups (as well as family and friends 💗)
I may be able to add even more exciting news to this post soon but I cannot emphasise enough the power of networking and social media. They are obviously deeply problematic at times, but when used in the right way will expose you to so many opportunities. The following, are the tools I used and the tools I recommend for either getting your first job after uni or changing industry:
#1 Free (or very cheap) online courses/ training
#7 Create something of your own
#8 Professional help if your mental health/illness is shit
A lot of people will tell you that things just fell into place for them, or that it was down to luck. And while that may be true for some. For the most part they will be doing a combination of the above AND working their arse off, that’s usually why things just “fall into place”. And obviously, there are always going to be those jammy bastards who’s dad got them a job.