When I moved down to London from Leeds I was gutted to be leaving the community and network I had built up behind. Yes, we have Twitter and LinkedIn to keep in touch, but it's not the same as seeing people face to face.
I thought London would be daunting and that people wouldn't be as welcoming in London as they are in the North. But a year later I’ve realised I was wrong. People in London aren’t miserable, or too busy for you, or whatever other premonition you may have. And people in London certainly don’t think they’re above you, as people in the North would have you believe. I don’t know why that stereotype still exists, I guess it’s a bit of a running joke? But anyways, I wrote a short piece on LinkedIn about feeling grateful for the community here and have had a couple questions since, so it makes sense to write a post about it.
Like with all my advise pieces, I only talk about my experiences and what’s worked for me. So, I’m happy to be challenged and very much aware that what I say isn’t gospel. However, I do think I have some good advice that’s probably relevant for people across multiple sectors. But back to London and the UX community, for now.
Agency vs consulting vs client side vs self employed vs startup
This is something I’m still figuring out for myself, but is probably the topic I get asked about most. Full disclosure, I have only ever worked as a permanent employee for the civil service, so my advice on this is second hand and therefore maybe not 100% accurate. For more detailed advice speak to a good recruiter (Tom is my go to) or speak to people at events or online who have more first hand experience. However, I do think it’s better to make the decision for yourself, everybody has a horror story.
From my understanding:
There are lots and lots of junior - mid opportunities, both freelancing and as a permanent employee. And maybe less so for seniors/ leads (but still plenty, London is huge). If you are looking for your first full time role in UX, either straight out of education or coming from another sector/industry, I would recommend taking a permanent role first. You’ll (probably) get more training and if you fuck up, you’ve got better access to help. For your first role, I’d say you need a supportive, empowering and mature UX culture. Everyone has their own opinion on this, but aim for a year before you switch to freelance/startup, where you will have a lot more responsibility. It may take longer, it may take shorter, but a year is probably a decent benchmark. People tell me you’ll be ready when you feel ready, but I’m not one of those people that knows these kinda things (I’m an indecisive libra).
If you wanna make the move to freelance/ startup you do have to be prepared to deal with way more responsibility than in a permanent role, purely because you’re not as protected. This isn’t to put you off, I’m actually quite drawn to the risk and challenge, but not everyone is, so it’s good to not go in blind. Furthermore, I believe if you work in a startup or in some cases as a freelancer or even at a consultancy, you’ll be expected to be able to do more than your role i.e. you may be expected to be able to do design, research and content.
Side note, it isn’t easy to get a job here, whether you are coming from abroad or from somewhere else in the UK. Some of my friends sent out 100+ applications to get their first role. But once you do have that first role, it’s not as hard. Don’t let this get you down, I know it’s easier said than done. But the rejection isn’t a reflection of you, it’s a reflection of the competitive market here. Again, Tom has really good advice and strategies for job hunting.
Events and Meetups
I'm always banging on about these. There are so many and they are so useful. There is a big community presence here in London for events and Meetups and in other cities across the UK (Bristol, Brighton, Manchester and so on). Download Meetup and get signed up. You'll not only grow your network and get to watch loads of interesting talks, but you'll hear about jobs and other opportunities for development. When I first came to London I tried to go to numerous events every week and I got totally overwhelmed. I've tried to whittle it down to attending about two a month. I tend to go to a wide variety of events, purely because I'm interested in so much, but there are regular, good events/ Meetups for just UX. Here are some, in London, I'd recommend. For other cities send me a message and I’ll do some scoping:
The Research Thing
UX Playground - User Experience Design Meetup
Service Lab London
Junior UX Crunch
London Accessibility Meetup
PyData London Meetup
LinkedIn and Twitter
Another thing I’m always banging on about. But again, only because they’re so important. Put simply if you’re not on LinkedIn and/or Twitter, you will be missing out. I got my first job because someone I met at an event posted on LinkedIn and I got my second because someone I met at a Meetup posted on Twitter. Companies don’t always advertise on their websites, and you get the added benefit of having direct contact. There is now someone you can message. And do message them, ask loads of questions. More often than not, in my experience, they will help you out. You’ll also see loads of other opportunities advertised that you wouldn’t come across elsewhere. Such as mentoring and speaking gigs.
Events and Meetups normally have a hashtag to follow, and I usually end up linking with people who talk at events. If you want to link with someone on LinkedIn don’t forget to send them a little message with the request. It’s such a good way to grow your network. I also tend to write a little summary of the events I’ve been to on LinkedIn and Twitter, mostly for exposure and my "online brand", but also because someone may benefit from the post.
I might be biased here but I think a good place to start is the gov.uk service manual and Digital Service Standard (DSS). This is (a) because they are my employers, (b) because it's genuinely good and (c) a lot of other businesses use these resources. There are a lot of agencies and consultancies who base their approach on the service manual & DSS or have clients who are the government, so it's quite a good thing to get familiar with. I see it mentioned in lots of job adverts.
Candles is a mentoring platform to connect UXers across the world, with other 4000 members on Slack, it's a good place to get started. There's loads of people from London on there and they talk about all sorts of things from design inspiration to careers to research. They've just launched the mentoring part of the platform and through it I've now got myself two mentors and I mentor one person. I genuinely feel grateful to have this platform and support that comes with it and I'm even more excited to #PayItForward.
A11y is a community driven effort to make web accessibility easier, they also have a slack channel. I shouldn't need to say why accessibility is important, but it is. Especially in the UX space, where it is our job to represent all users.
There are some crazy statistics around mentoring. It's a really good way to keep women in tech, which is a bigger problem than getting girls/ women interested in tech to begin with. I think to me mentoring is another way to expand your network, but more focused and personal. You get to make friends with someone who you can vent to about work (if you don't work with your mentor that is), learn from, develop and hone skills with trusted guidance and progress your career.
As I've already mentioned, Candles is a good place to get started with mentoring. I have two wonderful mentors from Candles.
Another one community is Hexagon UX. They are a community of women and non-binary individuals in UX who support each other by sharing stories and fostering growth at all stages of our careers. The London chapter is largely a mentorship programme. I'm currently a mentee on their 12 week programme, and it's such a rewarding process.
Let me know if there's anything I've missed out/ you'd like me to add/ you'd like more advice about London ♡