Louise is our MID student, and in this interview, she talks about how she transitioned from a more technical field to UX Design.
She also comments on how she managed to get 3 job offers in less than 1 year and gives some important tips for the recruitment process at Toptal.
Louise, please introduce yourself to us!
I have a degree in Information Systems and I started out working briefly with back-end.
But I quickly switched to front-end because I really enjoyed having this stronger contact with the interface and the users.
When I first heard of usability, I still had no idea what UX Design was. In fact, I can't even tell if this term was commonly known at the time.
So, I became very interested in usability and looked for materials on the subject. I found out a lot about UX/UI, which made me even more interested in the field.
My first contact with UX Design was in a company where I worked as a front-end developer, in 2017. There, I mentioned that I wanted to participate more in the UX and UI processes. They bought into the idea and gave me the opportunity to start working with it.
From that moment on, I really turned my attention to pivoting to UX Design.
What drew you to UX Design?
The first time I had to research usability was for my final paper in college! Because of this, I already had a certain interest in the subject. At the time, I didn't know that there was a better definition for this concept.
In this sense, whenever the subject was UX and UI, I didn't feel the burden of studying; I enjoyed it! This was not the same with coding subjects, which I knew were important to work abroad, but I didn't have the same willingness to study.
Also, working with interfaces was always something I liked. I actually changed from back-end to front-end just to be closer to UIs.
When I realized that there was a specific area that was responsible for usability and interfaces, I became even more interested!
As soon as I joined this company where I had my first contact with UX, I realized that the usability department had only one person. She was swamped and had many tasks related to leadership and management.
I said that I wanted to be closer to this area and the company gave me the opportunity to take over UI Design. So I started doing redesigns and over time I was able to go deeper into UX Design.
I think my transition was quite natural. UX Design was a subject that I enjoyed right off the bat, but I can't say that I gave up coding in a thoughtful and planned way.
It was something that evolved naturally, while I was working with both at the same time. There came a time when I had to decide which path I wanted to focus on. It was at that point that I chose UX Design.
How was your first experience with UX Design?
At first, I just executed and did more of the UI design myself.
I worked on top of decisions that had already been made. So it wasn't something that demanded much from me. In general, I would build the interface and then run the code. It was pretty quiet.
However, it started to get more interesting and challenging when I started to participate more in UX Design processes. This way, the decisions would come from me and I had to defend my ideas and arguments.
Also, I missed, and still miss, graphic design knowledge and how to work on the visuals to contribute to usability.
But since my transition went very smoothly, little by little, all these changes and needs were much easier.
In the beginning, how did you study UX? What materials did you use?
Early on I was reading a lot of articles on Medium. But everything I read was just theory.
In that sense, putting these subjects into practice was very good. I felt that I learned much more by being hands-on, making mistakes, and then correcting them. At the time, the person who was the UX leader in the company gave me a lot of guidance as well.
In addition, I watched videos on how to use certain tools, like Figma, and listened to podcasts for career inspiration.
But there came a time when I felt very stagnant. Even though I read books and articles on the internet, I started to feel that I wasn't progressing at the speed that I wanted to.
It was then that, in one of those podcasts, I heard about Aela and about the Mastering Interface Design (MID) program.
The MID was the first UX Design course I got interested in doing.
You talked about your desire to work in another country, how was the process for you to seek this kind of opportunity?
Actually, I wanted to move to another country. It was not really related to working for an international company or even working remotely.
Therefore, I wanted to get a visa, since I do not have the necessary citizenship to be able to freely enter other countries.
At first, I started looking for student exchange programs. But they turned out not to be the best financial option for me. It was an unfeasible alternative.
Because of this, I started looking for job offers that could help me get a visa and move to another country.
The first thing I changed was my LinkedIn and my portfolio. I translated both of them into English. Also, I asked my English teacher to focus on job interview conversations to help me with vocabulary and expressions.
As for my portfolio, I put projects from my first UX experience and also the MID projects and case studies.
I remember that the first opportunity that came up was at Farfetch, in Portugal. At the same time I was talking to them, other offers came up. Most of them were to work at startups in Amsterdam.
However, the job offers always had a front-end background, due to my experience.
Then came an opportunity focused entirely on UX Design in New Zealand. And I decided to take this chance.
Do you think your technical background helped in your first interviews?
I believe it was an advantage, yes.
Some companies would contact me and I noticed that they were interested in me working on both front-end and UX design.
But when the position was clearly focused on UX, I felt that my technical background made a difference too.
How was it to conduct the interviews remotely?
I think one of the things that made me most nervous was the English.
Despite studying the language, the fact that I don't use it on a daily basis here in Brazil made me a little insecure during the interview.
So, when the interview went by with many questions, one after the other, I got very nervous!
Besides the language, another issue was the time zone! I remember that I had an interview and I had to wake up at 5 in the morning here in Brazil!
But apart from these two things, the processes were very smooth. I used to research the company before the interview because I was often asked about the reasons why I wanted to work with them. In that sense, this previous research helped me to know more about their business.
In less than 1 year, you got 3 international offers in UX Design, right?
My first international opportunity was in New Zealand, as I mentioned. I even moved there and lived in the country for a while.
But this experience didn't work out so well and I returned to Brazil. But I still wanted to get another international opportunity.
However, I came back to Brazil in February 2020, just before the pandemic and the quarantine broke out. So it was impossible for me to get out of the country.
But because of this, more remote opportunities started to appear and I began to apply. And that is how I got an opportunity to work in an American company, located in Boston.
In addition, I was also approved to work at Toptal!
About Toptal, how was the recruitment process?
I believe that the whole process took about a month. But this is because I was not working at the time and could fully dedicate myself to it.
The process for a colleague of mine took much longer than this because it was difficult to juggle schedules to set up meetings.
Talking about the process, they have 4 stages.
The first stage is entirely for language testing. As far as I could tell, the interviewer had no knowledge of UX Design. His goal was to test my communication and the level of my English.
After this first step, they ask you to put together a portfolio with a certain number of projects. If they approve this portfolio, you go to the next step, which is the presentation of the portfolio.
In the presentation, I was asked about technical aspects related to the projects in the portfolio.
Then the next step is a practical test to check your technical knowledge and reasoning for solving problems.
One thing I found interesting is that for each stage, the interviewers were different. In other words, the evaluation is done based on your skills, and you don't have to worry about whether or not the interviewer likes your guts.
Reading Tip: Pivoting Your Career: What Is UX Design?
Many people want to work for Toptal, do you have any advice for them?
I think there are two pieces of advice that are important.
The first is to focus on passing the English test. You don't need to be fluent in the language but be comfortable with it.
So if you are unsure or still have difficulties with English, I would say don't apply and study the language a little bit more. Because if you fail at this stage, you can only apply again after six months.
The other advice I can give you is: to focus on the UX Design process! This is something I learned with Aela, too.
In the stages and interviews at Toptal, they don't want to see just the final result of your portfolio or your test. They want to understand your reasoning, your difficulties, and how you got to that result. So mind the process, from research to user testing.
How did you get the opportunity at the Boston company?
Most of the interviews that I got were through LinkedIn.
When the pandemic and Covid-19 broke out, I started looking for remote opportunities, and I eventually found a position at this company in Boston.
I felt strongly connected to the company, and they also liked me. The process must have lasted about one month, and I'm very happy working with them.
Any advice for people looking for jobs on LinkedIn?
The advice I can give is not to apply for jobs randomly.
I think it's worth studying the profile of the company and the position to understand if it's really what you are looking for.
I always preferred smaller international companies that could give me room for development and were already used to working with foreigners.
Therefore, planning how you will search for job openings is very important.
After all, companies have databases and know if you have applied for a position before. Depending on the time period between one application and another, you may not be selected because of internal company policies.
This situation happened to me. I have always wanted to work at Booking in Amsterdam. So I applied for jobs there several times.
One time I sent my resume directly to a person who worked there. She replied that I could not apply for the job because the last time I applied was too recent.
Reading Tip: LinkedIn for Designers: Tips to Boost Your Profile
How can you tell on LinkedIn that a job is remote?
I put in the search, in the location field, that I want remote jobs. That way, the tool only returns remote jobs.
I have always done this search on the desktop, I don't know if the app has this option.
What would you tell Louise from the past?
I would tell her not to be afraid!
I remember that was something that held me back a lot in my decisions, even when I was still working with back-end and front-end.
When I started taking more risks, I felt I learned more, despite the difficulties and the mistakes.
In this sense, I take my experience in New Zealand as an example. Even though it didn't work out, I returned with more experience and better English!
The second thing I would say to Louise from the past, which still applies to this day, is: study!
No knowledge is ever thrown away. Sometimes something you learn today will be used tomorrow to solve some problem. So studying means staying ahead of the game.