Bloomberg recently reported “Women college graduates hold nearly two-thirds of the U.S.’s $1.5 trillion outstanding student debt” and it got me thinking about how it really shouldn’t be the case.
The truth is that many of the designers I know and work with started out as something else. Many of them studied psychology, programming and even economics, and moved into design. And since designers are in high-demand in Silicon Valley, I thought I could help by showing you that it’s possible to get a job in tech without a degree. Today, I’m going to be talking about how anyone can move into design from anther career without needing to return to college to get a degree.
How to Get a Design Job in Tech Without a Degree
There are 2 main components when it comes to getting hired as a designer in the technology industry – you’re going to need the skills and you’re going to need a portfolio. This article is going to outline how you can obtain the skills without going to college for a degree, and how you can build up a portfolio in the evenings and at weekends. After reading this article, you should have a good idea of where to start if you want to move towards being a designer in the tech industry. So let’s get started.
Getting the Skills
As I said earlier, the 2 components of becoming a designer is that you will need the skills and a portfolio. First, let’s look at the skills you will need. Here are some ways you can go about learning all of the skills you will need in order to create a portfolio.
1. Download Sketch
10 years ago, most designers used expensive tools like Photoshop and Illustrator to create interface designs. Nowadays, most of us have made the switch to Sketch, which is much more affordable. It has fewer features than Photoshop and Illustrator, but the features it does have are perfect for creating interfaces.
Download a trial version of Sketch and familiarise yourself with it. One of the best ways to learn more about Sketch is to watch video tutorials. While knowing how to use Sketch is just one part of learning how to be a UX designer, I put it first because it’s practical and you can start seeing results right away.
2. Watch Video Tutorials
Again, 20 years ago software came with an immense manual. Now, we have wonderful resources on Youtube and Skillshare that mean you can follow along with the tutorial.
With websites like Skillshare there is really no need to look any further. Skillshare actually have a library of video classes all about UX and UI design. On Youtube, just a quick search for Sketch tutorials brings up video introductions by vloggers like Jesse Showalter and Cody Brown.
As I said earlier however, Sketch isn’t everything. For many, drawing on paper to come up with ideas and creating wireframes before delving into Sketch is part of the process. To get an idea of how to draw out your ideas as a paper prototype, this video from Google is a great place to start.
3. Read the Books
There is a wealth of books out there on how to become a great UX designer. If you feel overwhelmed by the volume, start with the best sellers. I’ve listed a few that I recommend below.
1. Don’t Make Me Think – A great introduction into UX design, clearly written and easy for novice designers to understand.
2. 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People – A great round-up of psychology and how to incorporate it into your designs.
3. Articulating Design Decisions – Fantastic for learning how to negotiate with stakeholders and developers, equipping you with the language you will need to defend your decisions.
4. Universal Principles of Design – A great resource for designers to learn not just what works, but why it works.
Your goal is to learn the range of techniques you can incorporate into your design work, as well as the theory of why certain things work. You should also familiarise yourself with some aspects of psychology that are relevant to designing interfaces. Finally, learn the vocabulary of design so that you can articulate your decisions. This is a great way to confidently explain not just what you did, but why you did it.
4. Do A Short Course
So a little bit on my background: I have a degree and a masters degree, but by far the greatest investment I have made in my career was to do this 2 day course on UX design. I learned more about design in just 2 days that I had done in the combined 6 years of my ‘higher education’ and I have never looked back. It was a total game-changer for me. By being strategic, I didn’t need to spend years doing assignments and writing papers, everything had been distilled into 2 days, and now I was learning it all.
I was lucky to do the course at that time, and it paid off for me. My advice is to look for something locally that you can do. If you can’t find something locally, search on sites like Udemy.
5. Join the Local Design Network
Something I learned much later in my career than I should have is to talk to other more senior designers. These are called ‘information interviews’, and people love to be interviewed. Find a couple of people on Linkedin who are doing the kind of job you would like to be doing. Reach out to them and see if they would be available to meet for coffee. When you meet them, make sure you have some questions ready – your goal is to find out how they got where they are. What courses did they do? What books do they recommend? Which bloggers do they follow? What conferences do they attend? Are there any groups locally that meet up regularly to discuss UX matters?
Find the people near you who are doing the thing you want to do, and ask them how they got there. It’s like following a recipe, if you follow the steps you’ll get the same result. There is no need to discover all of this information for yourself, it’s much faster (and less wasteful) to follow someone else’s proven track. You might save years of effort, money and time from avoiding the things that lead nowhere.
6. Find Your Mentors
You don’t have to actually have a regular sit-down meeting with them, but a good way to fast track success is to find a few mentors. Find someone on social media who is doing exactly what you want to do, so you can have a blueprint for success.
There is a lot of advice in this industry, and not all of it is good. Should you code, should you write articles, should you speak at events, should you start your own freelance business or should you join a large company – everyone has a different answer to these questions. There are lots of different ways to arrive at the same destination. Find the people who are doing what you want to do, and follow their steps. If you can meet them to interview them about their career, great! If you can email them and ask for advice, fantastic! But only take advice from people who are where you want to be. If you listen to everyone, you will end up nowhere. Find your mentors and follow them.
Only take advice from people who are doing exactly what you want to do.
7. Build Up A Library of Assets
As I said in step 1, many designers have made the switch to Sketch. If you check out Sketchappresources.com for a comprehensive collection of free downloadable tools and templates that you can use right away.
Build up a library of assets on your computer. Have folders for UI kits, iOS templates, Android mockups and icon collections. Open them up and start playing around with things. It’s a great way to get to grips with putting together interfaces. You’ll also absorb some ideas for your projects, and get to see different visual styles.
8. Just Start Designing!
So now that you have the tools, you’ve read the books and you have watched videos – it’s time to actually start designing. When I was starting out, I designed websites for friends bands and businesses, but you can start anywhere. Why not re-imagine the twitter interface, or create the designs for a fictional shopping app? Let your creativity run wild and just get designing!
Many designers have a process that they like to follow. This ‘process’ is just the approach they take when they start a design project. I’ve written about how to create a design process before, so try out different approaches to see which one fits you best. Typically, most will draw the content out on paper, working towards a wireframe to satisfy product requirements, before launching Sketch to build the final UI.
You don’t need a degree in programming or design to be a designer, just the curiosity to try it out, and the drive to keep at it. You will be amazed by how quickly you can create designs just using resources that are readily available. After working on projects by yourself, you will have enough work to put a portfolio together, and you’ll be well on your way to getting a job in tech.