Student Spotlight: Berlin Liew
Being introduced to UX design was a defining moment for Berlin; one that changed her career path and set her on a journey of self discovery. Berlin spoke with us about her experience studying UX Design and her ongoing passion for mentoring.
What was happening in your life before Xi?
I worked in digital advertising as a media buyer for 6-7 years. A manager from a previous life had met up with the user experience design team at AGL and she got in touch with me as she thought that I would really like the industry. She said ‘I think it lends itself as a discipline to your skills and if you haven’t already looked into it, I really think that you should’. And for me that sparked a whole journey of self discovery and finding out what UX was – at that point I didn’t know anything about it. It was just an acronym to me. So that’s how it started.
I studied UX Elevate in 2018.
UX is just an acronym for many people. In your own words, how would you describe UX?
I haven’t quite nailed it yet, which I think speaks for itself. There’s not one definition of what UX is and it depends on who I am speaking to as to how much I break it down, but a go to description of what it is: ‘helping digital experiences feel less clunky, more user-friendly and intuitive based on the customers’ needs, but also balancing what the business’ needs are and what tech can build’.
I think that’s the best explanation I can give – otherwise it can lend itself to terms that the public may not understand. I don’t think my definition is perfect, but I think it can explain to others what I do.
Can you tell us about your experience of studying at Xi?
I completed my training in-house in Melbourne part-time, with classes twice a week after work. It was sometimes pretty tough balancing study and working full time. I was working at an agency back then, servicing NAB as our client, that alone was quite time-consuming. I was very busy so it was challenging and I did my work on weekends.
The more I studied UX, the more I fell in love with it and I soon had the goal to switch careers into the UX field. I pushed myself to work harder to achieve that outcome for myself. Regardless of how busy work got, I found the time to make the balance between study and my job work out. It was an intense few months for me because I couldn’t let the ball drop at work and I really didn’t want to waste the Xi opportunity either.
Did the training enable you to achieve your goal?
Yes, but not at my existing workplace. In advertising as a media planner and buyer, it’s very numerical and quantitative. That environment is a great training ground for spotting trends, data analytics and stakeholder management, all of which I took on board when I moved into UX. What the course taught me was how to dig in deep to understand user needs, pain points, and then communicating that to a wider business. More of a customer focus. So the qualitative side of research and how you can translate it to any product or service you might be building. That mindset, I found, wasn’t always aligned in the advertising space. I felt if I wanted to switch careers into UX I would need to work elsewhere to make that happen.
The course helped solidify terminology, the process, and it exposed me to a lot of thinking that I perhaps wouldn’t have gathered on my own. That’s my learning style – I like being guided and I love the classroom experience when you don’t know anything about the topic. I loved studying UX, big time.
What did you do after your training?
About 5-6 months after finishing my course, I left the agency and then moved over to work in-house with NAB as an Experience Designer. They were one of the only companies at the time in 2018 that were hiring juniors, or people with less than two years’ experience in UX, so I jumped at the chance. Those opportunities were hard to come by then, they were very scarce in 2018. It just so happened I was familiar with them from my previous work.
Did you feel the training at Xi enabled that to happen?
I used what I learned in the training to get through the interview process. NAB asked for a design challenge to be completed. Had I not done the training, I’m honestly not sure I could have responded to that design brief. I basically had to reflect on what I had learnt and put it into a real-life context in this interview process.
I didn’t have specific UX experience, but I could show that I was passionate and my existing skills transferred well with my training. I interviewed that morning and got a call that afternoon to learn I had landed the job. I think it was one of the best days of my life. It was such a tough transition, but I did it. Really the start of a whole new journey.
Where are you working now?
I was at NAB for about 8 months, then I left for a Telecommunications company called Belong. An opportunity opened up there and it was too good to pass on. Despite me moving companies, I left on good terms with my team at NAB. I stayed at Belong for a year and a half, and then moved onto Xero, which is where I’m at now as a Product Designer.
Was there a particular training highlight for you at Xi?
I was one of the earlier intakes of students for UX training. Back then, I think I was most excited by what I was learning. It was a whole space that was new to me. It opened my mind to a totally new way of looking at problems. The course content was delivered in a way that was consumable, it wasn’t too overwhelming and I truly loved it. I lapped it up!
How did you find changing careers?
I think changing careers can be a very vulnerable time. It’s hard to explain or describe to someone. It can be a scary feeling to look at what you do and realise it’s not what you want and to make that call to change it. For those who define a lot of their identity with their work particularly that can be quite confronting. Taking a course is an investment, with no guarantee of what that will provide.
Xi provided great support during that transition, as did the mentors that I had while I was studying. I still keep in touch with them today, in fact I spoke to mine just a few days ago. This experience encouraged me to become a mentor myself.
Can you tell us about your mentoring experience?
About 6 months after I completed my training and was working in-house with NAB, I received a request to mentor for the same UX Design Elevate course at Xi. It was one of three mentoring experiences I had with Academy Xi. I think mentoring is really powerful. I’m still in touch with the first course I mentored, we got together for dinner recently.
How has mentoring benefited you?
Mentoring challenges me to be extremely self-aware of what my own philosophy and opinions are. It encourages me to ask myself how I want to grow the next generation of designers, and consider what I did not have when I was breaking into the industry and what could be beneficial to others. I have been a part of the Xi Designer-in-Residence program since it started. I’m currently taking a break to give other budding designers an opportunity to mentor – I highly recommend it.
Looking at your career now, what aspect do you most enjoy?
I studied linguistics at uni and loved it – the study of language and how it works in society. I was told that if I wanted a career in this back in 2012 that it would have to be in academia and I didn’t want to work in academia. It’s very niche. Or I could do a masters in speech pathology; I didn’t want that either.
The milestone for me during the study at Xi were the weeks where we looked into research to understand the benefits of talking to customers – actual interactions to discover their needs, wants and pain points and then translating that into something that you can use. That was similar to what I did in linguistics. Going out into the field, collating your findings, and writing your recommendations. It was an amazing moment for me because I could see that those same skills, that I had learned and loved, could be applied in a commercial sense. It was really exciting.
I had filed that in my mind as something from my past that couldn’t be applied to a business setting. And now I can and I love that. A big moment of self-actualization that something I love could be a big part of what I do for a living.
What would you say to anyone considering a career change into UX?
I would first ask myself:
- What are the reasons for pursuing the change?
- What draws you into UX?
You need to listen to your own needs, not just jump because it’s a thriving industry or area to work in. Then you need to figure out how you want to get there. If you’re already working in-house, what are the chances you can explore UX within your organisation? Look for opportunities for a secondment or to shadow someone in the UX team.
For those who don’t have the chance to explore in-house options, training with Academy Xi is a great way to get the support and knowledge you need to be great in the job.
That place that I worked at at the time (in the agency) didn’t have an experienced design team. Because self-learning isn’t my strong suit, I knew that I’d benefit strongly from structured learning. Hence the course suited me very well. A pro of doing a course is that it is structured: there is a flow and you’re not always trying to work out what you need to learn next.
What is even better than the content at Academy Xi is their community. Xi strongly believes in support, so they’ve created the Designers-in-Residence program for that purpose, to connect full-time students to mentors. There’s also the alumni community, where you can connect with Xi alumni in the industry. That’s a huge factor with doing a course – getting access to those networks.
“I think what Xi offers as an education institution is amazing. I think they’re very attuned to the current needs and pain points of students and it is forever evolving based on that. To make a career change takes a big commitment, it’s not just about choosing the right training – you have to make sacrifices and it’s hard work. If you’re ready to do just that, I highly recommend Academy Xi.”- Berlin Liew