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Academy Xi Blog

Student Spotlight: Ryan Collingwood

By Academy Xi

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Ryan swapped the brushes and pencils of a graphic design career for a UX Transform course at Academy Xi. Soon after graduating, his client project work with Avertro helped him land a full-time UX role with the company.

Student Spotlight: Ryan Collingwood portrait

Thanks for chatting with us today, Ryan! Can you start by telling us about your career before Academy Xi?

I studied audio engineering in 2015 and worked in freelance audio and graphic design until 2019. A month before Covid in 2020, I enrolled in a Diploma of Graphic Design with RMIT and made the move from Adelaide to Melbourne. With graphic design, there are practical elements but it’s more about the visuals. I used every assignment I completed with the course as a chance to focus on the practical side of graphic design. This included a website project, which I really enjoyed, but that was such a small component of the course as a whole.

All my classmates were very artistic with brushes and pencils, but it was not the side of design that I wanted to pursue. At the beginning of my graphic design diploma, I heard this term, ‘UX’, and thought “what’s that about?”. I looked into it, found out it was focussed on the practicalities of design and realised it’s exactly what I wanted to put into practice.  

So after graduating with my Diploma of Graphic Design, I started  an Advanced Diploma of Interactive Media in 2021 with RMIT, with a view to learning more about UX. The interactive media course wasn’t UX focused enough for me, so after a week I left it and joined the Academy Xi UX Transform course instead.

What made you choose Academy Xi?

At first, I was thinking of doing a Bachelor’s in Design at Swinburne with a major in UX, but I looked into the course content and only up to a half, or maybe even a quarter, of the three years was spent actually learning and applying UX.

I then started looking into short courses and comparing different providers. I narrowed it down to Academy Xi and General Assembly, but the GA course costs more and doesn’t offer the same level of job search support. Academy Xi seemed to place a greater emphasis on graduates going into the job market after graduation, so I went with them.

What were the highlights of your course experience?

The client project was one of the best parts of the course—you get real-world experience, and for me, it actually led to a job with that client, Avertro. I got the job not long after graduation. There were three rounds of interviews, which started a month after the course finished. When I was completing the Career Support Program outcome report near the end of the course, I actually wanted to put the reporting on hold, knowing that I had an interview lined up.

There were twelve of us working on the project and we were meant to be split up into two groups of six, but it made sense to do things as one big team. This meant I learned about project management—I led the cohort in that group project, liaised with Avertro, and developed a rapport with the company. It was a great opportunity to think about everything needed to pull off a project and the best ways to get that done – all in a short time period. It pushed my organisational skills, my ability to prioritise and strategise, as well as my communication skills.

The group project was so valuable—it put all the skills I learned during the first half of the course to the test.

“The client project was one of the best parts of the course—you get real-world experience, and for me, it actually led to a job with that client, Avertro. I got the job not long after graduation.” 
– Ryan Collingwood

Sounds like you did a good job! Can you tell us more about the client project with Avertro?

Avertro is a cyber security management system—a software as a service company—and the current platform is made for enterprise level clients. There’s a lot of bespoke training to onboard users with the system. Our project was to create a light version of the onboarding process for smaller companies that don’t need or can’t afford the full enterprise service, which gives users everything they need to help themselves with the platform.

The project was about designing something that made sense, so we could offer fewer features for a lower price point, and still offer a really strong user-friendly service. It’s created a different target market and a new revenue stream for Avertro. I didn’t expect such a big live project going into the course, with really high exposure. It’s amazing to think we completed it in two weeks and two days.

Completing that project did require a few late nights, but we got there in the end! Luckily, we had twelve people contributing and we divided up the work as much as possible. From my perspective, keeping everyone busy was an important part of my contribution.

Avertro reached out to me about a permanent role before I even began applying for new jobs. For the interview, I was able to use the ‘star method’ and all my star examples came from the Avertro course project. Between that and having already built a strong working relationship with the company, I managed to land the job.

My course project experience also helped with my onboarding. I could already use the platform, meaning I could hit the ground running as soon as I started with Avertro.

Check out Ryan’s UX portfolio to view the Avertro UX project that his team worked on.

How did you find online learning and working in a cohort?

I liked how Academy Xi has gamified the online learning platform, with points collected for different tasks and projects. I could use the point system to work out how big the projects were going to be and plan my schedule around that.

At first I wasn’t sure if it would be useful to have the platform on my mobile—I thought it might encourage me to stay in bed rather than turn up to class! My cat fell asleep on my hand and because I couldn’t type, I downloaded the app on my phone. It really came in handy—I worked through modules on the train and made use of those spare bits of time.

As for my cohort, we’ve been trying to organise meet ups since graduation, but Melbourne’s been in lockdown. When I signed up for the course, I assumed that because it was taught fully online and completed over just three months, I wouldn’t spend much time talking to the other students. In reality, half the course is group work and you see everyone in your cohort on a daily basis.

One of my teammates had a lot of industry experience and suggested we have a group standup meeting every morning. It was great to keep up with what everyone was doing. Someone else suggested using Trello, so I was able to use the standup meetings to figure out who was working on what and track everybody’s progress with a task on a Trello card.

As well as the UX experience, I received lots of exposure to group work dynamics. We figured out how to use what was at our disposal and be an organised, efficient team.

Can you talk about your experience with your course mentor, Hayden?

Hayden’s such a great character – he’s really friendly, knows a lot and has had loads of experience with different companies.

You can tell Hayden loves his profession, he’s really engaged with how UX works best and the passion really shows through. He’s happy to tell you about his experiences, so you can learn from things he’s observed. Most people will just teach you the hard skills, but Hayden also helps you develop the soft skills. We learned what to expect in-industry, how to deal with difficult situations and how to talk to coworkers, managers and clients in ways that are really productive.

We had weekly one-on-one sessions at the beginning of the course – I’m the kind of student that likes to ask questions and make use of that time.

At the start, I was a bit presumptuous with the problem statements for my first personal project. Hayden gave constructive feedback through the learning platform and I decided it would be good to set up a meeting to discuss things further. I learnt so much just from that first meeting. I had a few more one-on-one sessions in the early phases of the course and then checked in with him at various points throughout the client work, including a project for high-profile pharmaceuticals company Roche.

For the client project, everything was very self-directed. Hayden played a background role, which was good for my learning. It threw me in the deep end slightly, which is the best way to learn because that’s what it’s like in the industry.

The Designer-in-Residence Program also gave me access to a professional mentor. I was paired with Rebecca, who now works with Open Cities, and we had weekly mentoring sessions. She’s previously worked as a UX designer and a graphic designer, but is now a project manager. Rebecca showed me interesting projects she’d worked on in the past, which gave me industry insight and the chance to ask questions about different ways of working. Everyone has their own methods and approaches and it’s always good to get different perspectives.

“The Designer-in-Residence Program also gave me access to a professional mentor… which gave me industry insight and the chance to ask questions about different ways of working.
– Ryan Collingwood

What’s happening with your life after Xi?

Well, I’m now the only UX designer at Avertro. Product management has the final say, but I don’t need to run my ideas by any other designers. It’s a blessing and a curse – I don’t get the input of other designers, but I do have lots of control and the whole process moves along really efficiently.

My course project experience also helped with my onboarding. I could already use the platform, meaning I could hit the ground running as soon as I started.

It’s very fulfilling to be at a small, independent company that’s moving fast. It gives me a lot of responsibility and what I’m doing makes a lot of impact.

The group project that I worked on for Avertro is actually ongoing and due to be completed in about two months. Lots of recommendations came out of the Academy Xi project, and I’m now helping Avertro figure out which ideas work best and are possible to implement. I can still access all of the work files put together by my group, which really helps.

My group only had two weeks to research and design our solutions for the Avertro course project. Since Avertro hired me, I’ve revisited these ideas with a full understanding of what the company can realistically implement. Providing they’re feasible, I’m now integrating some of the concepts that my group designed.

If somebody you knew decided to study UX, would you recommend Academy Xi?

Definitely. The best short courses will increase not only what you know, but also who you know. The course taught me what I needed to know for the job – so I felt very prepared to put my UX skills to use straight away.

In relation to who you know, Academy Xi has such a strong network, especially with the career support program. The people involved in the Career Support Program have so many good connections and they really work hard to place you into contact with companies looking for new talent. There are so many jobs out there, but it often comes down to having a connection. It might be your course leader, it might be your mentor, or someone from your cohort.

Once I landed my job and recruiters continued to reach out to me, I forwarded those job opportunities on to my cohort. In the end, it only took three months for all this to happen.

For now, I’m more than happy with my professional life. I have a great job, but I’ll continue to self-learn and eventually look to progress into a senior UX design role, hopefully within about five years or so.

Check out Ryan’s UX Portfolio to see some of his work.