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Academy Xi Blog

Student Spotlight: Sanjay Jaya

By Academy Xi

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Jay landed on Australian shores with design experience, worked as a cook, but soon retrained to secure a dream UX UI Design role.

Ten minutes after his interview, Jay got an offer: a dream job that’s a product of his learning experience, hard work, self-belief, and a little help from our career support team. Read about Jay’s professional journey and how he navigated his career path in a new industry and a new country.

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us today, Jay. Could you tell us about your career history?

I worked in the User Interface space for about 7 or 8 years back in Singapore and had a successful career as a digital designer, photographer, and manager for micro social media influencers. I performed a bit of market research after I arrived in Australia and soon realised there are plenty of homegrown graphic designers and digital designers, and work is also outsourced to places like Indonesia.

I thought to myself, “I’ve got to find something new – what am I going to do?”.

My aunt works in Australian healthcare and said, “Jay, you’re smart, you’re empathetic and the patients would really benefit from someone like you – why don’t you get into nursing?”

I really wanted to do something that made sense to me. A lot of people go through the motions in their work with little awareness of what they’re doing and why. Eventually, I joined New South Wales Health as a cook (aka as a food service assistant) and worked with them for 2 years. They eventually offered me a full-time opportunity and in considering the offer I realised it was not the career for me. I felt I should follow my passion by retraining and going back to design work.

How did you go from that realisation to landing at Academy Xi’s door?

I was waiting for a bus going to work and overheard 2 guys talking about User Experience. It caught my attention and I missed the bus because I had a conversation with them. UX appealed to me because it was still in the field of design, but it was also something new to learn. One of the guys said, “I’ve heard really good things about Academy Xi, so you should definitely check them out.” I did my research and found UX was a hot market and that there were quite a few educators working with the discipline, but not all courses are built in the same way. For instance with another provider, it’s an immediate hands-on approach, but you don’t cover all the roles of UX. You might be picked to work as a competitor researcher on the client project and that’s all you do. It didn’t appeal because I wanted to work right through the discipline and develop a range of case studies to show off in my portfolio. A mentor from another institute mentioned they had come across lots of LinkedIn profiles for Academy Xi graduates who’d become really successful in the industry. That was very persuasive and I settled on a full-time UX UI Design course with Academy Xi.

How did the course measure up to your expectations?

Honestly, it was excellent, but it was a bit of a deep dive for me. During the first class, it seemed as though all of my classmates immediately went from 0-100, asking all kinds of interesting questions. The questions you ask show where you’re at with design thinking and I quickly realised that I needed to stay switched on.

By March last year, I had completed the first half of the course, but I had to drop out due to a Covid related personal emergency. I met with my Mentor and eventually the Head of Student Experience on Zoom and they were very supportive. The student support team offered to put me into a new intake once I’d returned. I stopped studying and decided to join a later intake.

In July, I went back and joined a new cohort. Learning UX was still challenging, but I was able to reach out to a few of the other students and give them some tips and feedback because of my prior experience. One of the wonderful things about studying at Academy Xi is that people arrive from all different backgrounds. I used to be a designer, so I’m accustomed to design thinking, but it’s so inspiring when you meet someone with zero experience in the field, like an ex-builder, who displays an advanced capacity for design thinking.

Everybody had their own working style. Some people wanted to meet on Zoom to define everything before we started, and some of us wanted to get stuck into the project and figure things out as we went. Working in the design scrums introduced me to people I would never have met otherwise – I developed some great friendships.

Can you tell us about the projects you worked on?

We worked on three projects – one personal and two for real-world clients. For the personal project, I picked something close to my own heart – renting. Reaching out to my property manager can be tough, so I decided to explore that problem space. I think having my mentor Hayden’s advice was really crucial. Initially, I wanted to focus on the experiences of renters, but Hayden said “go and speak to the property agents and landlords and see what they want – make sure you design a product both sides can use.”

For the two client projects, I worked with a mental health app and an onboarding experience for a wedding photographer recruitment company. Both were brilliant, but I particularly enjoyed working on the mental health project. One of my friends belongs to the LGBT community and she’s been refused treatment by a psychologist who said they didn’t know how to help her. When you’re down as is, being told that can send someone into a further downward spiral. She’s happy and mentally healthy again, but she’s still got a level of distrust for psychologists.

Jay conceived his UX Project when people from the cities were moving into regional NSW since WFH was in effect. He identified the problem of anxious renters often worrying on Facebook about their relationship with their Property Manager and Landlord. Take a look at his project.

My team’s response was to factor in input from people from the LGBT community, people of different ages, people of colour and people from all walks of life. That was one of the benefits of working in such a big scrum team – everyone has access to different people. It was a bit of the wild west at times, with some of them doing 8 or 9 interviews a day and all kinds of insights popping up on the Miro board. The product we designed offered a quicker, more effective means for people to access mental health help, shaped by the wants and needs of people with similar lived experiences.

How did you find working with Hayden?

I have very high standards for educators – I think they should be people who inspire you and not just people pleasers. In that sense, I have a huge amount of respect for Hayden. If you’re misunderstanding something or not applying the learning properly, he’s always comfortable telling you. If you go through the effort, you can find out a lot about UX UI just by searching online. For me, the ultimate unique selling point of this course is Hayden. He gives personal insights and priceless tips and tricks you won’t find anywhere else.

During the wedding photographer project, the client had photographers to bring in for interviews and we started scheduling paid interviews with them. Hayden stepped in and explained that during the discovery phase you’re not going to know if they fit the company’s recruitment profile. He told us to use that money to budget for testing usability with the photographers at a later stage. It showed how things work in the real world – you’ve got money and need to be accountable for it.

The client was very impressed with the approach we took and the results gleaned; he was an UXer himself so the praise received was very encouraging indeed! I learnt so much about the industry from Hayden and really lucked-out having him as my mentor.

How did you benefit from the Career Support Program?

Elizabeth was my career coach. It’s always nice to talk to someone who listens to you – I think that’s an underrated soft skill. When it comes to recruitment services, too many people come to the table with “I can offer this” instead of “I’d like to hear what you have to offer”.

My wife is a recruiter, so I already had my CV and LinkedIn profile in good shape, but Elizabeth works in the UX space and gave career-specific advice. I had a three page CV with all the bells and whistles, but Elizabeth explained that very few companies would read it. Instead, I produced a one page, high impact CV – if you take one look at it, you know who I am and what I do.

Elizabeth also helped prepare me for the interviews and plan what I might say. I started applying for jobs through LinkedIn and eventually had an interview with a well-known Australian pay television company, much like Netflix. While going through the interview process, I got a LinkedIn notification that Commission Factory had viewed my resume. Commission Factory connects businesses with social media influencers who can help market and sell products. This was an area of huge interest for me, given my professional background.

A day later, they reached out to set up an interview for a UX UI Designer role.

Can you tell us about how you navigated the interview process?

The design lead, Jack, led the interview process for Commission Factory. He had me go through my portfolio of case studies and asked questions about how I respond to challenges.

Commission Factory gave me a design challenge. Instead of just presenting the design as a PNG or a JPEG, I created a full presentation for it on Canva, which allowed me to record myself speaking through a slide deck. After presenting, I sent Jack the link to the design file and he was really impressed. He told me the challenge was a real roadblock for the company and they wanted somebody that could help solve their design problems.

I was offered a job at an Australian pay television company but I also had a final interview at Commission Factory which included their CEO, who used to be a designer himself. We spoke about mood boards, UX and the direction I see design heading in, just to check that I was a culture fit. Ten minutes after the interview, I got the offer. I picked Commission Factory because I trusted and wanted to work with the manager who offered me the role. I’ve landed my dream job and it only took 88 days from graduation.

Jay Jaya - Student Project - Thumbnail
Check out Jay’s online portfolio.

What a great success story, Jay! Finally, are there a few words of advice you would give to anyone thinking of a career change?

I think everyone has big ambitions and wants to be successful. I’m very conscious that I represent a particular demographic and hope that my story shows that anyone from any background can advance within their career.

It’s important to get the message out there. It’s never over, you can rebrand yourself at any point, you just need to see that value in yourself, surround yourself with the right people, and put the hard work in. If you follow that process, anything’s possible.