Student Spotlight: Julie Dal Santo
After working for years in Human Resources, Julie was looking for something new to study to reclaim her ‘professional mojo’. Little did Julie know at the time, but training in User Experience Design was going to lead to her leaving her profession and starting up her own successful enterprise.
What was happening for you before studying at Xi? What made you decide to sign up?
At the time, I had been working for about six years in my HR role, had two babies while working there and had loved it. Then there was a leadership change at work and an evolution across Human Resources in terms of employee experience, which I found really interesting. The human element really resonated with me: the connection and feeling, instead of it being just a transactional cyclical process.
I had started to feel that lull in my career moment. I’m a big advocate for continuous learning and improvement and for not necessarily sticking to a linear approach. When we hear and learn from different perspectives we can broaden our own thinking, and spark creativity. So with that in mind, one of my incredible mentors and I workshopped a couple of areas I might be interested in learning more about. She was the first person to actually mention User Experience (UX) Design and Academy Xi, and had heard that it was well regarded and took a more innovative approach in terms of being practical and industry-led compared to a lot of other training options on the market. Xi put more focus on the skills and knowledge required on the job and was more relevant to the wider industry.
I looked around and did some of my own research. Looking at what Xi was offering, I really loved the principles of UX Design. What resonated the most was the project in terms of setting a problem statement and then looking at the practical sense of solving the problem – but with a focus on the human element of that journey.
So I signed up to UX UI Design Elevate. I had just fallen pregnant with my third child at the time and work got really busy. The flexibility that Xi gave in terms of course start dates and the training itself made it easier to find a way to make it happen.
What was your course experience like?
I was 25 weeks pregnant and working 4 days a week when I started the course. It was crazy but really energising. It was a challenge and if it was easy, everyone would do these things. But it aligned with my values, it was great.
There were about 12-15 of us in our cohort and what kept me going was our two instructors, Berlin and Pedro. They were working in the field and had very practical, tangible advice. Their love and passion and interest in teaching really shone through. The course content was amazing, but to also be taught by people who are really passionate about what they do, it’s their bread and butter, it really just pushes you along.
I’m not from a tech background and they opened my eyes. The support that they gave and the way they went about their teaching was extremely engaging and made it really enjoyable. They were both incredible. Very generous with their time. When people really know their subject matter intimately, they’re able to truly break it down and simplify it. It was a wonderful experience.
Can you recall any highlights within the training or content?
The user testing session we ran. I was really skeptical initially. It’s a good reminder – asking people and letting people talk uninterrupted instead of making assumptions.
We had completed our prototype and then had to sit down and do user testing. Everyone brought a friend and we gave them our spiel and the instructions. They then went through the prototype process, pressing the buttons, navigating what we had designed.
I thought my product was great and it made complete sense. I’d spoken to like minded people, they were all on board. Then there was this wave of phenomenal feedback from the user testing session! I’ve incorporated and held on to that even after the business has launched – I still go back and look over some of that feedback.
As humans, we tend to assume that people either know something or have a similar experience to ourselves, and that we’ve thought of everything. We look for confirmation bias and we like being right, but the power of observation is so important – just ask the question and don’t interrupt.
Did you work on a real-life project within your training?
We could come up with our own personal problem statement that could be the basis for our project and prototype. For me, at the time, I was mulling over three different problems and I wanted to make sure that it was real life and practical. I chose a performance review process and my problem statement was:
“How might we empower employees to own and drive their lifetime career performance, feedback and development so that they are not constrained by organisational processes, timing and data management?”.
Performance review is a process that many people have gone through across different organisations. So many people put so much effort into preparing for these conversations and getting some kind of rating as a result. All of that information goes somewhere – and it might not be recalled or ever used again.
How do we empower them? I wanted to build a solution that would address that.
And that was the catalyst for your business, My Career Capital?
Yes. The problem statement I came up with for the project within my course has grown. I presented it at the end of the ten week training to a panel and there was a lady from a recruitment agency who commented on it, said it was a wonderful idea and product and then just before I had my baby I caught up with a few people and told them what I had been working on in the course and they were really supportive. They said that they loved the concept.
By this point, after the course, my focus was having my baby. About six months later I started having conversations about the idea again. At that point I wasn’t certain if I would be returning to my HR role either.
We are more than our jobs – the moment you start identifying as being your job, that can be problematic in a number of ways. I think once you learn new things and have different experiences, it broadens your view of what is possible and expands the value you can add. I wanted to explore a little bit more. I began reconnecting and nurturing some of my network relationships and they really encouraged me to pursue this as well. So it started from the project at Academy Xi and it has now turned into a startup business.
Can you give us an overview of what My Career Capital is about?
My Career Capital is a one-stop, all-inclusive platform to help you design, manage and grow your career, your way.
The essence of what we do is giving individuals (all types of workers) and employers practical, tangible tools to build their know-how around managing themselves and their career capital. This is transformational and critical for one to navigate the future of work.
How do we do it? It’s where users create, use and own an innovative personalised digital portfolio of their career capital to enhance employment outcomes and career potential. It can help them achieve their career potential and boost their success and fulfilment throughout their career.
The biggest change in mindset within the current world of work we live in, is a push for individuals to take ownership of themselves and their career.
New research is showing the patterns of how people are career shifting – not necessarily staying within the same industries or organisations longer term but actually moving on every three to seven years. That’s huge for those just coming out of university at the moment, at the early stage of their career, having to continue to evolve.
The ability for those early in their careers to navigate those transitions is all about learning how to manage themselves and their portfolio, so they can manage their transition more seamlessly, whether it’s a promotion they’re going for or a change in direction.
Research is also showing that if you want to be at the top of your game and be an industry leader, you need to be doing five hours of learning a week. It’s 2-3 hours just to stay relevant. Being active in our learning and knowing ourselves intimately can help us to navigate opportunities and challenges effectively.
Did you plan to start a business before training in UX?
Not at all. I came to study UX purely to get my mojo back, to immerse myself in something really interesting that would complement the skills I already had, but also to move me further along professionally.
My mentor at the time was external to where I was working – which is really important to have someone outside of your work environment, to encourage diversity in thinking. I had no idea training in UX would result in me starting my own business. If someone had suggested that to me back then I wouldn’t have believed it and probably would’ve thought it was insane to even consider it.
When you have the perspective and you can be the observer of yourself, you can make decisions that are more aligned with your values and therefore you have a higher sense of satisfaction and fulfilment. And that’s what has happened for me in studying UX Design and starting My Career Capital.
The brilliant thing with UX, is that it’s not job title or industry specific. This is where we need to break down those barriers. It didn’t matter that I was an HR professional without a tech background. The process is still the same, it’s how you go about applying it, that’s the beauty and the richness in the learning and what I found to be so interesting.
Would you recommend studying UX Design?
The theme that is coming through is that a stronger human approach is needed, putting the human connection back into the processes many industries run. Human Resources for one, or any organisation working with people such as the legal industry or community projects, any role or industry that interacts with responsibility and accountability, I can’t advocate enough how important studying UX is.
This process places you as an observer. You’re not making decisions all the time from your perspective. The process is very organic and pushes people to approach tasks and problems with more creativity.
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