After investing years of expensive education in a career, it can be disheartening (and terrifying) to learn that it’s not what you wanted. But it doesn’t mean that your dream career isn’t out there — or even just around the corner. That was the case for Stephanie Johnson, who made the switch from healthcare to healthcare technology through General Assembly’s User Experience Design Immersive (UXDI) program. Learn how she knew it was the right time to finally pursue a new, fulfilling career.
What were you doing before you came to GA? What prompted you to make a change?
I was working with individual patients as a diabetes educator and dietitian at a Denver community clinic. The way the pandemic changed the work dynamics there really fueled the fire for my change; it was really the last straw. I knew back in 2017 that I wanted to make a change; I felt like even though I was helping people, I was missing some key things I wanted in my career, including challenge, creativity, collaboration, and potential for growth. It’s a tough pill to swallow when you’ve worked so hard to get where you are, but I felt like there was nowhere to go. Fast forward a couple years later, I discovered UX. Now, the work I do is focused on improving workflows for clinicians so that their quality of life and impact on patients trickles down. It felt like an incredibly long journey to find it, but it was very well worth it from where I sit now.
What was it about UX design specifically that intrigued you to explore it as a career? What was the defining moment that pushed you forward?
I volunteered for a program in Denver called 10.10.10. It was essentially a 10-day sprint for 10 serial entrepreneurs, focused on finding a new business venture within the context of 10 wicked problems that exist in the healthcare space. I went through those 10 days absolutely loving the exploratory exercises, the interviews, and — most of all — the excitement and energy of those around me. Little did I know that those 10 days of activities were all design thinking (AKA UX)! I knew that if something brought me to life this much, I needed to research and explore it further as a potential career. It was after having my daughter and returning to work when the pandemic hit, and my work situation was not what I signed up for. I just knew in my gut and my heart that I couldn’t be stagnant any longer. I thankfully have a wonderful, supportive partner who encouraged me all throughout the career transition, and was all for me enrolling in the GA bootcamp.
What motivated you to choose GA over other programs?
I chose GA for many reasons. From my prior engineering bootcamp experience, I learned that the self-study program wasn’t for me. I needed a more focused, guided, and live class to fully immerse myself in UX. GA is one of few schools (if any) that offer both live and remote classes. I also loved that GA is worldwide and, therefore, has a large network of alumni that have successfully transitioned careers — many who are happy to help another GA alum. Additionally, I had been exposed to GA through the local meetups I attended in the past and felt the events and topics were really valuable. All in all, it felt like the best fit for me and what I needed.
What was it like taking a remote course and being a mom during a pandemic?
Like I mentioned, my husband was so supportive throughout. When I had tons of work to do after class or had a project deadline, he would take over parenting duties so that I could have the time to take care of my work. We were also fortunate that our daycare remained open (mostly) throughout the pandemic.
What surprised you most about learning in a remote format? Was it what you expected?
I was nervous about it, but my instructors made it so engaging. Their passion came through in every lecture and every one-on-one chat I had with them. I was surprised with the diverse backgrounds they each brought to the table too: a Michelin star chef, a cheerleading coach, former politician — all in all, I would say that it exceeded my expectations. I really feel like I was prepared well.
What was the best thing about UXDI for you and the GA experience overall?
The best thing about UXDI and GA overall was that I was successful in landing a great role with a company I’m proud to work for. It’s the most rewarding feeling to accomplish your lofty goal. Going through the GA bootcamp really gave me the confidence, knowledge, and language I needed to get through all those interviews and even in my day-to-day work now.
What advice do you have for people transitioning into a career in UX?
It’s certainly not easy, but it is completely worth it if you know in your gut that this is where you want to be. Persist and — as my instructor Chris would say — “bet on your work ethic.”
How did the skills you learned at GA help you in your current position?
Collaboration and the ability to give and receive feedback are extremely important. It’s very much part of the culture of my company, but it’s also essential to do well in UX. I really got to experience this during the group projects. When you and your team have the same shared goal, you know you’re in it to make something great together.
How has the pandemic influenced how you view your work?
The pandemic has made me see that my work is important. People are stressed out because of their work, and my job is to alleviate that. If we all don’t try to take care of our clinicians, we won’t have anyone to take care of the rest of us!
Looking back 10 years ago, did you think you would be switching to a career in tech?
Funny thing is that 10 years ago, I was fairly new in my healthcare career. It felt like the only place I wanted to be and where I felt I would stay, but I was a lot younger back then. I didn’t really evaluate what I wanted in my career beyond just wanting to help people and make a decent enough living to be comfortable.
Since graduating, how has GA made an impact in your life?
It’s been part of the journey to landing my dream role, so it’s made a huge impact. The advice and feedback I received from my instructors while at GA are invaluable, much of which I take with me to this day. GA has helped me solidify that I belong in UX because I want to be here. It’s truly opened my eyes to how important design is in so many aspects of life, technology, and everything in between.
In respect to UX, what do you want your legacy to be? Is there a change you want to inspire or a mission that defines the work that’s important to you?
What has resonated with me in UX is the topic of accessibility. We need to think about who we are including and who we might be excluding when we’re designing. Technology is for everyone. It was intended to improve our lives and make things easier so that we can spend more time doing things we enjoy. Every single person — regardless of disability, age, etc. — should be able to reap the benefits.