Alumni Stories: Isobel Kieran From Publishing to Product Design


Learning the knowledge and skills you need to work in a new field can seem daunting and pointless after years of experience working in one industry. Family responsibilities make it difficult for many people to dedicate additional time, effort, and finances to retraining.

After working in the same field for ten years as a creative director for crowdfunding independent publisher Unbound, General Assembly alumna Isobel Kieran retrained with GA and found her new career as a product designer with Red Badger. She sat down with career coach Jaz Broughton to talk about why she’s thankful she put aside her fears to invest in her future. 

Deciding to pivot

Jaz: What were you doing before you decided to pivot your career?

Isobel: Working in publishing wasn’t something I planned. I started my career at Unbound, working a few unpaid hours in the evening, and eventually moved to full-time in various roles. After ten years of hard work, growth, and the birth of my children, I finally got to a point where I could pause and take a step back to reflect.

Even with all I had accomplished professionally, I hadn’t asked myself if it was the career I really wanted. I realized I didn’t want to stay in the profession for the long term, so I began looking for other options. After stewing on it for a year, I transferred my skills and got retrained in a new field.

Balancing responsibilities while retraining

Jaz: It was important that you gave yourself space to ask intentional questions and had brave conversations with yourself. What was it like to go through a training program while raising a family?

Isobel: It was the most intense three months of my life. I was able to take risks early in my career when I didn’t have commitments like a mortgage or kids. As I’ve gotten older, my risk-taking tolerance has changed. In choosing the training program, I ran the risk of my income dropping. The irony of working and having kids is that you work, earn money, and pay your childcare provider so that you can return to work. My job and childcare costs barely balanced out financially at one point. I realized I needed to enjoy my job to make it worthwhile to leave my kids with someone else who got to enjoy them.

Finding work at the right company

Jaz: When it comes to career changes, many people think they need a master’s degree, but those typically take a year or two, which becomes prohibitive. You managed to find success after just three months of training. Could you tell me how you found your current role?

Isobel: As soon as the course was over, I began job hunting. Interviewing allowed me to gain experience with interview techniques and determining how well an interview turned out. Interviewing is as much about finding the right company for you as it is about finding the right person for their team.

At a certain point in your career maturity, you’re looking for a company that suits you. The dynamic shifted for me, and it became more of a circular conversation and discussion, which I enjoyed. This process attracted me to my current employer—they were interested in having a dialogue rather than going through the motions of interviewing.

How GA stands out from other programs

Jaz: How was your retraining with GA different from other courses?

Isobel: There are many organizations in the tech industry offering retraining courses. Quite a few of them are self-directed. I’m much more comfortable in an environment where an expert or teacher guides me through the content. I had an excellent teacher in my cohort, and even though the class was fully remote, it surprised me how well we connected—not just as colleagues but as friends.

Going in expecting education and coming out with a holistic, satisfying life experience was truly rewarding.

Why pivoting into tech was the right fit

Jaz: What excites me so much about what GA does in the tech industry is the pathway it creates for more people who have historically been excluded from entering the industry. We love hearing stories of people who took the course at the right time, experienced a complete transformation, or at least got closer to their goals. What kind of transformation have you seen? 

Isobel: Tech offers women the tremendous opportunity to have what they’re often told they can’t have, which is an amazing career and quality time with their children. Compared to other industries, tech recognizes the value of transferable skills. There’s a hunger for flexibility and different perspectives.

I came from an industry where poorly managed people become managers who repeat the same behavior. Their management style mirrors the generations-old view of people as tools to achieve targets. In my current job, I’ve noticed that the focus is on your next steps and how you want to grow.

Actionable takeaways

Jaz: What would you say to somebody considering a career change with GA?

Isobel: The best advice I can give someone thinking about joining a training is to permit themselves to just do it. I felt guilty for a long time about wanting to switch careers because I was doing well on paper. Pivoting can happen even if your job is going well. As soon as you permit yourself, then you can begin planning.

Imagine how the next three months, six months, or a year will look for you if you begin planning now. Ensure that you have all the support you need to help you maintain your mental health and work-life balance. When you’re well prepared, you’re more likely to maximize this learning opportunity and confidently move into your new career.

If you’re considering changing a career and don’t know where to start, download our Career Changer’s Guide to Doing Something Different.

Disclaimer: General Assembly referred to their Bootcamps and Short Courses as “Immersive” and “Part-time” courses respectfully and you may see that reference in posts prior to 2023.