As CEO Gareth Dunlop wrote in his 2021 blog Design purpose gained not creativity lost, a melting pot of individuals from various backgrounds, career paths and disciplines creates depth, insight and creativity in the world of service design and user experience: “Fathom benefits from a wide array of people in its team with a range of life experiences, educational backgrounds and personality types. This brings real benefits to us and our clients, helping to avoid homogeneity, resist group think and think creatively about the various design challenges which come our way.”
One of our most recent additions to the team, Christine McDowell, is a real–life example of this in action. Christine made the leap from electronic and software engineering to full–time UX designer via a placement with Fathom in the height of lockdown. We sat down with Christine to discover her motivation for a career change, how UX design has awakened and facilitated her passion to help others and her advice for those considering making a similar change in the future.
After studying electric and software engineering, what made you move into studying UX?
I originally got into the tech industry because I know the positive impact technology can have on people’s lives and I wanted a career with purpose. I studied electronic and software engineering for several years and I really enjoyed it. However, I felt somewhat disconnected from the people I wanted to help when building electronics and writing code.
From a young age I had a real interest in problem solving, understanding how things work and I loved setting up and fixing electronic devices for my family. My Granny who is deaf would call me for help on a regular basis and I would spend hours teaching her how to use digital devices, for example a smart phone, a smart tv – to name just a few. I found it really rewarding watching how this transformed her day–to–day life. I quickly became the ‘go to person’ amongst my family and friends when it came to anything tech and I got a real buzz from helping people out. I soon realised that I genuinely enjoyed helping others, and this is where my journey into UX began.
Did you have any concerns about making the change?
My main concern was whether my skills and experiences would be transferable given how much time I had invested studying electronic and software engineering. My worries were unfounded as it turns out in the world of UX, design skills are important – but the qualities that a person must have are empathy, patience, a love for problem solving and a genuine desire to help people. When I began the course in Interaction Design at Ulster University, I knew immediately that I had made the right decision as I felt much more connected to the people that I was designing for – which is what I had been missing up until that point.
Starting your placement with Fathom during lockdown must have been tough. How did you find it?
I really didn’t know what to expect, as like many this was my first time working remotely. I had only met the team briefly once in person and my main concern was how was I going to make connections and build relationships with everyone virtually. I was extremely nervous at first, however, I was quickly put at ease by the amazing team we have here at Fathom. Each team member reached out to me personally and made a real effort to get to know me. This made it easy for me to reach out when I needed any help or guidance. Everyone is always happy to help. Collaboration and interaction are such a big part of the job and necessary for us to deliver our client work and feeling part of the team, even in a remote setting, really helped facilitate this and allowed me to settle in really well, even in those early months.
What’s the best part of your new job as a UX designer?
Knowing that the work I do every day is meaningful and has purpose. It was also important for me to find a job that I loved so it didn’t feel ‘like a job’. Design is outward facing, it’s for other people and being a UX designer gives me the power to help make the digital world more accessible and inclusive for everyone. I work with an amazing team of like–minded people who are passionate about what they do and want to make a difference.
What advice would you give someone considering a change of career and in particular moving into the world of UX?
Firstly, don’t be afraid to make a change in your life especially when it comes to your career, always listen to your gut instinct – it won’t let you down. Secondly, know your options as I had no idea UX existed when I began my studies. If you think a career in UX might be for you then it probably is! If you strive to make a difference to people’s lives, especially those with accessibility needs then this is the perfect career for you.
Cover image: Christine McDowell. (author) Christine is pictured relaxing with her Mum on holiday in Spain [digital image]. Image author’s own / Modified from original.