How to Shifting Career When You are Almost 30

Yes, you read it right: when other people at that age start to have settled lives, I risk my life instead.

What a very exaggerating statement, right? But that’s exactly what it looks when it happens in Indonesian society. People were questioning my decision. Even my parents didn’t understand what I was really doing at the time. I mean, I was soon to be a master’s degree. I have 4 years of experience in customer support. I might be able to land a better position if I focus on finding work in the same field–or including my degree. But no matter how hard I try to play it safe, stoic, and ignorant, unexpectedly my life is always running towards adventures.

I was getting laid out of force Majeure-ly (it is important to stress out that the reason for my dismissal was not because I was stupid or underperformance. It’s all because of that bad business model f*ckg pandemic) from my previous startup company. During 4 years of my experience, I know nothing about UX Researcher. UX researcher is a term that refers to an occupation in technology-based companies. It is part of the User Experience (UX) Team, responsible for finding and creating product designs that prioritize user needs. While I have no experience with design, coding, industrial research, or anything related. WTF even my MA is for religious studies and of course, it makes sense when people thought I’m just looking for trouble. After getting fired in July 2020, I took a breath in August, read about the industry, about the future possibility, discovered UX Research then decided to move forward and was looking for an opportunity in UI/UX field. So, how to become a UX researcher?

This is what I did base on my experience:

  1. Learn the basics
    In 2020, information about UX researchers in bahasa Indonesia was still very rare. All sources are available in English. I didn’t understand some of the technical writings and guides about UX Researcher. The obstacles was particularly because of the technical terms that I’m not familiar with. I didn’t know about affinity diagraming, PRD, CTA, Prototype, Wireframe bla bla bla. Therefore, I am more inclined to learn about general things related to digital product development and the basic idea of UX.
  2. Internship
    This-is-the-ultimate-way! I wish someone had told me earlier about this.
    After learning about UX and the industry, I do believe I have the ability to become a researcher in UX. However, I didn’t know where to begin and whether I have learned the right thing or not. I desperately looking for an opportunity but it is impossible for someone who doesn’t have any experience in UX Research. At that time, there was no UX internship program that I found.
    So what I did later was: I log in to my LinkedIn and looked for any PM or UX Designer I know and ask for an internship opportunity. UNPAID*. I got the opportunity from a UX Designer I know and for the next 1.5 months, I worked for the product team for free. I didn’t get any certificate because I worked for less than 3 months, but still, I got a glimpse of knowledge about digital products. 2 months later, Niagahoster opened a UX Research intern vacancy and I applied. Fortunately, I hit it and became more excited because it was paid internship.

    It sounds easy, but Internships are tough.¬†Especially if you have experienced a fixed salary and stable finances before, then suddenly work without getting paid or being paid a quarter of your previous salary?? Nah. It’s hard. But that’s the price you have to pay to get a mentor. I left all my ego behind and became a clueless old intern.
    Today you might be able to learn on youtube or articles or Bootcamp? I don’t know the impact because I didn’t experience it. But I went through the ‘enlightenment’ when I was mentored by professionals and did real projects based on the real problem. The experience of absorbing knowledge was completely different from reading self-taught. And if you work hard, you might get recruited as a full-time employee… just like me.

At least until this day, switching to UX research was one of the best decisions I’ve made. UX research combines technology, knowledge, and the ability to capture social sensibilities. Without realizing it, all of my experiences during my master’s studies and in customer support actually helped me quickly adapt to UX. As if I experienced all of that as preparation to become who I am today. I still believe that researcher is a futureproof occupation. As long as you have research skills, honest curiosity, and empathy, you can always adapt to change.

If you’re going through something bad like mine, moving forward is the only way to survive. You can choose to stay on your path or start something new. A career switch isn’t suicidal if you know your goals and prepare for them desperately. By writing this I want to normalize career shifting in Indonesia starting with myself. It’s never too late to start something new. You will probably see me as a new person with a different profession in the next 5 years. I am always open to every opportunity. We are all human by nature. We are not just built with flesh and blood. We have a system of mind and conscience that always desire something new, something more valuable.

*Disclaimer: UNPAID here is an offer from me because I am the one who needs a mentor. I offered to work voluntarily because I needed the experience, while the company did not provide internship vacancies. However, if you find an unpaid internship vacancy, I do not recommend you to (hurriedly) apply. You need to check the company review or consider carefully whether the sacrifice made is worth it or not. Especially because during 2020-2021, there were many cases of exploitation against interns.
In my opinion, companies still have an obligation to give appreciation salaries to interns. Especially if the interns are empowered to reduce the workload.

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