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Career shift: Retraining as a UX Designer and landing at IBM

Submitted on Thursday, January 16, 2020

Christina Park, speaking above, feels she benefited from the Faculty of Information’s encouragement of interdisciplinary training and backgrounds.

by Meghan Gheron

At the beginning of her Master’s studies in user experience design (UXD), Christina Park, who did her Bachelor’s degree in education and had wanted to be a teacher, worried about the career transition she was making and that it might be tough for her to succeed in UX and the tech industry. “I remember feeling uncertain and out of place,” says Park, who was originally drawn to UXD by its focus on people.

Throughout her studies, however, she overcame her tech insecurities by focusing on her strengths and passions. For example, Park, who had worked in outreach and education roles at a public art gallery, was part of a multi-faculty team that created MuseGO, an app for caregivers that can help improve the accessibility of museums for children with autism spectrum disorder.

Park’s inspiration for the app came from one of the Faculty’s Museum Studies courses, where a guest speaker discussed sensory-friendly programming. At the recommendation of Assistant Professor Olivier St-Cyr, Park brought the idea to another course covering creative applications for mobile devices. From there, the multi-faculty team and the project emerged.

The MuseGO app went on to win third place at the 2019 Innovative Designs for Accessibility student competition, which aims to encourage university students to develop solutions to accessibility related and aligned barriers.

Park credits her success to “building my UX design in the field I was most familiar with – education.” She benefited from the Faculty’s encouragement of interdisciplinary training and backgrounds and the way it balanced academic and practical learning. “My background, past experiences, and passion for arts, culture, design, innovation and technology could all come together,” she says.

While Park, who graduated last November, initially had problems explaining to her family why she was changing careers and just what the mysterious new discipline she was studying was, their support and faith in her judgment were rewarded when she landed a plum job as a UX designer at the IT giant IBM, where she now works in the cognitive systems unit for AI-related products and services.

Each day at work is different, says Park whose main task is conducting user research by planning and facilitating so-called “design thinking” workshops. IBM has stakeholders from all around the world, so she works to identify internal and external stakeholders to engage with, prepare and plan the workshops and activities, and then synthesizse her findings.

“Sometimes we perceive technology as something that competes against humans,” Park says. But as she sees it, humanity – which Park defines as the way we think and do things – is right at the core of UX. At its best, UXD helps create products and services that address people’s challenges and problems and seek to improve their lives, she says.

Her advice to current faculty students and recent grads?  Park recommends taking advantage of the Faculty’s resources, as well as making sure to seek opportunities outside of the classroom including internships, workshops, co-op and practica. “Design your own paths!” she says.

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