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Transitioning to UX

One of the best questions to get to know a fellow UX-er is “what was your major?” The answers are often unexpected, and tell you more about the person you’re speaking with, as well as more about the field of UX.

My answer, of course, is theater. For most people, this sounds like the exception to the rule. But there is no content strategy major. Not even a major that “most” content strategists studied in college.

Everyone finds their own way to UX. My story is just one example, one possible journey.

From theater to content

When I applied to college, I wanted to be an actress. I chose a university with a reputable theater department and music department, and registered as a theater major within the first week. There was no question in my mind that acting was my future.

Until, following a department requirement, I worked backstage on a show. I loved it. I moved from stage crew to assistant stage manager to stage manager, working backstage at least as often as onstage. Where acting made me feel incompetent and vulnerable, stage management gave me control. I was good at it, and I knew it.

Theater –> Film

By the time I graduated, I was still going to auditions, but I was actively looking for jobs as a stage manager. Unfortunately, stage management pays very poorly, and I soon found myself looking to alternatives: like film, where stage management skills transfer to production roles. Film paid very well, though the hours were (if anything) worse than theater. I slept little and worked a lot for the better part of two years. It was fun at times, stressful at times, and threatened to burn me out in more ways that one.

Then a close friend, a web developer, asked if I’d ever considered project management.

Film –> Software

As a project manager, I had better hours, but less creativity. The work was often more regimented, and I was not expected to offer any opinions. My organizational skills transfered well, but I missed the storytelling of film and theater.

Until I went to a UIE conference, and heard Kristina Halvorson speak about content strategy. Organized, moderated,¬†language, used to tell an organization’s story. A lightbulb went on in my brain and the rest, as they say, is history.

How can you make the transition?

There’s nothing that I did that is unique to theater and film. In fact, plenty of content strategists come from journalism, development, teaching, or design. They all find their own paths, different from mine, and yet similar in that they built skills in other ways before adapting them to the work we do now.

Here are some questions to consider when transitioning to a career in UX:

  • What are you good at? Regardless of the job title, the most successful people are those who know their strengths and weaknesses, and use their strengths to support their teams.
  • How could use your skills in the future? Removing your skills from your current job, where do you see overlap with other positions?
  • What appeals to you about UX? Don’t fall into the trap of assuming that a sexy job title is the same as a job you will enjoy day in and day out.
  • What skills transition? Remember, everyone needs time management, teamwork, and other skills. These are universally valuable, and worth practicing regardless of role or position.

We all find our own ways to UX, and my favorite part is that I keep learning as I go. Best of luck on the journey!

Marli Mesibov

Marli is a content strategist with a passion for the user experience. Her work spans websites, web applications, and mobile. Marli is the VP of Content Strategy at the UX design agency Mad*Pow, and she serves as managing editor at UX Booth, a publication about all areas of user experience. Marli is a frequent conference speaker, and has spoken at conferences including Content Strategy Forum and LavaCon. She can also be found on Twitter, where she shares thoughts on content strategy, literature, and Muppets.

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