Still with me?
Good, here are the 3 most important “secrets” that I want to share with you today to help you succeed.
1. Be critical and identify your knowledge gaps.
Did you know the U in UX design stands for “unicorn”? Okay, not really. But similar to a unicorn, a UX designer must have a mix of diverse skills and traits that they can bring to the table. From my experience, I have found that school alone does not adequately prepare us as UX designers with the skills required to obtain one of these coveted jobs. I often refer to these additional necessary skills as “knowledge gaps.” It is crucial for you, as a student, to reflect on yourself and your current field of study to identify your potential knowledge gaps.
In my opinion, as a student applying for a UX internship at big tech, you need to fill these six areas of knowledge.
Basic front end coding
Design tools such as Figma, Sketch, and Adobe
Design thinking and the design process
User research and data analysis
I’ve found that no university or program covers all of these topics. None. This holds for even the newest and best design programs. To illustrate my point, I will compare and contrast two of the University of Washington’s highly competitive and awesome design programs: Interaction Design(IxD) and Human-Centered Design and Engineering (HCDE). As a third-year in the IxD program, I have covered the fundamentals of UX design including “goal-directed design approach” and how to create design systems and interfaces. We are repeatedly drilled through all the details of visual design techniques and are pushed to create pixel-perfect designs. However, the IxD program does not teach any front-end coding skills. The HCDE department offers extremely similar design courses with more emphasis on user research and front-end coding, such as a wide selection of coding classes from Python to React.
From these two examples, you can see that there are clear “knowledge gaps” within each program. Understanding basic front-end development and visual design are both equally important for someone who wishes to intern in big tech. Therefore, no matter which program you are enrolled in, you need to use your own time to fill those knowledge gaps.
There are many great resources out there to help you. For example, I have taken over 50 hours of free coding courses on Coursera to fill my knowledge gap on web development. Was the coding knowledge immediately useful at an interview? No, definitely not. But it helped me identify certain design proposals that could result in push back to work better with developers, a question asked by one of the designers at Amazon during my interview.
This is also why you will find that many senior and principal UX designers come from diverse backgrounds ranging from arts, engineering to even marketing. What makes someone a successful UX designer is not about which program you majored in, but about if you filled your existing knowledge gaps.
To learn more about university programs, knowledge gaps, and how to be critical, view my podcast episode here.