25 Lessons from the First 5 Years of My UX Career

Earlier this year I passed the five year mark in my UX career. It’s been an incredible ride so far. I’ve met amazing people, done some really cool things and some really stupid things, all of which have made me a better UXer and a better person. This UXmas, I’d like to share some of these lessons from my first few years in the hope one or two may help you in your own UX journey.

  1. Treat your career like they say in an airline safety demonstration: “put your own mask on first before assisting others” (excellent advice I received from a friend).
  2. You have to work with what you’ve got. You can’t do everything, so don’t beat yourself up over it.
  3. 'Failure’ is the best thing ever.
  4. Work with people you like and if you really don’t like the people you work with, leave. Life is too short.
  5. Focus only on what you’re doing. Stop comparing yourself to other people.
  6. Get a mentor. Better yet, find several mentors. Find a whole bunch of people who can each guide you on different aspects of your career.
  7. Be gentle on those around you.  
  8. Don’t be so easily impressed.
  9. Never fear asking questions of people more senior to you. Always be respectful, but if they get defensive or angry remember that’s about them and not about you.
  10. Don’t work 7 days a week. Just don’t.
  11. Think outside your day job. There’s a big world of worlds out there and there’s no reason why you can’t live in more than one.
  12. Everyone else has their own crap going on too and they’re not thinking about yours (wise words from a beautiful friend).
  13. Arbitrary goals are always a good idea. I set myself the goal of giving 3 conference talks within one year (October 2014- October 2015) as a joke. And then it happened! I don’t know how, but it did.
  14. Get involved in the UX community. They’re nice people, I promise.
  15. Don’t be a shitty mentor. I was a terrible mentor to someone in early 2015 and it taught me a lot, the hard way.
  16. Don’t be afraid to say 'no'.
  17. Have an opinion and share your voice.
  18. Know your limitations.
  19. Seek forgiveness, not permission.
  20. Never stop learning.
  21. Practice excellent self care. Eat properly, exercise, get plenty of rest and do things that make you happy.
  22. Be yourself at work—it’s too damn hard to be someone else and inauthenticity is beneath you.  
  23. Treat your client as you would your user. What do they need? What are they trying to achieve? How do they feel?
  24. Listen carefully and actively. If you don’t fully understand something, don’t be afraid to ask.
  25. At the end of the day, it’s only work. Really.

Care to share any hard-won lessons of your own?

Ashlea McKay

Ashlea McKay

Ashlea McKay is a Senior User Experience (UX) writer, researcher and keynote speaker with a background in industrial design. Ashlea is also Autistic and has held state and national level volunteer leadership positions in the Diversity & Inclusion space. Ashlea is the Chief Columnist and Co-Founder of UX advice column, UX Agony Aunt which can be viewed on the Optimal Workshop blog. A well respected UX thought leader, she is passionate about mentoring and is heavily involved in the global UX community. Ashlea is currently writing a book about her experiences and ideas as an Autistic UX professional. Based in Canberra Australia, Ashlea is an art and craft obsessed cat lady with a love of vintage fashion who missed her calling as a hairdresser, and can be found on Twitter.

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