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My Journey from Chemical Engineering to Design - woman casually reading

“Design and Chemical Engineering”, when you say those two things together it sounds like you are comparing the sun and the moon, chicken soup and raspberry slushies, Pepsi and Coke (as a friend of mine insists). But that’s who I am, an Experience Designer with a background in Chemical Engineering. Because of my unconventional path into design, a lot of people have asked me how I got into it. Actually, do you have 5mins? Wanna grab a coffee, have a seat and hear a story?

I studied Chemical Engineering in uni and actually enjoyed it. Spent a lot of time in the lab doing experiments and simulations, getting frustrated with the inconsistent results, revising the procedures and iterating until I saw the pattern (which actually sounds quite similar to the design process). Anyway, the future looked great when I first started uni. The mining boom in WA created a lot of job opportunities and the career path for a Chemical Engineer was very promising. However, by the time I graduated, the mining boom was basically over. Chemical Engineering was one of the specialisations with the lowest vacancies for engineers in WA in 2016.

For someone who loved going to career fairs to get ALLLL the freebies (kidding, of course), I started looking into graduate programs in my final year of uni. Knowing where the industry was heading in the next couple of years, I decided to explore other areas at the same time. During my search, I stumbled across the Telstra graduate program. I did a bit of coding and data visualisation for my thesis and I didn’t hate it, so I thought I’d give it a go.

To be honest, I had zero confidence. Absolutely zero. Chemical engineering didn’t fit into any of their categories but I thought, “Hey I’ve got nothing to lose right?” After several rounds of interviews, phone calls and a trip to Sydney, I got a call from HR to tell me I got the job. I was thrilled and scared at the same time. Yay I got a job, but what am I actually going to do? I’m an imposter. I know nothing about IT. What if I can’t do what they ask me to do? Why would they even hire me?

My Journey from Chemical Engineering to Design - coffee cup

Luckily my first rotation manager helped me through it and I’m still very grateful for him and what I learnt in those first 6 months of my career. Before I started the graduate program, I asked for some pre-reading so I could get ready for the job. He was impressed and sent me a couple of things but also told me that there’s no need to stress because I’d be learning a lot on the job. He also showed me some non-technical areas in IT I could get into and design was one of them.

My Journey from Chemical Engineering to Design - working at computer

That’s it! That’s where it all started. I’ll be honest, I knew nothing about UX/UI at the time. On my first day, I got put on a project for an internal tool and I was the only designer. Yeah, thrown to the deep end just like that! I struggled at the beginning but I had an amazing mentor who helped to guide me along the process. All these terms like UX, UI, design thinking, Human Centred Design were thrown my way. I felt like I was in Alice in Wonderland!

After 6 months, we had to move on to other business areas as part of the graduate program, but I just couldn’t let it go! So, while I was working as a data analyst and a business solution consultant, I had other design projects on the side just because I loved it so much.

Design work allowed me to be creative and gave me opportunities to try new things!

I also signed up for a lot of courses online, attended training courses and conferences in person (when the world was still normal). When I finished our grad program, I applied for an experience designer role at Telstra Enterprise and I got it! I got to work on some pretty large-scale projects and had a taste of working on multiple projects at the same time. Super hectic but I loved it! This role also led me to Melbourne, which was absolutely a bonus!

My Journey from Chemical Engineering to Design - phone with presents appearing from the screen

After almost 3 years at Telstra, I decided to move on to a consulting role and that’s where I am now – Pretzel Lab! My role was quite UX focused back in Telstra, which was a very good starting point. So when I joined Pretzel Lab, one of my goals was to expand my areas of expertise and explore other areas like UI and research. I had lots of support from the team and also completed a UI design course at RMIT. 2 years later, I am now working on a project at one of the big 4 financial institutions doing everything end to end: research, UX, UI, research and delivery.

Phew, so that’s the end of my story (so far). Thanks for listening 🙂 How was your coffee? Reflecting on my journey to date, I think my biggest takeaway is to never stop learning and be proud of who you are. I used to hesitate a lot when I talk about my background, because I always felt like an imposter. I still felt like that when I joined Pretzel Lab. However, when I talked to Jane (our CEO) about it, she helped me realise that most of those skills I learnt from my degree were transferable,  such as researching, iterating and delivering. Also having a technical mindset helps me understand some of the technical requirements better. My unique background is what makes me stand out, and that’s what Jane helped me realise. So if you have imposter syndrome like me or even if you just question that you’re in the right place because you’re different to who you see around you:

Celebrate your different experiences and backgrounds because they only add value to who you are as a designer 🙂

Be proud 🙌!

(image credit: Illustration by Icons 8 from Ouch!)