In our fourth post inspired by Crystal Beasley’s nerd story, one of our user experience researchers, Gina, describes the long journey that brought her from studying mathematics to working in tech and at Prezi. Over the next several weeks, we will be giving space for some of the amazing women who work at Prezi to share the journeys that brought them here—and we hope that by sharing our stories, we can increase the number of female role models in tech and inspire women to follow their passion wherever it may lead.
I feel sad when I hear people tell me that they don’t like their job or, even worse, their profession. If I ask them why they don’t try to find something that they do like, they say, “It’s too late—I’m not good at anything else.” When I try to tell them that it’s never too late to learn, they continue, “It’s too expensive, and I don’t have enough time to learn. I have a job, I’m too old.” I am sharing my nerd story to prove to these people that anything is possible, and it’s never too late to make a change.
When I graduated from high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. In my mind, I could choose from four professions: doctor, teacher, lawyer, and supermarket cashier (the job that my mother told me I would be forced to take if I didn’t study hard enough). I didn’t particularly want to be any of these things, so I went to university to study math, a subject I had always enjoyed, because I didn’t have a better idea.
I loved university, but I spent more time in the pub than I did in the classroom, and I didn’t care or think much about what would happen after graduation. Those five years flew by, and I graduated with all the skills I needed to become a math teacher. There was just one problem: I didn’t have any interest in becoming a teacher. Instead, I began looking for jobs at companies where I could put my math skills to use.
I sent my CV to hundreds of different companies, from research institutions to banks—most of them never replied. While waiting fruitlessly for a response, I tried my hand at a few other jobs to make ends meet. I worked at a real estate agency, and then for a brief time I gave telemarketing a try—but I felt like I was wasting my skills, my education, and my time at these jobs. After six long months of searching and struggling, I gave up on my dreams of working at a company and became a high school teacher. And I hated it. I felt like I was a bad teacher, and I realized that the profession in which I invested five years of studies was a dead-end for me. I felt like I had screwed up my whole life. To me, “work” had become the enemy, something awful that I had to do to survive.
One day, I had a crazy idea: let’s start over. I was tired of being miserable at my job. But what would I do instead? Besides math, I had always loved biology—so I decided to go back to school and pursue this old interest of mine. I enrolled in college again to study biomedical engineering. It wasn’t easy; I was studying full time while working full time to pay for school. I had a lot of sleepless nights and gave up my weekends, but my hard work was rewarding. After my first semester, I applied for GE Healthcare’s engineering development program, and I got the job. All of a sudden, I felt like everything had fallen into place. For the first time, I was enthusiastic about my job—and a nice side effect was that I started earning enough to fulfill my dreams of traveling to places like the Caribbean.
For the first two years I worked at GE, I worked on different teams in six-month rotations in order to get a better sense of how the company worked and which position fit me best. One of these exploratory rotations exposed me to something new: the concept of usability. Over the next four years, my specialty shifted from technical system engineering to user-centered system design. I began to understand that I wasn’t really the engineering type; I enjoyed working on usability and the user experience much more than pure engineering projects. I was working as a systems engineer with a focus on usability—but I gradually realized that I would rather be conducting user experience research. For the first time in my life, I discovered my dream job, and I found the field that I wanted to master. So I decided again to head back to the classroom to study cognitive psychology. This time my motivation wasn’t to start over, but rather to improve my competence and become an expert.
At this point, I also discovered that I had learned all I could about user experience from GE—if I wanted to continue to grow and become an expert in my new passion, I would need to find a new job. I began looking for open positions at companies with a strong user experience focus and culture. My search brought me to Prezi—and again, it felt like everything suddenly fell into place. For the first time, I enjoyed every moment of my work and was developing my skills in the direction I wanted to go. In the past two years, I have learned so much about UX, and I finally feel like I am in the right field doing the right job.
This is my story so far. Nine years ago, I was desperately trying to convince different HR people to hire me for jobs that I didn’t even want to do. Today, the same HR people are trying to convince me to work for them. What has changed? First, I didn’t give up after my first failure. Second, I kept looking until I found a profession that I really liked. Lastly, I continued to improve myself and to learn, so that I could become better at what I wanted to do.
So, if you’re unhappy like I was, take my advice: don’t be afraid to start over.