I’ve been thinking about my professional life both past and present. When I started my PhD, my goal was to be the Dean of Students at small college or university, the next step up from my years of academic advising. I loved students and technology, and continue to be passionate about their success. Asking me any question about a college student’s options will turn my advising hat on. However, when I finished the degree, I was lost, because I no longer wanted to run a department. I wanted to spend more time with tech tools and making them better. That said, I had no idea what career path that would be.
Instructional design was a no. Applied research? Was there R&D for learning? Because I was in a fairly traditional education department, I was advised to pursue educationey careers. That is, faculty or administration. Period. I was teaching myself basic web design then, as part of my research assistantship. I knew that I really did not want to go back to administration, and while I love teaching, I was not interested in the publish-or-perish lifestyle.
Lo-and-behold there *is* (and has been) a career focus for someone like me, with a very human view of technology, but rather limited interest in design or coding. I learned because I had to, in order to serve my diverse clients well. It’s pretty embarrassing to me how late I stumbled into User Experience Research as a job title. I’d been doing the work, loving the process – without knowing that the job of my dreams existed in tandem with my consulting work. As I noted on Facebook recently:
As we continue to talk about increasing the diversity of the tech industry, and work to develop solutions, we have to acknowledge the blinders that exist. I started my first web design company out of necessity, not out of a burning desire to be a web designer. Thankfully, I loved it, and it fed my family for years. I still enjoy explaining “what a teacher is doing building websites” because the empathy and understanding that made me a great advisor has always been an integral part of my technical work. Working with clients relies heavily on my counseling background – especially when delivering findings that aren’t all that pleasant to hear.
It’s important as professionals and mentors that we see beyond our own noses, or at least acknowledge that there are paths very different from the ones we’ve taken. I don’t resent my path, because I’ve always benefited from new experiences and my clients definitely gain from my diverse domains of expertise. Today, incorporating the research focus I started with into my project management career gives me all the warm fuzzies, as well as a providing nice boost in my contracting rate.