Diego Encarnacion was in his junior year at Vassar College when he “fell out of love” with his major, philosophy.
As he searched for the right career-minded pivot, he zeroed in on the intersection of design and technology. That’s when he discovered UX.
It was too late to easily change majors, and Vassar didn’t have any UX or design courses anyway, so Diego looked for a way to supplement his college studies.
There were three main reasons why Diego chose to learn with Springboard, he said:
“First was the fact that it promised me I would have a portfolio piece by the time I finished the course. Second, I wanted something I could commit myself to while I had an internship and college degree to attend to, so the online nature of the course was perfect. Third, the fact that Springboard provides me with a real-world professional mentor to bounce ideas with was something I knew would benefit me greatly.”
The one-on-one mentorship was key, he reiterated.
“Our relationship was warm and friendly—I always felt comfortable asking her all sorts of questions, even if they were the types of questions that I would have been too scared asking at a networking event,” he said. “We had good rapport and I felt like she had my best interests at heart. She even offered to look over my work outside of our weekly calls.”
There were challenges, of course. While the self-paced nature of the program allowed Diego to fit his UX studies into his life with minimal disruption, he sometimes struggled to stay on track.
“I had never taken an online course before, and without the threat of deadlines or a bad grade it was hard to self-motivate,” he said. “However, once I shared a game plan with my mentor and she was able to check up on me, I guess the element of guilt played a role in getting me to do the work!”
It took Diego about five months to complete the UX Design Career Track. He finished halfway through his senior year. With graduation still months away, he hit the streets of Poughkeepsie, NY, in search of additional practical experience. He went door to door advertising his ability to create websites for small businesses in an attempt to beef up his portfolio.
Related: What Does a UX Designer Do?
Once that work was in motion, he set his eyes on the ultimate prize. “I started networking my way into the IBM community because I knew they had an office just five minutes away from me,” he said. “Basically, I just bugged IBM until they gave me a job.”
Even though he was a total beginner when he began his Springboard learning experience, Diego said his teammates have praised his skills.
“A lot of my colleagues say the main thing that I bring to the team is my knowledge of the design process,” he said. “And that was like the main thing that Springboard kind of pushed for me. It was all about these deliverables… I’m talking about empathy maps, personas, heuristic analyses, all that good stuff.”
Diego works full-time as a design researcher and UX designer at IBM, focusing on improving the user experience of people using IBM mainframe technology, which powers the data processing of banks and governments around the world.
“It’s exciting stuff!” he said. “For now, I’m just trying to wrap my head around the technical knowledge required in my research, and I imagine I’ll be in this position for a while.”
He has this important advice for job searchers: “Remember that job experience does not need to come in the form of an official job title. Sure, a title that says something like ‘graphic designer at Adobe’ sounds great, but know that the small work you do for school or a family friend or just for fun is just as valuable. Before IBM, I had several freelance projects for small businesses and restaurants that I was able to put into my portfolio. While they probably don’t know what ‘UX’ is, that didn’t change the fact that I did UX work for them that I was able to craft a personal narrative around.”
Looking back at his path to a UX job, Diego said he’s glad he chose Springboard.
“It was intensive but easy to navigate and jam-packed with the essential things I needed to know to make my UX design portfolio,” he said. “Springboard provided me with the tools and resources I needed to get into the field, even as someone who hadn’t heard of it before.”