After singlehandedly taking care of her disabled mother starting from the age of nine, Teliah Jackson was inspired to become a medical massage therapist. A medical massage therapist is a licensed massage therapist (LMT) who treats health conditions diagnosed by a doctor, using massage techniques designed to alleviate chronic pain, treat injuries, and reduce stress—especially for cancer or fibromyalgia patients.
Teliah loved her work: within the span of a 30-minute or hour-long appointment, she could help patients feel better using her hands, her compassion, and her knowledge. But after doing it for 10 years, she wanted to make a bigger impact—helping people on a larger scale instead of just one-to-one. When the pandemic shuttered her business, Teliah had time to re-evaluate her future. That’s when she discovered UX design.
“The reasons that inspired me to become a medical massage therapist are the same reasons that I am transitioning into UX design,” said Teliah.
She relishes the power of UX design to make technology more user-friendly, enabling people to access crucial services. Now, she’s a UX designer at the American Automobile Association (AAA), a nonprofit that provides auto and home insurance, and even car buying services and driver’s ed. While AAA is best known for providing 24-hour roadside assistance for when your car breaks down, Teliah says she was hired to help rebrand the company, which was founded in 1902, and bring more awareness to the breadth of services it provides.
I did massage therapy for over 10 years because I grew up taking care of my disabled mom by myself starting from the age of nine. We spent a lot of time seeing chiropractors, physical therapists, and doctors. I saw that these medical professionals were helping her, but never to the full extent, and that's what inspired me to go into massage therapy. I started doing that at an early age. I’d wanted to do it forever because I loved seeing how people would feel better within 30 minutes to an hour of me just using my hands, my knowledge, and my intent.
During the pandemic, I took time to reflect on what's next. While it's amazing to be able to help somebody one-on-one, I wanted to help people on a larger scale. That's what inspired me to research UX design. I was also thinking about how to future-proof my career. Tech professionals were still working during the pandemic. I wanted to be in a place where I wouldn’t have to worry about money and my mental wellbeing.
I decided that UX design was the best of both worlds. I could still help people, connect with them and be empathetic, but I could also work in a job that’s future-proof.
Design is something I’ve always dabbled in. I didn't even know it was a career path. As a massage therapist, I owned my own business and I had to build my own website. So I did a lot of research into other websites and I did a competitive analysis so I could learn how to get more clients, and I found that I really enjoyed doing that. And it wasn't until the pandemic, when I did the research that I realized, oh, that is a career path!
I was definitely hoping to gain the skills I needed to transition into a full-time career. Making the decision to start Springboard was really scary because I had self-doubt and imposter syndrome. I don't have a college degree. I come from a struggling background being that my mom was disabled and I just didn't think that I could do it. I had no background in computer science or literacy or anything. So deciding to do Springboard was a really big decision for me, but it was the best decision that I ever made.
Honestly, doing research and seeing the salary and payscale of a UX designer didn't hurt. That was definitely very motivational for me personally. Even before that point, I told myself "I want to come out of this pandemic better than I went in." There are so many times people tell themselves they can't do something and block their own opportunities, and I didn't want to do that to myself.
I felt like I deserved more and I just had the moment where I made the phone call. First I told myself, "It's just a phone call." Then I told myself, "It's just a conversation." Then I told myself, "I'll just take a peek." and then I told myself, "You deserve this, just go for it. And you're capable." and I just signed up and started.
It means that in any situation, any scenario—good or bad—there's a lesson to be learned. I’ve had a lot of life experiences where I had to face adversity, and I feel like those moments happen for a reason to make us better people. You have two choices: you can either look at a situation and say "Why me?", or you can look at a situation and say, "How is this going to make me stronger? How is this going to make me better? What's the lesson here?" So that's the perspective I've chosen, and that's why I say I'm a life lesson collector.
I chose Springboard because I liked the person I spoke with on the phone. I liked the flexibility, the personality that came across. I spoke with several other boot camps, of course, and they seemed a little less helpful. A few other bootcamps said they would call back and they didn't, or they said they would get me information, and maybe they did, but it wasn't until much later. I felt like Springboard was all about helping me get going, and I fed off that energy and momentum.
Since I didn’t have a background in tech or design, the curriculum was a little intimidating at first, but when I started looking at job postings I realized that all of the requirements were included in the Springboard curriculum.
In my current job, I’m working with someone who's been in the field for around 20 years. He’s very knowledgeable and I'm excited to learn from him, but he is kind of struggling with some of the newer methods the product manager is using. So I’ve been able to see how Springboard’s curriculum bridges that gap by showing you the foundations that have been proven to work but also imparting the latest industry knowledge.
My mentor, John, was amazing. When I started this, I didn't even know how to use Adobe XD. I was like, "How do you copy and paste a shape and how do you color a shape?" John was direct, honest, and straightforward. He said, "Look, this is what they're going to expect in the field. So I'm going to hold you to that standard right away." That got me to a point where I forgot about my imposter syndrome because I knew I could do it. Now, in my first design job, they're giving me assignments and tasks and asking me questions and I’ve already done this a million times. I’ve talked about these things with John. He prepared me for this.
So most people think of AAA as just a company that provides roadside assistance when your car breaks down, but they actually do way more than that. They offer travel insurance, travel deals, and a bunch of concierge services. It's a massive company. The fact that people aren't aware of those things is part of what I'm tackling, which is no small task. So my first UX job is to rebrand this huge company that’s been around forever. Talk about an experience! I’m excited.
Luckily, I was able to start off in UX research right away, which is what I'm most passionate about. We’re researching stuff that's never been touched before. They've never had a site map or a customer journey map or tools like that. So knowing that I'm coming in as a pioneer from Springboard with no college degree and no design background is very humbling and exciting. If I never made that decision to sign up for Springboard, where would I be right now? It feels surreal. I'm just very thankful and humble.
I would say that's a really personal decision to make. But my advice would be to just know yourself and know what works for you and invest in that. So I focused on the years of work experience I have and being a life lesson collector, and I thought about how that makes me a capable candidate. Find your path and just focus on it. Don't try to make yourself anything that you're not.
I use it every single day. It’s the ability to connect with so many different types of people. I don't care where you're from, what you've been through, what you look like, how you identify—if you're a human being and you're in front of me, I can relate to you and connect to you because I just care about who you are as a person. Massage therapy really gave that to me. This is a person on my table that needs to feel better and I have the ability to make them feel better. Taking that and putting it into UX means putting myself in others’ shoes. Having compassion for people is crucial in this field.
I grew up in East Oakland and took care of my mom by myself from a young age. I went through a lot of adversity—experiences where people might say "You'll never amount to anything." Now I’m here in my own fancy apartment, coming up in my own city because I signed up with Springboard and finished the program, and got my first UX job. I just really want everyone to know that anything is possible. If you decide to do it, it doesn't matter where you're from or what you've been through.