As Year 2 comes to a close, it’s time to reflect on my personal strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats and also on what might happen between Year 2 and 3.

This post is a continuation from my post about life after Year 2 which was published on April 15th.

Personal SWOT analysis

A SWOT analysis helps to us to reflect on what we can do well and what we can do better, as well as what might be preventing us from achieving targets.

Strengths

In Year 2 I have found that my strengths are:

  • Coding: I feel that my coding skills have really developed (no pun intended!) this year. I’m more confident with writing in JavaScript and CSS and can now design responsive mobile websites that don’t require thousands of lines of CSS media queries to make responsive across a range of devices. Using basic maths to create file names, file paths and increment and decrement variables based on certain factors I’m now able to write much more efficient JavaScript. For example, I got some slideshow code that I wrote in September 2018 down to 77 lines long from 1,458 – a 95% decrease in code length.
  • Team management: I felt a bit like a natural leader in the Broads project (others agree) and I am now running Storehouse magazine. I enjoy managing teams and helping people achieve their individual goals that eventually make a complete product. I feel that I am a good communicator as part of this. I am good at listening to team members and taking their thoughts, ideas and concerns onboard to come up with a plan.
  • Research: I’ve enjoyed doing research – everything from ethnographic research for the Broads Authority project in January and February to researching theories for my dissertation on the internet in April and May. I feel that I am able to drive menaing from data and design solutions to problems discovered in formative research.
  • Ideation: I felt that I contributed some good ideas to discussions in January about what the individual experiences for the Broads project should be and through a process of elimination was able to choose ideas that were both exciting and feasible.
  • Networking and making connections: I’ve attended a number of networking events in Year 2 and am known within the Central Norwich tech community.
  • Presenting: I feel that I am a strong presenter and am able to get points across in a confident and professional manner.
  • I am a confident person and can talk about my work, passions, interests and ‘life in general’: I like to think that I’m easy to get along with and can engage in conversations. This hopefully means I come across as a likable person, come across well from a first impression and interview well.
  • Thinking outside of the box: I feel that I am tenacious and don’t stop trying to solve a problem until it is solved or I discover that I can’t actually solve it. Sometimes problem solving requires thinking differently. I apply this to both ideas on how to solve problems and writing code that might not work in the way I expect it to,
  • Time management: Balancing running Storehouse with completing a full-time degree (that consumes much more time than the several hours of contact time we have per week) and sometimes working at the same time and still having time to relax is a skill that I am very proud of. I feel that time management has always been a strength of mine.
I think I contributed good ideas to the Broads project in terms of the types of experiences we could have at the sites.

Weaknesses

  • I write too much: My portfolio was criticised at The Big Book Crit for this and in the past my coursework has been criticised for it too. Reading my Year 1 reflective journals back, a lot of them focused on things not directly to the course, such as Storehouse magazine and my thoughts on education. In Year 2 I feel that my writing has been more focused and relevant, but still quite lengthy. I like to write in a lot of detail – I’ve always been that way.
  • Visual design: Working at Earthware and The User Story in 2018 taught me that my visual design skills aren’t as strong as my research, information architecture or coding skills. In order for me to become a more rounded UX designer, I need to improve these skills.
  • Usability testing: Working at The User Story also taught me that whilst the way I conduct usability tests is good (e.g. I make users feel at ease, say all the right things and can drive the meaning of the data from the tests), I am not so good at designing the tasks for candidates to complete.
  • Using design software like Adobe XD and Axure RP: I have a basic understanding of how design software like XD and RP works, but am aware that my competitors (such as Namii, Ameer and even people on BA Graphic Communication like Chloe and Zach whom I worked on the Broads project with) have a better understanding of how they work than I and can produce superior results with it. All of my prototypes in Years 1 and 2 have been coded. I first noticed this was detrimental in December 2018 when I took a coded prototype along to an interview at Redgate who questioned why I had coded it instead of used something like XD.
  • Sometimes I write code that is too ‘elaborate’: By this I mean that sometimes I come up with complex and long-winded solutions to problems that are quite simple. Occassionally I suffer from having my eyes ‘wide shut’ – i.e., the answer is simple and is right in front of me, but I won’t notice it until I’ve written a more complex solution. A good example is documented in this post and reflected on in this one.
  • I need to stop using jQuery so much and move onto newer frameworks like Angular.js and React.js: The industry is moving away from jQuery, even though it is still well-supported and still in development. jQuery helps making JavaScript easier and shorter, but it is an older framework and has been superseeded by things like Angular.js and React.js in the world of front-end web development. If I want a career in front-end web development it is probably a good idea to start investigating and learning about these newer frameworks.
  • I’m still not entirely sure what my place in the UX world is: And that’s OK as I am still a student and learning new things all the time, but it is starting to pose a problem when people at networking events ask me what I’m good at. Feedback from university seems to suggest thst my research is good and feedback from industry suggests that my coding and information architeture is good, but some solid feedback on what I’m good at and need to improve on from university would be beneficial.
  • Freelancing: It’s not for me, I find it hard to manage client expectations and sometimes find working directly with clients can be tough. I prefer to work in teams.
UX researcher Katie Fisher gave a critique on my usability test proposal and helped me to develop a non-biased test.

Opportunities

  • Another internship will help me to develop a lot of my weaknesses. I’ll be exposed to even more areas of UX and get a better understanding of what I’m good at and what I’m not.
  • An internship in a web development company as opposed to a UX company could likely expose me to using newer frameworks such as Angular and React in the same way that interning at Earthware last summer exposed me to the Microsoft C# Bot Framework. For the record, when talking to developers at Earthware about jQuery, they said that they don’t use it.
  • An internship in a company focused more on graphic design than coding and UX would expose me to more graphic design principles and help improve my usage of design software such as Adobe XD.
  • Some of my friends on graphics have said they’d be more than happy to talk to me about graphic design principles to help further my understanding of that side of UX. They have suggested that I start by screenshotting the websites that I like, pasting the screenshots into something like XD and then drawing over the website with my own assets to learn how the site has been put together from a visual perspective.
  • I can spend some time myself over the summer learning how to use Adobe XD and similar software. I don’t need an internship to do that, it’s just that an internship provides a project to use it for and the mentoring to improve my abilities.
  • My dissertation will help me improve my ability to write usability tests and also introduce me a whole new area of UX – designing for accessibility. This is an exciting emerging field that isn’t VR or AR. I feel that VR and AR have the potential to be ‘fads’ that come and go depending on consumer adoption, but there will always be disabled people to cater for. Accessibility isn’t just important in software, it’s becoming more and more important in every aspect of our lives now. The local tech scene is also very interested in what I am doing here.

Threats

Luclily I can’t see many threats getting in the way of these opportunities. There isn’t anything stopping me other than willpower to explore software and principles more. The only things stopping me getting an internship are :

  • Whether the company has a place for me or not.
  • The competition having a better portfolio (read on).
  • My skillsets not being what the employer is looking for.

It also becoming apparent that Norwich has a fairly saturated market for web design and this kind of thing (read on). Norwich has a lot of small businesses that do great things and I’ve had opportunities with before. These businesses tend to be small and friendly and full of energetic people, but unfortunately a lot of them aren’t in the position to expand or take on more employees or projects. As a result, a threat to my future career as a UX designer in Norwich might be this. I may have to relocate and go on graduate schemes in larger corporations in order to get a job.

Internships in 2019

As of yet, there’s still nothing set in concrete but since the last post about life after Year 2 from April, there have been several other opportunities arise.

Possible internship at GRIT Digital

GRIT Digital are a Norwich-based web design company who also focus on user experience design. I met a connection at a Hot Source networking event in April 2019 who referred me to the MD of GRIT. I have sent my portfolio and CV for their consideration.

Possible internship with the NUA Ideas Factory

Following the Broads Authority project, the NUA Ideas Factory have indicated that there may be internship opportunities available through them for companies working with VR and AR. I have not heard any formal details about this yet and have not sent anything for their consideration.

Possible internship with the Broads Authority

It is possible that the Broads Auhority project could be developed over the course of an internship or work placement over the summer of 2019. I have also not heard any formal details about this and have not sent anything for their consideration.

The Ideas Factory at NUA could help with finding internships in 2019.

Other internship opportunities I have explored

I haven’t heard back from Sigma or BuiltByR2 yet, whom I applied for work experience with in March 2019. I have also not heard any more from IBM whom I was discussion with about work experience between October 2018 and March 2019.

It’s becoming apparent to me that I was very lucky to get two internships and several freelance and ‘one day’ experiences in 2018 and this may have set me up with false hope for gaining internships. I’ve been trying to sort one out for the summer of 2019 since October 2018 and so have so far had no luck.

I’ll keep utilising my connections and offer to intern for free until I secure something. I’m confident that something will happen, even if it’s just once per week or for a few weeks. If I can’t get anything related to UX over the summer then I may see if I get part-time job in IT support like I used to do before coming to university.

Hot Source Networking Event, May 9th 2019

Another night of solid networking and telling people about what I’m doing, as well as informing lots of local creatives that I am at the end of Year 2 and looking for a summer internship. Unfortunately it seems that no matter how much you put yourself and how many people you talk to and how interested people may seem in you, the reality of the situation in Norwich appears to be that it’s a ‘small world’ and the same applies to businesses too. A lot of the businesses who attend Hot Source are small companies of under 20 employees and unfortunately cannot really take on students for internship programs.

For the first time tonight, I truly realised how fortunate I was to get work placements in 2018 – a stroke of luck. It also made me realise that staying in Norwich post-graduation might be very limiting and that the best thing for me going forwards could be to enroll on graduate schemes for larger corporations and relocate. It’s a shame that I might not be able to contribute something back to the city that educated me, but if the industry isn’t able to accommodate me here then I must go to wherever it is. For the first time I’m also considering moving overseas, perhaps to the USA, Canada or Australia. After all, I loved the ‘Microsoft life’ in Seattle when I visited at the age of 17 and even then would have happily given everything up at the age of 17 to go and live and work in Seattle if the opportunity had presented itself. The UX industry may be bigger abroad than it is here at the moment.

However, attending Hot Source is never a waste of time because I can normally gain something valuable out of it. Each time I go somebody new mentions that they’ve heard of my name before, so my name is becoming etched into the local tech/creative scene – which is never a bad thing! Alina Veselaya from tea.agency (Norwich-based branding strategists) knows me and follows what I do on LinkedIn and said some very kind words about me and my talents to Emily West, a friend of hers from Made Agency, at Hot Source tonight. Emily was interested to hear about my UX skills and suggested I send a CV and portfolio to her. Made Agency evaluated my portfolio at The Big Book Crit, so once it has been updated with the improvements that they suggested it might be a good idea to send it to them again just to show that I can take feedback onboard – even if nothing comes out of it.

My dissertation project is gaining a lot of interest in the local tech community.

Alina also introduced me to John Hodge whose mother is blind and has been involved with writing accessibility guidelines for schools for 20 years. He suggested that when the time comes I should get in touch with him and get his mother to test my prototype for me. She could be a fantastic candidate to test with because she knows about these guidelines and testing with her could form a good ‘pilot test’ before I test with a larger group. Tom Haczewski, whom employed me at The User Story in 2018, was also interested to hear about my dissertation project and suggested that I ask the Norfolk Institute for the Blind to assist with testing. He mentioned that they are based in St George’s Works where The User Story is also based.

It was also good to just talk to people about life in general and have a nice chat over a couple of drinks, after all networking doesn’t need to be strictly ‘professional’. My friend Emma (Year 3 Graphic Design, soon to be graduating!) and I are still the only students that attend Hot Source on a regular basis. It runs each month and despite it being attended by smaller organisations who may not be able to provide the opportunities students are looking for, it’s still my preferred networking event because of its informal nature. It’s also never a bad thing to tell local professionals what you’re up to – a lot of people were interested in hearing about the Broads Authority project and very interested to hear about my dissertation idea.

‘Pendragon 2.1’ – the improved portfolio

Development of this is very much underway. I’ve taken the feedback from The Big Book Crit onboard and am using it to improve my portfolio. The trouble with the current site is that the content is too long so as as a matter of priority I am in the process of rewriting the copy so that it is much more succinct.

I will then redesign certain aspects of the site’s design again, such as using the GSAP JavaScript library to make images fade in and out (much like the Storehouse website) and images will form a much bigger part of the site’s design. This means that most of the carousels on the home and portfolio pages will be removed and replaced with images and the only carousels left will likely be the ones in the ‘related reading’ section at the bottom of each page.

‘Legacy elements’ such as the ‘hover over boxes’ on the UX case studies page will likely be removed. This will improve the experience for mobile and tablet users who can’t see the info panels that appear over the images becuase they only activate on mouse hover.

I hope to launch the improved portfolio site before the end of May. I really hope that it satisfies the needs of the industry more than the current one does.

The upcoming version of my portfolio site will have numerous improvements from the current, recently released version.

Freelancing

I’m not keen on going back to doing freelance work, but there are a couple of sites that I still have control over and one of those is the NB Aurora narrowboat website. It’s almost a year old and could do some with modifications to improve its appearance and bring it up-to-date. Some of the content on it needs to be updated anyway, so I’ll take the opportunity to also update the site design and code.

Graduate schemes

From June or July onwards I’m going to be keeping an eye out for graduate schemes for 2020 and will be applying to appropriate ones. I’ve been advised that the last graduate schemes for 2020 will likely be closing around January or February 2020, so this is something that’s going to take around 6-7 months of my time in Year 3. I think graduate schemes are a great way to get into a larger company, which I’d like to do. Larger companies can be good to get into because they can often provide the training and there sare often multiple departments that can be explored.

Researching the Year 3 Project

Nobody really knows what’s happening with the Year 3 projects yet. It seems likely that because I have opted to complete a technical report I will be excused from the BSc3a project that the others will be doing alongside their dissertations. The idea is that the practical element of my dissertation will also be the 3a coursework. As for BSc3b, which is now the longer unit due to recent policy changes at NUA, who knows? I’ve had an idea for a good Year 3 project that involves fixing a problem there isn’t currently a solution for, conducting all of the research, building the prototype and testing it since February or March 2019. It now seems likely that this project won’t even begin until January 2020, but I am still set to go to an event at the end of the month to conduct ethnographic formative research.

Even if this turns out not be used in Year 3, this is still a great chance to practice conducting research and I could write this up as a personal investigation for my portfolio to show that I am thinking about UX problems outside of my course.

Storehouse 19

Not a lot has happened on the Storehouse front since the last post and the big post about Storehouse that I published last month, but I am now the head (or ‘Editor-in-Chief’, I dislike that title though – sounds too ostentacious for my liking) of the society and so am now leading it and making decisions with my heads of departments about how to move forwards. The team approved of my initial plans which I wrote in April and presented on May 1st, so it looks like things will potentially run quite smoothly.

The Storehouse story continues with Issue 19.