Switching Lanes: One UX Designer’s Strategy for Thriving During COVID-19 and Beyond

The reality of COVID-19 is a world where face-to-face interactions are limited and the virtual exchange of information, goods, and services reigns supreme. The marketing industry is no stranger to digital transformation, but COVID-19 was enough to bring the entire ecosystem online almost overnight. 

As a creative director at a full-service ad agency, David Ciccocioppo had a front row seat to the shifting advertising landscape. But in March of 2020, David — like 22 million other Americans — found himself looking for a job for the first time in over a decade. 

Tasked with navigating a new, digitally focused environment, David decided it was the perfect time to update his foundational design skills to meet the demands of today’s digital economy. The UX/UI Boot Camp at UT Austin helped him do just that. Follow his full journey below! 

What was your role before enrolling in the boot camp? 

I was a creative director at a small ad agency. It was a full-service agency, and we handled local, regional, and national clients with mid-sized budgets. It was a small, nimble shop. 

I worked there for 13 years and was creative director for probably about 10 of those years — working directly with the president of the company. 

How has COVID-19 impacted your career? 

We had a lot of clients in sports and entertainment, food and beverage, and that kind of thing — so when the pandemic really hit, a lot of our clients had to close shop. Naturally, they pulled their advertising budgets. At the time, there were two creative directors at our agency, and unfortunately, they had to let me go. 

What inspired you to enroll in the UX/UI Boot Camp at UT Austin? 

My wife, actually, had come across the boot camp and asked what I knew about it. I said I knew a little bit, and we thought it had some potential in terms of helping me find future employment. Ultimately, we felt like it was a good fit, and I kind of just jumped in. I started the boot camp within three weeks of leaving the agency. 

I had the opportunity to join the April 2020 cohort or wait until July to enroll. I thought, “Well, if I wait until July, I can try to find a job in the meantime.” Looking back, I’m really glad I didn’t do that. I’m glad that I jumped right in.  

What about the boot camp stood out, compared to other educational opportunities? 

I liked the idea of it being very focused. A master’s program was not overkill by any stretch, but I was never really looking to go back to school. I wanted something that was intense and very hands-on — something that would give me a real-world-esque experience. 

Really, it was a matter of understanding my learning style. I know that I’m not disciplined enough to say, I’ll just go online or on Skillshare and figure out everything I need to know about UX or UI. When I’m in a class environment learning from instructors that I can interact with and ask questions, I learn far better than I do on my own. The boot camp model fit me well. I felt like, regardless of what happened after the program, I would learn a lot and learn it quickly. 

I know people who have taught themselves UX and succeed. But, personally, I need to feel like I’m learning from professionals. My boot camp instructor owned her own boutique UX agency and dealt, on a daily basis, with the issues that she was teaching us. 

Why was developing your UX/UI skills important? 

At the agency, I was handling mostly traditional advertising (print media, radio, flyers, and point-of-sales stuff). We were smart enough to evolve with the times, but — since I have a background in graphic design — I always seemed to get a lot of the higher-profile design projects. Working on those kind of kept me away from working on websites and more digital projects. 

I went to school right after the dot-com bust, so a lot has changed in 20 years in terms of web design and UX. When it was time to think about where I wanted to go next, I felt like I really needed to take a pause and refresh my skill set. The UX/UI boot camp made sense for me because I did have a lot of experience designing websites on the front end and had some basic HTML and CSS skills, but I knew there was a lot more that goes on under the surface. Rather than a career 180, it felt more like a lane shift. 

What were some of the most important skills you developed during the boot camp?

We were the first program at UT Austin to go entirely remote, so getting used to that environment and collaborating with all of the online tools was huge. When it came time to look for a job, I was asked, “Are you comfortable learning remotely?” And my answer was: Well, yeah. I learned all of this stuff remotely. 

In terms of hard skills, it was great to learn the practical applications of Figma. I’ve been an Adobe Creative Suite person my whole life, and I figured nothing was going to beat Illustrator as a go-to, long-term tool. But seeing some of these new tools and learning more about how they can impact the design process was huge. 

Just having a little bit of an introduction to all of these new applications helped me see what was out there. And from there, I could go and learn more or get a little bit of an edge if I needed to. 

How did your boot camp experience prepare you for your current role?

I knew that putting myself out there as another creative director in this post-pandemic world wasn’t going to help me find a position where I could apply my talents and, you know, use my brain a little bit more. 

Now, I’m a senior UX designer for Cox Automotive, helping design pricing and inventory management tools for auto dealers. I think what resonated well with the hiring managers was my experience in a professional environment, but the portfolio I built during the boot camp is definitely what opened the door. 

I also think I had a level of confidence going into the interview process that I haven’t had since… maybe, ever. I just felt like I was prepared — even though I had never held a role as a UX designer. It was that confidence, that self-assuredness, and that level of engagement that ultimately led them to hire me. 

Do you have any advice for prospective boot camp students?

For anyone who has a similar learning style to mine, taking advantage of the collaborative environment is extremely important. Even if your network isn’t what helps you land a job, just being able to talk to people and join in on workshops with others who are in the same boat as you is valuable. 

Once you find out who is in your cohort, reach out to set up some one-on-one conversations and build those relationships very early on. That way, when it’s time to form teams, you have a better idea of who is going to work well with you, and vice-versa. 

Lastly, UX and UI is such a broad thing. There are so many worlds, and a big part of the UX boot camp was learning what our strengths are within the field. It’s your strengths that really dictate what your best fit is going to be in terms of your career. 

Looking for a change? Explore programs in coding, data analytics, UX/UI, cybersecurity, digital marketing, and product management through UT Austin Boot Camps

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