It Doesn’t Have to Make Sense

I got into telesales as my first official gig right after I secured my local nursing license.  Admittedly, I wasn’t particularly fond of that job.

At the time, I felt that most of my days were depressingly mundane. I woke up at midnight for my 2 am shift, called it a day by noon, and nothing resembling a productive day materialized. Sure, I still read (and learned) a lot — mainly fiction that time, but something still felt off.

It felt like I wasn’t really living but merely existing.

Excuse the dramatics, but I can vividly recall writing the same sentence years ago when I was anonymously blogging about that job.

I wasn’t interested about working shifts at the hospital either. I wanted to, but the head and the gut just wasn’t in it. The meager pay wasn’t also encouraging.

While my college friends were saving lives at the hospital, reviewing for the NCLEX, or going back to school to pursue higher education, I was convincing strangers who were oceans away to sign up for a $24.99 Internet phone plan. The pay was good (I can finally buy all the books I want to read!) and it helped took care of the bills at home. 

If there was one thing that I miss about that era in my life, it was my habit of writing every day.

Of course, I’m still writing consistently these days for work,  but it was a different kind of writing — it was cathartic as my fingers moved across the keyboard, and sentences started making sense in front of me.

In between my opening spiels at work —Hello, Mr. John Smith? This is Kai from.. — I binge-blogged and hit Publish without thinking about shares, likes, and SEO.

My voracious blogging habits helped me gain confidence to take on paid writing projects — both online and offline.

My first paid offline writing project was an academic paper on guerrilla marketing. Although I didn’t have solid background on the subject, I said yes. And I’m glad I did!

While doing research for that paper,  I was instantly hooked to Jay Conrad Levinson’s concepts. Plus, reading about Levinson’s unconventional tactics somehow stirred the rebellious gene in me.

After building a decent portfolio from several academic papers I’ve ghostwritten and how-to articles (remember when the Internet was filled to the brim with how-to content?) for a friend who needed help with her piling oDesk work, I landed my first full-time copywriting role at a publishing company.

Although I didn’t study marketing, advertising, or even journalism in college, I realized that what I thought of as a soul-sucking job in sales really helped fine-tune my copywriting and web content writing skills.

When I was just starting out in sales,  we were trained to put ourselves in the customer’s shoes and always ask WIIFM —what’s in it for me?

This WIIFM philosophy taught me to put the spotlight on benefits whenever I write copy or content instead of diving headfirst into features,  a common rookie mistake that I’ve done myself.

If I asked myself with WIIFM while I was in sales, I would’ve answered back that I don’t really know and felt mortified at the thought of uncertainty itself.

In recent years, I  realized a couple of things. First, what (and who) we are today is indeed the sum of our experiences. Second, it’s okay if nothing makes sense for now as long as you’re taking steps towards learning outside of your usual toolkit of skills.

I know, there’s nothing really new about these mini-epiphanies, but with the way things look oh-so-perfect everywhere we look online (and admit it, majority of us live in an online bubble), we need these gentle reminders more often than we thought.

Now that I’m learning user experience research and information architecture, there are days when I ask myself with WIIFM? While I’m excited to learn about these subjects,  I can’t help but sometimes question myself with what’s the point, really? Why would I pay for an online course if its specific impact on my career is still unclear?

But with the way things turned wonderfully in the end for me as a copywriter, I am kinder to myself now. Perhaps, this is just because I’m getting older and losing my sense of idealism.

Not that I’m worry-free these days. I still worry about other things like the weekend traffic, why the cat is suddenly not giving a damn about food, or why I haven’t heard from some friends for months.

The truth is you will never know where those temp jobs, seemingly useless bits of learning,  or beer money work will eventually take you.

As long as you’re making a serious effort to learn (and unlearn) and stick to it for the long haul, chances are you’re going to do okay. 

My Favorite UX Research Resources

Self-learning is easy these days.

Digging through library archives or interviewing (stalking if you like) an expert used to be standard practice. Now that there’s Google and tons of online courses available, you do a bit of google-fu and voila — You have 5184965 search results to sift through!

But there’s one downside: It means you have to wrestle with information overload. This is what I’ve been grappling with the past month while learning  the ins and outs of user research.

And it looks like I’m not alone.

Ana, another usability researcher in training mentioned the same struggle in one of our email correspondence. I found her blog when I was looking for more information on Steve Portigal’s book Interviewing Users and I emailed her with “Hello, we’re on the same UX research boat. Mind if we share notes?”

After several emails sent back and forth, we both agreed that there’s just too many resources out there.

To avoid burnout,  feeling overwhelmed, or even give up on the learning process itself, I’ve decided to stop hopping from one UX resource to another and just stick with the following resources.

UX Mastery

UX Mastery is a community of both newbie and seasoned usability folks.

Besides the forums and blog posts, I like the fact that they have regular AMA (Ask Me Anything) sessions with experts.

My recent favorite was an AMA with Laura Klein (author of UX for Lean Startups). I’ve also noticed that some senior members give detailed feedback to research portfolios. Plus, the UX Mastery team reviews new books and UX courses in detail.  (Hat tip to Ana for recommending UX Mastery!)

Speaking of UX courses, my second favorite resource is..

User Experience (UX): The Ultimate Guide to Usability and UX Course on Udemy by David Travis 

I’m just starting out and I’m impressed with David’s first set of lectures. I’d probably write a full review once I’m done with it.

My main goal in doing this course is to help me transition from theory to hands-on experience with research because the course requires me to complete several tasks. Hopefully, this will help me come up with a  decent portfolio.

While going over the course, I noticed that David is quick to reply to queries. No wonder the course has rave reviews from former students and the UX Mastery crew.

The UX Sisters

The team behind this blog are two former colleagues at HubSpot’s user research team. What I like about The UX Sisters is their focus on providing tips and hacks on usability testing, one of the research methods that I’m particularly keen about.

This blog post on getting quick user feedback during usability tests is one of my favorites.

Additional User Research Resources

On top of the aforementioned resources, I occasionally browse the Nielsen Norman Group site to catch up on UX reports and insightful posts. And of course, there’s A List Apart, the User Testing blog, and the Dollars to Donuts podcast.

Learning styles vary. What works for me may not resonate with you and vice versa. The takeaway here is to experiment and figure out which resources will help you connect the dots.