The month of May is a traditional time to celebrate graduations, a milestone for students into the next stage of their lives. But the Minnesota science and tech community has also been paving nontraditional paths to train more people for STEM careers to help fill the exploding demand for workers with high-tech skills.
For Prime Digital Academy, a technology training organization based in Minneapolis and a Minnesota High Tech member, that means celebrating graduation classes throughout the year as its cohorts of students complete immersive training in different areas of software development.
Prime’s graduates each have different stories to tell of curvy career paths they have taken to transition into STEM careers. Here profiles of three recent grads from Prime’s User Experience Design (UX) program. Their stories highlight the broad-ranging talents and motivations of people moving into STEM careers.
Ed Euclide recalls the excitement he felt when he first learned of Prime’s UX program. He had graduated with a BA in theater arts and had been working part-time teaching preschool and as a barista. “I was looking for a career change, but had a hard time putting into words all the soft skills I had.” The UX program gave him those words. “It’s translating creative processes into design processes and skills.”
He learned through his coursework at Prime that his educator training was useful in facilitating teams on design processes. His theater arts perspective provided creative ideas for prototyping designs. “I learned I’m really good at making things happen really fast with prototyping.”
He is now job seeking for a position in emerging technologies. He’s especially interested in design for multisensory experiences, such as the virtual reality project he did at Prime.
Annette Raab came to Prime Digital Academy with 10 years of work experience, most recently as a technical writer for Ameriprise. She started exploring user experience design while in grad school for technical communication. “It has been a seamless transition for me to move from technical writing to user design,” Raab says.
The UX program gave her hands-on, valuable kinds of experiences. “It was a big shift for me because I hadn’t had the opportunity to work in an agile environment where you do sprints or you take a cyclical view,” Raab says. “What Prime teaches you is how the work gets done.”
She is aiming for a position in UX as a researcher, to help identify structure and taxonomy to come up with an initial prototype. Her next challenge, Raab notes, is to persuade employers who are seeking 5 or more years of UX experience to consider her work as technical writer who is now trained to manage UX projects.
Sean Denniston graduated last year with a bachelor’s of science degree in engineering studies and studio art. He had been seeking a career that would blend engineering and art space. In his senior year, he created an interactive exhibit. “The concept was to transition the focus from the art objects themselves to the interactions people had with one another,” Denniston explains. “It was a series of spaces and games that allowed people to interact in different ways with each other.”
To fulfill his creative interests, Denniston worked for eight months at the Walker Art Center educating people about art. It was there he connected with a mentor from Prime about exploring UX design to leverage his interests and skills. Once in the program, Denniston says he gained a lot of skills working in teams. “The way we got to work together was a lot different than what I’ve ever done before.”
It prepared him for his next career step, working on service design, which involves cross-channel experiences, and working on brand design strategies.
Overcoming Impostor Syndrome
One of the important lessons for Prime Digital Academy students is to overcome Impostor Syndrome.
“It’s the feeling you get when you think you don’t belong,” says Ed Euclide. “It especially happens when you have people transitioning from non-technical to IT. The tech field is always shifting, so that feeling happens even in senior software developers.”
Speakers come to the classes to share their experiences on overcoming that emotional feeling, to be confident and understand there is always something new to learn.