I’m a senior at Carnegie Mellon studying Decision Science with minors in Design and HCI, but I came into CMU studying architecture. I realized that architecture wasn’t for me and wanted to switch to something a bit more practical and centered on everyday human needs. I’ve always been interested in design, and so I ended up switching into a combination of HCI, stats, and design. I’ve taken a big range of classes—some stats, some data science, some design, and some development, but I’ve come to focus mostly on UX, and that’s what I’ll be doing next year.
In the spring of sophomore year, I did a UI design internship with a nonprofit in Pittsburgh called involveMINT. They’re a social organization working on creating a volunteer network in Pittsburgh involving cleaning up areas, food, shelters, that kind of stuff. At that internship, I worked on re-doing their website. Last summer I had a UX design internship at Nuance, where I’ll be working at next year. They do conversational AI, especially in healthcare, that help doctors take notes during conversations between the doctor and patient. The main project I worked on at Nuance was redoing their website, which had really old, outdated, and messy UI. We worked a lot on created a heirarchy of information that wasn’t there before. It was really satisfying to take this old and inefficient interface and remake it into something not only good-looking, but a lot more efficient as well. I’ve also done a few other internships, but those aren’t specifically UX-related.
My process has definitely changed throughout the years. I went to a career fair in February of my freshman year, and quickly realized I was in way over my head. It felt like everyone knew way more about what they wanted to do than I did. I thought that I had to get something, I didn’t care what it was, I just thought I needed something to put on my resume. It was a really hectic process, applying to random things, haphazardly putting together a resume and cover letter. My process has turned from that hectic process into a much more refined one once I had some experiences under my belt and I got a better idea of what I was trying to apply for. By last year, I knew I wanted to apply to one of three categories of internships: UX/UI Design, UX Research, or Software Development. What I would do was create different resumes and cover letters for those three categories, emphasizing different aspects of my skills. Then I would go through this process: One day, I would scroll through a bunch of internships on LinkedIn or Handshake, and save them at a face value if they looked interesting to me. The next day, I would go into what I’d saved and start looking in detail. That’s when I’d find out that maybe I couldn’t do that one logistically, or whether it really interested me. After that, I would actually start applying to my narrowed down list. Then I would start that cycle again. I did do some networking, reaching out to people who worked especially in the Boston area where I’m from. I just asked to meet and ended up talking to a couple people on Zoom. We talked about career pathways and that gave me a good sense of which skills or aspects to emphasize, in interviews especially. I did a job shadowing too at Converse, which was pretty cool. Those experiences talking to people in the field really gave me a sense of which aspects of myself I should highlight over others when I was applying.
I had a good amount of meetings with my CPDC advisor just to figure out what I should be looking at. There’s just an overwhelming amount of opportunities on the internet, so meeting with my advisor from the CPDC helped me a lot to focus on looking at what I liked based on my experiences. They were also really helpful when I was putting together my portfolio, since that was something I had no idea how to curate; that was especially helpful because curation was so subjective.
When it appears to be too rigid. If an internship seems like they’re just plugging you in like a puzzle piece, and you’ll just be doing one thing. I guess the reverse is more of a green flag that I look for, when an internship seems really fluid and open for you to explore. You get less information out of vague descriptions, but I see it as a green flag. It feels like you will have more autonomy. I feel like that’s what internships are about, it’s about finding out what you want to do. You’ll help the company no matter what, as long as you aren’t slacking off. So I don’t like when those companies seem very rigid and like they’re telling you exactly what to do or how to do it.
When I was an overwhelmed freshman, I wish I’d known that there’s not as much pressure to have so many experiences under your belt. Most companies know that you’re in school and spending a lot of time in your classes, or just need to work for money over a summer. You don’t need a linear timeline of experiences building on top of each other like an escalator, where you did this and this and now you will do this. I had this idea in my head, where I though I had to get something and build on it. Especially the second summer, I had this impression that since I already had an internship last year I had to find something that shows that I was building skill-wise off of it. I wish I’d known that that linear progression isn’t as important. I think of it now more as zig-zagging and finding my own way. That’s what’s actually imporant: trying things out for yourself, rather than just building and building progressively, feeling like it’s too late to change or try something else. I wish I could tell my freshman self to chill out a bit and not always try to look for something that would “look good” down the line.
The nature of this industry is overwhelming if you let it be. There’s so many opportunities, so many places to look, you could refresh a page and new things pop up. It’s worth really taking the time to make a plan and a structure to organize everything when you’re applying. It could mean making a drive with different docs, your resumes and cover letters, you just need to organize all of this stuff that accumulates when you really get going. Establishing a sense of control by keeping everything sorted in one location helps to make it all seem less daunting. It’s also really helpful to figure out what you’re looking for beforehand, because it makes all those options that pop up easier to filter out. Don’t worry too much on what you’re missing out on. Anything you do is experience and anything you get you’ll learn from. And finally, you’re going to be okay. Everyone will get a job. If you’re applying actively, you’ll be okay. It’s important to take a step back and remember that you’ll be okay.