How to Architect a UX Design Career

Professional program graduate Sana Maqsood transitions from finance to user interfaces

“During Diagramming and Prototyping for UX—the first class I took at UC Berkeley Extension—I remember the instructor saying that ‘architecture is the gateway to UX design,’” recalls Sana Maqsood.

“And at that moment, I knew I had found the right career.”

Born in Saudi Arabia and moving to Illinois when she was 4 years old, Sana grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. “I was originally an architecture student at the University of Illinois at Chicago, but at the time, the program didn't feel like the right route for me. So I chose to study finance instead because I also really enjoyed analyzing data.”

During undergrad, Sana continued to explore creative mediums, such as photography and ideating her own clothing brand, SOOD, both inspired by the architecture and urban nature of Chicago.

“My brand's idea started in Chicago, but San Francisco gave me the courage to really build it and believe that it could become something.”

After earning a B.A.Sc. in finance—and moving to San Francisco on a whim and with a dream for her career—Sana landed a job at NASDAQ. She then went on to Thomson Reuters, but yearned for a new career that would allow her to practice her creativity.

Then, in 2017, she found our Professional Program in User Experience (UX) Design and that inspirational course.

Create Your Career Plan

“I wanted to take my time, to learn design and practice it as I took these classes,” she recalls. “I also felt that UC Berkeley's brand helped me to decide that the UX Design program was the right fit for me.”

“The program sets you up for success. Classes are at night and work around your schedule so you're able to soak in the knowledge and practice it.”

“Originally, I started the program by taking one class at a time,” she says, “but as I got more of an understanding of UX design, I took two classes at a time.”

In the individual courses, Sana gained skills relevant to transitioning her career path out of finance.

User Research for UX—taught by Sarah Gregory—was extremely relevant for me,” she says. “Sarah taught everyone in the class how to draft a research plan and provided tips on how to conduct proper interviews—skills that I used right away at Thomson Reuters conducting research studies.”

Of a course later in the program, Sana says, “In User-Interface (UI) Design, Manny Darden helped me understand the importance of collaboration, critique sessions and UI design principles, which I used in my product designer roles at Afterpay and First Republic Bank.”

But, like some students pursuing a career change while in their current career, Sana experienced a work-life-study imbalance along the way. 

“Doing the program while working full time did get challenging at times, especially because I used to travel quite a bit for my job and that was hard to manage with classes and homework,” she confesses. “The instructors in this program were extremely understanding and gave me time to catch up on work or chat with them during office hours if I ever needed to. I was able to complete the program and walk away with tons of gained knowledge.”

Build a Strong Career Foundation

If Sana’s career change to UX design had seemed like a big stretch, then seeing it all on paper has solidified her new career path to her.

And it was the UX Design Portfolio class taught by program director Ivan Trujillo that brought it together.

“I created an awesome promotional video as a takeaway to stand out from the competition—and landed my gig at Afterpay!”

“When I was working on my portfolio and résumé, I thought hard about what the similarities were in my past roles and UX/UI design,” Sana says.

“Ivan taught me the importance of branding myself and telling a cohesive story from my résumé to my portfolio.

“Product design requires skills in data analysis, design communication and user research. Account management and user research require a lot of the same skill sets, such as having empathy, asking the right questions and really listening to what the user’s needs and wants are. These user-centric skills and being able to communicate my ideas have really helped me excel in my design roles.”

Having a mentor also helped.

While working for Thomson Reuters and studying in our program, Sana was fortunate enough to have a manager who was supportive of her design career and impending career switch. She met her mentor at work, who was, at the time, Head of Innovations.

“My mentor helped guide me, prep me for interviews and gave me guidance on what is expected in design roles.

“While I was working at Thomson Reuters as a customer success manager, I was also able to be in a dual role as a UX designer,” she lauds. “As a team of three with the head data scientist and a design strategist, we worked on complex problems creating machine learning and AI apps for Thomson Reuters’ financial platform, Eikon.

Sana credits that mentoring opportunity for helping guide her during her career transition to design. She even suggests where others can find their own mentor outside of the workplace: Amazing Design People List (ADPList), one of the many organizations to which Sana gives back to the UX design community through volunteering.

“I have volunteered with Open Door Legal, whom I got connected with when I was working at Thomson Reuters. I worked on redesigning their donations page with a design strategist. I also have volunteered for Make a Mark, a day-long event at which I got to redesign the San Jose Project's website with a team of three people.

“Currently, I’m a producer and photographer for CreativeMornings Field Trips’ San Francisco Chapter, an organization that I've been involved in for almost two years.”

“I have been able to combine my past personal and professional experience with the skills I gained in the Professional Program in UX Design to help me get to where I am,” Sana says.

Pay It Forward to Reach Your Goal

All of that solid UX knowledge and the portfolio she built from it has led to her current job as a product designer at Amazon. “Amazon has an incredible community of designers and design systems in place, so I'm learning what it means to be a designer at a big corporation with structure.”

So as it turns out, Sana’s eye for architecture (building and information) and her creative tendencies were the right route for her career.

“UC Berkeley Extension taught me the skills to understand design thinking, user research, coding and visual design in order to land these incredible gigs and really build up my portfolio,” Sana enthuses.

But that doesn’t mean Sana is finished learning about UX design. She will soon be off to graduate school.

“I applied to and was recently admitted into Pratt Institute’s Graduate School of Art for Design Management, Georgetown University’s Master’s in Design Management and Communications and New York University's Tandon School of Engineering for a master’s degree in Integrated Digital Media.

“Without the UX design professional program, I wouldn't have been able to do this industry switch from finance to design and get into these programs.”