My Pivot Journal is a Ventures Africa weekly series documenting people’s career transitions from one industry to another, especially to tech.
Angela Okafor is a tech sis that isn’t afraid to fail as long as it means finding her way. It took her exploring two different tech tracks before she discovered her passion for UI/UX. After extensive research, some trial and error and a lot of cold emails, Angela is optimistic she has found a home in product design. Here is Angela Okafor’s pivot journal.
How it started
I always wanted to pursue Tech, but my parents had other plans. They wanted me to study medicine or any science-related course, and I went along with it, applying to study pharmacy at the university. But fate had other plans. The university offered me admission to study marine biology. That was the first time I learned that “student proposes, but university disposes”.
In my third year of university, while I went for my IT/SIWES placement, I got a little taste of what it was like to be a part of the labour market. And I realized how difficult it was to secure a job, especially if you weren’t equipped with the necessary skills. I still had a burning desire to work in tech. So, I started doing my research and asking a lot of questions to find out what I needed to do to break into the industry.
My first attempt at breaking into tech was with front-end development. I self-studied HTML and CSS, but I quickly realized that this was not my strength. I went back to the drawing board and did more research, deciding to try my hand at data analysis. Again, I went the self-taught route, learning Microsoft Excel, SQL, and some Python. I also applied and got an internship role in data analysis. However, I soon realized that I wasn’t passionate about data analysis. Despite getting several certifications and doing internships, I just wasn’t enjoying it. And I know that passion is important in tech. You can only fake it for so long before you burn out. So I had to go back to the drawing board again.
While I was finding my way tech, I kept looking for job opportunities. Eventually, my knowledge of data analysis helped me land a job as a business analyst. I soon stumbled upon product design from a friend who was a product designer at the time. It seemed like something I would enjoy. I always had a natural knack for design, spending a lot of my childhood using the paint application on my computer. So, I decided to explore product design on the side, while I kept my job as a business analyst. Along the way, the need for a designer arose at my place of work. I had all that knowledge I was acquiring on the side, so I stepped up and started working in both capacities.
My entire transition to tech lasted for about a year. I did a lot of research, google became my best friend. I made sure to ask questions when I was stuck, connecting with people already in the space on Linkedin. Sometimes, it got overwhelming, but I made sure I took breaks whenever I felt stuck or got overwhelmed. While transitioning, Youtube was very instrumental for me. I would learn from channels like Career foundry and AJ and smart. I also took design courses on Udemy. When I was learning about data analytics, I got a lot of certifications. But, for product design, I had to focus on actually designing products. Product design is more about what you can do than what certification you have. From the get-go, people ask for your portfolio, so they know what you can do. So I took my time creating a design portfolio. However, Google’s UX design course and the interaction design foundation are pretty good certifications for people interested in getting certifications in product design.
When I started looking for tech internships and jobs, I sent out a lot of cold emails. I soon learned relying on my academic background would be a challenge. Most recruiters may not take a second look at your cv when they see marine biology as your educational background for a front-end development job role. They would rather go with someone who has a CS background.
How it’s going
I currently work as a product designer at Interswitch, an integrated payments and digital commerce platform. As a product designer, I get to work in an agile environment, on a cross-functional team with front-end developers, and product managers, to create meaningful user-friendly digital experiences. A typical day can be meetings with stakeholders or pushing pixels on Figma, or just being in several team meetings. It all depends on the menu for the day.
It took a lot of failures to find my place in tech. But I did. With product design, I do not struggle to deliver. It is like a low-effort high reward thing for me. I also enjoy the flexibility that comes with working in tech. Currently, I work in a hybrid work setting. Also, I like that as a UX designer, I am in touch with my creativity, as long as it is within the limit of what the company allows. Basically, I don’t have to give up my creativity in my quest for career success. Which is why I see myself being in this space for a long time. I intend to keep growing as a UX designer. Although, I am a dynamic and curious person, so, I may choose to dabble into other tracks in the future, however, product design is home for me. As for my parents, they are on board with my current career. It took a lot of convincing but if there is one thing that is true with African parents, it’s that they just like seeing results. So once that started happening, my parents’ support went from a hundred to a thousand.
Fail forward and evolve.
Don’t be afraid to try new things and use failure as a learning opportunity. If I had been afraid to quit front-end development or data analysis, I wouldn’t have found my passion in product design. Also, the tech industry is ever-evolving, and the key to succeeding in the industry is to keep learning and evolving with it