Opera singer to UX designer isn’t exactly a well-trodden career path, as UX design alumna (and former opera singer) Julie Marx is well aware. After moving to Germany from The States for her opera career, a series of side-gigs—and a small dose of soul searching—led her to the decision to retrain as a UX designer.
As she settles into her new UX design job, we caught up with Julie on her CareerFoundry experience…
Hi Julie, thanks for joining us! Can you start by taking us through your educational and professional background before CareerFoundry?
My original life plan was to become an Opera singer, which I did! After finishing my MA, I decided to move to Germany. There are a lot of opportunities here, and opera is better supported by the government here than in The States. I moved in 2012, and my life started revolving around keeping my visa rather than pursuing my career goals as an opera singer. I started singing at the Munich Opera, but I didn’t really put enough effort into it. I always ended up getting involved with other things, including working in a school or bartending. There came the point when I finally accepted the fact that I didn’t want to be an opera singer anymore, and I realized I needed to do a bit of soul searching to figure out my next step.
I’d always been interested in art, so I started teaching myself graphic design. I quickly decided a career in graphic design wasn’t for me, so I researched other options. That’s when I discovered UX design.
So what was it about UX design that really drew you in?
I liked making digital designs, but when I researched graphic design, I realized it involved a lot of pixel pushing. When I learned more about UX design, I was especially intrigued by the analytical side. It merges the creative side that I’ve always had with the analytical skills I’d developed as a musician.
When you enrolled in the program, were you working full time?
I was working part-time in an office and continued singing part-time as well—so sometimes I’d have rehearsals to work around. I also did one shift a week in a bar. Then the pandemic hit, and all those side jobs pretty much disappeared—so I suddenly had a lot of extra time!
Talk us through your CareerFoundry experience.
When I first started the course, I was super nervous. I’d spoken to a career advisor and read some testimonials, but I still wasn’t 100% sure what to expect. Luckily, my tutor was super helpful. He was extremely detailed about his feedback, going through my submissions piece by piece and offering feedback that felt bespoke and tailored to my work rather than a generic, cookie-cutter response he gives to all his students. I learned even more from my tutor than I did from the course material. My mentor was also really supportive—not just of my work, but also of my career as a UX designer. When I moved onto the UI specialization, I felt super prepared and got through it pretty fast.
How did you find studying remotely? Did you have any preconceived notions around remote learning?
I’d never done anything like this before. I was concerned about whether I’d be motivated enough, but it’s so hands-on that I was never bored! At the beginning of the program, I was a lot busier, so I had to manage my time around my shifts and rehearsals. The ticker on the dashboard was super helpful in terms of seeing whether you’re on track or not. I also never felt isolated. Because I got such detailed feedback from my tutor, I felt like I was learning a lot even without face-to-face interaction.
What were the next steps after you’d completed the program?
I started the job prep course while I was doing UX immersion, because I wanted to get a head start. My career specialist was really supportive and very good at keeping me accountable for staying on track with everything. When it got to the point where it was time to apply for a job, I applied for one job for the task where you write your cover letter—and that’s the job I just started!
Congratulations! Tell us about your new job.
I found this job via LinkedIn. It was a six month UX design internship, but I thought that would be a good way to get started in my new career. The company is a startup that designs the software for e-charging stations for electric cars. I’m only the second designer on the team! The first thing I’m working on right now is a redesign of the product app. I’m pretty much doing what I did on the course: making wireframes and creating user flows. They were impressed with the user flows in my portfolio, so I think that’s one of the things that got me working on this project.
Did you experience any impostor syndrome as a newcomer to the field?
I was definitely nervous at first. It’s all-new, and I felt like I had to prove myself. But back when I was an opera singer, I never felt like it was my environment or my people. Here in UX, even though I’m new, I feel totally in the right place. So far, I feel so positive about my decision to change careers!
What advice would you have for people looking to pursue a career in UX design?
I spent a lot of time doing loads of research, reading about the field, and looking at job boards in my local area to see if I would be able to find a job. When I was reading testimonials, I didn’t see many people who’d come from backgrounds that were completely unrelated to tech like I did, so that was a reservation for me. But I just had to go with my gut. I spent so much time waiting for something to happen, and I knew it was time to take control of my future. Once I signed up, I was sure to make the most of the program and the available resources. I still sing, but now it’s a lot more enjoyable because I do it for fun rather than for a job!
Head here to view Julie’s portfolio.
What You Should Do Now
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Curious to learn more about life after CareerFoundry for other alumni? Check out this story about three recent graduates who worked on exciting tech projects as part of an apprenticeship program with Tech Fleet, and this article on the reality of breaking into tech as a woman.