Episode 155 – Find Out How to Become Good at Self-Learning and Make Yourself More Marketable with Jessica Ivins

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Phil’s guest on today’s show is Jessica Ivins. She started her IT career working as a web developer using mainly HTML and CSS. But, soon became interested in the UX field.

Her design school prepares students to become truly industry-ready, junior UX designers. Jessica is the founder of the Chattanooga UX Design Meetup as well as a prolific international conference speaker. She also spends quite a lot of time sharing her knowledge via her blog, social media, and tech articles via the Medium platform.


(1.06) – So Jessica, can I ask you to expand on that brief intro and tell us a little bit more about yourself? Jessica explains that, by trade, she is a UX designer. But, these days, her focus is teaching others to become industry-ready designers.

To achieve this, she takes her students through an intensive two-year course. Once they have completed it, they are fully ready for the workplace.

(2.00) – How long have you been focused on UX itself and how long have you been teaching other people? Her answer is since 2007, but Jessica explains that, before that, she was a front end web developer. A skill she still uses from time to time.

She has been focusing on teaching since 2011/12. However, Jessica has been running regular workshops and attending meetups for far longer.

(3.10) – Can you please share a unique career tip with the I.T. career audience? Jessica’s advice is to always be preparing yourself for your next job search, even if you are happy in your current role. That does not mean applying for jobs before you are ready to move on. Jessica’s advice is to constantly improve your reputation. It is important to portray yourself as a professional, at all times.

That way when you need to find a new job, you will be in a good position to land the role you really want. Making a name for yourself within the industry makes any job search far easier.

(4.10) – Do you have any examples of what you might do to get your profile out there? Jessica says you can dive deep and begin blogging. That works well. So, does writing a book or public speaking. For Jessica, it was speaking at conferences that gave her career a real boost.

Attending networking events helps too. As does, maintaining a strong presence on social media. You just need to hang out and be active where others who work in your field spend time. For example, if you are a designer Dribble is a particularly good platform to participate in.

You can also listen to podcasts or read articles written by experts who work in your field and reach to and thank them. Plus, maybe ask a question or share something with them. Do that regularly and you will stay on people’s radar. LinkedIn has great feeds that make it really easy to do this.

If you do a few of these things you will end up with a good online presence. So, when an employer Googles your name they will be able to find up to date information about you. Someone who is known in the industry and has a good reputation will find it easier to land a good job.

Phil particularly likes the suggestion that you provide positive feedback for articles and podcasts. He knows this is effective, especially when you submit your comment not long after the article or podcast has been published.

(6.50) – Can you tell us about your worst career moment? And what you learned from that experience. At one point, despite being inexperienced and in a junior position, Jessica was expected to complete senior level work. As a result, she ended up working on some high profile and demanding projects.

Unfortunately, she did not have enough experience to do everything that was expected of her. It was a very unfair position to be in. Several other people who were involved in the project were in a similar situation. Unsurprisingly, fairly quickly, everyone involved became very frustrated.

However, it did make her realize that she needed to become a better facilitator. She had to develop the skill to lead individuals and teams toward consensus. It helped her to realize that being able to rally the team was an essential skill.

The difficult experience she had, early on in her career, taught her a skill she still relies on heavily, today. In the end, that experience is one of the things that ended up pushing her career forward.

(9.00) – What was your best career moment? For Jessica, getting into public speaking has been a highlight of her career.

But, it was not something she wanted to do. She resisted, but her boss pushed her to do it. At the time, her presentation skills were not great, something her boss saw as a big issue.

When she finally gave in and, she started out by speaking locally, on a subject she was passionate about. It was nowhere near as scary as she thought it would be and her public speaking ended opening a lot of doors for her. For example, while speaking at one conference she met and got to know her current boss.

(10.32) – When did you actually start public speaking and how many talks have you given and do you enjoy it? Jessica explains that she started to speak publically around 2011/12, and since then has delivered dozens of talks.

However, she still gets butterflies, when she speaks publically. But, she has learned to manage them better, so they are not as bad as they used to be.

(11.56) – Can you tell us what excites you about the future of the IT industry and careers? The way in which technology is becoming so integrated with our day-to-day lives excites Jessica. The pace of integration means that there are always new and interesting problems to solve, especially when it comes to the user experience.

(12.40) – What drew you to a career in IT? When Jessica was in college, taking a computer programming class was mandatory. At the time, she knew very little about computers, just how to use two pieces of software and handle emails.

Naturally, she was nervous about taking the programming class. But, when she did, she loved it. So much so, that she nailed her first exam.

She switched majors and ended up studying to become a web developer using HTML and CSS. That is when she knew for sure that an IT career was for her. The fact that she could make enough money to live comfortably was also a win.

(14.30) – If you were to begin your IT career again, right now, what would you do? Jessica says she would probably start by sharpening her self-learning skills.

As a student, she had a conventional mindset. She thought the way to learn was to just go to class and do what your teacher told you. Now, she realizes that this conventional approach will only take you so far.

In today’s world, you have to be really good at teaching yourself. It is the only way to remain marketable and knowledgeable enough to be really good at your job.

(15.26) – Is that something you’ve built into a habit? Or is it something you plan out? For Jessica, it has become habitual. If you focus on learning and sharpen it as a skill, you’ll get better at learning. You will learn faster and recognize which skills you need to focus on.

(16.05) – What are you currently focusing on in your career? Jessica is working to improve her management skills for her next cohort of students.

At Center Centre, they take a different approach to education. The environment in which the students are taught is more like a workplace than a classroom.

Students report to Jessica or a faculty member and have regular one-on-one meetings. Projects are managed just like they would be in the workplace.

It is a sound process which produces fully trained junior UX designers. Workers who are able to do the job, from the very first day with their new companies.

Jessica is pleased with the way things have gone but is working to continually improve. That means striving to manage things even better than they are now.

(17.07) – What is the number one non-technical skill that has helped you the most in your IT career? For Jessica, that is having strong facilitation skills. Being able to run meetings and lead people towards consensus and achieving goals is an invaluable skill set.

Jessica feels that the ability to do this is one of the things that sets her apart, in a good way. It has also helped her to be a good educator.

(17.46) – Phil asks Jessica to share a final piece of career advice with the audience. Jessica’s advice is to be intentional about how you portray yourself and make sure that you continually make small investments in your career. This will ensure that you are as ready as possible the next time you need a new job.

At Center Centre, they work with students from day one to lay the groundwork for their getting a job, when they graduate, two-years later. They are encouraged to identify who they need to meet, the opportunities that will help their career and what else they can learn to boost their job worthiness.


(3.28) JESSICA – “Lay the groundwork for your next job search now, even if you’re happily employed”

(8.07) JESSICA – “Public speaking opened up so many doors for me”

(15.04) JESSICA – “You have to be good at seeking out new opportunities to learn, so you are marketable, hireable and knowledgeable enough to be effective at your job.”

(15.17) JESSICA – “If I could go back and talk to my earlier self, about the beginning of my career, I would definitely push myself to sharpen the skill of self-learning.”

(17.58) JESSICA – “Be intentional about how you portray yourself.”


Twitter: https://twitter.com/jessicaivins

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jessicaivins/

Website: http://jessicaivins.net

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