How Daniela Upleveled Her Existing UX Design Career with UX Academy

Daniela Montanez is a UX Academy graduate who wanted to upskill in her existing UX design career. Through the course she found confidence and fell in love with…

Alexa Harrison
Alexa Harrison
Dec 28, 2022
Min Read

Daniela Montanez arrived at Designlab already working as an in-house UX/UI designer for an entertainment company in Colombia. She had been in this position for almost six years. Why? Despite her job title, Daniela realized that she was stuck in her career. 

“I was feeling uninspired and stuck in a dark hole where I didn’t believe I could ever be a good designer. It felt impossible for me to grow, as I was afraid of raising my voice and leaving my comfort zone. I even thought about quitting design and switching to front-end development; however, I’m glad I didn’t,” says Daniela. 

What Daniela needed was new experiences and a new challenge to realize that she could be a great UX designer. Aside from confidence, she was also hoping to find a new job that could help her feel fulfilled and where she could create an impact.

An image of four wireframe sketches.
Go Get Em, exploration to visualize different possible solutions that would later help support the structure of the wireframes and high-fidelity prototype.

Choosing UX Academy for UX Design Education

Before choosing UX Academy, Daniela researched many different education providers, not only based in the US, but also in her home country of Colombia, as well as in Argentina and Spain. She never took this decision lightly—due to the monetary and time investment she would have to commit to. 

“I chose Designlab over my other choices in the end because it fulfilled all my needs and priorities,” Daniela says. 

These criteria included:

  • 100% remote
  • Live mentor sessions
  • The opportunity to build a unique portfolio,
  • Group Crits

“I liked that the program was completely in English, because it allowed me to practice my English and communication skills, which was super important to my job hunting journey,” Daniela says. 

“Also, I was granted half-off tuition through the Diversify Design scholarship, which was precisely what I needed to be able to do this program. It was a big investment because of the currency exchange, and in the end it was the best decision I could have made.”

An image of three high fidelity prototypes mocked up on mobile phone screens.
Design of Go Get Em, a productivity tool to help people accomplish small goals like taking out the trash by rewarding each completed task with a sticker for their album.

Daniela’s UX Academy Experience

Once in UX Academy, Daniela admits she thought it would be easier, considering her years of work experience as a UX/UI designer. 

“It was definitely an experience. There was so much to learn every day and so much to do. I had moments of stress and other moments where I felt I was close to burning out. Thankfully I had a great support system coming from my cohort (thank you Ishiokians!) and the few mentors I had, if it wasn’t for them, it wouldn’t have been as fulfilling and engaging as it was,” says Daniela. 

What she found most helpful was having 1:1 mentor sessions, and the weekly meetings her cohort decided to hold. The members of her cohort became fast friends and quickly built a safe space to share their wins and blockers. Daniela’s mentors and peers offered different and much appreciated perspectives on her projects.

“Another feature that was helpful even though I didn’t know in the moment how big it was actually going to be for my future in my new job, was the Group Crits. Thanks to the Group Crits, I slowly learned how to present my work and give a rationale behind my design decisions. I also developed the judgment and knowledge to know when to follow my peers’ feedback, and when not to,” Daniela says.

Beyond the community aspects of UX Academy, Daniela found much value in the curriculum, and still does to this day.

“I truly enjoy the readings from Phase 1. I still like to go over them from time to time. Especially the articles written by Designlab, I thought those were the easiest to understand and remember. Honestly, I enjoyed the experience as a whole, and if I could do it again, I would do it without batting an eye.”

An image of “Cathy Ann” with demographic information, goals, needs, motivations, and concerns.
A persona that guided Daniela through the process of reimagining the Cassandra Clare website.

The Huge Application Process

After graduating from UX Academy, Daniela knew she wanted to work at an agency. Since she had previously worked in-house, she sought an opportunity that would require her to work on many different projects across a variety of industries. 

“I came across Huge after finding the portfolio of a designer who worked there, we connected on LinkedIn, and, coincidentally enough, a recruiter from Huge contacted me the day I was going to apply by myself,” says Daniela.

It was a somewhat long process, mostly because of the wait between interviews. Daniela’s journey with Huge started in October 2021 with the recruiter screening, then she had to do two portfolio reviews with two different design leads.

“I prepared a deck, and they were impressed, as no other candidate had shown one!” 

Lastly, she had a behavioral and culture interview. When the process was over, unfortunately, all of the positions were closed and they weren’t going to hire anyone else for the year. The recruiter told her they would contact her again in January once new positions opened up. 

“I admit this was a stressful situation, I wasn’t sure if I should wait or continue to apply to other places. I had another offer around this time with another agency. But I took my chances and, in January, Huge’s recruiter contacted me again.”

So, Daniela did a final portfolio presentation to a creative director, and a couple of weeks later she received an offer… 

An illustration of a quote, which says, The risk I took was worth it, because in the end, I really wanted this opportunity.

Working as a UX Designer at Huge

Daniela’s journey to skill up in UX design was all worth it …

She says, “So far it’s all I could’ve ever dreamt of, no joke, I feel inspired and motivated to design again, which I think is the most important part. My teammates have been delightful, supportive, and open since day one. They make me feel like I belong in the team.” 

Although she’s still battling impostor syndrome, she’s working on not giving it such a big presence in her life. Working at Huge has been an adjustment process, compared to working in-house, but that’s exactly what she was looking for: to be outside of her comfort zone and learning new skills.  

The design process and collaborators

“My new job is not linear, it’s more in depth, and it’s also compelling, and I’m not always alone in the process. More importantly, I’ve been able to be part of projects that lead to an impact, small and big, inside and outside our team. I’m enjoying being part of a team and getting to know other creatives and project managers and clients too,” Daniela says.

While in UX Academy and at her former job, Daniela did not have a team to collaborate with on projects. So that has been one of the best parts for her about working at Huge.

“Bringing back the Group Crits topic, this is where I’ve found it the most useful, because I’ve now had to present my work a plethora of times to different audiences and explain why I did X and why I chose Y.”

Depending on the project, at Huge, Daniela typically works with other UX/UI designers, a creative director, and a project manager. However, the amount of designers can shift depending on the difficulty of the project and the specialties needed.

“I’ve had the chance to work on my own in one project and it was exhilarating and challenging and it motivated me to work every day. I was excited that they trusted I could do it on my own and thankfully it went great!”

Perks of working at Huge

Some of the fun perks of working at Huge include having Summer Fridays, where they log off at 2pm. Plus, the company closes for 3 weeks at different times of the year, so there’s built-in time to rest outside of actual vacation time. Finally, it’s a 100% remote company.

Daniela isn’t able to share any projects she’s worked on, because they’re not public yet, but she is able to share that they’ve all been exciting and rewarding. 

“All I can say is that I’ve been working with Google. Years ago when I studied graphic design, I would’ve never imagined that could happen to me.”

A screenshot of a desktop and mobile prototype mocked up on a desktop and mobile screen.
La Voz del Poder (The Power of the Voice), a project Daniela worked on about the presidents of Colombia and their speeches for Señal Memoria at RTVC.

Daniela’s Advice for Future UX Designers & Looking to the Future

Now that Daniela has graduated and landed a job that fulfills her creatively, she has some advice for those upskilling their UX design skills as well:

  • “Take breaks whenever you need to. Your career path is NOT a race, it doesn’t matter if you take longer than others in arriving to the place you want to be in. What matters is that you enjoy the process, learn, and try your best.”
  • “If you happen to have the chance to do an internship or a project with a client, take your chance!” 
  • “Listen to your mentor (or switch if you’re unhappy). This is your experience and you’re in control of it. Learn, ask questions and present your work every time that you can.” 
  • “Take notes from the beginning of your projects. It's easier to write your case studies if you start early and don’t leave it at the end.”

Outside of work, Daniela enjoys staying home, playing video games like Animal Crossing and Pokémon, reading young adult books (especially in the fantasy genre), and watching series like Cobra Kai. 

Looking forward she has two professional goals: working to soon become a senior designer, and to start mentoring associate designers. 

“Eventually I want to become a lead designer, but for now I’m focusing on enjoying the process and learning as much as I can. I’m excited to know what else is coming in my future, but, for now, I’m trying to seize the most out of everything, being a sponge and learning the most that I can.”

Connect with Daniela on LinkedIn and check out her portfolio.

Looking to skill up in your UX design career like Daniela? Learning visual and UI design is the best way to start. With UX Academy Foundations, you'll work 1-on-1 with an expert mentor to learn key visual design concepts and practical skills.

Launch a career in ux design with our top-rated program

Top Designers Use Data.

Gain confidence using product data to design better, justify design decisions, and win stakeholders. 6-week course for experienced UX designers.

Launch a career in ux design with our top-rated program

Top Designers Use Data.

Gain confidence using product data to design better, justify design decisions, and win stakeholders. 6-week course for experienced UX designers.