Meet Joyce: From Sales Representative to Product Designer at Optum Financial

Joyce is currently working at Optum as a UX designer for their finance products. As a UX Academy graduate, Joyce enjoys giving back to the Designlab community …

Alexa Harrison
Alexa Harrison
Dec 7, 2022
Min Read

We recently sat down with UX Academy graduate Joyce Isleta, now a Product Designer at Optum Financial in San Antonio, Texas.

Watch the complete webinar recording to learn more about:

  • Joyce’s journey through UX Academy to becoming a Product Designer
  • Tips on how to overcome imposter syndrome as a new designer
  • Networking advice for landing a job
  • How to make relationships with recruiters work for you
  • … and more!

Read more about Joyce's journey and top tips below ...

Joyce’s Journey to Product Design

Joyce Isleta has long been fascinated by technology and skilled in graphic design, so product design seemed like a perfect fit. She learned Adobe Creative Suite at a young age and always wanted a full-time career in design, but didn't feel competitive enough in creative art to pursue it until recently. 

“I love how product design is about being functional and building for an optimal user experience, while also not being overly creative. I wanted to be creative, but also pragmatic, in my design,” says Joyce.

After working as a sales representative for six years, a yearbook sales rep for five years, and a digital marketing sales associate for a further year, Joyce was over sales.

When choosing an education provider for her career switch into product design, Joyce notes, “I loved Designlab's transparency in their outcomes. The live outcome feed and portfolios inspired me to trust them with my education. I also felt it was affordable and flexible with its timeframe.”

Once in our career-switching program, Joyce really enjoyed UX Academy's flexibility to create her own portfolio projects. 

“I got to work on a passion project—Gaydar—that I had always wanted to redesign, and received great feedback from industry-experienced mentors,” Joyce says. 

Gaydar Capstone Project

Gaydar is a real-world app that Joyce chose to add additional features to in order to make it more inclusive to the whole LGBTQ+ community (rather than just gay men). Joyce—who came out on the last day of high school and has been dating women since—chose to do this project because as a femme Lesbian, she notes that meeting other queer folk in person can be difficult. 

“In real life, people do not identify me as gay based on my looks so I gravitate to gay dating apps to date. I wanted to create a gay dating app that allowed you to meet the gay people around you while out at a bar or club. I conducted user interviews and user testing with LGBTQ+ people with different sexual identities. It was exciting hearing their dating stories and finding out that they would love this app to just meet more people in the community (not just for dating.) People would want to use it when they travel, so they knew the safe bars/locations and could meet others in the local LGBTQ+ communities.

The hard part of this app is knowing that there are real-world dangers in making this app exist. I tried to build in certain safeguards like verifying users and blurring photos. When I think of the Orlando shooting, it's a reminder that homophobia still exists and the location features could still be used for nefarious acts. It's a shame that a resource like this cannot be easily enjoyed by our community without fear,” Joyce says.

Gaydar Project1
A LGBTQ+ dating app that utilizes location features to meet others in real life.

Her work on the Gaydar app capstone also caused her to realize that there are a lot of medical apps need gay-friendly versions. 

“There's a lot of unique needs for our community, especially those that are transgender or non-binary. So many apps are not gender-neutral and it can be alienating. I'd love to see an app that helps LGBTQ+ people become parents; rather by making adoption easier or by informing them of their options for in vitro,” says Joyce.

Gaydar Project2

Joyce’s inclusive thinking is one of the reasons we know she’ll be an excellent UX designer—and it was also part of why she was hired at USAA.

“When I showed my portfolio to my current design director, he tried to warn me that ‘Your Gaydar project might offend some people when applying to companies.’ To which I replied, ‘Respectfully, I understand. However, if a company had a problem with that project, then they're not a company that I'd want to work for.’

Gaydar Project3

In my 2nd interview, he admitted that response was part of the reason he wanted to move forward with hiring me. I believe in always putting forth your authentic self and the right people will support and surround you.”

Tips on How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome as a New Designer

Joyce is regularly recognized for her confidence in her work, so we picked her brain on how new designers can overcome that nagging feeling of not being good enough—or, Imposter Syndrome.

“Doing things like this is a way to push myself to have the grit to learn on the spot. When I do these I feel more confident talking to people about UX design because I know I can do this—even if it’s not perfect,” says Joyce.

Some of Joyce’s tips for overcoming Imposter Syndrome as a new designer include:

  • Be as knowledgeable as possible, but know that you’re not going to learn everything. You just need to know enough to feel confident.
  • Keep up with the common product design trends.
  • Take part in creative challenges regularly—like the ones on Behance!
  • Even when you start working at a UX design job regularly, find ways to stay sharp on your foundational skills.

Joyce is keeping her own foundational skills sharp by working on two apprenticeships outside of her full-time job. She found these apprenticeship opportunities on FLIK, a platform for connection, mentorship, and support for driven women at all stages of their careers and companies.

“Having the opportunity to work with female founders whose missions I resonate with has been great. I’m not getting paid for this work, but they’ve given me the opportunity to stretch my creative muscles and gain more experience.”

Working as a Product Designer

Joyce lives in San Antonio, Texas, which she knows isn't a huge tech city, so she had to be strategic in her career-switch knowing she likely had limited local options. USAA is one of the biggest companies headquartered in San Antonio and is known for being a strong UX organization, so they were always Joyce’s top target company to work for. 

“I didn't expect it to be my first UX position, but I did my due diligence to network with USAA people through ADPList to learn more about the company. After meeting with a local design director, I was connected to a tech recruiting company,” says Joyce. “They helped me set up my application for an open designer position with the director that I met. I met with his team and presented a few case studies from my portfolio and immediately got an offer.” 

It only took a week of networking for this opportunity to become a job offer. Joyce was very lucky, but also proactive in making it happen.

“I created a FinTech project for my portfolio with the intention of applying to USAA. It was the main project that my design director wanted to see. I would recommend knowing what companies you want to work for and catering your projects to those industries,” Joyce says.

Vanguard Project1
Adding a feature and redesigning the Vanguard stock trading experience.

“I also think you need to be creative about what problems you’re solving. Recruiters are most interested in seeing real-world work, but if you can't get something developed then at least tell a great story for an interesting problem.”

While serving as a UX designer at USAA, Joyce worked on design libraries, designing new features, performing user testing, and updating screens. 

After some time at USAA, Joyce switched companies, and is now a Product Designer at Optum Financial, which is a subset of UnitedHealth Group. She’s working as a generalist, so on any given day she’s doing usability tests, prototyping, or having meetings.

You can connect with Joyce on LinkedIn and check out her portfolio to learn more about her work and story in general.

To join our inclusive community of aspiring UX designers from all backgrounds, we encourage you to explore our UX Academy program. We also recommend exploring our Diversify Design Scholarship program which provides support to aspiring designers from groups who are largely underrepresented in the design industry, such as LGBTQ+ folks.

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.