The 4 Step Cheat Sheet to Building a Career in UX

Tanisha Amarakoon
7 min readSep 30, 2021


A guide by Roshni Thawani, an Intern @IBM and Tanisha Amarakoon, Support Trainer @Thinkific, both current Master’s students at the University of Toronto’s iSchool studying User Experience (UX) Design.

Thinking about a career in UX but not sure whether it’s the right fit for you or where to start? Or perhaps you’ve started a career in UX. Do you feel unsure where to find resources to support your continuous learning in the field? Join two early UX professionals and students who have written this guide to help fellow UX enthusiasts as they ponder on their career, with some helpful resources along the way.

Step 1: Asking yourself, what is UX, and is it right for me?

Tanisha: Looking for a quick and inexpensive way to validate your interest in UX? Simple answer: YouTube! YouTube videos are a great free, and low-time commitment tool for exploring whether UX piques your interest, with topics ranging from UX design processes, tips on starting a UX project, and sneak peeks into the lives of UX researchers and designers. Here are some of my favourites:

If you like what you’re seeing and are interested in learning more, I’d encourage you to dig deep into why UX sparks your interest. Your mission statement (i.e. why you do what you do) will be a vital part of what shapes your research interests, what you enjoy doing day-to-day, and projects you may want to work on. Check out this article by User Testing, which outlines what UX means to various industry professionals, and then begin crafting your own narrative!

Roshni: So, maybe you had a chance to view some Youtube snippets; good on you for looking to pursue a career involving empathy, innovation, and technology! But what does UX mean? UX is a subset of the field of Human-Computer Interaction. The discipline focuses on keeping human users at the center of the innovation process.

The Nielsen Norman group, created by two famously known UX experts, Jacob Nielsen and Don Norman, is great to find all things UX. This website is the ultimate hub for UX research and design information, an excellent go-to guide for continuous learning.

Step 2: Saying to yourself, I want to pursue a career in UX! Where can I learn more?

Tanisha: After reviewing UX definitions and checking out Medium articles, you may want to deep dive into some more informative reads. Many folks in the UX industry have recommended The Design of Everyday Things, a holy grail many folks have suggested which succinctly summarizes usable design principles. Although it requires more attention to detail, it can be read multiple times as a resource to go back to. Each time you read it, you may gain a new perspective.

Another great book is Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think; aside from the fact that it’s consistently ranked in the top 5 UX books worldwide, its whitty charm and concise nature (Krug describes it as an “airplane read” — can be completed during a short flight) makes it a perfect weekend read and reference point for user testing principles on future projects.

Roshni: Tanisha’s recommendations are an excellent choice to delve into UX deeper. Here are a couple more resources provided to me as I was early in the industry:

UX Research:

  • One book by Erika Hall, Just Enough Research (Recommended by my UX Research Manager Diana Sapanaro)
  • Couple of tools that may be helpful to familiarize yourself with for organizing research data: Mural, Enjoy HQ, Excel

UX Design:

  • The new and veteran tools of UXD are Figma, Invision, Sketch, and Adobe XD, the earlier you can learn a bit of these tools, the better! Which, by the way, are super user-friendly!

I learned about all these tools in the Masters’s program. As a researcher, I may only engage on the clickable prototype end over designing, but knowing how the tools function may give you a significant leg up in your UX journey.

Step 3: Thinking to yourself, I’m ready to dive right in and start my first UX Bootcamp, course, degree, etc. What resources can I use beforehand to prepare?

Tanisha: Once you’ve begun exploring some fundamental research and design tools, you might start searching for your first opportunity to gain experience. As you embark on your path to internships, boot camps, and degree programs, I’d recommend familiarizing yourself with your city’s tech scene to see what projects companies in your area are working on. For Toronto folks, MARS discovery district’s newsletter is perfect for receiving updates right to your inbox on the latest advancements from growing tech companies.

Other notable mailing lists include TechCrunch,, and Box of Amazing. These mail lists are perfect for getting bite-sized tech updates right to your email and can be enjoyed while scrolling before a movie or with your morning coffee.

Roshni: While looking for work in UX, you may feel imposter syndrome — the feeling that may come with thinking you don’t know enough or being an imposture in your chosen field. Well, guess what? It’s totally normal, and everyone’s been there(confirmed by some incredible mentors). The first time I came over that feeling was when I started my portfolio, and I didn’t even know how to begin.

  • One of my professors, Velian Pandeliv, provided Co-folios as the perfect inspiration! This website is an excellent resource for learning how to communicate methodologies while seeing how other designers have positioned their resumes.
  • As a pro-tip, I encourage you to integrate design thinking methodology with your research projects or deliverables.

Don’t have UX experience? Create your own! Find an app you spend a ton of time on and redesign it with some user research! The best way to get experience when all doors feel closed is to create a new door and walk on through :D See an excellent example here.

Another thing to keep in mind as a UX Researcher, your process is your best friend! The rule of thumb is if the company cares more about your past work over how you think, that’s not good. The UX research process is about curiosity being woven in at every stage and ensuring users’ needs are at the forefront of the design process. Here’s a great article that helps you understand the research process: UX Research Process.

Step 4: Now, I’m starting my first UX project or job. How can I continue learning?

Tanisha: As you continue your UX journey, I’d encourage you to digest shorter resources from different mediums to specialize in an area of interest or enhance knowledge gaps. For a short and free resource, consider listening to Jane Portman’s podcast UI Breakfast, which discusses SaaS products’ UI with various industry product professionals, founders, and more. For a longer resource (free or paid), consider taking an online course, such as Google’s UX Design Certificate.

Roshni: If you’d like more to learn, look at the following two resources once you’ve started your career and want to take your work to the next level.

One of my research managers, who I’d like to give a great shout-out to, Diana Sapanaro, really taught me the value of emotion in design. She recommended this book written by Pamela Pavliscak. Through reading, I have learned that when you engage with empathy, your work has more impact. This reading helps you see the benefits of embedding emotion in your research process.

Another one of my research leads who I’d like to give a great commendable call-out to, is Setara Singh. She’s been a phenomenal mentor and coach during my internship. Setara helped me learn different approaches to communicating my research to stakeholders. One example is a “jobs to be done” (JTBD) approach. She recommended I dive into this article by Tony Ulwick because it effectively shows readers how to communicate findings from a JTBD method. JTBD is one approach to help organize your presentation no matter the stakeholder!

Concluding thoughts

Alright, now that we’ve given you a 4 step cheat sheet, how do you plan on getting started as a UX Professional? Keep in mind it’s about the journey rather than the end goal. Besides, as they say in UX, everything’s a prototype; think of this start as one to be iterated.

More about the authors

Tanisha: Tanisha is an incoming Masters of Information Candidate at the University of Toronto studying User Experience Design. With previous UX experience from courses through the Dunin-Deshpande Queen’s Innovation Centre and innovation techniques through Venture for Canada’s Fellowship program, she’s excited to be diving headfirst into the UX industry in Canada’s tech capital. She can be reached by LinkedIn or Twitter.

Roshni: Roshni is a second-year Master of Information Candidate at the University of Toronto in the User Experience Design concentration focusing on UX research. She currently Interns with IBM’s Artificial Intelligence Applications Division. She has previous research experiences with the Ontario Human Rights Commission, Toronto Transit Commission, Adam House — A Home for Refugees, and the University of Toronto. She’s excited to share some of her early career learnings and loves to meet fellow UX enthusiasts. Feel free to reach her by LinkedIn.



Tanisha Amarakoon

@venture4canada Fellow working @thinkific | Alumni of @queensu | she/her