Melissa Ketch is originally from the Ivory Coast and resides in New York City. After earning a master’s degree in marketing from NYU, she worked for top fashion and beauty brands including Oscar de la Renta, YSL, and L’Oreal. Although she enjoyed it, she somehow felt unfulfilled. She knew something was missing but couldn’t pinpoint what it was. She went on a magical mission to discover what it is that sets her soul on fire! She shared some career tips with L.F.E:
Finding your passion and discovering what you are good at can be daunting. What sparked your curiosity in tech?
I have loved technology for as long as I can remember but, at a consumer level. I received my first personal laptop in 1996 – which wasn’t common for a kid living in Africa. Yet alone, I was seven. I was good at doing creative things on it and later on mastered the art of designing PowerPoint presentations and making websites look pretty (MySpace and Blogger at the time). Ironically, I never thought of working in the industry, mainly because it did not cross my mind that I could make a career out of it. So, all of those skills remained untapped for years. My curiosity for working in tech came much later when I thought of switching careers from marketing. I randomly took an online personality test that revealed I may like to code. I found it intriguing and quickly jumped on the opportunity to give it a try. Within only six months, I taught myself how to code using free online resources and switched careers to become a web developer. While at it, I discover my passion for UX Design and found that to be my sweet spot – a mix of research, design, and code. Today, I absolutely love what I do.
How did you position yourself to switch to the tech industry?
I faked it, till I made it. I positioned myself as a UX Designer before I got my first job opportunity. I read about what successful UX Designers do, and I started doing exactly that. That is attending events, networking, reading certain books, watching specific videos, using particular tools, etc. I also shared my web design work online even when I wasn’t proud of it. It allowed me to be vulnerable at times and get feedback. I think the key to my smooth transition is that I never positioned myself as a beginner. Instead, I positioned myself as a passionate UX Designer willing to learn and transfer her current skill set to a new career opportunity. I think that’s what resonated with people.
As a woman of color in tech, what challenges have you faced in a formal environment ( corporate)?
I always try to overlook the fact that I am almost always the only woman of color in the room. I solely focus on my skills and my knowledge and I do the work to the best of my ability. That doesn’t mean that I ignore the lack of diversity in the field. I have the mindset that I always come as one and stand as ten thousand so, I do all that is in my power to make the changes that I can on my end, instead of complaining. That is because I am in the room, it is my duty to open the door to as many women of color that I can. Be it a referral, a service recommendation, a shout out. Anything in my power to contribute to the bigger picture, I do. It is my duty to be the author of changes I want to see happen. Here is an anecdote I can share with you. When it comes to designing digital interfaces, you sometimes need to include headshots stock photos to represent users. I often notice that some people would only include caucasians. When I am the one designing, I make sure to create users with diverse skin tones. I have learned from experience that you can’t change people’s habits, but you can change how they behave in situations by influencing them. By not complaining about it and simply acting on it, I already noticed some adjustment being made by some people’s designs because of mine.
What advice do you have for millennial women of color who want to pursue a career in UX design but don’t quite know where to start from?
I have five golden rules for that
1. Focus on one thing: UX Design is a big field. Do your research on the area within UX Design you want to focus on, and do your best to master that one area. Don’t get all over the place.
2. Make it a habit to read about the industry: There are many free online resources out there. Make it a goal to read at least one article a day to get familiar with UX Design content. Be it a case study, expert tips, tutorials, blogs, etc. This will put you ahead of the curve
3. Network: It is about who you know. Not what you know. Meeting and getting to know people in the industry through events, LinkedIn, or recommendations comes handy to speed up your learning process and get your foot in the door.
4. Follow top UX Designers on social media: You can’t be what you don’t see. So, follow the crème de la crème of UX Designer and take advantage of the resources that they share and advice they give
5. Make it a habit to practice your craft: Be it only 30 mins a day or 2 hours, practice your skills and learn new ways to boost your productivity. The goal is to be good at what you do. Don’t settle for basics
I wrote a detailed blog post on how I became a UX Designer that you can find here(https://www.melissaketch.com/blog/how-i-became-a-ux-designer-in-less-than-a-year) if interested.
It was such a pleasure chatting with at L.F.E. Keep inspiring!