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Everything you need to know about being a UX Design Apprentice

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(8 min read)

IBM Chief Executive Officer Arvind Krishna recently wrote, “To close the digital divide, pathways to fast-growing technology jobs should include non-traditional training programs such as apprenticeships...” So we spoke to Ana Manrique, Program Director of Design for IBM Cloud and Cognitive, and her team to uncover everything you need to know about being a UX design apprentice at IBM.

First we spoke to Ana about her experience working with and managing the UX Design apprentice team. Then, we went to the apprentices themselves to learn all about their day-to-day and their advice for new apprentices.

Headshot for UX design apprentice manager Ana Manrique, Program Director of Design for IBM Cloud
Ana Manrique
Program Director of Design, IBM Cloud and Cognitive Software

What is the learning experience like for a UX design apprentice?

Ana Manrique: I have great respect for apprentices. They are not satisfied with the status quo. They choose to actively reshape their future.

I don’t think that there is a standard learning experience. Everyone is unique. But at IBM apprentices sharpen their skills by solving complex problems. They will shape products that some of the largest organizations in the world use. Apprentices have ownership of the area they design and will get credit for their contributions. There is the opportunity to collaborate closely with colleagues in development and offering management. It is a vibrant community that values diverse perspectives. The community will support them in their growth as humans and designers.

Overall, an apprenticeship at IBM is an amazing experience. It prepares them for whatever they want to perfect next on their journey to UX design greatness.

In your opinion, what are the absolute top skills you should have to be a successful UX design apprentice?

Ana: I believe that what makes a good designer makes a good apprentice. Good designers are curious and self-aware. They want to learn about the context of the problem and people they are solving for. They are open to possibility and push on the edges of constrains. Designers are team players and understand that exceptional product is built by a deliberate culture.

Apprentices are uniquely equipped with two traits that I equate with success in design: curiosity and grit. Everything that is technical can be learned. It is more important to have a can-do attitude. Apprentices are a great example that proves that point.

And finally, why are apprenticeships an important opportunity when getting started in a role or industry?

Ana: My husband Agustin is a developer who has heard me repeatedly claim that I would like to learn to code. He always tells me that coding can only be learned by doing. It’s so true! The best way to learn is to do.

Apprenticeships are important because they allow entrants into UX to hone their craft in a supportive and safe environment. Apprentices have also the opportunity to forge the culture at their design studio and IBM at large. They will build friendships and establish an invaluable network. An apprenticeship is a wonderful way to start a career.

The IBM Apprenticeship Program creates new pathways to employment for candidates without an advanced degree.

After speaking to Ana, we went to the apprentices themselves. They told us all about what led them to the program, all their day-to-day work, and their advice for new apprentices.

What was your background before joining the IBM Apprenticeship program? And why were you interested in the program?

Jennifer Hale: Before joining the IBM Apprenticeship program, I worked as a freelance photographer. Seeking a career transition into UX design, I completed a certificate program. But I was having a tough time finding my first job. IBM’s program was the perfect transition from learned coursework to working with a team on real projects, while also expanding my studies.

Lauren Scheck: I worked as a recruiter for a scientific staffing agency for two years before becoming an apprentice. I met a UX Designer, became very interested in UX Design, and started doing a lot of research. Eventually I chose to pursue a career change through a UX bootcamp! My interest in the IBM apprenticeship program came from knowing that IBM was a great place to work. As a career changer to UX design, I wanted an opportunity that involved mentorship. Mentorship was a huge part of what drew me to IBM’s program. I am so thankful IBM invests in junior designers and career changers.

Hunter Hobbs: Like many of the apprentices, I shifted from a career completely unrelated to UX design. My background is in architecture and economics. Before IBM, I was working for a residential developer here in Austin, Texas. To help transition my career into UX, I attended a bootcamp and learned more about the design community within Austin (where IBMers play an active role). When searching for opportunities after bootcamp, I discovered the IBM UX Apprentice position. The rest is history!

Judy Kim: Just before starting the program, I had graduated with a bachelor’s in biology. My work experience mainly consisted of working at labs at my university. During my senior year, I discovered the field of interaction design and design research. I was able to take some graduate program courses at my school. In these courses, I learned how to combine my research background with my creative interests. I finished off that year wanting to both find more ways to apply what I had learned and learn even more. That’s when I discovered the IBM Apprentice program. It matched exactly what I was looking for – an opportunity to work while still learning and growing my design skills.

Sean Hale: Before becoming an apprentice, I was working in the music industry as a tour manager for artists (…one of the many career paths taken by musicians that don’t end up making money off of their own work). Three years ago, I became a father and started looking into a career change. I wanted something that would keep me off the road and be more conducive to raising a child. Little did I know I would end up working from home entirely! One of my old tour mates went through a bootcamp and ended up getting a design gig with IBM. He felt the design community was a good fit for artists and musicians looking for a change. Because of this, I was inspired to follow a similar path.

What education/life experiences prepared you for the apprenticeship program?

Jennifer: Working in a freelance mode for many years before this program prepared me in many ways. I am very good with time management and organization. This transitioned well into budgeting my time between learning and working with my team on projects. Additionally, with the switch to working from home during the Covid-19 pandemic, my home office already existed. This made the transition much easier for me.

Hunter: Having a background rooted in architectural design certainly helped me understand and develop what it means to have a design process. The bootcamp I attended was very helpful in teaching me the fundamentals of user experience design. This has continued to serve as a great transition into the apprentice role.

Sean: I went through a UX design program at General Assembly one year before I started my apprenticeship at IBM. It set me up with a solid baseline for working through different methods of design thinking, creating hi-fi deliverables in Sketch, and basic prototyping.

The UX Design apprentices on a virtual call
Meet our team of UX design apprentices!

What does your day-to-day look like as a UX design apprentice?

Lauren: Earlier in the apprenticeship, I attended meetings with my product team, scheduled 1:1s, and worked on assignments from my mentor, while completing the apprenticeship curriculum. As time went on, this shifted. Now, I am fully involved with my design team and completing my first design sprint! 

Hunter: I’ve been a part of three product teams since joining IBM. Each has been a different experience since I joined each at different times within the product’s stage of development. I joined my first product team in the process of expanding on potential capabilities of a new product. During my first six months, my days were a combination of attending/analyzing research studies, collaborating with the design team, breaking out individually to develop low fidelity wires on new ideas, participating in critiques, and discussing design feasibility with development team.

What’s one piece of advice you’d offer to anyone thinking about joining the IBM Apprenticeship Program?

Lauren: Learn as much about IBM as you possibly can and be able to articulate the unique value you offer.

Judy: I learned that it’s okay to not know exactly what you want when you’re applying or even starting the program. The apprentice program is the perfect place to learn and try a lot of things while also gaining valuable experience. I applied for all three of the design-related apprentice positions. I was open with my interviewers about how I wasn’t sure which direction I wanted to go. During the interview I told them I was interested in where each of the positions could take me. In the end, even as a UX design apprentice I’ve been able to do visual design and design research work. Be proactive about seeking out diverse opportunities and find great mentors who can help you.

Sean: If you’re looking for a company that will invest in your growth as a designer look no more. Take advantage of the unspoken open-door policy IBM has cultivated.

What is the best thing about being part of the apprenticeship program at IBM?

Jennifer:  I love the chance to learn! I have a lot of natural curiosity, and I love that the Apprentice program stokes that. The program has a fantastic curated curriculum that has taught me more about UX design. And I have added to it, grateful for the chance to take additional inline courses. Mixing learning with work has been a great way to apply my knowledge and grow as a designer.

Lauren: The chance to learn and grow as a part of IBM Design! It’s challenging and rewarding. I also love the mentorship aspect, that has been very positive for me!

Want to learn more about apprenticeships at IBM? Check out our apprentice careers page for more information. And learn how we’re closing the skills gap with Data Science apprenticeships!

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