From Corporate Banking to Innovative Startup: How I Pivoted My Career To Stay Relevant in a New Country

Leaving her home country of Mexico, Alice’s exciting emigration journey to Canada was complicated when the Covid-19 pandemic took hold. She had a tougher time than she’d hoped adjusting to life in Canada and changing careers. Determined to become a UX designer, she persevered and graduated from CareerFoundry and is now working in the field at a digital healthcare startup in Calgary.

by Alison Lightfoot on 24 May 2022

Alice Ruiz Pereda, UX design CareerFoundry graduate

My call with Alice takes place on a warm morning in Calgary, and Alice informs me she’s not had breakfast yet. It’s early evening for me in Berlin and I’m starting to wind down for the day, but Alice’s energy is incredibly infectious. 

Kicking off her Wednesday chatting with me, she also stops during our call to answer a quick Slack message from her manager, eagerly shows me the low-fidelity prototypes she’s currently working on, and pauses to eat a quick snack for breakfast. She is friendly and chatty from the get-go, and doesn’t need any prompts from me as she shares her career change story.

​Working at a large bank in Mexico City, Alice tells me that she planned to move to Canada with her husband, who is currently studying for a PhD in Calgary, Alberta. She planned on taking time to prepare for the big move, but the sudden onset of the Covid-19 pandemic meant she had to make some quick decisions:

“Moving to Canada was really out of my comfort zone. I had a job, family, and friends in Mexico. My life was very peaceful and organized, but when my husband suggested moving to Canada for this adventure, I initially thought, ‘Yeah, why not? We’re young and we can travel, that sounds fun!’ 

My husband went first to start his PhD and I was supposed to join him a few months later, but when the pandemic hit and borders started closing I ended up flying out really spontaneously to join him before it was too late.”

Alice studied innovation and design engineering at university but didn’t initially want to pursue a career in design. She wanted to learn more business strategy. She tells me about a marketing and design internship she secured at a company selling beauty care products, before moving on to a bank to work in graphic design—a popular role in the job market in her area at the time.

However, she wasn’t satisfied with the kind of designer she was becoming. She missed the lack of critical thinking and research behind her designs. She began to wonder if there was a happy medium somewhere between the worlds of design and business.

She raised her concerns with her superiors at the bank and ended up moving into project management:

I was working on customer service projects to improve the customer experience for the call center at the bank. I was in charge of understanding why the client was calling, what the pain points in the customer journey were, and coming up with solutions to improve the process. It required a lot of critical thinking to understand all of that. I was essentially doing UX research—although I didn’t know that at the time.”

After a swift move to Canada, Alice was able to continue working remotely for her company in Mexico City. However, she quickly set out to look for a new project management role. She found that companies would ask for five years’ experience or an MBA, of which she had neither.

So instead, she turned her attention to the job market in Calgary. What type of roles were in demand? Were there jobs where she could still utilize the skills she had in her arsenal? It was through this research Alice came across UX and UI design:

“Some friends from my bachelor’s degree are now actually working as UX designers in Mexico City, so I asked them, ‘Hey, what is a UX designer? What do they do? Do you like it?’ And they all told me, ‘Yeah, we love UX design!’ 

They told me what they do, about the types of clients they work with, how they create web apps and mobile apps, and how they find solutions to problems in the journey. I felt a synergy with my current work—that’s what I was doing in project management but focused on process engineering. I liked the idea of doing the same, but for a mobile or web app. 

I thought UX design was something I could do and would be a good fit for me, so I looked at open positions and I checked the requirements on the job descriptions. However, I have to say, I was very afraid of what I saw. I thought to myself, ‘I don’t have anything to offer! I don’t understand what wireframing is, I don’t know about Sketch, I don’t understand what usability testing is!’” 

Alice knew that she’d need to bolster her skillset to meet the demands of the job market, so she started familiarizing herself with all things UX. From experimenting with new software to learning new methodologies, Alice’s design background gave her a headstart in her UX learning. But it wasn’t enough.

She found herself frustrated at not being able to understand things properly, and knew she’d need help to stay focused as she studied. Her friends assured her there were online schools and bootcamps that would suit her remote situation, which is how Alice came across CareerFoundry:

“Everything on the CareerFoundry website was great. I got a clear impression about the company and I learned I could easily contact the team to know more. I spoke with a program advisor and told them about my background, my situation moving to Canada, and that I was still working full-time. 

Something that I really like about CareerFoundry is that the program advisors will let you know if your profile fits a particular career path. I asked them so many questions about the UX Design Program! ‘Am I going to learn how to make wireframes?’ They said yes. ‘Will I learn how to use Figma or Sketch?’  They said sure. It was very reassuring.”

A quote from Alice about her career change journey

Filled with confidence and ready to take on a new challenge, Alice signed up for the UX Design Program. She shared her very honest experience with me about studying while still holding down a full-time job:

“It was so tough. The toughest months of my life, really. I started work early in the morning with my job—working at my screen and sitting at my laptop all day with a lot of meetings. I found that with the new home office situation a lot of my colleagues in Mexico were working longer hours too, so the days felt so long. After working 10 hours every day, I’d then have to turn on my personal computer and work on my course.” 

I was curious to find out what it was that kept her so motivated:

“I kept telling myself, ‘I have a timeline and I need to find a job here. I want to be a UX designer.’ Plus, the more informed I became about what UX designers do, the more it motivated me. I subscribed to a lot of resources, workshops, and UX communities where people were talking about how awesome it was to be a designer, so that really motivated me a lot. So even though I finished work at 8pm and spent four more hours studying, the course content brought me a lot of satisfaction. I really enjoyed doing it.

I learned all about those concepts that I’d heard about but was not familiar with: wireframes, prototyping and low fidelity vs. high fidelity, usability testing, and so on. I really reinforced my understanding of all these concepts through the UX immersion course. I also got such helpful and inspiring feedback from my mentor and tutor throughout the process.” 

On top of that, she knew she had made a big investment with CareerFoundry and would soon be starting her job search in Canada; a new market. Thankfully, she had great support from her career specialist:

“The Job Preparation Course helped me a lot because my career specialist, Neha, eased my worry about finding a job. She is from India, had lived in the UK, and was now working in Canada. Neha assured me that here in Canada, it doesn’t matter if you are from another country—if you have the right skills, an outstanding portfolio, and everything that the company has asked for in the job ad, you can get a job. Thanks to what she told me, I was very motivated to keep going.”

A quote from Alice about her career change journey

“With the Job Preparation Course, I started making all the improvements to my resume, my LinkedIn profile, my elevator pitch, and all of these concepts that I didn’t know about before. Then I had a couple of meetings with Neha to polish it all, which was very important because here in Canada, they use another format for resumes than in Mexico. So I give huge thanks to Neha for her guidance with this. She really helped me improve the grammar, spelling, and format for my resume.”

Armed with a toolkit of polished resources to commence her job search, Alice started looking for a role. She was still finishing her studies when she heard about a virtual job fair in the fintech industry through a local UX design community she had joined. Knowing the demand for UX designers in her area was growing, and lots of tech startups were actively hiring, Alice signed up:

“The job fair is how I found the company where I am now working! I saw the job advertised for a UX designer and I read the job description, as well as all of the company background and their mission. I liked it all and I found their product very interesting. 

The online job fair platform allowed you to talk with representatives from a company either via chat or video call. I went for a video call. I was really full of confidence from CareerFoundry, and told myself I could do it. I already had my elevator pitch prepared, so I asked for a video call and it turned out to be with the CEO of the company!”

Recommended viewing: How to Network in Tech

After a relaxed, informal chat at the job fair, the CEO encouraged Alice to apply for the position, and she did just that. A few days later, she was invited to the next stage of the hiring process, which consisted of both a technical and behavioral interview:

“The recruitment process was really straightforward. The first interview was with the co-founder, who was in charge of the UX design team. If it was not for CareerFoundry, I wouldn’t be able to answer any of the questions she asked me! And they were very tough questions.”

A quote from Alice about her career change journey

“Overall, it was a really fast process. After the two interviews they offered me the job—they were so excited and wanted me to be part of the team. The co-founder told me that my portfolio was really outstanding, and she was impressed with my design skills which she could see through my portfolio. It was one of the best days of my life! 

At this point, I had just finished my course. I went back to Mexico, I quit my job, and I was really so happy! After all my hard work, a lot of dedication, a lot to learn, all of this came through in the end.”

After a good few minutes of me congratulating Alice, we move on in our call to talk about what her new career looks like.

She is now working as a UX designer at Mikata Health, a digital healthcare startup focused on creating web and mobile apps for clinics, doctors, and patients. The tools that Alice and her team design give patients convenient access to care, while optimizing doctor’s days:

“Our app is integrated with some really old software in Canada. It works by taking information from old electronic medical records and presenting all the same information, but with a better user experience and with a beautiful user interface in the app. I’m in charge of making all of the designs for the web app interface.

We’ve also integrated some automated features that aren’t possible with the old software—things like appointment booking and reminders, and pre-visit instructions for the patient.

It has really helped a lot of clinics. They’ve managed to save time and simplify processes for their staff. Patients can make appointments and the software is in charge of giving all the information about prescriptions, sharing guidelines for the visit, sending reminders about appointments, making follow-ups, and so on.

We have been innovating throughout these strange times too, working on really helpful features like Covid test screening and integrating digital test results with your phone. Our product and the company are growing so much.”

It was really fascinating to hear Alice talk about her work with such passion and proficiency. She has clearly settled in well to her new role and is adding great value with her work.

In fact, since chatting to Alice originally, we’ve kept in touch and I recently reached out to her manager who had the following to say about Alice:

A quote from Alice's manager about her work as a UX designer at Mikata Health

Read more: Life After CareerFoundry: Updates From Graduates in the Workplace

I asked Alice how she feels her life has changed since studying with CareerFoundry:

“I feel so much happier. In my job in Mexico, I would be working on around 20 projects simultaneously and have a lot of tasks to do, so I couldn’t ever focus on one project—I had to be involved in all of them. When you are working like that, you’re not capable of being creative or actively using your problem-solving skills or your critical thinking, because you are just focusing on constantly finishing the task at hand. You really don’t take time to focus and make improvements. 

I was working in one of the biggest banks in Mexico, with 5000 people in total, 200 in my region, and 12 in my team. Now I work for a startup with just one product and the whole team is about 16 people. I have just one project, in which I can be very creative. 

I have been proposing things to the team, and I love that if I suggest an idea, the team might say, ‘That’s a good idea, let’s make it!’ So that’s really a huge change because in my last company, if I had an idea, it had to go through other areas of the company, and I’d have to wait for feedback from all of them. Now, I can share my ideas with the CEO and if he agrees, we make it happen. I’m really, really enjoying it!” 

And her advice to others going through a similar career change?

“I’d like to offer some advice to anyone living and working in a new country. Most of the time, I felt like I was nobody and I was not capable of working here. I thought nobody was going to take me seriously because I was not from this country, but what I want to say is that if you work so hard for it, you can get it. 

You have to be very persistent, work hard, and be dedicated. I would encourage you to always have that mindset that you can do it. Take advantage of all the tools and guidance that CareerFoundry offers, because they are really helpful. 

There are really good designers out there, but it might ease your mind to know that you don’t necessarily need to be outstanding. If you can demonstrate that you have the right skills, don’t feel bad about not being an outstanding UX designer. Just keep learning because UX design is always about learning—you never stop. Since I started working at Mikata, I’ve had to learn a lot of new trends and a lot of new technologies. It’s so important to keep informed, as the industry is always changing.”

With that, Alice and I start to wind down our chat. The call was scheduled for 40 minutes, but we talked for well over an hour—and honestly, I could have chatted with her all day. Her enthusiasm for her new role, her positive attitude, and her open and honest nature was inspiring, and it was the perfect sign off for the end of my day in wintery Berlin.

If you’re feeling inspired by Alice’s story and are wondering if a career in UX is a good fit for you, give this free, introductory, short course a go. If you’d like to learn more about how to build a career in tech, you can do exactly what Alice did, and book a call with one of our program advisors.

To hear from more CareerFoundry graduates who have broke into the exciting world of tech like Alice, check out these success stories:

by Alison Lightfoot on 24 May 2022

About the author

Alison Lightfoot

Originally from northern England, Alison’s marketing background ranges from gaming, to sports, to the arts. When she’s not writing about CareerFoundry’s inspiring alumni, she can be found doing yoga, reading a weird book, or exploring new restaurants and cafes around Berlin.