#20 - Demarc Ramanand - Transitioning from Computer Science to UX Design: Insights from a Practitioner

Dec 22, 2022Dianne Eberhardt

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify,  Stitcher, Amazon Music, Google Podcasts, or on your favorite podcast platform. You can watch the interview on YouTube here.



Dianne: Hello everyone. Welcome to the Pixelated Perfect podcast. Today I have with me Demarc. Super excited to chat with him. He's currently based in Charlotte, North Carolina. He is a UX designer with about four years of experience. And right now he is a UX designer at Kingsman Software. So super excited to dive into all of the details of how he got to where he is today. Thank you so much for joining me, Demarc.

Demarc: Thank you for having me, Dianne. Yeah, it's a pleasure to be here. I was, I got onto this podcast basically because my friend Timothy, I, you interviewed him recently and yeah, I really enjoyed that conversation, so I'm glad we get to have a conversation too.

Dianne: I love it. I love it. Me too. I had a great conversation with Timothy, so super excited to chat with you. So let's get right into it. I want to know, DeMar, when did design come into your life?

Demarc: Okay, so I guess it would be, I should probably go back to college to talk about that. So I, I studied computer science at South Carolina State University. And while I was there, I mean I was pretty good at computer science, but it wasn't necessarily like, programming wasn't really my passion. And so I would, I would do things outside of that, you know, just to, just for fun or to keep myself occupied or creative. And so I started making party flyers, that was my first oriented design. Like you know, friends would ask me, Hey, can you help me with this flyer or campus activities, flyers? And, and then eventually I started doing like, you know, flyers for frats and stuff, like really cool and sometimes like raunchy ideas that I probably couldn't include in any portfolio at this point. But, but yeah, party flyers.

Demarc: And then from there I started doing like other stuff like what do you call those things? I'm drawing a blank right now, like infographics, things like that. So it started going from like parties to more like corporate clients. And then I was full on doing like freelance graphic design. And from there my first role had a little bit of web design and graphic design in it. And so I got to keep practicing that, but it wasn't my main focus, but that's where I realized, okay, this is what I want to do for a living. I definitely can see myself doing this for the rest of my life. So from there I went to a full on web design role. Okay.

Dianne: So wait, I'm gonna pause you there cuz I have some questions, especially about these flyers. I'm like, oh, tell me more of the juicy content. But actually I guess my question about the flyers is what software were you using to design them? What was kind of like your first software you started

Demarc: With? The first thing I used was this app called Over, it's on the iPhone. I, I don't even know if they still have it on the app store anymore, but

Dianne: I haven't heard

Demarc: Of it. Yeah, it's called over. It's just for literally placing images over images. So it's just like you set it up with layers. So it was like a nice seamless transition going from over to Photoshop, which I then like wanted. So.

Dianne: Okay. That's funny. That's so interesting. Like, I mean, I guess today it's probably like Canva or something is probably somewhat similar. Like anyone can pick it up and just Yeah, exactly. Layer on top. That's great. That's great. So that's kind of how you started. And then you got kinda got into more corporate. So where, when you were, were you doing some of this freelance graphic design while you were still in school?

Demarc: Yes, I was. So, so I, I do want to touch on like, so with the party thing, I would, I don't, it's like I would, I would basically judge how good my designs were based on the turnout of the parties an, it would just so happen that like whenever I would feel really good about a design there would be a correlation between that and the turnout for the party. So I, I knew that, that's when I realized the impact that I could have designing and yeah, from there I, I realized I can really make a difference doing design. So yeah.

Dianne: Yeah, I mean you were, you were basically doing user testing, like you were understanding what types of design and flyers would get more people, right. So you were like early on like doing some UX studies there to understand your target audience and what they wanted.

Demarc: Pretty much, yeah. I, I never thought about it like that, but yeah,

Dianne: I mean that's exactly like, I think the whole, one of the beautiful things about product design is that while we do kind of make things pretty, they're also functional and we have data to back up why it's functional. So you had data like, oh, this many people showed up to the party, that means that this design was successful. I love that. Yeah,

Demarc: Of course. And of course there's other factors I'm not taking away from the promoters and what they did. Like it's, it was all us into like hosting an event, but I don't know, I totally, I just, I just felt really proud whenever someone would tell me, yeah, that party just, it went really well. I wouldn't always go to the parties, but it was nice to hear that it went well, you know,

Dianne: Oh, I love that. So you, did you get your degree in cu computer science? Like you knew you had this passion for design, but at the same time you were still on this trajectory of computer science?

Demarc: Yes. And that's because, so I should probably preface this by saying I'm from Jamaica and typically Jamaican parents, they want you, their kids to be a doctor or a lawyer. But I never had, I don't know, maybe I, I thought about it for a bit, but it, it never seemed like something that called out to me medicine or loss. So yeah, I figured, yeah, I'll do technology that seems like a safe bet where I'll, I'll be able to make money after I graduate

Dianne: Right. So I just had a conversation a couple of days ago with a designer from India and she said, she's like, you know what they say about like the oldest children in the family and she's like, oh, that they have to be doctors or lawyers, that that's what their parents want. So she had like, it's so interesting culture. She had the exact same thing to say about her culture, how she went into, she actually basically did technology too because she also didn't wanna be a doctor lawyer, but her parents supported her doing something in technology. So that's really interesting

Demarc: That that's pretty cool for her because I had to fight too and nail to like major in computer science cuz at, at the time I guess. So this was like in 2011. So I mean it wasn't really, of course, of course it was like a major field, but it's not something that my parents like even knew much about. So it still felt like a big risk that I was taking to them, but I, I knew I would be like fine.

Dianne: I mean Okay. So kind of to segue that conversation a little is how did they feel when you transitioned into design?

Demarc: They loved it because, well, yeah, they, they loved it because I think they could tell that I really enjoyed it and I mean, I guess at first they didn't, they didn't really express how they felt about it at first. Cuz my earlier roles they weren't like the best in terms of pay. Right, right. But I think to bring it back to the present day, UX design has been the best cross section of my passion for design and, you know, my education and computer science that I've found so far, I, I don't know that a better one exists.

Dianne: You're right. I mean I think that's totally true. So you really are pulling from what you learned in school and kind of that computer science background Yeah. Combining it with your love of being creative in

Demarc: Yeah, exactly.

Dianne: Well I was, I was expecting you to say something different. I'm glad your, your family l was so supportive of you kind of moving into that field, but it, it does make sense that it is kind of still in the same once you convinced them of computer science and they were like, okay, this is what you're gonna do. That's true. Like UX UI design isn't that far from Yeah, that

Demarc: Technology, it took a while. It took a while, but they, they got there.

Dianne: I love that. I love that. Okay, so let's go into kind of your first design role. So you said your first role, you had a little bit of web and graphic design. What did that look like? And then what happened from there?

Demarc: Yeah, so I was working at, at the time it was University of North Carolina, Charlotte U N C C. And I was basically working in their research department and I was responsible for the research department's website and also on campus they had the Charlotte Research Institute, which is it's basically an office and lab space that hosts on-campus business partners. And so I would do, I, I would do the website for both those and it was great cuz I got to you know, feature those business partners on the website. So I built a, a really good network of, of people there. And yeah, so that was, that was basically like web design, like H T M L I cannot remember the name of that CMS I was working at the time. It's not a WordPress duple. I was working in dpo. Yeah,

Dianne: Gotcha. Is that still around?

Demarc: I mean, maybe only in the public sector. I don't know.

Dianne: Right, right, right. That's a good point.

Demarc: Yeah,

Dianne: I love that. Yeah. Okay, awesome. So you, you got, you were like kind of combining your computer science skill working in the website, but you also were doing some design on the website too.

Demarc: Yeah, exactly. And that role, that role was, it was all encompassing. I would do, sometimes I would make content actually for the website. So even that Charlotte Research Institute website, I would conduct these interviews with those on-campus business partners, you know, just talk to them about the types of research efforts or new services or products that they're rolling out and feature those on the homepage of the website. So I was filming and editing thos and, and interviewing, so

Dianne: Oh my gosh, okay. You literally were doing everything

Demarc: Yeah, and and it was a, it was a contract rule too. I don't know why it was going so hard. I was jus

Dianne: So kind of a question in that vein. And I actually think this is, I love that you got to do that and I think that's really great about kind of your first job. I think first jobs, no matter where you are is when you just get to try everything. I feel like that's such a great experience for you to understand like where your passion is. So you got a taste of like video production and interviewing and maybe you're like, interviewing is not my thing, but I think that's so awesome. Do you have any like, thoughts on people coming out of school and taking on those first jobs and kind of like getting thrown into a little bit of everything?

Demarc: Yeah, I mean, look, looking back it was probably one of the best things that could have happened to me because I, like you said, I was able to identify my passion for web design and that's why from there I went into a full on web design role. So yeah, I would encourage anybody like fresh outta school to, you know, that's your time to like take risks, try as much as you can so that, you know, you don't get somewhere down the line and, and you're, you have any regrets about the decisions you made.

Dianne: That's, oh my gosh, I love that advice. Yes, yes, yes. No regrets. Okay, so let's, w how was that transition from this contract role into kind of your first real web design, full-time gig?

Demarc: I, to be honest at first, by going into it, I don't know if I maybe felt a little bit in and over my head because I was doing, like I said, web design wasn't my main function in that, that previous role. So I was doing a little bit of it, but I felt like I knew enough to where I could like, you know, meet the requirements of the role that I was going into. So I was a little nervous at first because because of that and also I was just working on two websites the whole time, making small updates and adding content here and there. Whereas the web design role that I was going into was for a digital marketing firm. And so I was making like three websites a day across several business verticals. S it was, it seemed daunting at first, but I, I found it manageable more and more manageable over time. And I had a team of people who were, they were going through the same thing. So

Dianne: They're like, oh my gosh, what did I take on? Yeah. So how was, how was that structure of working on like three different websites at the same time? Was that like every day would be dedicated to something new? How were you able to kind of manage that?

Demarc: So the, it was set up to be manageable because the c m s that we were working in the content management system was something that that company built in-house and it was basically made to facilitate quick web design. Not to say that we didn't, we weren't able to be like really creative with it because we were and also the business model, there was a waterfall business model. So basically the company, the company had an onboarding process where they got clients in the person who does the onboarding, passes them on to you know, the designers as far as you know, well they don't pass pass them to us in terms of like us communicating with them. They pass what they found out from them in terms of what they want from their website to us. Then from from us it goes off to QA and once it passes qa, then it, the site goes live. So we had pretty predetermined roles to, to fill. So in that case it was more manageable. I wasn't like filming videos this time, stuff

Dianne: Like that, you were, you were doing your passion, you were doing web design. Yeah. What was maybe the fav your favorite project you worked on your favorite website for, for them

Demarc: While I was there, there we did, like, we did a lot of law firms, medical offices like home home improvement type of stuff, landscaping. So my favorites would always be those one-offs where it's like a type of business that we don't typically do, but our business model happens to work with what they're looking for. So I think the favorite one that I did was they there was this like Nerf gun company. They, they have like these Nerf tournaments that was pretty cool of some act

Dianne: Throwing horns tournaments. Like, it's not like the Nerf guns, it's like an actual tournament with Nerf tournaments.

Demarc: They host like Nerf tournaments. They have like, it's set up like a big paintball area, but Nerf

Dianne: Oh my gosh, how have I never heard of this? That actually sounds amazing.

Demarc: Yeah, that, that one was one of my favorites. Anytime I would do something music related, cuz I have a strong passion for music as well. So I did websites for DJs you know, music festivals, things like that. And of course pet sites cuz dogs are adur.

Dianne: True, tru. Oh, that's great. That's great. How, this is a random question you might not know. How many websites do you think you turned out in your time there?

Demarc: I, I had, I had it was def it was almost 2000

Dianne: Oh my gosh, that's crazy.

Demarc: I had don't, but funny enough, some of my counterparts who like joined around the same time I did, they probably did even more. But

Dianne: Yeah. Wow. Yeah, I mean honestly that's a great business model, like the waterfall, the structure, like you're being able to understand these company's goals and give them a site and you can just bust out all of these sites. Like that's like actually genius. That's a great, yeah. Business model.

Demarc: the business model is great. But as far as from the design perspective, it wasn't super sustainable. I mean, you know, you can get burned out doing that much. And so I knew from there I wanted to go back into a role where I could focus more on whatever project I was doing at the time instead of, you know, just making all these really quick, offhand design decisions constantly and Right. Exerting so much creative energy constantly, you

Dianne: Know? Right. Totally. I, okay, I'm ready to go. Almost ready to go into this next stage, but I guess my last question for you is, do you have any advice for designers that are maybe working in a similar business model where it's just like churning out all these designs? Like, I mean I think like design systems nowadays where you can take like m UI and then like emulate it so it's not like constantly being creative or things like you just get to pull some of these basics. Do you have any advice on like how they can not burn out and how they can be creative but not like maybe over extend their creativity

Demarc: Yeah, definitely. So we used to, at the company I was at, we used to do these things called innovation days where, you know, at a certain point, you know, where you want to, you wanna do something creative and fun and not be like super template based or anything like that, you can, you know, spend a little extra time on a side or two and, and just, you know, pour everything you have into it, like make it the best website ever. And if you won't always have time to do that, but, but when you can, I would say definitely do that. And also having other, I would say other things or have some other hobbies that don't necessarily require you to be creative. Like I, I enjoy hiking a lot just to be out in nature and relax. It doesn't require anything on my part apart from like putting one foot in front of the other. So I love hiking

Dianne: The yeah, both those are, I, I love that you had innovation days, I think that's really interesting. But yes, I also would say I'm an avid hiker as in just going out and being in nature, like a release. So I think that's really great advice. I think like being creative, there's some, there's also, there's like the creative side, which I think naturally a lot of designers do have that creative side of their brain, but it also is like work to continuously use that. And so finding other hobbies outside of that that can kind of like be more structured or I guess completely unstructured is really nice. So yeah, I totally agree. Love hiking. So agree with that. Okay, so great advice. Let's kind of move on. Where, where did you go from there after your 2000 site that you came up with? What was next?

Demarc: A lot of my like fellow designers who, some of them were having that issue with, they were feeling burned out and they didn't really have, you know, a way to work around that within the role. They were moving on to product design roles and UX design roles. And that's where I was like, okay, let me look into this a bit. And so a friend of mine, he, he was a designer there as well, but then he started doing product design at that same company. So he was doing product design for the content management system that we were using to design and also for like the customer facing platforms there. And, you know, talking, talking to him more and more about it just made it, I, the more he spoke to me about, the more I was like, man, this sounds like something I, I could really get into. And so that's where I started my my hunt for a UX role.

Dianne: And what was it about, what did he say that like, you were like, oh, that feels like me.

Demarc: I don't remember what exact, I, I remember one day he just randomly like slacked me and he was like, Hey man, can you you know, can you do a quick user test for me? And he sent me this new button that he was gonna add to our content management system. And I used it, it was pretty well design and I gave him my feedback and that's what got me to like inquire more about the role cuz I was like, wow, this seems pretty cool. I, I like, and going back to those party flyer days, I like creating something and then it has somewhat of a measurable impact that you can see. Like, you know, if maybe they'd look at analytics, like whether or not that new button increases our output or something like that. So I would've always nerd out about stuff like that, so

Dianne: Yes. Yes. Love that. Love that. Okay, keep going. Keep going. You're on the hunt.

Demarc: On the hunt. And I searched far and wide. I, and this was another one of those times where I felt a little bit in over my head, but I, whenever I'm, whenever I feel like I'm a little bit outside my comfort zone, I know I'm on the right track. S, I, I generally like, I, I really pushed myself and I landed this role at a, a company software company. So we primarily do FinTech software but every now and then I get to do things outside of that too. So it's very fun. Even like here's an example. So I don't know, I'm guessing like, people who listen to this podcast, they're probably familiar with like agile development and stuff like that. I

Dianne: Just, I would assume so yeah,

Demarc: I design these like planning poker cards for the company I worked for and it was just like a fun side project where I get to like stay creative. Like for story elaboration it says it's elabo in time. Oh, it's backwards, but,

Dianne: But yeah. Oh my gosh, that's so cool.

Demarc: Yeah,

Dianne: They're like, I love

Demarc: That and stuff. So I, I like doing stuff like that too, just to keep creative.

Dianne: Do you guys sell those or is it for like employee internal

Demarc: Only? They're, they're not sale at the moment, but we'll see, we'll see. Maybe some negotiation,

Dianne: But yeah, there you go. Get it out there.

Demarc: So yeah, so, and the reason why I brought that up is cuz you know, FinTech, it, it's somewhat inherently rigid, especially if you're designing, if you're designing something that's gonna be used by like used internally by the employees of a client, then there's not as big of an emphasis on ux. I feel like sometimes it's like an afterthought but the client facing stuff is, is definitely more fun. And so you know, on those, those times when I'm, I'm hap I'm having to adhere to rigid and strict guidelines than I like doing stuff outside of that just to, you know, stay creative.

Dianne: Yeah, I love that. I think that's really important. That's like I've, I've had a couple of conversations on the podcast, I can't remember if the most recent, but it is it's like how can you do some creative things for yourself? Because we're always creating, for others it's like our job in a sense, but there's also this creative side is like, what if you wanna do a personal project? Like what does that look like? What if it's only what you want and there's no other people there. And that's like a good challenge. It's like, it's really hard to design for yourself, but it's also really nice to not have anyone else kind of come in with their thoughts. So

Demarc: Yeah, when I design for myself though, I, I, I'm my worst critic, so yes, I hold myself to such a high standard for my own stuff because it's like, okay, this is a representation of my creative perspective and it has to be incredible.

Dianne: Right? And then you look at it two days later and you're like, oh my God, what was I thinking? This is horrible. And you like, start over. Yeah.

Demarc: It's so funny. But yeah. Totally,

Dianne: Totally, totally. So question about working in FinTech. What would you say is the most challenging part of product design in FinTech?

Demarc: It's definitely having to like, learn about a new concept that you had no experience. And so I mean, like, say if, if you're in FinTech, if you're learning about aspects of, I don't know, accounting or banking or stuff that you'd never, you never had to know those things before. So getting between getting getting that information from the client can be pretty difficult. C cuz I mean, they're used to using a lot of technical jargons, so getting them to get it to layman's terms so you and the rest of the team can understand is a challenge. But fortunately I work with a lot of great talented business analysts who help facilitate that too. So that's always a bit nerve wracking when you have to learn about some new principle because I, I think learning, learning those principles, it's gonna only help to facilitate whatever design we land on and, you know, make it more user-friendly. So

Dianne: That's a, I mean, that's a really good point. I also feel like FinTech, especially like now, it's like rapidly changing. Like there's so many new things happening. So it's also probably like a sense of keeping up with all of the things that are changing.

Demarc: Yeah, exactly. I mean, even there are things like even within the company we, we, we learn preemptively just because, you know, you're seeing where the FinTech industry is going. So like we have an ongoing blockchain club where we, we learn about blockchain and cryptocurrencies and, and things like that. So yeah, it's just about staying ahead of the curve, I suppose.

Dianne: Right, right. So for a designer that's looking to make a transition into FinTech, which I feel like is a really popular place for product designers to be what advice would you have for, for a designer wanting to make that FinTech jump?

Demarc: Well, I guess it would be, it would be specific to wherever they're coming from to go there. But I would advise if, if that product designer doesn't have any like really technical software in their portfolio, then they, they could, you know, do a hypothetical and then may maybe do something, add something to your portfolio that's like, okay, this is how I would approach doing the UX for a, I don't know, a crypto trading app or something like that, just to show that there's some kind of interest there. Because I think it's how how well you'll do in that role is heavily based on how interested you are in it. So,

Dianne: Great point. Yeah. Yeah, it's like that passion side of it. I think that's also something that I thought of when you were talking about learning about FinTech and some of the difficulties in jargon there. I think what's great about being a designer is like you kind of will, you might get thrown into a project where you don't know anything. But that UX side of like doing research and looking at competitors and talking to people, it's like you end up gaining all of this knowledge about a topic that you might never have thought to want to know about, but it's like super fascinating. I mean, maybe you learned a lot about Nerf gun battles, I don't know, lik things that you don't think would ever cross your path and then bam

Demarc: Yeah. There there's a lot of stuff that I know about that I, it is just, I'm never gonna use that information again, but it's pretty cool. I mean, my, my, I've always been a curious kid and stuff like growing up and my high school motto was Flags Veritas Studio, which means burning with the zeal for truth. So I've always been like on the hunt for information. I even, like, we're doing an interview right now, I watched so many interviews and constantly, like I I I think interviews are one of like the best ways to gain information.

Dianne: Oh my gosh, I love that. I wanna talk about that more Tell me more, like what, what's your favorite interview or interview style that you feel like you learned the most from?

Demarc: Oh, definitely this style, because y the conversational interviews I think are the best because especially if it's somebody you view as like a role model or they've accomplished something that you're trying to accomplish. Not saying that it's the whole story, but their personality and the things they tend to do, their routine and things like that, all those things may have played a part in the success they've had up until now. So I, I like talking about those things too. Like, like this, this interview could just be like about my daily routine or something. And maybe an aspiring UX designer would, would gain a lot from it, you know,

Dianne: A great topic idea. Like we, maybe the design project should do a whole like series or the Pixel to Perfect podcast, do a whole series on designers structure, like how they structure their day.

Demarc: That would be cool. Yeah, I mean that's the thing anyways, like UX designers, if there's a, there's a whole wave of like UX influencers now,

Dianne: Right, right.

Demarc: Yeah. And it is, and a lot of them do like a day in the life of a UX designer or something like that, so. Right. There's definitely a market for it.

Dianne: Yeah, I think us as just people, we're just always so curious about how everyone else does things. Like we just love that. And you're right, the interview style and like, just conversational, it's like you just get to hear about random parts of people's lives.

Demarc: Yeah. And you're, you're like a fly on the wall as opposed to like somebody like, you know, there's value to somebody like thinking, okay, I want to present this information to a listener, let me package it this way. But just hearing it come out I think candidly is the best.

Dianne: I love that. I love that. What's your do you have like a favorite podcast that does a lot of interviews?

Demarc: Yes. how I built this with Guy Raz

Dianne: Love how I, I haven't listened to it in a long time. I have no idea why, but that is an amazing podcast.

Demarc: I love it. I love it. And, and all the, any podcast that talk about music too, like tape notes and stuff like that. Yeah. But how I built this is definitely number one. I, I get inspired with every episode. I listen to every episode.

Dianne: Oh my gosh, that's great. That's a yes. If anyone that's listening has not listened to how I Built This Highly recommend, it really is super inspirational. Cause it is, it takes like everyday people and then they end up doing like these extraordinary things, like starting all these crazy companies and it's interesting to hear their stories. So that's a really great suggestion.

Demarc: Yeah. And, and you hear the mistakes they made along the way and it, you know, reassures you that, hey, mistakes are fine, just go, go after it. Go and try it. Whatever it is you're, you're trying to do. Yeah. Maybe that's the advice I should have given to aspiring FinTech UX designers. Just go after it.

Dianne: just go, I mean, I think you said that you're like, even if you don't have like, just make your own yeah. Case study. Like just do it. Just if you want it, do it. Go out

Demarc: There. Yeah, exactly. Exactly.

Dianne: I think that's great. So, so what's, what's next for you? Where do you see your career going? What are you looking for in the future?

Demarc: You funny that you say that. So I, I was looking at your LinkedIn and first I have to say I'm super impressed by, you know, your career trajectory and stuff. And Thank you. I see myself taking a similar path. So from, from UX design then I, I want to eventually be in a UX lead role. And the, the ultimate goal design-wise is to have my own design firm.

Dianne: So. Oh, that's exciting. Well, definitely let me know. I can tell you all about all of the failures and the successes to get here for sure. Okay.

Demarc: Yeah, I'll, I'll definitely call Annie for sure.

Dianne: Oh, I'm excited for you. That's very, very exciting. Well thank you so much for chatting with me about kind of the days of designing posters up until today where you're a product designer for FinTech and, and doing all the things, killing it. And you have lots of growth that you see coming, coming forward. So it was super interesting to hear about your career path. Thank you so much for chatting.

Demarc: Thank you for having me. Yeah, this was great. Just, and you know, just talking about it helps me put things into perspective too, so it was a pleasure for me as

Dianne: Well. I love it. I love it. Well, thank you so much to Mark and we'll definitely stay in touch and kind of continue the conversation of your career and where you're gonna go.

Demarc: Sounds good.

Dianne: Awesome. Thank you.

Dianne Eberhardt

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