intro banner image

Getting started as a UX intern

By Nadeeka Athukorala

Whether you are an undergraduate searching for an internship for the first time, or someone who is already working in another career path, you may have heard about the field of User Experience. Maybe you have followed up and read some articles about it, been to a few meetups, and now you have developed an interest in the field. Maybe you think you have what it takes to dive in, but before you can dive, you need to get into the water first.

“It is easier to resist at the beginning than at the end.”
― Leonardo da Vinci

No matter how interested you are, you will find yourself procrastinating on that decision to get started. There are a lot of articles about getting started as a UX intern, landing an intern position and so on. If you are someone who is planning to get started as a UX intern and are reading this article at this very moment, congratulations, for resisting the resistance and following your dream! When I first wanted to get started as a UX intern, I too read a lot of posts about getting started. 3 reasons new UX Designers can’t find jobs is one of my favorite posts about being a newbie UX designer.

If you are returning after reading the above post, you might feel a little demotivated, but don’t worry, I promise to fix it by the end of this article.

Let’s get back to the subject. I’ll be explaining the process in 3 steps.

1. Read

Whether it is User Experience or gardening, if you are interested in something, you better not be ignorant.

“In the age of information, ignorance is a choice.”
― Donny Miller

With the internet, you have access to almost any kind of information, so all you need to know is at your fingertips. So what exactly should you read-up on? You can simply start by searching “What is User Experience?”, then you will realize that there are a lot of people who are already in the game and helping beginners.

Starting from there, you can search and find out about related job roles, pay scale and all the background information, because you must “Look before you leap”, and in order to look, you need to know where to look and have all the facts. Depending on the country you live in, you might not find all the information relating to the job market on the internet. In that case you will have to ask someone who’s already in the game. I will return to that point later.

So once you know the background information relating to building up a career in UX, you can decide whether to jump in or not. If you still choose to jump in, then it’s time to decide which role you want to take in UX, because there are different hats that you can wear; for example: User researcher, UX designer, UX engineer, etc. However, in Sri Lanka we rarely find people wearing one hat exclusively. Most of them wear multiple hats; meaning they have multiple skills and multiple responsibilities. So it’s better to be prepared for a wider scope. It will also help you stay ahead of the game.

Read about the skills you need to acquire in order to become a UX engineer; all of them might not be needed to become an intern but if you are planning a long-term career, you better list them down and analyze what you already have and what you don’t.

Moving forward you can then tick off your checklist while acquiring those skills. I literally had this done and pasted on the wall in front of my workspace so it was a working reminder for me and it was also fulfilling to see the to-do list getting smaller.

Now you know what are the skills that it takes and you have a to-do list too. There should be something which drives all those skills; the theoretical knowledge and the concepts of UX. To gain the theoretical knowledge you can follow an online course, subscribe to a UX newsletter, follow some UX blogs, read UX related books or you can even register for a degree/any kind of course relating to UX depending on your need and how much time you have on your hands. In my case, I had a separate module for UX within my degree program where the lectures were conducted by an experienced UX engineer, giving us beginners a good start.

2. Hands-on Experience

A well-structured internship will be the best way to gain hands-on experience, but before that you can start on your own too.

Reading content that someone else has written will not be sufficient to get what you really want. Also, written content may not always contain everything. There are things that you can only learn by experience. Hence hands-on experience is important. Once you read about the skills and theories, you can start applying them.

Few ways that you can do that.

  1. Create dummy projects for your own new ideas.
  2. Subscribe to something like and get a daily challenge for yourself
  3. Copy existing products to practice your design tools
  4. Do volunteer work relating to UX
  5. If you are confident enough, start freelancing

This way you will have tangible proof to show your skills at an interview.

3. Interact

Doing a lot of work and keeping them in your local machine without getting any feedback from anyone will not do any good for you because it’s “User Experience”; only your own understanding of your work will not be enough because you are building it for others too. Share your work publicly in a place where experienced people in UX/design are able to access it. You can share your work on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and even on LinkedIn in general.

If you are planning to have a collection of your work as a portfolio and get discovered by other professionals in UX/designing to get their feedback, it’s a better idea to have an online portfolio on platforms like Dribbble or Behance — or you can even have your own portfolio website.

You will find it very inspiring when you receive comments on your work. Be open-minded to all criticism; don’t take it personally and always focus on improving your work. You might also get opportunities to work depending on the quality of your portfolio as people discover you on the internet.

Another way that you can interact online is to join design communities. Follow their work on social media and you may be able to reach out to them when you get problems while practicing your skills. When you interact online, you will also get to know about events and meetups related to UX. The reason why you should attend those meetups is that you can meet experienced people and start networking. They might help you get started and find answers to the questions you were not able to answer just by reading and practicing. Always learn from the experiences of others, because your life is not enough to experience everything. So meetups are not just for swag!

Some of the questions you might be having right now:

Do I have to follow these steps in order?

No. You can even start with going to a meetup, meeting people, then start doing some work and when you get issues in your work you can refer to books or the internet and find answers. You can do it in your own way, be creative! This is just one template.

Do I have to complete each step before I prepare my CV and apply for an internship?

No, you can even start preparing your CV without these, but make sure to highlight your creative abilities, if you are familiar with any front-end technologies, and any interest that matches with the place you are trying to secure. Once you are called for an interview do not resist to walk in just because you haven’t completed the above steps. The worst thing that could happen is that you might fail an interview, but trust me you will be more thankful for the interviews which you failed than the ones you passed because they are definitely a reminder for you to work on yourself a little bit more.

So while working on the above steps, take interviews.

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail Better”
― Richard Branson

If you are waiting until you have completed all of the above, you might end up being too late and wasting your time. If you have at least started on these steps it will prevent you from being a baby in the UX field.

As my first reference explains:

…Babies are kind of useless.
Totally. Completely. Useless.
Regardless of if you are fond of babies or not, we can all agree that for the first part of their lives they don’t know anything. Sure- being created from scratch endows you with a lot of privileges- but you’ll need a lot more than just “I’m a human” to be truly successful at your life

So if you go walking into an interview with only enthusiasm but with zero knowledge you will be a baby. You might be in UX but you are not useful yet, you still lack those qualities which are needed to be a UX engineer. So, try your best to escape that phase and be useful.

“If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late. ”
— Reid Hoffman

So launch the product of yourself as early as possible. Also,

“This is not to say that extremely skilled UX/UI designers are no longer important, it’s more to say that the juniors of today now have access to tools and patterns which bring them extremely close to the skill set of the seniors of the last decade. The problem with “good enough” is that if you’re looking for a long, fruitful career, then good-enough is not enough. ”
– AJ&Smart on Youtube

So if you can easily be good enough, be it. Once you reach there, expand your horizons and work on staying ahead of the game! Good Luck!

Nadeeka Athukorala

Nadeeka Athukorala

iTelaSoft UI/UX Team