Today I’m thrilled to feature Dhiren Patel, a freelance UX designer based in Dallas, TX. I met Dhiren last year while serving as his UX design mentor at CareerFoundry. Dhiren finished the 6-month online course on time and hit the ground running to very quickly become a successful UX freelancer.
Dhiren’s story is a powerful example of how hard work and persistence really pays off. It also shows what is possible for anyone looking to change careers and break into the UX field. He’s got a ton of tips and advice to share that will help you on your journey.
Without further ado, here’s Dhiren Patel…
Who are you and what’s your background?
I’m Dhiren Patel, a 31 year-old UX designer born in Brownwood, Texas and raised in Fort Worth to immigrant parents. I graduated from the University of Minnesota with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering. I currently work as UX designer in Dallas.
Why did you want to change careers and become a UX designer?
After I graduated college, I ended up working at a couple of different startups out in the San Francisco bay area, mostly working in sales and lead generation. That involves a lot of cold calling and pushing people to buy a product.
I continued to do that when I moved to Dallas, but eventually got fed up with doing that job. It gave me no joy and suppressed the use of my creative side. I thought I had a lot more to offer than to just continue in a cutthroat sales/boiler room role. I wanted to find a new career that blended my past and current experiences into a creative and impactful role, and a UX designer perfectly fits that.
How has your life changed since you became a UX designer?
My life has changed considerably for the better. I no longer dread waking up in the morning to go to work and it’s much more financially rewarding as well. Now I get excited to take on new work and projects and put all my skills to use. UX design also gives me lots of work/life flexibility, which lets me pursue other hobbies like traveling.
Can you describe a typical day in the life as a freelance UX designer?
I was fortunate enough to work with a good recruiter and agency that helps me find projects. They usually put me in front of clients who have a UX need.
I’ll confirm my availability and set the timeline for when the project can be completed. Once the project or work is done for a client, I usually have some time off between my next project and repeat the cycle again.
As a freelancer you are like a rental player who is brought in to do a certain UX thing and then leave. While I’m often with a client for a short time, I do try to build a good relationship with them if they ever need me again in the future.
How did your upbringing/parents impact your results?
Both my parents had a huge impact on where I am today. They both came to the U.S. as immigrants and had to work hard and build themselves from basically nothing to something. Seeing that made me realize that they sacrificed and worked hard so that I could have a better life and opportunities.
They also encouraged me to do something I really loved and wanted to do and not settle on anything didn’t make me happy. They instilled hard work, resilience and appreciation.
How did your education contribute to your success?
My degree in electrical engineering and UX certification from CareerFoundry has helped me a ton. Using my background in engineering, I think about problems as an engineer would, with lots of logic. My UX certification gives me the right framework to approach any design problem. My knowledge of these two things gives me a powerful one-two punch that clients appreciate.
What was the first significant breakthrough you had during your early days?
Using my skills from sales to hustle and make contact with a UX recruiter in my area and build a relationship with him. In turn he actually put me in front of a Healthcare tech company that needed a designer, and I fit the bill for what they were looking for. The rest as they say is history.
What is the biggest mistake you made on the way to becoming a UX designer?
Not being a UX designer sooner! I spent almost two years deciding if should even attempt a career change. In hindsight I should’ve made a faster decision.
What changed about your MINDSET after your first big failure/first big breakthrough?
My mindset began to change as I was about one-third of the way through my CareerFoundry course. I thought, “Wow – I can really finish this, get a job being a designer, and I’m good at this.” It also helped that you thought I was a natural 🙂
If you were a beginner today, what skill would you LEARN first?
I would spend time getting really good at Sketch. It’s worth the time to be proficient with this tool to make you faster at building wireframes and building screens quickly. Learning Sketch will make you proficient on what I feel is the most tedious part of building out individual screens.
If you were a beginner today and you wanted to get a result as quick as possible, what would you DO first?
Tap into my network and see who knows who, and find someone that’s willing to help me get that first big break and guide me along. Don’t be afraid to ask people for help. The worst answer you will get is NO.
What specific technology and tools do you use, and what books did you read that contributed to your success?
I use Sketch for building wireframes and visual design, I use Invision and proto.io to build interactive prototypes, and Omnigraffle to build sitemaps for information architecture. I’ve read “Don’t Make me Think” by Steve Krug. If there is one book you should read as a designer this is it.
What do you think is the biggest opportunity/best method available today to become a working UX designer?
Utilizing these online bootcamps with mentors really formalizes your learning and gives credentials you can use in the real world to help you land a job.
What was your tipping point / ah-ha moment that led to the biggest change?
Halfway through my first project I trusted my judgment and instincts more on design and stuck to my guns regarding design decisions. I learned that as the designer, I have the final say in design decisions as long as I can back them up.
How did UX Mentoring / Coaching impact your results?
Your UX mentoring made a huge impact on my results. You really helped me and instilled confidence in my abilities from the beginning.
I’m so glad that we still stay in touch. I know you’ll continue to help me navigate the freelance world if I’m ever stuck on a project.
How do you get freelance work?
There are multiple ways to get freelance work, but for me I formed a relationship with a recruiter from a staffing agency here in Dallas that puts me in front of clients looking for UX work. I’ve also started meeting people in my network that need help with UX at their companies, and it has potential to be a source for some freelance work.
What’s the hardest part about freelancing?
Not knowing when your next project will be and gaps in income. As long as you plan out your finances well and have support it can help. It’s like having your own business, there are ups and downs.
What’s great about it?
You always have different and unique challenges with every project so it makes you adaptable to almost any situation thrown at you. Also 9-10 months of work might be more than enough to cover your year financially, which means you get the perk of some time extra time off to pursue other things.
What has changed since you started?
I’ve seen that the more projects I do and experience I gain the more opportunities it opens up. It’s like a snowball effect once you get a few projects under your belt.
Can you explain the steps you took that someone else could follow?
Find an online bootcamp with a dedicated mentor, complete the bootcamp, build a good portfolio, and hustle once you’re done to find that first break.
What would you do today if you had to start over again with nothing?
I would do that same thing cause it’s been working for me so far. I wouldn’t change a thing.
Where do most beginners go wrong? What is the number one failure point?
They never finish getting their certification. Instead they drop out early on and never get through it for various reasons.
To me the number one failure point is just that most people don’t finish what they start. Also getting that first gig is hardest, but if you’re not proactive this makes it even harder.
Do you expect the industry to change significantly in the next few years, and if so, how can people prepare for it?
I think the industry is ever changing and it will continue to change with new tools and what not, and you will see more UX design into AI and chatbots as we progress to the future.
I think in general, people can prepare for change by continuously learning what the latest and greatest is in UX design and being aware that change will happen.
If it’s so easy to become a freelance UX designer, why don’t more people do it?
As with anything, nothing is as easy as it seems. There is a lot of time, dedication and hard work that go into being a freelance UX designer. I think you also need to have a passion for it to do it correctly and make it look easy.
How do you see future technology impacting the way things get done?
I think you will see tools that can make a the job of a UX designer easier or faster, but one thing you can’t build with technology is human creativity. That will always be needed.
What is the next level for you, and what are you working towards now?
My next level is to continue to build experience and work towards finding my own clients for freelance work to build my own business.
Thanks so much for your time, Dhiren! How can people find out more about you?
People can find out more about me from my website at dhirenrpatel.com.
What about you? Have you ever considered working with a mentor to level up your career? Find out if UX Coaching might be right for you. Schedule a free 15-minute call to start the conversation.
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