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From teacher to tech: Follow one career changer’s journey to become a UX researcher

Find out how former high school history teacher Tariq Cilione changed his career path and transformed his life by earning his master’s degree in Web and Multimedia Design from Touro Graduate School of Technology.
By Davlynn Gundolff

Congratulations to the Class of 2022 – including Touro Graduate School of Technology’s (GST) very own Tariq Cilione! After making the decision to change careers and move in a new direction, Tariq recently completed his Master of Arts degree in Web and Multimedia Design at Touro GST. Now, he’s turning the page on a brand new chapter and looking for the right opportunity to build his experience as a UX researcher and designer.


It’s a big change from his previous career as a high school history teacher – though, as he points out, there are some overlaps. “As a teacher, I spent a lot of time observing my students’ behaviors in the classroom. I also analyzed summative and formative data and used diverse learning strategies to help students understand complex information, making it accessible in order to meet their learning and emotional needs. That’s what I believe UX is in a nutshell,” he explains.


Tariq decided to make a career change after finding himself working long hours that extended well beyond the school day and wanting a job that would offer better work-life balance. While he initially considered applying for the Instructional Design Master’s degree program at Touro GST, his interest in user experience (UX) eventually led him to enroll in the Web and Multimedia Design program instead.


Touro GST’s STEM-certified Master of Arts in Web and Multimedia Design program takes a user-centered design approach, leveraging research techniques and design thinking to create meaningful digital experiences for mobile and web products. Throughout the 11-course curriculum, Tariq built a deep understanding of design to create interactive apps and web sites using front-end scripting languages like HTML, SASS, and JavaScript. He also mastered industry-wide UX tools like Adobe XD, Figma, Sketch, Miro, and InVision while learning to apply accessible design practices and adhere to regulations and strict design guidelines.


The program also focuses on the fundamentals of UX/UI design, multimedia products, graphic design, and 2D/3D modeling animation, so while Tariq was most interested in becoming a UX designer and researcher, he also built the skills needed for other careers in web design – like web development or digital animation. Plus, as a career changer, he appreciated the convenience of evening and weekend classes and the option to attend online while still interacting in real-time with professors and classmates.


At Touro GST, Tariq also found a WMM curriculum that gives students the flexibility to focus on their unique areas of interest. “I chose an area that’s a little more niche,” he shares. His specific interests lie beyond the fundamentals of design, extending into the research and strategy behind the design. “A visual design doesn’t tell the entire story,” he stresses. “What excites me is taking research and strategy knowledge and applying it to a visual design.”


While the Touro program places a strong emphasis on building a solid foundation and understanding of design principles and practical skills, it also includes classes that explore user behavior and psychology and how to apply those ideas to create an intuitive user experience. As Tariq puts it, “This program does teach design thinking and design mindset.” He also loves this psychological aspect taps in to some skills he developed as a teacher. “If you’re a career changer, don’t forget about your roots,” he advises. “It will apply to UX in some way.”


Along with appreciating that scope of knowledge cultivated by Touro GST’s WMM program, Tariq raves about the faculty and the practical approach to learning. “Professors at Touro work in the field professionally, so they could share their experiences solving real UX problems. They also helped to make connections to other fields, so I could figure out how to apply what I was learning once I get into the real world.” Plus, because class sizes are so small, he got a lot of individual support and attention. “The professors really take the time to get to know you.”


Those personal connections with the Touro faculty made a big difference when it came time for Tariq to start building his resume and portfolio in preparation for his job search. “My professors really stepped in to help optimize my resume and portfolio.” They also pointed him toward additional resources – like Touro Career Services, which provided additional guidance as he approached graduation and started applying for UX roles.


Now that he’s graduated, Tariq has seen how the industry is booming. “Any business that is relevant today relies on good UX,” and his job hunt has revealed plenty of well-paying career opportunities in the field. In fact, in New York, an entry-level junior UX designer can start out earning a base salary of $90,000, and the industry is expected to grow by 13% between now and 2030, adding 25,000 jobs per year.


As for his future and career prospects, he’s is realistic about how competitive UX can be for recent graduates. He’s still working to find the right job opportunity, but he’s cautiously optimistic after seeing one of his ideas take shape in the real world. Recently, Apple rolled out a new feature that was the same concept Tariq designed and implemented for his thesis project, and knowing that such a major company had developed something similar made him feel like he is definitely on the right track.


“After finishing this program, I feel like I’m a master of something,” Tariq enthused. “I have the mastery of where UX is growing and how it will evolve. Touro gave me the opportunity to apply my knowledge and helped me to hone my skills.”


If you’re ready to take the next step in your design career or are a career-changer who’s eager to learn the fundamentals of digital design, contact Touro Graduate School of Technology to learn more about our Master of Arts in Web and Multimedia Design today!