What can my career path be if I don’t want to become a UX manager? UX Question #88

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Zoltan S. from Stockholm, Sweden, asks: What can my career path be if I don’t want to become a UX manager?

I love that question. Thanks for asking, Zoltan. This is UX Question number 88 and I am Ben Judy.

What can my career path be if I don’t want to become a UX manager? Well, certainly, managing a team of UX practitioners is just one potential career path. And, listen. I’ve managed multiple UX teams. Of course, prior to becoming a manager I also worked under many managers—some good, some bad.

My advice is: don’t do it unless you’re absolutely certain you want to become a manager.

Fortunately, management is not the only direction you can go with your UX skills. I’ll give you some alternative options to consider.

First, you can stay in the design contributor track and pursue advanced professional positions. Most large UX departments will have an established career track with job titles such as senior, lead, and principal UX designer.

Second, you can specialize. Lead and Principal UX designers tend to be generalists who have a certain degree of expertise in the entire, end-to-end, user research and product design process. But you know the old phrase, “jack of all trades, master of none.” There is room still in the world for people with deep, industry-leading expertise in specific skills or steps.

You could be the next data visualization guru; or teach 50 conference workshops each year on user research for wearable tech; or write the definitive, must-read book on iterating UI designs with AI tools.

This multidisciplinary UX field emerged as a melting pot of specialists from different fields; I think it’s pretty cool when UX generalists head the other direction and narrow their focus to excel and innovate in an area where most of us will only ever be somewhere between okay to pretty good.

A third path is freelancing. And this doesn’t have to be a permanent career decision, either. I know plenty of UX professionals who have gone back and forth between freelancing and corporate or agency jobs. Being an independent consultant has a lot of appeal. The difficulty, of course, is that you’re really working at least three jobs: UX practitioner, small business owner, and sales and marketing specialist. But if you can manage tricky client relationships, create Figma prototypes, and find new clients at the same time—this might be your best next step.

Whatever you choose to do rather than become a manager, just don’t make the mistake of starting a UX podcast. There are already too many of those. And they’re all way too long.

Keep asking your questions about UX. Next time, I’ll answer the question: How can I get promoted as a UX professional?

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