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How I got to where I am: changing careers later in life 

Franny Gant

I’m a user researcher in PDS and it’s my job to help teams know if we’re making the right things and if they're fit for purpose. User researchers here talk to people who use or might use something and do research around what they might need or want.

But I wasn’t always a user researcher. I’ve done loads of jobs from being a carpenter to working at Mumsnet so I’ve written about my career so far.

From carpentry to typesetting

My first ‘proper’ job was working as a typesetter in Hammersmith Council in the print unit, mainly working on things like posters and booklets. It was where I first learned about technical things and the first time I ever used a Mac.

I became interested in design through this job as I worked on things like redesigning forms, using plain English, and user journeys. Then once the internet came along, I decided to study web design. During my studies, I learned about interaction design and user experience and I started to realise that there were jobs that used these skills.

I studied social anthropology at university so I’ve always been interested in studying people and this type of job was really appealing to me. It was also something completely different to what I’d done when I left school as I did a carpentry training scheme (I recently made a greenhouse for my seedlings so my carpentry skills haven’t gone to waste). And I often wondered about how well designs I'd made 'worked' for people.

Going back to university

After the web design course, I decided to move to the States as that seemed to be the place where you could do interesting things with the web. But then the dotcom bubble burst so I moved back to the UK a few years later to look for design/web production type jobs.

What helped to set me on my path to becoming a user researcher was that I really liked the Greenwich Museum’s website. I contacted the agency who built it to find out how I could get a job doing a user experience type role. They suggested that I make some contacts and get some experience. So I went along to events where I could network with people who did jobs that I was interested in.

Doing that made me realise that I really wanted to work in the user experience side of things so I decided to study for an MSc in Human Computer Interaction with Ergonomics.

Age was definitely a factor when I decided to retrain as I was in my 40s by this point and I was really determined to do well in my studies and get a good job. And doing the project for my MSc really brought out my interest in research.

Proper, grown-up, researcher

I’d worked in various organisations after getting my MSc – House of Fraser, Mumsnet, a design agency – by the time I saw that Parliament was hiring for user researchers. Working in a team with other researchers sounded appealing as I was often a team of one and I thought it would be really helpful to work with others to develop the best way to do research and help Parliament with its products and services.

Parliament has been developing its practice of user research since I joined and I now feel like a grown-up, proper researcher. Going back to uni really helped me commit to being one especially as I felt more ambitious in my 40s than I was when I was younger. I also didn’t want to just do a job, I wanted to do it well.

I was probably given a lot of advice during my career and I can’t remember most of it. I probably wouldn’t have paid attention anyway. The best bit of advice about careers I can give is to make connections with people and make the effort. It can make a difference when you’re working somewhere as big as Parliament when there’s a few friendly faces round the table.

Interested in working at PDS? Find out more about working here

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