2021 was kind to me: a year in review

Reflecting on where I was to appreciate what I have now✨

elaineinthebay
9 min readNov 27, 2023

This is a year in review. It’s also a reflection of my journey, and everything it took to get where I am today: working in a promising, fulfilling career track with a job I don’t want to escape from. This isn’t a flex. 2022 started out less than ideal. It’s been an emotionally crushing time, less than half a month into the new year, but I’m extremely grateful I have 1 less things to worry about: my career.

I can take time off if I need to (unlimited PTO). On the days I do work, I don’t feel miserable to be at work, and instead, still feel deeply passionate about what I do. If you don’t know me, I’m Elaine, otherwise known as “elaineinthebay” and I design chatbots for a living. Yes, bots, and no, I’m not a programmer.

Right now I work at a little startup called NLX as the lead Conversational UX Designer. I strategize, design, script, and test all different kinds of conversational applications at the company, from clean & traditional IVR (Interactive Voice Response) phone conversations to simple & engaging Whatsapp chatbots. My specialty is in multimodal design, as I drive all design decisions for our Voice Compass® journeys. They’re experiences that combine both voice interactions & modern visual design. Very fun. Very intimidating. I’m one of few in the field right now doing multimodal UX who does NOT work at 1 of the 3 big voice assistants (Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant).

So how did I get here? Let’s travel back in time for a bit and examine where I was at the start of 2021.

Flashback: January 2021

At the start of the year, I was feeling… a little demoralized. I was fresh out of an online Conversational UX bootcamp and had been rejected for a job at the final round with a (now) Series G startup. It was a brutal rejection, even more so than previous ones where I had been expelled at earlier stages in the interview process. I once was referred to Wells Fargo, but promptly received a polite rejection after the hiring manager looked at my portfolio. I laugh at it now.

Resume good. Portfolio bad.

At the start of January, I was job hunting while also working full-time hours as a contractor at a job with poor management, poor team spirit, and absolutely no room for growth. It was fine, as I had already done different contract roles like that, but that was the thing: I had already been doing these contract roles for almost 3 years. I was tired of the instability, anxiety, and lack of direction from leads. My performance was always above average, sometimes hitting 20% above my required quota, but I didn’t feel valued. Regardless, I was scared.

I was terrified of making a career change. I knew it had to happen (inflation and increased cost of living would ensure I’d need to pull myself up), but I wasn’t entirely sure I could do it. I had just gone through a very long interview process with a company I would’ve loved to work for, with people I enjoyed meeting, only to find out, “Oh, the team prefers more years of management experience.” What a devastating blow. If I couldn’t convince a group of strangers that I’m worth investing in, was I really worth investing in at all? Not gonna lie, I headed for a downward spiral.

from the archives: my IG story from Jan 2021

Suddenly, it felt like at every crucial moment in my life, I had taken the wrong turn. I didn’t go to grad school- wrong. I chose to leave my biology degree and work in tech- wrong. I switched jobs too often as a contractor- wrong. The worst part was this sinking feeling that I had let myself down and sabotaged my own potential. I felt as if I hadn’t accomplished anything. Sure, I was only 25, but I didn’t want my life to start later. I had worked so hard and done all of these projects, but for what, exactly? To be stuck in a dead-end job doing repetitive task flows for eternity? (Again I was spiraling, not literally an “eternity”, but I had friends who had been in contract roles for 5–7 years before getting a full-time role).

no because I actually went to online job boards to vent and feel sorry for myself

I wanted to be a Conversation Designer so bad, but I was starting to slowly give up on the hope that it would happen anytime soon. I lowered my expectations. I promised myself, “Okay, I’ll apply to Conversation Design roles for one more month, and if I don’t get a job offer, I’m enrolling into a Data Science bootcamp and shelving this for a year.” (Side note: why Data Science? It was the closest thing to AI I thought I could reasonably do because of my background in Biology).

This challenge was actually a blessing in disguise. It took all the pressure off. Suddenly, I had nothing to lose because I had a backup plan. I no longer felt any guilt to apply (the contractor guilt of having to search for new jobs in secret) or any shame in just going for it. And when I was at my lowest, I receieved my conversation design course completion certificate.

I don’t know why this was such a huge thing, but as soon as I put it on my resume: “Advanced Conversational Experience Design” all of a sudden, jobs wanted me. Nearly every job I applied to emailed or called me back (with the except of the few FAANG companies I applied to). I finally had a chance. And I took full advantage!

I came up with a game plan. I re-did my portfolio site from scratch within a matter of 3 days (yes, coded entirely by myself!). I tracked everything that was happening with each of my jobs on a Notion doc. I took notes from each interview and used those learnings to keep improving my elevator pitch, my “this is why I’m interested in your company” research, and my design portfolio review. For some interviews, I had a legit script. I quickly realized that my resume stood out, but it was up to me to not screw it up. I didn’t really know exactly what I was doing, particularly with my portfolio case studies, but I was driven by this obsession of refusing to fail.

By the end of the month, I had 7 explicit rejections, 2 no answers, and 4 viable options. I even had a few more applications ready to send out, but I didn’t want to pursue them anymore after my interviews with NLX.

If you’re following along, you might be like, “Wait, did all of this happen in January 2021?” That’s right. I was able to do a complete 180° and turn my career (life) around in less than a month! I’m scary like that sometimes. True Leslie Knope energy when I try. It was crazy. I was so close to giving up and shutting the door on Conversation Design and, in the span of a few weeks, people stopped saying “no” to me. That kind of overnight success makes you a little fearless.

I’m happy with my decision. I chose NLX, more than anything, because of the people. Out of all of the companies I applied to (including the ones I tried in Nov-Dec 2020), I didn’t need to prove my worth to this company. The hiring team appreciated me. They understood my achievements and loved that I found ways to succeed even in times of ambiguity. They knew I had a diverse background. To them, all of those contract jobs were my strength! They knew I had skills and enthusiasm that couldn’t be taught.

IG story straight after finishing my call with NLX where they literally hired me on the spot!

Confession: I didn’t have to complete an assessment for this interview. But honestly, understanding the vision for the product was more important than showing I could handle conversation flows. I genuinely believed in NLX’s mission from the start. By joining NLX, I would be contributing to the co-founder’s vision of bringing quality conversational solutions to more parts of our world through design tools, next-gen tech, and analytics.

2021: A quick summary

I started my first official role as a Conversation Designer in 2021. Some days, I feel overwhelmingly excited to work on NLX’s Voice Compass® journeys because it makes me feel like a pioneer, mapping out unknown territory. Other days, it’s not so fun, and I have to find compromises and keep pivoting to align with the new organization structure or new project goals. At the end of the day, it’s a startup, and even when I don’t feel like I’m learning, I’m learning.

This was the real behind-the-scenes story I’ve been wanting to share ever since I published “My journey into conversation design”. Part of my success in 2021 came from luck & timing, but most of it came through years of preparation and through an “I almost gave up” moment of crisis. Little of what I achieved in 2021 came overnight. Even when I was out giving public talks or workshops, I was still observing, learning, growing. You don’t just get a job and stop. The work continues.

My proudest achievement out of all of this was that I actually managed to cross off more than 1 of the goals I had written for myself in December 2020. I came up with a mantra to follow throughout the entire year, to remember in moments of weakness. It was: “Grow into action.” My idea with “Grow into action” was to admit to myself that I was feeling like I was waiting for my life to start, but that I needed to get up and push myself harder than ever before if I wanted to accomplish anything.

I used this template as my phone wallpaper :)

It’s honestly the reason why I hit the ground running when I got the job. I didn’t shy away from any opportunity presented my way. I got a full-time job offer in CxD and was also able to increase my salary significantly. In line with some of my other personal goals, I participated in the April 2021 Hackabot. I gave a lot of talks, either publicly or internally at NLX, and also grew my network via 1:1 coffee chats and mentorship sessions. I even achieved my yearly goal of watching 100 new movies, which I didn’t complete until the very last day of 2021. It was a real nail-biter, that one.

2022: What’s next

I still can’t believe the same girl who 5 years ago was shy, timid, and wildly insecure about herself is now being lauded for her work, presentation skills, and described as having a “bubbly personality”! I still see myself as an introvert, but now, I don’t let anything hold me back from what I want out of life. I hope to keeping pushing past those self-imposed limitations this year. That’s ultimately what I want from 2022.

My new mantra for the year is “Focus & peace”. In anything I decide to do, I want to make sure I keep being purposeful: either in the content or educational resources release, or with career decisions. I also want to do more of the things that help bring me peace. Having to start the year with a huge loss made me reevaluate a bit of how I’ve been living my day-to-day life. I find so much enjoyment from sharing knowledge and resources, but I also need to tend to the needs of my family and my household.

If you’ve read this far, thank you! With all my heart, thank you for following my journey and for showing me so much love and support! ❤ I want to say to everyone reading this: yes, life can be unfair and extremely difficult sometimes, but I believe in you. No door is completely closed. I know I kind of rushed into this career transition, but that doesn’t have to be your journey. Find what works for you, at the pace that works for you. You’ll get there! For sure.

One of my main goals in life is to help other people, and the way I’ve found to do it in CxD more widely & transparently is online. Thank you for sharing your stories with me, and for tagging me in your achievements! I love it so much. Please keep sharing those milestones with me!

Happy new year!

Originally published on Jan 12, 2022 on Hashnode (now deleted)

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