I’ve been a practising Information Architect (IA) for just over 10 years. It is an amazingly fulfilling career for me and I got started thanks to some wonderful preparation and lots of luck. I’ll start with the preparation part.
I started at Florida State University in the Fall of 1996 and I just couldn’t get enough of the Internet. I loved that you could find the answer to almost any question easily and for free. How I loved never going to the library! Despite my love, I didn’t think about making a career of it. I was a Biology major and thinking I’d be going to medical school. For various reasons, that didn’t actually work out and I decided I needed a new major.
I flirted with Communications and English (both of which I minored in), but a poster hanging on a wall outside one of my Classical Mythology classes put me on the path to becoming an IA. It said something like, “Be a Search Engine,” and had a picture of a School of Information Studies (now the College of Information) standing on the steps of the building. I didn’t immediately switch majors, but it it get me interested.
Then, at a party, I met a friend of a friend majoring in Information Studies. After speaking with her I took a deeper look a the curriculum. There were classes on assessing information needs, searching, writing HTML, evaluating technology products, creating data schema and all sorts of wonderful things. I (re)declared my major started in the Fall of 1998.
I still wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do with my degree, but that is where luck and my first great mentor come in. I knew I needed to get some “real world” experience before graduating. The classes I was taking proved to me that I wasn’t cut out for development, tech support, or running cable. I thought I’d look at the advertising/communications world. I applied for an account service internship with M&M Creative Services (now Think Creative). Luckily for me, John Webb saw my resume and made me a part of the interactive team.
John was the best teacher I ever had. He gave me great resources, mentored me, and let me do real work. On May 10, 1999 (my first day), he handed me the O’Reilly Polar Bear book and I had built my first design document by the end of my first week. I created personas, wireframes, and sitemaps. I conducted client meetings, usability sessions, and creative briefings. I knew I had found my career and it was an amazing feeling.
The fundamentals John taught me are with me everyday. From working with people to figure out what they need (not want) to running guerilla usability tests, I have him to thank for giving me the confidence to try and the ability to do. The fact that he had a Master’s degree was a major reason I went to graduate school.
There are, of course, many paths that lead to a career in Information Architecture (or Interaction Design, UX, whatever you call it), but this was mine.