72 - Keith Mistler: From Teacher to Experience Designer
Keith Mistler: From Teacher to Experience Designer

72 – Keith Mistler: From Teacher to Experience Designer

TeacherCareerCoach

Keith Mistler lives in Boston with his husband and taught in public schools for over a decade before he made the jump into a corporate role as an Experience Designer. In this interview, we chat all about his transition out of the classroom and his path to a new career.  

Listen to the episode in the podcast player below, or find it on Apple Podcast or Spotify.

From Teacher to Experience Designer

Daphne Gomez:
Hi, Keith, thank you so much for joining us.

Keith Mistler:
Hi, Daphne. It’s so great to be here, thank you so much for having me today.

Daphne Gomez:
I am really excited. I know that I think I lurked on your LinkedIn. I don’t remember what thread you like popped up on. And I just immediately said, Hey, would you like to be on the podcast? Just based on your current position is very exciting, but before we even dive into what you’re doing now, I’d love to hear a little bit about just your experience as a teacher. What made you get into education and how long were you a teacher for?

Keith Mistler:
Well, I originally started out as a graphic designer. I majored in graphic design in my undergraduate, loved it. I’ve always been a creative person, but also I’ve always been a performer too. I originally started in communications and decided graphic design was my thing, and I liked it, but I really wanted to do something more. I wanted it to be bigger. I wanted to help other people, so working as a designer for about two years, I said, “I want to go back to school and get my masters in education.” And I thought, well, what can I teach?

I said, “well, I love art. I love design. I’m going to go back for that.” I got my master’s in studio art education, was really lucky to land at an awesome place, high school, where I taught for just a year, do my student teaching. And I was lucky to land a job, and I was there for about 12 years. I pivoted between high school, and elementary, and middle school. And from there I did some really cool stuff. I taught graphic design, web design, fashion design, things that I never thought we could have had in high schools. But I feel lucky that I was able to offer them to these kids.

Pursuing a Role Outside of the Classroom

Daphne Gomez:
When did you start thinking about pursuing a role outside of the classroom?

Keith Mistler:
Well, I would say the first time I started thinking about it was the first time that they told me at my school that I would have to be moved to the middle school. And it was a big shock to me because when you work in a school, it becomes your community, it becomes such a part of your life and a part of your identity. And I honestly broke down in tears when they told me that I had to move my community. And luckily that year it was almost just a false alarm and I did not have to move. But the following year I did have to move to the middle school just because I was certified in Art K through 12, I really could teach anywhere, so they moved me to the middle school. It’s just sort of how it worked out. Even though I was teaching at that school for about 10 years, I was still the newest art teacher out of five of us.

I took it in stride, but it really just shook me to the core. And I said, okay, I need to take charge of my own career and my own happiness, because it just wasn’t a great fit for me. And then the pandemic happened and I was moved again to the elementary school where I taught all remote art through the computer, which was quite a trip. And I have lots of stories from that, but it was, that was really fun and I enjoyed the students there. And from there, that’s when I really made the jump to becoming something out of education.

Keith Mistler: From Teacher to Experience Designer

Finding the Right Fit

Daphne Gomez:
I will probably, when we are off of this podcast interview, ask you a lot of your stories about teaching art virtually, because I have not thought about what a challenge that would be. What did you start doing when you were pursuing roles outside of the classroom? How did you start to evaluate what was a good fit for you?

Keith Mistler:
Well, I started originally, probably in September of 2020, and it took probably the full school year to be able to figure out what I was doing. And I thought, okay, I was chatting with a friend over Snapchat and I said, “Hey, you do something that I’m interested in. Can I talk to you about it?” He said, “Yeah, absolutely. I’m happy to talk to you about it.” And he’s a software engineer. And from there I kind of looked into software engineering and seeing how that and design worked together. And I still wasn’t kind of on top of it and said, I want to be a software engineer, but I just talked to as many people as I could, starting out with friends.

Then I moved on to LinkedIn and just connected with people and would send messages out and say, “Hi, my name is Keith and I see what you’re doing. And it looks really great. Do you mind if we have a little coffee chat?” And it was surprising to me that people were very often happy to help and they like to pay it forward. And I feel myself now I like to pay it forward. That’s one of the reasons why I’m on this podcast. And I often take those coffee chats to help other people right now.

Upskilling for a New Role

Daphne Gomez:
You started getting into software engineering and did you take any courses or do anything to like upskill in that direction? Because that’s a pretty tech heavy role that comes with a lot of knowledge gaps just from someone with zero experience to wanting to pursue that.

Keith Mistler:
Yes. Well I taught web design at the high school, that’s sort of like my baby, so I knew a lot of the coding, like HTML and CSS and I know a little bit of JavaScript, but I really wanted to upskill and learn more, and I love coding and I find that coding and art and education just really work very well together. And I knew that there were a lack of software engineers in this world and we need more of them. And I looked online and I said, well, I can teach myself this if I wanted to. And then I started and it was a disaster. I need focused lessons, so I enrolled in a bootcamp and I did a lot of research to find what I thought was the best one.

And it was about five months long and I did a bootcamp that was like much more intense than I probably needed to because I wanted to learn both the front end, which is like mostly the visual parts of a website and the back end, which is a little bit more about data processing. And I found it to be so extremely helpful and it was a big thing to put on my resume. And even though I’m not technically a software engineer now, I’m still able to work in code and work in this kind of tech field, so I think it was hugely beneficial and I would not have changed it for the world.

Daphne Gomez:
In my role as an instructional designer, there was like this teeny tiny amount of coding that I needed to know. I probably downplay the amount of coding that I’m comfortable doing, just because that’s like human nature for us to downplay our abilities. I found myself going down like the Khan Academy rabbit hole of if anybody wants to get their feet wet, dip their toes in the water and see if it’s something that they’re interested in Khan Academy has free resources where you can teach yourself some coding. But I think that I fall in the same category as you, as I probably need someone to give me structured feedback when it comes to something that’s time consuming and tech heavy. And I probably would want to have like an end product where someone would say, okay, that looks good. Or give me feedback to help me change what I did.

Keith Mistler:
Right. It’s so tech heavy that if you don’t know the answer, it’s just very difficult to figure it out, if you don’t have somebody who is extremely knowledgeable.

Interviewing for the Position of Experience Designer

Daphne Gomez:
You ended up landing a position as it’s an experienced designer, correct?

Keith Mistler:
Yes.

Daphne Gomez:
How did you find this position and what was your interview process like for it?

Keith Mistler:
I found this position really, it was interesting because I had applied for a similar position through the same company and it just didn’t work out. The recruiter called me and we had a great conversation and then I didn’t hear anything for months. And I eventually called him back and he said, “Oh, I’m sorry, like this position was canceled. We don’t have anything anymore for it.” So I said, “Oh, that’s a bummer. Well, I’m going to look again.” And I have a friend who works at this company and I had a little conversation with him and he told me a couple places to look within the company. And I saw a great position for an experienced designer and I was called back by a recruiter and we had another great conversation. And just to kind of give you a quick aside, technically I’m a UX/UI designer, so I work with screens on maybe like a phone or a laptop or any type of device.

After that kind of initial recruiting process, there were many more interviews and they were all virtual luckily and my position is all virtual as well. And through each interview I was able to meet with members of the team. And then my final interview was a panel interview where I had to do a little presentation for them. And I think as a former teacher, I loved the presentation aspect and I flourished with that, so I had no issues with it. And from there I landed the position and I’ve been there for about six months now and I am thrilled and so happy to be there.

Tips for Landing a Job as an Experience Designer

Daphne Gomez:
For a UX designer types of position, and even for web design or software engineering. Did they look for a specific type of like portfolio that you had created of like mock projects you would do for companies or this role you did not need that?

Keith Mistler:
Yes, they do look for portfolios and I did have a portfolio and I put together about three to four projects and it was a combination of coding projects and UX/UI design projects using design thinking processes. I found it to be very helpful to have those projects. And I would say one of the reasons why this company hired me was because I had all of these transferrable skill as well, so there were, I’m sure lots of people applying for these jobs and other companies had these issues with me and they would say, well, you don’t have the tech background, you don’t have the business background, you don’t have the sales background. And I kept getting that and I was like, but I have all this cool stuff too. I could run a classroom.

I really feel that the hiring manager felt that all of these skills that I could bring to the table was going to make me excel in this job. And I’m finding that these teaching skills that I have are just so beneficial. And if you can find a job that will, and you will find a job that will find you and see this as a benefit, so just keep looking right?

Experience Designer Roles & Working as a Team

Daphne Gomez:
And there are so many times that feedback that they give that this isn’t the right role for you. We are looking for someone with this specific type of experience. It’s not downplaying necessarily who you are. It’s not that you are not qualified for everything. It’s this specific position you weren’t qualified for it just yet. Or there were 10 people with similar qualifications, and so one person maybe stood out a tiny bit above the crowd, but they have to give some sort of feedback and that always hurts. They don’t have to always give some sort of feedback, but we take it so personally of like they said, I didn’t have any sales experience and now I should never apply for any sales role. And that’s not accurate either, but continue to upskill if that’s the direction you want to go and be that person that sticks out a little bit more in the next one, with what you were saying about how you bring so much to the table.

There are so many teams that I have worked on with very tech heavy roles and some of the smartest people I have ever worked with in my entire life who are just tech geniuses, struggle with articulating why they put something together and working on a team and collaborating in a way that teachers would probably thrive, so bringing the skills that you have of being able to present things to a team, being able to collaborate with a team, project management on top of you have upskilled and taught yourself some additional skills makes you just like a powerhouse.

Keith Mistler:
Right, and leading a team meeting is such a big thing to do in technology and in business. That’s something that I think that teachers excel at and I’m finding that not everybody has that experience leading anything.

Daphne Gomez:
Can we talk a little bit about what your day to day looks like in your new role as a UX designer, experience designer?

Keith Mistler:
Sure. I love my days now. They are so lovely. I always get up early and I go to the gym and I surprise myself with that because as a teacher, I would wake up at 5:00 AM and always say, when I’m not a teacher, I’m going to sleep in every single day. But now it’s just so nice to get up, have that time in the morning and really just enjoy it for me, so get up, enjoy myself for me. And I usually get on the computer around like 9:00 AM. And my job is based really all over the US and we have people all over the world that we work with, so the times are really all over the place, so sometimes I may start a little bit later and work a little bit later into the night and sometimes I might take a little break and walk throughout the day and that’s okay because my job is really great about the work/life balance.

Day to day, I log onto the computer. I usually have like a few meetings with my team throughout the day, which I love because I like to interact with people and I do miss the social aspect of teaching. But having those team meetings really do help with that. And then I kind of just jump on Figma and the Adobe Creative Suite and I design screens and I love it. And from there, there’s so much collaboration, so even though I’m might be designing something on my own, I’m working with another designer, I’m working with other people in our sales teams. It’s just so much collaboration that I didn’t get as a teacher because you’re in your classroom you’re not able to work with other people as much. And I really enjoy working with adults and the stimulating conversations that we achieve every single day in order to bring this company forward. I think just drives me forward as a professional.

What’s Included in the Role of Experience Designer

Daphne Gomez:
It sounds like the things that you are in charge of designing are mostly like customer facing like screens, am I understanding that accurately?

Keith Mistler:
Yes. Yes. I create screens, so like when you have apps or websites, that those are things that I would create.

Daphne Gomez:
Do you see a lot of overlap of best practices when it comes to teaching and learning and how you create things so that it’s intuitive for people to navigate like websites or find what they’re looking for?

Keith Mistler:
Yes. Have you ever had an app where you’re looking at it and you’re like, what, how do I use this? It’s not intuitive. It’s not helpful. It’s similar to teaching. Think about when you’re teaching your students and they are struggling and they’re not figuring it out. It’s okay that you failed with one lesson, but then you have that research and you have that experience to make it better, so same thing for me in my teams, is we create something, see how it works, talk to other people, and then see it in action as well as see how people actually use it. I do find it very similar to creating my lesson plans, which is kind of scary in a lot of ways.

Daphne Gomez:
We talked about it on past episodes. I think Bonnie Hanks is a software engineer and Brittany Fisher is a UX designer. Both of them are former teachers that I interviewed on past episodes. And we’ve talked about the overlap of Bonnie Hanks really thought that she wanted to go into becoming a curriculum designer because her brain loved that part of the job. And what we talked about on the podcast was I’ve listened to this great career coaches book it’s called You Turn by Ashley Stahl. And she talks about the different types of people. I’m probably butchering what she says, but the different types of jobs you’re looking for and like teachers always kind of back themselves into it. It’s very education focused, but you and Bonnie Hanks probably have this in common. You like to build things. You are like a builder, not a traditional…

And you could be a traditional engineer that actually wants to like build a building, but you like to have this creative game plan and then see it come to life. And so that could be a curriculum writer. It could be a software engineer. It could be a UX designer. It could be so many, even a project manager, but that’s where you’re excited. And it’s hard for teachers to like remove themselves from the very hyper specific, like still in education roles. But some people are thriving in corporate environments once they realize that they can remove themselves from that little like corner of the career universe.

Keith Mistler:
You get in a position where you’re like, oh man, I’m stuck as a teacher. I can’t get out of it. I’ve been in here for years and years. What else can I do? And it can become very isolating. And I find that with the media right now, focusing on the negativity of education and teachers that it’s hard, especially I think as an art teacher or a specialist, sometimes in rural parts of the United States, you may be the only specialist within your school. And you’re thinking, what can I do? And to able to see what others have been doing is just, it’s monumental in finding things that work for yourself, so I’m so glad you said that.

Daphne Gomez:
I also have seen on your resume, something that I wanted to talk about a little bit, the freelance work that you have done because so many teachers that follow me have thought of freelancing and it’s tricky to navigate it’s its own unique search itself to figure out the ins and outs of freelancing. How long were you doing freelance design work and photography?

Keith Mistler:
Yes. You know, I kind of fell into freelance work because I was teaching photography at the high school and one of my colleagues came up to me and said, Hey, will you photograph my wedding? And I was like, absolutely not. I will not photograph your wedding. I’ve never done it before. And she was like, I really want you to do it. You’re a good friend of mine, so because I taught photography, I was like, all right, I will do it. You know, I charged very little and I did a lot of training and I worked with other wedding photographers to help me do that, so that was kind of how it first happened for me. And then it blossomed. And she told her friends, we were at the age that, our mid twenties where everybody was getting married and it blossomed.

Keith Mistler:
And it became a thriving business for myself. And because I was a graphic designer, it was easy for me to also kind of grab those design projects as well. I would say, just talk to your friends and family members and say, Hey, I am a photographer. Hey, I’m a designer. Hey, I can do X, Y, and Z for you if you need it. And just the best thing about really being a freelance artist or freelance anything is just talking to other people and networking, get there on LinkedIn and post things. I knew somebody who would do cartoons on Etsy and sell them on Etsy. And he loved doing it and made some good money on it.

Daphne Gomez:
Yeah. There are so many roles. And so you were focused on like B to C kind of freelancing where you were doing like selling to specific people. And then there’s also people who are like really thriving as B to B. Like I am a freelancer, but I’m consulting for large companies, both of these paths are really great, especially for you to build new skill sets, push yourself outside of your comfort zone while you are learning what you like and you don’t like, because if you’re a freelancer, okay, I want to become a blog writer. And then you write five blogs and you realize, oh, I don’t really like that. Well, you didn’t actually take a full-time position doing it so you can walk away. It’s not as much stake in the game as if you accidentally took a role without getting your feet wet with it.

Daphne Gomez:
But it’s great resume writing experience as well, to be able to say, I’ve done this for a variety of clients, I’ve done this for a variety of different companies. You have a portfolio that you can actually build, so it’s always something that I highly recommend for people who have longer periods of time between now and when they do want to start actually applying for roles or for those people who are looking for supplemental income, maybe they have already left the classroom and they took a little dip in their salary. I am curious to hear about your role. Do you feel like you have hours back with the work/life balance in your new position than you did as a teacher?

Keith Mistler:
Listen, Daphne, all my friends are so jealous of me that are teachers because I just feel like my life is so much more calm, but I do want to also… I’ll talk about this in a minute. Talk about the fact that there are aspects of teaching I miss and it’s not absolutely perfect one way or the other, but I’m loving the fact that I’m able to take vacation when I need to. I can do a doctor’s appoint when I need to. I don’t constantly need to be on. I, like many people I do struggle with anxiety and constantly being a teacher and working from 07:30 in the morning until 14:30 in the afternoon teaching almost every minute of every day can be very, very exhausting.

I have the personality where I love to perform and I love to be in front of people. It can kind of wear you down after a while, so now I feel so much happier and I really feel that I am able to contribute more of myself to not only my company, but to my family and my friends and really to the general world too. It opens me up to being able to do other fun things. I’m trying to learn the guitar and I sing in a chorus. It just it’s magnificent.

Daphne Gomez:
I love that. I feel like I had the same experience when I left. I gained so many hours back and then I didn’t realize like, oh, was I the problem? Am I a workaholic? Do I have to figure out a way to fill up this extra time? Because you just are so conditioned to be filling up all of that time that you have to discover hobbies or do something or else you might feel a little stir crazy. I know that there are probably so many teachers who are interested in becoming UX designers and we do have one other podcast that does a deep dive into it as well. But I’d love to hear what your suggestions are for just like one or two small getting started steps for those teachers who are on the fence but they’re leaning towards UX design as their forever career.

Keith Mistler:
That’s a great question. I think the best thing to do would be to look at other UX designers and just type in like UX designer portfolios and find maybe one or two that you really like. And you’ll notice that it’s very much a similar case study, so I mentioned it earlier, but design thinking is just the way that many designers are attacking problems and problem solving, so if you take a project and you want to create a project, use the design thinking methodology and go through each individual step and that will really guide you through creating your own kind of project, so do that first and then see, okay, do I really like it?

And then once you’ve kind of created it and designed it, you can go into, there’s a free program out there called Figma. And I think that’s definitely what designers are using right now. It’s a collaborative tool. It’s free like I said, it’s web-based and I didn’t know much about Figma before I started, to be honest, I was very a Adobe person, which they do Photoshop. It’s very famous and I enjoy Adobe, absolutely. But it’s good to take your dive into different programs.

Daphne Gomez:
Yeah. I always recommend like the baby steps into graphic design is Canva. Adobe is for the pros. It’s actually a little bit more tech heavy then I had enough exposure to it that I understood how to like navigate the basics of it. But it was still a little bit outside of my comfort zone. Like that is Adobe in itself is its own two, three hour mini course, learning curve. Where Canva is very quick to learn very intuitive for those people diving in. But I love how you laid out for people who are interested in it, kind of seeing what other people do and mapping out the process before you even get started.

And I’ve heard similar feedback from people just discovering and trying to learn basics of graphic design of look at a logo that you like and try to recreate it. Just play around with the shapes, the different backgrounds and all of those different types of things that you can see. Even just like in a simple program, like Canva to start to get your feet wet on, oh, now I know how to layer something or now I know how to like make a more intricate design, so I love that you gave that feedback when it comes to UX design as well.

Keith Mistler:
Yes.

Daphne Gomez:
Well, thank you so much Keith, for coming on and sharing so much about your journey. This has been such a great episode and I just am so glad that I got to spend some time getting to know you.

Keith Mistler:
Daphne it is like talking to a celebrity with you. I am so happy to be here right now. And thank you for asking me on today. It has been very helpful and I thank you for doing what you’re doing with the educational community. Thank you again.

Daphne Gomez:
Thank you.

Important Links

Mentioned in this podcast:

Find out more about our podcast sponsor:

Related Blog: Upskill and Reskill: Online Courses for Your Career Transition

Find out about The Teacher Career Coach Course

If you’re thinking of leaving teaching…

If you’re just beginning to think about leaving teaching, brainstorming other options is a great place to start. But if you’re like many others, teaching was your only plan – there never was a Plan B. You might feel at a loss when it comes to figuring out what alternatives are out there.

Start with our free quiz, below, to get alternative job options for careers that really do hire teachers!

What career outside the classroom is right for YOU? Free Quiz

Taking the First Steps to a New Career

If you’ve already taken our quiz, it may be time for the next steps. I want to help you get some clarity in the options available to you. To know EXACTLY what you need to do (and not do) in order to get your foot in the door. This knowledge may help quell some of the anxiety you feel about the big changes that come with a new job.

One of the biggest mistakes that I see teachers make is that they try to navigate this process alone. Often, they put off “researching” until the very last minute. Which sets them up for a very stressful application season – trying to juggle teaching, figuring out a resume, researching jobs, and hoping to nail down some interviews before signing next year’s contract.

You don’t have to do this on your own.

If you are considering a career change from teaching, I have a resource that can help you today. With the help of an HR expert with over 10 years of experience, I’ve created a guide to support you in the early stages of your transition out of the classroom.

In the Career Transition Guide, I’ll walk you through the factors to consider and answer those first-step planning questions including:

Career Transition Guide
  • A compiled list of over 40 careers that teachers can transition into
  • An overview of how to read job descriptions
  • How to evaluate the risk of leaving a full-time teaching job for the unknown
  • Example translations from classroom-to-corporate resumes
  • A checklist of everything you’ll need to do for your career transition (so you know you aren’t missing anything!)
  • and more…

Take the first steps on your path to a new career now for only $19 $9!

GET THE EBOOK

or click here to learn more

Step out of the classroom and into a new career, The Teacher Career Coach Course