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Student Profile

Zach Swartz

Senior Mechanical Design Engineer at WB SHIELS

Course Taken

UX Design Course

Key Skills Learned

  • User Research
  • Sketching and Wireframing
  • Prototyping
View Course Details
Zach Swartz


Where are you working currently and what is it that you do there?

I'm currently working in London, England for WB SHIELS, an engineering company. We do what's called building services engineering; we design all of the systems that go into a building to make it livable. It's almost everything that’s behind the ceiling and walls. In simplest terms, we work with Architects and Developers and do the engineering design work required to actually put a building together.

What does your day to day typically look like?

My day-to-day consists of several things. I'm doing design work, along with our Director, as well as a lot of the client-facing work. We go to meetings with stakeholders and provide weekly progress reports and design workshops. We have to be able to convey progress, showing what’s on time and on budget, and work through problems together.

For projects that are actually in construction, we have to get our hands dirty. I go to construction sites and monitor the contractors’ progress, see what they're building, make sure that it’s being built correctly, and make sure that it’s built as our designs specified. The key thing is resolving problems on site, because that's the most costly part of a project, when you have Contractors sitting on site. If they run into an issue, they just can't be sitting there for a few days with absolutely nothing to do. A lot of it is thinking very quickly, coming up with a solution, maybe something completely novel and different than what you had originally anticipated, and essentially just trying to find a workaround, maybe find a different way to solve a problem. I enjoy my work because it’s the perfect amount of sitting at a desk and being on site.

I love engineering because it's essentially like solving a giant jigsaw puzzle. How do you get this building to go up? It's also great when you look at a drawing all day on a sheet of paper and then you actually get to go to the site and see it being built for yourself. That's quite rewarding as well. It's super cool when you're building your own city.

Can you tell us a bit about your education and your career background prior to this role?

I studied engineering and specialized as a Mechanical Engineer. I started in the oil and gas industry, but I didn't find myself really interested in the work I was doing; I quickly realized that it becomes such a key part of who you are. You work five days a week, eight hours a day for the next 50 years of your life. You have to really enjoy what you're doing and you have to be motivated to come to work. That’s when I wanted to switch my career into building services, because I love architecture, I love urban design, and I love working with buildings.

I made that career shift about five years ago now and when I moved to London, I got into building design engineering. I've been doing that ever since. I had the opportunity to work on some high-rise residential projects in London, and then with WB SHEILS, we actually focus mostly on luxury retail brands.

We do a lot of work in Harrods and Selfridges, which are maybe some of the most iconic department stores in the world. We do a lot of work for the big brands like Chanel, and Dior, and Versace, and Louis Vuitton, and we get to do their fit outs, which are very interesting because every boutique is like a work of art. These aren’t cookie cutter designs, every single building is different and each one has a different feel to it so it never gets old, which is the good thing.

Why did you choose to study at BrainStation?

A number of my friends have actually graduated from BrainStation. They’ve completed a few courses and they just had great things to say about it.

I knew BrainStation would put together Demo Days that encourage Hiring Partners to come and see what students are learning and creating. It just really translates to a lot of success for the individuals, which is why BrainStation has such great hiring rates. I think that's a testament to the value and the quality that these employers see in what BrainStation offers, and that was a big selling point for me. It was quite clear that you're going to get a good quality education with whatever subject you decide to pick.

What was it that motivated you to study User Experience Design?

Coming from an engineering background, we have a lot of experience in being very analytical. I wanted to explore something completely different and I wanted to learn something which I had no previous experience in. I wanted to go into a new field and just find a new perspective. I very intentionally wanted to just get a fresh outlook. I wanted to learn the skills to be able to look at a problem in a different way than I had ever done before, learn to evaluate a problem, and to arrive at a solution in a new way. I think that's key in keeping yourself creative so you don’t fall into a pattern of always evaluating a problem the same way.

Each time you start looking at a new problem and trying to solve it the same way, it’ll become stale and you won’t be able to come up with any novel solutions. I was hoping that by studying UX Design I would gain that fresh perspective on how to evaluate a problem, how to look at it, and how to break it down from its core. I wanted to figure out who am I trying to solve this problem for? What do they ultimately need and how can I solve it for them? The solution I end up with will sometimes be completely different from what I had originally started out with or what I originally anticipated as the solution in the very beginning.

Have you been able to take that approach and those skills and use them in your current role?

Definitely, even though I may not be using the hard skills of UX design in my day-to-day work. However, I did 100 percent achieve the goal of knowing how to use design thinking to analyze any problem that you may face in life.

I've taken those soft skills and applied them to my work in order to solve engineering problems. It’s well known that Engineers are great at designing things and making things that work, but they often look horrible and they may be difficult to use. An Engineer is focused on designing something that is technically optimal so that they don’t often think about the end user. Keeping the end user in mind is something I always do now. Who's this ultimately designed for? I think that's just a very, very important thing to know. I will hopefully take that forward into every future problem I need to analyze, no matter what.

What would you say was the highlight of your learning experience at BrainStation?

A highlight was getting the opportunity to apply the theoretical knowledge we were picking up throughout the lessons in real-world scenarios. That's when the classroom really came to life. Everyone would perk up and you would have these really lively discussions. We would work on these real-world examples and break off into groups to solve these problems together. The final project also allowed us to see how you apply these principles in practice.

A highlight for me was getting the opportunity to apply the theoretical knowledge we were picking up throughout the lessons to real-world scenarios.

What would you say was the most challenging part of the learning experience?

I think the most challenging part for me was coming into the program with virtually zero digital skills and UX experience. I found that a lot of my classmates had come from design backgrounds or were already in the UX field and were looking to solidify their existing skills, where I felt like I had almost no foundation to start with. I had to work pretty hard to get up to speed with the fundamental concepts and the terminology and applications. I probably had to work a bit harder than the average person in there, but that’s exactly what I was hoping to get out of it. I knew going into that I would have zero experience in this, but the whole point was just to learn something that I was not familiar with. And while it may have been the most challenging, it also made it the most rewarding.

Don't underestimate the value in trying something new or something that might not be immediately applicable to what you're currently doing. The whole point of learning new skills and continuing to develop yourself is that it sparks creativity and allows you to make new connections on concepts that you would not have thought of before.

What advice would you give to other professionals out there that are considering a BrainStation course or program?

Don't underestimate the value in trying something new or something that might not be immediately applicable to what you're currently doing. The whole point of learning new skills and continuing to develop yourself is that it sparks creativity and allows you to make new connections on concepts that you would not have thought of before. Don't be daunted by the fact that you're a beginner or you don't even have any knowledge of the subject at all – that's maybe when you can learn the most. The worst thing you can ever do is think that there is no room to grow anymore, that you've learned everything, because that's that's never the case. There's always something new to learn.

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