Graham is a UX design student and section lead at Lambda School. A former chef and city planner, Graham is a University of Utah graduate and an avid skier. Read his inspirational story here!
What is the current role/passion/project you find yourself in and where can our readers find you?
My name is Graham Bunt and I’m currently studying User Experience (UX) Design at Lambda School. This is a nine-month program that goes over the ins and outs of today’s in-demand technology skills and prepares students to get hired in tech. I chose this path to switch careers and involve myself in an innovative field. We learn new concepts every day and practice our skills to be job-ready when the time comes. It’s an exciting place and I’m having a great experience so far. Readers can find me on Medium and Twitter where I share my work and other thoughts.
How did you come to be where you are now?
I grew up in a coastal town of New Jersey and had an obsession with surf, skate, and ski culture. I got big into skiing during high school because my parents bought a vacation house in Vermont. We used to drive up every weekend and I would be on the hill from open to close with the local ski team. We did freestyle skiing, where we went off jumps, slid on rails, and listened to rap music. Every maneuver had to be as smooth and stylish as possible. It was less about competition and more about individual progression and having fun. In school, I had spurts of good grades but struggled to sit still and always chose hanging out with my friends and playing outside over homework.
When it came time to go to college, I didn’t know where I wanted to go, but I knew it had to be somewhere close to a ski hill. A few of my Vermont friends chose the University of Utah and that’s how it appeared on my radar. I got accepted and gave my parents a shock with the news because they too knew little about the mountain west university.
I went with my dad and brother for a visit and we liked what we found. Salt Lake City sits in a valley surrounded by mountains on all sides. The University of Utah is in the foothills and offers stunning views of the city and skyline. The university was undergoing a boom period of expansion in 2011. The football team was joining the Pac-12 and new construction was taking place left and right. During our tour, the guide talked about the school’s favorable in-state tuition rate and how easy it was out-of-state students to gain residency. Four years at Utah was cheaper than the state schools I was looking at in New Jersey. That may have sold my dad, but our first experience skiing at Brighton Resort is what hooked me. There was a fresh layer of snow, spectacular terrain, and no ice! The next day, we went up to Snowbird for more of the same. I learned firsthand why Utah carries the tagline ‘Greatest Snow on Earth’.
My first year at the University of Utah was challenging and fun. I stayed in the dorms, tried hard in class, ate terrible food, discovered coffee, and met a great group of friends. I missed my family and being home, but I got to learn about myself and how to operate on my own. I had to stay for the summer to earn residency and discovered hiking, mountain biking, and rock climbing. These types of activities were not popular or accessible back home in New Jersey.
My first major was Exercise Science. My eldest brother and I started lifting weights in high school and we never stopped. In my prime, I was drinking a gallon of whole milk a day to bulk up and squat, bench, and deadlift as much as possible. He was pursuing exercise as a career too and I looked up to him more than anyone. It took me a full year to realize this wasn’t my path. The science courses were difficultand it started to take the fun out of exercising. Also, I couldn’t explain to myself why I wanted to be in the field other than my brother did it and I wanted to be like him. He would go on to become a performance coach for Red Bull and train the Olympic skier, Lindsey Vonn. I dropped the major and floundered for a bit while looking for my next one.
I chose Parks, Recreation, and Tourism as my final major. I figured I should follow my passion and that was outdoor recreation. The classes were unspecific and it was ambiguous how I would make a living after college, but I liked my advisor and the instructors and my classmates. I was in the second half of my four years and chose to stick it out to earn my degree.
During this time, I took a job in a restaurant and took an interest in cooking. It was a way to make a little money, but I was also influenced by Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential and the PBS program The Mind of Chef. The adrenaline in the kitchen was addictive. It was exciting to learn new skills at a fast pace and then perform with speed, discipline, and precision. I excelled in the job and it gave me a lot of confidence. After a year, I had worked every position in the restaurant and wanted to level up.
I took a hiatus from college and went to New York City to test my skills at a Michelin-Star restaurant. It was the hardest I ever worked in my life, and I was commuting two hours each way from my parent’s house in New Jersey. The kitchen was full of characters and the pace was daunting. Every dish had to be perfect because the head chef would taste and inspect it before sending it into the dining room. The most important lesson I learned from the experience was that I could push beyond my self-imposed limitations. I hit several breaking points throughout my experience, but kept pushing. It dawned on me that this was not a sustainable career choice. The mental and physical exhaustion was unmanageable and the work for each day had to start from scratch. I moved back to Utah to finish my degree and applied for office jobs so that I could work with a desk and a chair.
I jumped around a couple of jobs over the course of the next two years in a search for a long-term path. I ended up as a City Planner for the municipality of Park City, Utah. It was interesting to see how a stable organization serviced a community, but there was an obvious lack of innovation in the day-to-day processes. When I settled into the routine of the job it became dreary and I longed for more excitement.
I used my free time to search online for an answer to my career problem. Twitter was a good resource because it introduced me to so many smart individuals with different backgrounds and opinions. It soon became clear that tech had the loudest voice around ideas and innovation. I wanted a career where I could create, work on a team, and become a lifelong learner. I found Lambda School on Twitter, and their UX Design track jumped out to me. It seemed like a new and evolving discipline that aligned with everything I was looking for in a job. My interest blossomed into a full-blown obsession and soon everyone I knew was getting my Lambda School pitch. It took seven months to set myself up and quit my job.
The first day of class validated my decision to join and Lambda School has exceeded my expectations in every regard. I started with no technical ability, but after fifteen weeks I’m confident in my ability as a designer. I now work for the school as a Section Lead, where I get to oversee a group of teacher’s assistants and support new students through the program. It’s like getting paid to learn. When my four-month contract is up, the job hunt is on.
What are your goals/hopes/plans for the future?
My goal is to be a professional UX Designer. I’m looking for companies that value design and have mentorship opportunities. It would also be great to work for a company whose core business aligns with my interests. I’m still passionate about outdoor recreation and a couple of companies that come to mind in that area are Vail Resorts and Alterra Mountain Company. These companies operate domestic and international ski resorts and their digital products are becoming a bigger part of the guest experience.
What does growth mean to you?
I view growth as an accumulation of good decisions and actions. In the case of becoming a UX designer, it is a long process and the tasks I complete each day are incremental steps toward my end goal. That’s part of the reason I chose this career, because there will always be more skills to learn and technologies to adopt. I try to think in terms of how my daily decisions and actions will add up over months and years.
What piece of advice or request do you have for our readers before you leave?
I recommend Jordan Peterson’s Self Authoring program. It’s a set of writing prompts that helped me articulate my past and set an aim for a desirable future. If you already have a direction in life, I recommend The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield. It’s a short read about attacking procrastination and fulfilling your potential.