The Nielsen Norman UX Certification: my mid-career-checkpoint

My personal thoughts on a UX career-level-up strategy

Ricardo Gerstl
5 min readOct 24, 2019


Super Mario Bros Cartridge with an super imposed NN/g Certification sticker
[photoshopped] Super Mario Bros Cartridge with an added NN/g Certification 😊

6+ years into my career and no idea of where I was standing…

Until one rainy Sunday evening…

playing Super Nintendo…

I had a realization…

Professional careers share a lot with video games! or at least with platformers like Super Mario Bros. For those of you unknowledgeable on the fine art of old-school gaming: you basically control an 8-bit Italian plumber (Mario) traversing through a landscape full of obstacles, holes, foes, allies, powerups, and coins (points)!

From a professional career perspective, we are talking about: crazy deadlines, endless email threads, bad colleagues, good colleagues, happy clients, gratifying projects, and coffee!

One characteristic they also share is how the whole thing is divided into multiple levels. Challenges change on each level; most of the time becoming harder, yet beatable due to the skills gained with experience. In Super Mario; each level is well defined, contrary to your career where lines are blurred out at times.

ScreenShot of Super Mario Bro’s Flag
The end of every level in Super Mario Bro’s has a flag which provided extra points when crossed

For Mario it is simple, each level ends with a “Checkpoint” or “Finish Flag” that gives you extra points before advancing to the next level.

Therefore, I decided to reverse-engineer my professional career development parting from this simple nerdish metaphor.

I realized that I was missing those extra points before getting to the next level.

I needed to find my mid-career-checkpoint.

How to choose my ⚐

Never would I ever compare points earned to salary when referencing my career development. Money comes and goes, and shouldn’t be a straight indicator of success; that’s why thinking on a cash bonus (although it would be nice 😉 ) wouldn’t count as a career checkpoint. The points metaphor needs to be cumulative, progressive and enriching. Knowledge, on the other hand, fits that description. My checkpoint flag needs to come in the form of an impactful source of knowledge!

I work on User Experience, a field that has grown exponentially over the past years; due to usability becoming a key competitive advantage (even deal-breaker) at a previously feature-based software industry. For this reason, the higher demand for UX professionals has created as a sideproduct a wide range of eLearning, inhouse training, workshops, Meetups, and conferences focused on UX topics. Decision-making with this large range of options can become a laborious task, therefore I approached it prioritizing on 4 different aspects:

  1. Quality: you are what you eat …also what you read. The information I supposed to receive must be on the top since I wish to be that way.
  2. Credibility: the institution providing me the knowledge has to be distinguishable and widely recognized so that not only I know I received a top-quality education, but peers can acknowledge it as well.
  3. Specialty: User Experience is a humongous topic; from that big pie; I’d like to have a great slice.
  4. Location & housing: can it be from home? or should I travel? If the later, it should be in an interesting city where some cheap (or free) accommodation could sweeten up the deal.

Nielsen Norman UX Certification

2 months, a huge list of courses, many free trails, emails, reviews, and phone calls later…

Picture of the cover of The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman
The Design of Everyday Things is considered a powerful primer on how-and why-some products satisfy customers while others only frustrate them

My path decided to cross again with Don Norman; 6 years ago we met (in a metaphysical/literary way) when I read his book: The Design of Everyday Things. This book had opened many Norman Doors to my career (pun intended) since it was one of the main triggers that guided me to User Experience practice.

Now, 6 six years later, the Nielsen Norman Group (NN/g) Conference was coming to London next month! coincidentally, after little by little scratching off other options, this became the top of my list and soon enough the only element on it!

The choice was simple, NN/g website has been my day-to-day-go-to source of knowledge with updated research regarding usability, user trends accessibility and so on. Also, it has been a starting point in using new tools & techniques to improve my craft. The right choice had always been there — as soon as I passed it through my 4 priority points mentioned before; it all made sense:

  1. Quality: ✅ goes without saying that NN/g has the most up-to-date information on User Experience research and is made up by the leaders of this field across the world
  2. Credibility: ✅ besides NN/g being recognized with the highest standards, their courses offer a certification of completion that can only be granted if the attendee passes an arduous academic test after course completion.
  3. Specialty: ✅ one of the certifications offered by NN/g is on Interaction Design Specialty: my favorite topic on the User Experience spectrum.
  4. Location & housing: ✅ I’ve always wanted to visit the lovely city of London 🇬🇧 and since one of my best childhood friends recently moved there … I can sleep on his couch for free!

After paying the course on my own, getting a plane ticket and buying some gifts for my London friend: I’m thrilled to be joining the NN/g London UX Conference (Nov.16–22, 2019)

From a T - 1 month standpoint: getting into this course seems like a clever decision and the beginning of the next level in my career!

I’ll write about my experience while at the course and a few months after I completed it. I hope that sharing my learnings will help other UX professionals along the way!

👋 Hola! Let’s meet! Connect with me on LinkedIn. Follow me here on Medium as well for more User Experience related content.



Ricardo Gerstl

User Experience Designer @EverestEngineering >