I graduated in Information Technology way back in 2015 with a vague idea of what my career might be. I thought I did pretty well during a regional hackathon in university so maybe I’ll do frontend development as a start. Well, fast forward 8 years later and I somehow became a product design lead. I love it and I’m grateful to be here but as an INTJ/ENTP, I can’t help and wonder— what would I do if I woke up one day and had to start all over?
To my future isekai’d self, here’s your manual:
1. You should, definitely, leave home
I would’ve failed right away if I stayed in my hometown as it was the quickest way to stagnate. Move to a city where tech scene is active but lifestyle is not too different from your hometown so you don’t have to drastically adapt to change. Your priority at this point is to increase your chances of getting a job in tech and keeping your standard of living as cheap as possible.
2. Find a company with a lot of great mentors and kind people
Find a company with a lot of smart and kind people, green flag if they’re active in the tech community. Listen to your intuition during your job interviews and don’t let salary heavily influence your decision. You will earn more as you gain more experience. Also, make sure you’re allowed to write case studies about your work or better yet encouraged to do so.
3. Try multiple roles, and maintain coding as a skillset
It’s too early to cling to a specific craft at this point. Try your hand in coding, design, data science, and even product management. See what you like about each role and what niche skillset you can incorporate to your tool kit to make you stand out. “A designer who thinks like a developer” has some nice ring to it, eh?
My only regret is discontinuing ReactJS. It would’ve been so cool knowing at least one JS framework and pushing PRs from time to time. I would’ve loved helping out engineers build responsive frontend, and making PR jokes with them.
4. Copy great design
The fastest way to better your craft is to find great softwares and recreate them from scratch. This does multiple things:
- You become a pro in using the design tool by increasing your build speed and learning keyboard shortcuts.
- You observe visual decisions such as grid systems and color theory.
- You become familiar of basic flows and how they’re broken down into similar steps.
- You realize originality isn’t as important; and that being boring and simple can be the most effective.
- You acquire design taste overtime.
5. Read Design Systems documentations
The most practical resource in learning about patterns, components, and do’s and don’t is by reading popular Design Systems like Material, Apple, Polaris, and Atlassian. Not only do they explain when to use one over the other (eg. radio button vs checkbox), but they also teach you how to make better design decisions by providing rationale and learnings from their research.
6. Start building your portfolio right away
Whenever you’re starting a new project, always keep in mind that your goal is to write a case study at the end of every work. This helps you approach the problem methodologically which is important if you’re a budding designer and your process needs to be more structured. It also forces you to document each step.
Don’t worry; as you get older and wiser you’ll rely less on structure and more on your intuition that you’ve acquired over the years. Organize your Figma file, use double diamond, and make sure you’re talking to users — even your dorm mate or an internet stranger is better than no one.
Oh and one more thing, probably the most important even: stay humble and curious, and don’t be afraid to let others criticize your work. Getting feedback is the only way to refine your design rationale.
7. Volunteer in tech events to network
Exposure, exposure, exposure. I’m going to beat your ass if you complain being tired. At a young age of 20 you should have plenty of energy in you. Use this youth to its maximum potential! Design your marketing materials, help out as a design workshop assistant, then go talk to the speakers. At some point if you get ballsy enough, try giving a talk about a very specific topic you’re passionate about.
I end up liking Design Sprint in my early years so maybe you can do the same. Whatever that topic is, talk about it repeatedly until you become known for it. That’s how I end up traveling as a Design Sprint facilitator, built my reputation in the design community, and landed a few design gigs.
8. Maintain your portfolio
If it’s not yet obvious, maintaining your portfolio is a hard requirement. Don’t be like others who has a single page website that’s literally a CV. Find a tool that allows you to write so easily and quickly that you have no alibi not to publish (eg. Notion, Medium, or Wordpress). It’s easy to feel lazy but if you did the first step right (See Start building your portfolio right away), writing one shouldn’t be so hard. Make sure you share your work on Medium and LinkedIn so they can reach your audience for you.
9. Diversify then find a niche
Try designing for different industries and varying scope sizes from a small feature to an entire app, or from a redesign to a completely new software. This will force you to think small and big, to be comfortable with ambiguity, and to find your interests. At some point, you’ll end up working on similar projects and grow your domain expertise there. It is up to you whether you want to continue down that path or if you rather solve other problems but whatever that is, becoming a domain expert will tremendously help you down the line as companies tend to hire people with that background.
10. Allow yourself to fail
Thank you for reading this article. I really had fun writing this and I hope some of the words here will help and resonate with you.