Fung Feature: Darshan Mehta, MEng ‘18 (ME)
On his academic journey, a career in UI/UX, and why you should always ask for help.
“Hi, I’m Darshan! I grew up in a really beautiful town in Mumbai, India. As a child, I loved tinkering with things — the radio, the fridge, electronics, anything. Everything around me was basically broken [laughs]. Although I couldn’t fix them then, I guess it speaks to my interest from a young age in mechanical engineering, which is what I majored in undergrad.
On how he got here:
I took on a lot of projects as an undergrad, and one that I was particularly proud of was as the Design and Manufacturing head and led a 22-member team to help create a commercial solar electric vehicle. I really loved the complexity of the project. Since our product was commercial, decisions that were made had to be done from that perspective. Not only did it have to work, but it had to be sensible and scale-able. It was really rewarding, but I wasn’t quite satisfied just as a mechanical engineer. I realized that I could make this car as fast or as perfect as possible, but do people actually want to use it? Would people want a car that drives 500 mph? I felt like I had the capacity to make all these amazing designs, but I didn’t know why I should do them.
That propelled me to come to the Fung Institute, where I did my Master’s of Engineering in Product Design, which combined my past in Mechanical Engineering with my interest in product. UC Berkeley was a dream school for me — out of the 11 that I applied to, I liked Fung the best because it’s a nine-month program, amazing location, and a great place for me to become more comfortable with technology. I actually didn’t have any work experience in between — I came here straight out of undergrad.
I took several design courses — Human Centered Design, Systems Thinking, to name a few, and they helped me understand how to put a user at the center of every design. This really filled in the missing piece for me that I felt like I was missing as a mechanical engineer.
On Life Post-Graduation:
Two months before I graduated, I realized I had to make a choice. Up until that point, I was applying for both jobs in UI/UX research, as well as for mechanical engineering positions. It was challenging managing both, especially since I had just found out about user research as a field after coming to this program [laughs]. I realized there was so much I need to explore within the UX field to make up for my lack of experience.
The transition from mechanical engineering to UX research has been an interesting one. With mechanical, everything is so quantifiable. I designed something, and I have something to show for. Or, I solved these three equations. With UX, I can really only show my thought process. My results aren’t necessarily tangible, but rather more of an insight. There’s nothing that I can really methodically “check off” and say, okay, that’s it. So it’s very difficult to gauge your findings, and I think that sometimes that can lead to imposter syndrome. Getting that internal feedback of success is difficult, and even more difficult is convincing others that what you’re doing is correct.
Another big difference between the two is the style of thinking. Mechanical engineering is convergent: You start with many possible solutions, and you slowly remove them because they’re impractical, or illogical based on your constraints. Those constraints help you narrow down your thinking. With UI/UX research, it’s divergent. You have a problem, and you’re finding different directions to solve it. A lot of times, its based in software, too, which has limitless possibilities. Great ideas are often born from insane ones.So for me, UI/UX is can be challenging and vague, but that’s what I like about it; there are so many ways to solve a problem.
Great ideas are often born from insane ones.
On Advice for Current MEng Students:
I think the first thing is to do your research. Really understand what your career might entail, the positives and negatives, etc. Career choices are a huge decision that requires a tremendous amount of work, and it’s not something you should take lightly. Jobs for international students are hard to find as is, so imagine if you did end up liking it.
To do so, I think it’s also really important to talk to people. Trust me, a lot of people just google stuff, but talking to people will give you a much better idea of what you’re getting yourself into. Ask them about the challenges that they face, and if you find yourself really passionate about those same challenges, then that’s a good sign.
Also, ask for help. I don’t know why more people don’t do it. For me, first-hand experience came when I had to start building my portfolio when I was recruiting. I had no experience with that, or any idea on how to even build a website. So, I asked my friends and people in the field to take a look at my portfolio, to give me guidance as I was building it. A little help goes a long way forward — I still remember one my of systems thinking professors — Andy Dong, who gave me really non-sugar coated feedback, and I was super grateful for it. Being honest with yourself will only help you.
Advice for his younger self:
Reflecting back on my undergrad career, I wish I would have done more. I feel like I was spending so much time on my school projects and career-oriented things, but I could have socialized more and explored different interests. There’s still so much I want to learn, culturally and academically. So I’m doing that now! In addition to my job as a User Experience Specialist, I’m trying to get into content development, digital marketing and some photography. I think it’s really rewarding to diversify my skill set, and I’m having a lot of fun doing it.”
—As told to Anna Liang