I’m a Product Designer, did I make a mistake?
Okay before I proceed, let me just say this with my full chest “being a designer, can be so exhausting” especially if you find yourself in a place that does not drive your growth.
Don’t get me wrong, please 😩
It’s just that there are things I wish I knew before diving into tech as a whole but since I did not have the opportunity to learn them or someone to tell me I kinda remained ignorant in so many things. Yeah, there is google but oh boy sometimes you need to hear from people who are more experienced than you are to be able to relate their experiences with your current situation.
So a little bit about how I got into tech. It was way back in 2014, my uncle came home and handed me a flyer. Apparently a hub in my home town “Start Innovation Hub” was hosting a free Game Development Bootcamp for kids aged 10–16 and luckily for me I just turned 16 that year (January 26th) so I told my parents I wanted to register. Dad frowned at it for a while but my Mum was able to later convince him to allow me to go for the training since it was free and I was at home waiting for my Senior School results to be out.
The training lasted for a week and by the end of one week, I learned how to develop mobile games using the Lua programming language. My team came up with a game — “Save Nigeria”, designed and built it from scratch and this project was nominated for an award. As the oldest in the whole boot camp then, I was nominated to go receive the award at Sheraton Abuja. This outcome spurred up my interest in tech so I started going to the hub to learn. Over time, I started learning Java/Android this lasted for some months then something happened that I left my hometown for almost two years.
Funny how I came back after two years and was still very interested in tech like I never left. So guess what I did? Yeah you guessed right, I started going to the hub again but this time without a laptop. The motherboard of my current laptop then got worse and my Dad refused to help fix it because he didn’t approve of me making a career out of tech and I was still a teen who didn’t even know much about money-making talk more of making enough to be able to even buy a laptop.
I continued going to the hub and later joined the Hotels.ng Remote Software Development Internship 3.0 without a laptop lol. If you have ever been a part of the HNG Internship you will know how intense it usually is. Every intern who does not meet up with the weekly tasks gets removed from the slack workspace and this can be so painful.
Well, I did a greater part of the internship with my phone (documentations, app testing, etc) then would always go around asking most of my colleagues then to borrow me their PC for some hours to complete my tasks. I have had about three near-rape experiences because I wanted to use someone's laptop to work lol.
I discovered UI design during the HNG 3.0 Internship during stage 2 where we were asked to design a simple portfolio page using Figma and I must say it swept me off my feet. The fact that one can sit, imagine how a product should look like, and bring it to reality by sketching and designing. This alone made me make up my mind that I was coming back to do 4.0
At the end of the internship, I still did not have a laptop, so I knew that if at all there was anything that needed to be done, it was either now or never. So I started making noise on the slack channels “if you don’t have a laptop gather under this thread let’s cry together” lol. As if I was being sent, I did this almost every day till one day Mark Essien messaged me and asked that I drop my Twitter handle. I did innocently and he helped me write a proper bio (I didn’t even know how to use Twitter before this time) next thing, he made a tweet stating that I finished the internship with my phone and still was outstanding that if anyone has a spare laptop they are not using they can give me.
OMG, I literally broke down when I saw that tweet. People started liking the comments, they retweeted, then I started getting followers, and boom over two people indicated an interest in buying me a laptop. I sincerely thought this was all a scam until I received a brand new HP core 13 8GB from one of the persons that indicated interest. The other person had to withdraw since someone had indicated interest already.
By this time, I was super pumped so I joined again as an Intern HNG 4.0 but this time as a designer.
It went well and I still graduated as one of the top interns just like the previous one. This is where I would say my career started in product design.
My journey in tech as a designer went well the initial time but then after a while, it started break dancing.
Here are 12 things that have happened to me and I wish I knew before becoming a product designer;
- At some point, you will be completely on your own
Wait a minute, did I say “on your own?” Yeah, I said what I said. You see, I have imagined this several times in the past but ended up doubting it would happen because of the way people were always here and there. At some point in my career journey, it felt like everyone I knew had completely disappeared into thin air.
Yeah, I later understood the fact that people will always grow and move. So it’s either you are growing with them or they’ll leave you behind. In my own case, everything about tech in my life happened so fast that before I could get a hold of what was happening things had changed so much that I found myself being alone, struggling, and trying to stay on track.
2. You need to belong somewhere
This worked for me in my early stage because I was always so involved in the community. From hosting events to volunteering at other events. These activities kind of helped me meet people and expand my network.
After a while, family, school, and health ish happened that I wasn’t able to keep up with everything. I stopped doing most of the things I was known for, went back into my shell, and was just there trying to do my thing on a low.
Are you in this position already or about to enter? Don’t do it. You’ll lose people and you’ll definitely lose opportunities.
3. Mentors will disappoint you
Yasss, I said what I said. Don’t get me wrong, mentors are the best thing that can happen in your tech career but you need to hold on tight and while doing that, understand that they have a life to live, their careers to build, and perhaps also looking up to someone to learn and advance in their careers.
So do not expect any mentor to come to babysit you till you grow to become a 10x designer. Sometimes it may look like they don’t have your time or are not willing to teach you but in the real sense, they are testing you to see how far you are willing to go to learn.
To get that kind of attention from a mentor, you need to put in the extra work and prove to them that asides from the money, you are also very passionate about what you are doing. I learned this the hard way, so you are welcome.
Always remember that everyone is looking out for themselves, so you need to own up your shit. Take responsibility for over 99.8%, trust me you won’t even notice when you receive an extra push from someone to help get you to 100%.
I had a mentor who would always use weird design terms when giving me tasks to work on and guess what? each time I ask, he would say “Mfonobong have you checked Google?” Initially, I used to find this very annoying like “Dude why don’t you just tell me” but then over time I realized that he was doing me the greater good by asking me to go research. Till today, I still remember more than 80% of the things he asked me to go research than the definitions he gave me.
4. Finding a Job will be a “job” on its own
First of all, I must say that anyone that survives in the tech industry as a Nigerian deserves a medal.
“As a techie, when once you master the skill, work on a few free jobs to gain experience, a company would just hire you either as an intern to continue learning or as a staff who gets to handle live projects.” Lol, big fat lie.
From my personal experience, getting a company to hire you is a whole lot of hard work. Most of them actually don’t care If you are just starting out or not. They all want to hire experienced designers who can come help build their products and are not ready to spend their resources on someone who doesn’t know what they are doing. Nowadays, nobody wants to hire an inexperienced person. So the question now is, how will they become experienced if they don’t get the opportunity to work under experienced designers to actually know what to do.
Well, that’s what you get to go through when starting out. When this happens, you need to find people/companies who will be interested in helping you grow. You may do this for a while without getting paid, after you’ve got sufficient knowledge, you can then start demanding pay.
5. You will never know enough
Yeah, there is never a right time to start work. In my opinion, there is nothing like a 10x or 20x designer. New design trends come out every day, so you cannot say you want to wait till you know enough before you start practicing. Grab the opportunities when they come, don’t ever let them slip. If you see a company that is willing to hire you even with your inexperience, grab that opportunity with all you’ve got and learn on the job.
Picking a job or task would even help you learn faster and advance in your career.
6. Work experience is key
When I worked on a few projects as an independent designer, I honestly thought I was ready to take on real-life projects in the industry.
But that wasn’t the case. The majority of the companies I applied to claimed that I did not have enough experience and therefore did not qualify to work with them. As a matter of fact, working as an intern and learning under the tutelage of senior designers became almost impossible because a few companies that accepted me wanted an onsite staff but being that I was in school, there was no way I could relocate. Because of this, no company was willing to hire me at that time. The few that were willing to bring me on board remotely needed a senior designer and unfortunately, I did not possess such skills according to them. Even with all my research and trying to self-teach myself these things, I still got rejection emails lol. So how am I supposed to get real-life experience, advance, and move to a senior role when no company wants to hire me remotely even as an intern?
7. Not all resources are good. A lot have become stale
Yup, you heard it here first. Well, maybe not your first time hearing it so I will keep this very one short.
Not all resources whether online or physical are good, most of them were done a long time ago and have become stale especially with the fact that new design trends come out every day.
So, when starting out or looking to advance in your career lookout for the ones that follow current trends.
8. It’s time-consuming
Design is time-consuming. What I mean by “time-consuming” is having to sit down in front of your laptop almost a whole day running into weeks and even months trying to figure out a solution to a problem and the best way to present it.
Sometimes, it doesn’t get as easy as you think, you may even run into series of creative blocks where you are stuck with an empty state of your mind, not knowing how to approach a problem and all. Just a quick one; if this ever happens to you take a break, go through other people’s works, do the things you enjoy, look at a lot of inspirations and then go back to your work. It has worked for me several times and who knows, it may work for you too.
9. You’ll get discouraged at some point
By the time you look at how long you have spent trying to learn to gather enough experience so you can work, to the mini-projects that may come in from time to time with very tiny winy pay you’ll probably get tired after a while and want to quit. Let’s be very real with ourselves, there is nothing like “Passionate Designer” if this is you, trust me after a while you will get tired especially if you don’t have money coming in to pick your bills. When you get to that stage, you’ll start thinking you are in the wrong field doing the wrong thing. I want you to know that this is normal, things like this will always happen and you’ll get past this. I usually call this stage “test of passion” if only that makes sense lol
10. Your parents may probably give up on your career
My Dad was never in support of me becoming a techie. He claimed it was a manly field, that I will be wasting my time and all. My Mum on the other end was always praying that whatever I want to do works out for me. I moved from Game Development to Android Development, to Technical Writing, to Software Testing, to Web Development before I finally landed in design lol. At that time I honestly did not know what I really wanted. I was always following trends and the highest paying field then would give up on the way. This happened for some time before I finally found my path in design. And I hope to nurture and advance on this skill till I become an expert. Another field I would want to explore and become good at is Illustration, UI Animation, Product Management, and Technical Writing.
11. Combining school with design is like working two full-time jobs
I rounded up my A-Level program and got into the University about the same time I got a laptop. So I had no choice but to just combine both. It got really tough at some point but later on, I was able to manage my time properly. It still affected my studies a little bit lol. After the learning stage, I started looking for a job at least a place I can intern and gain some real-life experience before I apply for a full-time or remote role if possible but guess what? Haha, you guessed right. No company was willing to accept me unless I relocate. The few that wanted a remote worker wanted someone with more experience (mid-level or a senior designer instead) At this point I really wanted to quit because what’s the point of learning a skill if I cannot earn from it.
After a while my colleagues in the hub then started referring me for gigs, I started working on them to make me some money. Sincerely that’s how I have been holding up while gaining the “so-called experience” companies won’t hire me because they claim I don’t have. I am currently doing my finals and have still not been able to get a remote job. It’s either they are saying they need a senior designer, or someone that can relocate immediately, or someone that has experience working in teams. And I do not possess that. So my product design career is a bit on the low for now while still applying to work in companies where I will be able to work with others and get that experience I don’t have at the same time currently working on passion projects to build my portfolio. Found yourself in this situation too? here's what you can do.
- Join design cohorts from emerging organizations, learn from them and gain real-life experiences.
12. Everyone has what works for them (don’t copy)
Initially, I used to think that when you see top designers, follow their works, do what they are doing, get them to mentor you that you will become almost as good as them. But I was wrong, these guys have where they belong. The communities, their clique, etc. and technically we do not have access to what they have access to because they started building theirs a long time ago. Following them slowly, while trying to build yours is key. This will help so they don’t entirely shut you out of their circle. You too can stand out in your own way and not necessarily copy what others are doing “steal like an artist” 😉
I have listed and explained all this to say that “I am not quitting Design any time soon” and that I didn’t make a mistake. This article was written for the purpose of inspiring someone out there who may be going through a very tough time in their career. Hey, it’s okay. You're not the only one. Trust me it’s just a phase and will pass soon.
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In your tech journey, did you experience anything differently? Let's discuss this in the comments section below or you can reach out via Instagram or Twitter.
Just in case you are asking, I don’t air people so please feel free to express yourself.