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Experiential learning helps land dream job at Instagram

June 10, 2019
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By Tessa Perkins Deneault

After completing three internships in San Francisco during his SFU interactive arts and technology degree program, Sean Leach is moving there in August to begin his career as a product designer at Instagram.

He credits the School of Interactive Arts and Technology’s strong studio culture, tight-knit student and alumni community and many experiential learning opportunities for giving him the skills and connections to make this dream job a reality.

Yet when Leach enrolled at SFU immediately after completing high school, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to study. After trying a few different courses in the School of Interactive Arts and Technology (SIAT), however, he found his passion in the design concentration.

Professors in the design program have strong connections with SIAT alumni and industry networks. This helped Leach to land valuable internships where he could put his coursework into practice.

Leach’s first two internships in San Francisco were with a small start-up company. He was the first designer they hired in 2015. He returned one year later for a second internship to discover the company had grown from 10 to 35 employees. But it was his third internship, this time at Instagram, that gave him the opportunity to network and, ultimately, land his dream job.

“I’m looking forward to the mentorship at Instagram,” says Leach. “I’ll be working with people who have been in the industry for 10 to 20 years and who have designed some of the most influential products of our time.”

Along with his internships in San Francisco, Leach also completed design field schools in the Netherlands and in Italy, where he interviewed some of the world’s top designers and architects. The field schools comprised an on-campus language and history course, then two months of travel and finally, six weeks back on campus to develop a website and compile interview findings.

“It cemented in my mind that design is what I want to do,” says Leach. “It was surreal to meet French designer Ronan Bouroullec and talk about his work. I’ve looked up to him for a long time.”

Now, he says, “I’m ready to graduate and have a change of scenery. I’m excited to work in the real world.”