Rupneet Atwal

September 20, 2017

“I think co-op has greatly helped me reach where I am today. Courses and class presentations can only take you so far, but it will never give you the reality of what designing ‘in the real world’ is truly like.”

Fresh out of her second co-op, Rupneet Atwal discusses her time with Blackberry and the opportunity to work with a SIAT alum, all while reflecting on how SIAT has helped her get this far.

This is a two-part series with SIAT Alum, Andrew Tam. Don't forget to check out his Alumni Profile here!

Meet Rupneet

What compelled you to complete your post secondary education with SIAT?

Art-related courses were always my favourite back in high school. I knew that post-high school, I wanted to study something related to field of arts. I initially considered Computing Science and the Mechatronics programs at SFU. But after talking to my sister who knew of someone already in the SIAT, she recommended I research the program more. Instantly, I fell in love with SIAT and its interdisciplinary streams: design, media, and interactive systems. Thanks to her, that’s why I’m here today.


How was your first co-op experience? How has that been compared to your co-op at BlackBerry. Did your first co-op help prepare you?

My co-op before BlackBerry was in a completely different field in comparison, but certain experiences and the skills gained have really helped me here. My first coop term was done with a biotech company – Applied Biological Materials (ABM) in Richmond, B.C. There, I was the sole designer for the company alongside my supervisor. Since I worked alone, I had every request for anything digital come my way. Whether it was video work, 3D animation, website coding, poster design, and even print work. At first it was overwhelming, but I quickly learned how to make higher level decisions for a company as well as how to communicate my ideas to stakeholders without design backgrounds.

This greatly helped me with my time at BlackBerry. Although I worked with a designated UX team, many projects were done individually. I had to pitch my designs to the project managers and developers in a way where they could understand my reasoning for certain designs and revamps of older applications. From my old co-op, I was comfortable engaging in meetings where my designs were being discussed and communicate my thoughts in a business-like manner.


We’ve been told that you had the opportunity to work with SIAT Alum, Andrew Tam. How was your experience working with him?

Working with Andrew made my work term there amazing. When I found out Andrew was a SIAT alum, I was super excited to meet him and talk about what’s changed and what’s still the same in SIAT (#rt). Having him here felt like I had a little connection back home knowing that we had both started off from the same program and ended up in the same company. It was a cool feeling knowing that SIAT students can end up so far in the world and seeing SIAT being recognized by larger companies.

Through conversation, we realized how much we had in common! From our daily need of our Starbucks double shot to listening to Disney music on our rides home, Andrew really helped me feel at home in a new place. I knew we would get along greatly when we both came into work wearing matching floral print during my first week. From that point on, we started a BlackBerry design team custom of “Floral Fridays.” We've shared many laughs and stories together and being back in Vancouver will be tough since I know I’ve made a great friend in Toronto.

Andrew Tam (left) and Rupneet Atwal (second from left) enjoying break time with their fellow Blackberry employees.

Have there been new perspectives, skills, or knowledge that Andrew has taught you (i.e. lessons you may not have been able to learn at SFU)?

Andrew shedded light on many perspectives with working on an actual design team. The main thing he has taught me was how to be confident in my work and at the same time, to not be hard-headed in the way we designed. Designing for yourself and designing for a company is very different. Most of the time, everyone will have an opinion about your work and what they believe will make it better. Andrew taught me that you shouldn’t block out all criticism to your work, but to take it to help you develop it. In the end, you are responsible for your design. If you have a reasoning for why you designed it a certain way, make sure you can communicate that to a larger audience.

Although sometimes the way you want something to look may not be what you had initially intended, it is best to still be able to take the criticism and develop from it, rather than blocking it out.


What are some courses, skills, or side projects that you would suggest to future students who may want to do what you’re doing?

Courses focused on mobile applications. IAT 334 really helped me a lot during this process through usability testing and overall designing for mobile applications. Since BlackBerry works with Android, IAT 381 also helped me have a general understanding of the software behind the app. When speaking with developers, I had a good understanding of what they would be discussing.


Reflecting on your SIAT journey thus far, what experiences have helped you reach your current expertise?

I think co-op has greatly helped me reach where I am today. Courses and class presentations can only take you so far, but it will never give you the reality of what designing ‘in the real world’ is truly like.

Being in the working field is much different than any course you can take. You’ll feel frustrated at first when certain teams want you to scrap your designs. Or if they don’t like what you’ve produced, even if you love every aspect of it. But it will teach you how to have confidence in your work, and be able to work with differing opinions in a productive manner.


What are your current career aspirations?

Currently, I hope to go further into UI design. Luckily at Blackberry I got a healthy mix of UX and UI. Although I’m comfortable with both, I feel my skills would work better in UI. Specifically, I like working with mobile applications as well as web based designs. I also enjoy motion graphics, but I think that would more of a side hobby.


What is something fascinating about you that others may not know?

Something that only some people know is that for some reason, I have a very real and unnatural fear of large inanimate objects. I have no idea why, but I remember when I was little I couldn’t look directly up at the flagpole outside Superstore without feeling like my knees were going to give way. To this day, the very thought of looking at the giant propeller of a ship scares me to my core, but I’m working on getting over it (eventually).


This is a two-part series with SIAT Alum, Andrew Tam. Don't forget to check out his Alumni Profile here!

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