AJ Panghulan

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August 16, 2016

"My youthfulness and inexperience are actually positive qualities for my team; I’m part of the next generation that I’m designing for."

From finding the right mentors, getting over the “Imposter Syndrome”, to staying on top of industry trends, AJ provides some valuable advice on how to turn your internships into bigger opportunities, like, in his case, a fulltime job.

Meet AJ

1.  How does it feel to be offered a fulltime job from what started off as an internship?

Honestly, it was pretty unexpected and also very exciting! I try my best to focus on making meaningful work, as well as fostering relationships with others, so I’m very grateful to have been given this opportunity.

2. Why do you think you were offered the fulltime position? 

I think it was a combination of many things. Being an intern at Wattpad, you’re given the opportunity to design and ship projects that are experienced by millions of people around the world everyday. For example, during my internship, I redesigned the reading experience on our web platform and introduced a new form of video advertising within our mobile application.

Going through the process and cycles of shipping features and working closely with PM’s, engineers and other stakeholders helped me develop my technical skills—and it gave me permission to make lots of mistakes, learn from them, and then apply them to future projects, which helped accelerate my skills as a designer.

3. Did you feel prepared to take the leap into your internship, and later into your fulltime position?

This was my first internship, so I had no expectations coming in. It was already a huge deal for me to move across the country for this internship, with the added pressure of starting a new job.

Looking back, I was fortunate to have such great and thoughtful mentors that really cared and believed in me as a starting designer. It’s so important as designers to surround yourself with people who inspire you and mentors who are invested in your growth—to use their experiences to help inform your own goals and aspirations.

4. What advice can you give to other students who are hoping to turn their internships into fulltime jobs?

Feel confident that the work you are doing is valued and important to the organization. This can be hard when you first start out, but your manager and other colleagues are there for support. It’s about building and strengthening your skill set and reputation for others to take notice.

For me, I had the opportunity to work on substantial projects early on that challenged what I thought I could achieve and what others thought of me. It definitely takes time, but prove to yourself and others that you can do it, and opportunities will make way for you.

Also, take time to read about what’s going on in the industry. I love learning about new things—about other designers and makers who I see as inspirations and give me new insights and perspectives on how I work day to day.

Medium, Wayswework and The Techies Project are great resources for inspiration and behind the scenes on the inner workings around the design community.

Toronto is quickly becoming a booming tech ecosystem. I think many people disregard it and look straight to the Bay Area and Silicon Valley, but they are missing out on the amazing companies and people in this city that are doing great work! The opportunities for creative minds here are endless. Visit sometime! I’m sure you’ll love it.

5. What was the biggest challenge you encountered as an intern? How did you overcome it?

It’s easy to feel the Imposter Syndrome. There were definitely moments where I felt like I had no idea what I was doing, but I’ve learned to spin it in a positive way. I try to remind myself that my youthfulness and inexperience are actually positive qualities for my team; I’m part of the next generation that I’m designing for.

6. What’s the best part about working in your position?

The cute office dogs and our monthly taco hack Fridays! I kid. But really, I get to come into work everyday doing something that I love, with talented, world class people around me. Being a product designer, you're there every step of the process, from user research, testing, prototyping, designing and QA. Also, knowing that the work I’m doing is affecting millions of people all over the world—it’s a pretty rad feeling.

7. Were there any SIAT courses and/or faculty members that helped you succeed in your internship? How so?

There are so many classes where I learned skills that help me in my day to day. The Spatial Thinking and Communicating class really helped  me to think about designing in a 3D landscape. Russell Taylor and his classes in Spatial Design and Interactive Objects and Environments were my sources of inspiration and sparked my initial curiosity into the field of product design.

Stephanie Greaves and the SIAT co-op program have supported me from the very beginning. I secured my internship through co-op, so without them, this opportunity would have never come about! The unending support and advice both career focused and my personal development have really made a huge difference and given me the confidence for these next steps in my career.

8. Tell me something about yourself that others might not know about you

I have a growing collection of independent magazine publications back home in Vancouver. My most cherished one is a Cereal Magazine limited edition cover with Agnes Martin for the Tate Modern in London. It was a very limited print run, but I was lucky enough to grab a copy. 

9. Any additional comments?

Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish!

You can always see what I’m up to on my website, Twitter or Linkedin!

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