Convocation Feature: Ola Alsukour

June 05, 2023

Ola Alsukour graduates this week with a Bachelor of Science in Interactive Arts & Technology. After completing a degree in computer engineering and working for several years as a web developer, Ola developed an interest in the fusion of technology and creativity and decided to pursue a second degree in Interactive Arts & Technology. While exploring the diverse course offerings in SIAT, she ultimately discovered a passion for UX design.

Tell us about your time as a SIAT student.

I transitioned from a computer engineering background, where I worked as a web developer for a few years. However, I've always been intrigued by the fusion of technology and creativity. This curiosity led me to SIAT, where I pursued a second degree. During my degree, I intentionally took various courses in media arts, design, and interactive systems; even as a second-degree student, I was not required to but wanted to allow myself to explore different facets of design, ultimately igniting a deep interest in UX.

Throughout my years at SIAT, I had the luck of undertaking multiple internships and co-op placements in diverse areas within the field of UX. These experiences provided me with invaluable opportunities for growth and development. My initial co-op position was as a product designer at Peacegeeks, a remarkable non-profit organization focused on creating services and digital products to aid newcomers in British Columbia to settle and establish a fulfilling life. Subsequently, I got a year-long co-op at Samsung R&D as a UX researcher working on and supporting global projects. Most recently, I successfully completed an intensive 8-month internship at Visier, where I served as a UX designer, grappling with the complexities of an intricate analytics system.

Looking back now, I truly treasure the wide-ranging experiences I gained both within and beyond the realm of SIAT. They not only allowed me to discover previously untapped facets of myself as both a human being and a designer but also helped shape my perception of design as a transformative force.

Why did you choose SIAT for your studies?

I chose SIAT for my studies for several reasons. Firstly, as I mentioned before, I have always been deeply interested in the creative aspects of products, particularly the stages preceding the actual development of technical functionalities for products and services. I was bored with what I was doing and wanted to spend time working in a field that aligned with my passion for art and creativity where a standard eight-hour workday would no longer feel burdensome. So SIAT's focus on the intersection of technology and creativity appealed to this inherent curiosity and desire of mine.

Additionally, I was seeking a program to build upon my existing technical discipline, as I didn't want to start from scratch. SIAT provided the perfect platform to enhance my existing knowledge while exploring new avenues of creativity and design. It offered the opportunity to bridge the gap between technology and design, enabling me to develop further and refine my abilities and become a multidisciplinary designer.

Did you have a favourite SIAT course?

I really enjoyed taking IAT 431 Speculative Design and IAT 333 Interactive Design Methods with associate professor Will Odom. Will's teaching style is truly distinct, as he goes beyond surface-level feedback and encourages deep critical thinking, pushing students to explore new paths of creativity and problem-solving.

In IAT 431, we delved into tackling complex social issues and fictitious topics that demanded immense creativity and strategic thinking to address and persuade effectively. The opportunity to design for such unconventional topics was truly exceptional and rare to come across outside of the SIAT program.

In IAT 333, we worked closely with a local board game shop. During the course, Will constantly encouraged our team to think outside the box and push the boundaries to come up with unconventional solutions that met the business's needs. The collaborative nature of the projects and Will's guidance fostered a rewarding learning experience, further igniting my passion for design.

Another impactful course I took was IAT 438 User Experience Design, taught by Russell Taylor, a passionate advocate for design excellence. Russell consistently sets high standards in his courses and provides extensive mentorship to his students, supplemented by industry professionals to provide pragmatic and valuable feedback during lectures. Despite the intensity of the course, I gained invaluable insights into understanding users' needs and striking a balance with business goals.

What was the highlight of your undergraduate career?

Working on substantial projects during my co-ops, which were well-received in the real world. While there are many notable experiences, these projects stand out because they allowed me to witness the culmination of everything I had learned in SIAT. It was incredibly rewarding to see how my hard work, combined with the guidance and mentorship I received, translated into delivering high-quality work even as an intern. These moments reaffirmed my confidence in my abilities and underscored the value of the education and preparation I received at SIAT.

What did you enjoy most about the SIAT community?

The easy access to constructive critiques from fellow students and instructors, whether during lectures or as you are sitting in studios working on something. This diverse range of viewpoints and conversations always opened my eyes to new perspectives and enriched my understanding of design. Also, it is always interesting to see how each student approaches problem-solving and design in their unique way. It was really inspiring to observe the variety of approaches taken to address the same challenge in each project, and I found immense value in learning from their work processes and outcomes.

Also, the late-night talks with my teammates while working tirelessly to meet project deadlines were memorable moments for me. These adrenaline-filled conversations and collective efforts to deliver our best work created an environment of camaraderie and mutual support.

What is next on the horizon for you after graduating?

After graduating, my immediate plan is to take maternity leave as I am expecting my second child in a few weeks. During this time, my primary focus will be on taking care of myself and the newborn. Especially as the last two semesters have been particularly challenging, balancing pregnancy, internship, and coursework, so I am looking forward to this period of rest and bonding with my baby.

Looking ahead, approximately six months from now, I have plans to engage in some planned freelance work. This will allow me to stay updated with the field of design and maintain my professional skills. While taking care of my family remains my priority in the coming year, I am excited to continue my professional growth and explore new opportunities as they arise.

Any advice for incoming students considering SIAT?

I have a few pieces of advice; firstly, take advantage of the school's freedom and lack of constraints when asked to design something. View this phase as a blank canvas where you can explore and try new things without the limitations of logistics or business goals that you will need to embrace in the real world.

Also, avoid limiting yourself to a specific domain or set of skills that you are comfortable with. Take on different roles in projects; even if you don't feel initially confident, don’t always be the graphic designer or the researcher in each project; try new ones. I intentionally did that during my last two years in school also when applying to internships and this willingness to step outside my comfort zone allowed me to learn and discover more about my capabilities and helped me to be more confident about what I want to be as a designer.

Lastly, don't wait until you have the perfect portfolio or have completed specific courses to pursue opportunities outside of SIAT, such as internships or freelance work. I understand it can be challenging, and I initially fell into that trap. Still, as a student, it's crucial to remember that companies hiring interns have realistic expectations and are interested in your potential and growth. They don't expect you to know everything. So, don't hesitate to apply early and actively pursue these opportunities to maximize your time at school and gain valuable industry experience.