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Academy Xi Blog

Tribe Spotlight: Marina Chelak

By Academy Xi

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This month, our Corporate & Community Programs Manager, Marina, is celebrating her 3 year anniversary working at Academy Xi. We chatted about her journey so far (and discovered she’d quite like to give diamond mining a whirl…). 

Tribe Spotlight: Marina Chelak

Hi Marina! Thanks for taking the time to chat with us today. 

First up, can you describe your role in three words?

Creator of opportunities.

Casting your mind back…do you remember your first day at Xi?

I do, actually! I especially remember my second day because it was a colleague’s birthday. The Melbourne team were discussing how to surprise him; so I decided to get some helium birthday balloons. Later that day I discovered that you have to order them in advance – I had no idea as it was my second week in Melbourne and Australia in general. I’d recently moved after living in Europe for five years.

Anyway, I spent the whole night googling and I managed to get the balloons. I was glad I could add some brightness and contribute to his birthday. On that day, I also realised how cool and caring the whole team in Melbourne was.

I remember from my first day being really impressed with the onboarding process. It was on Trello back then. It seemed so organised and fun at the same time and it made me look forward to everything else that was going to follow.

How has your job at Xi changed over the years?

This is the part I like the most about my work as my role has changed a few times. This has given me the chance to explore different areas of the business.

When I first joined Xi, I started as a Campus and Events Coordinator. I was the sidekick to our Events Manager by day and a “Campus Director” by night when we had our evening courses going on after hours.

I loved how dynamic my work was, how many interesting people I was meeting and how much I was learning from them all on a daily basis. During that role I learnt how to own whatever I was doing and to never diminish the value of even the smallest tasks, because it’s all those small details which make great experiences.

I am grateful for my team making me think about my work this way back then. I’ve lived and breathed that insight throughout my work since.

A few months into the Campus and Events role, I transitioned over to being the Events Producer after the opportunity to step up became available. It was hard farewelling my Manager, as I felt like I still had so much to learn from him, but this was also when the Melbourne team came to support me the most. Thanks to them, I was able to continue growing our community through a variety of multiple events and meetups, bringing together people willing to share and learn from each other. 

After a year and half working with events, I had a big change and moved over to our (then) newly established B2B team. I was working with an audience that was new to me – corporate. 

Always open to a new challenge and adventure, I happily jumped into it and I’ve learnt heaps of new skills including business development and how to run online events.

Despite having a great team and manager, I realised how much I was missing the presence of community in my life and that it was in fact what I’ve been so passionate about all this time.

Luckily at Xi people usually get recognised for their interests and they end up where they truly belong. That’s how I made the move into my current role as Community Programs Manager, where I run our community-based In-Residence mentoring program, connecting our students with experts. This supports them to a faster transition into their new industry.

You’ve had quite the journey so far! How did you first learn about Academy Xi?

I started looking for a job in Australia when I was still in Europe. I applied for a role at Academy Xi before even moving here. At the time I’d never heard about Xi – I just found the job ad quite catchy! 

Back then I was looking for work in both tourism and event industries, but I was very keen to work in a start-up.

Two days after arriving in Melbourne from Europe, I had my interview with Academy Xi. I remember I was very jet-lagged but it was the best job interview I’d ever had.

How do you balance your career at Xi and your personal life?

There were times when my work at Xi was my focus – but I loved it because I was in a stage of accelerated growth and learning. I was very excited about having what I had professionally. 

With time, as my priorities in life started changing, I felt more work-life balance in my day to day. I’ve felt that there has always been an option for having that balance – it’s really about how you choose to approach it, how you want that work-life ratio to be.

However, I’ve been so lucky to work with people who I consider my friends that at the end, the border between personal life and work becomes blurred anyway.

How has Xi helped you in your career development?

Xi has always been a place where I could experiment – where I could try without being too afraid to fail. The experiences I’ve had have helped me to discover where I stand in terms of my skills, passion and capabilities. 

Since the first day I’ve had the freedom to do the work my way and when needed, I’ve always had the support of my team. Having such great conditions for applying my creativity, while at the same time having the feeling of safety and support, has definitely been a catalyst for my career growth and development at Academy Xi.

It’s important to emphasise that when I say Academy Xi, I mean people who I’ve worked with in the company. You know the saying that you’re the average of people who you’re surrounded with. Well, my average has grown tremendously after I joined the team and I continue to learn from them every single day.  

If you could job swap with anyone else within Academy Xi, whose role would you want?

If you’d asked me this question a year ago, I could’ve given you a more interesting answer, but at the moment, I am very much in the place I want to be.

However, our Product team does some fascinating things, the way they build our courses. I believe my curiosity would like to explore what it’s like to be a Learning Designer for a day.

What is your proudest accomplishment or moment here at Academy Xi? Or favourite project?

All smiles at the International Women's Day Event in Melbourne, hosted by Stone and Chalk
All smiles at the International Women's Day Event in Melbourne, hosted by Stone and Chalk

Throughout the last three years, I’ve had a few projects and accomplishments that I am proud of. 

One of them is Pitch X Night – a pitching competition for the startups, which was born before I stepped into the role, but I was able to revive it together with the other two amazing Melbourne communities: YBF Ventures and The Silicon Beach. This event involved way more stakeholders and elements than any other Xi event and it’s preparation took at least 2-3 months.

The complexity of it and the impact it had on the lives of the entrepreneurs who were just at the beginning of their start up journey at the time was what made it special to me. Among the winners were some startups that are still on the market now and some of them are quite successful. The ideas that the Pitch X Night and the prizes that the winners received played at least a small part in their success today makes me proud and happy!

Of course, I can’t stop myself from speaking about the current In-Residence Program that I run – this is my favourite project so far. It’s the program I’ve been involved in from the very beginning and I’d love to grow further. Working with incredible people, creating opportunities for their growth, development, showing them that they can make a huge impact on other people’s lives and in the industry they work in, is what gives purpose to my own work. 

Before working at Academy Xi, what was the most unusual or interesting job you ever had?

While studying at Uni in Russia, I had a part-time job as a Mechanical Computer Engineer. I was the only female in the team of men that built personal computer system units and tested them before sending them to the retail shop. 

Marina – you’re on the homestretch now. Some quickfire questions to end our time with you today!

Embarrassing work moments?

I have a really bad memory, but I believe that if I had a really embarrassing moment at work, my colleagues wouldn’t allow me to forget it!

If Hollywood made a movie about your life, who would you like to see cast as you?

Helena Bonham Carter

If you could do another job for just one day, what would it be?

Diamond miner

Motto or personal mantra?

Work smart, not hard

Tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.

I worked as an accountant for 4 years

You’re happiest when?

When I do what I like, be it traveling, enjoying delicious food together with friends, working on a project I’m passionate about or getting myself into another new hobby!

Student Spotlight: Yuka Mochizuki

Academy Xi Blog

Student Spotlight: Yuka Mochizuki

By Academy Xi

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Current UX UI Transform student, Yuka, managed to land herself a coveted role with Westpac before even completing her studies. We had a chat to discover more about her journey in the world of User Experience Design.

Student Spotlight: Yuka Mochizuki

Hi Yuka. How much longer have you got to go with your studies?

I’m over half way now in the full-time UX UI Design Transform course with Hayden Peters. I think I have about a month to go.

And you’ve already landed yourself a great job!

Yes, at Westpac. My job title is Service Designer, but it’s a mix of UX, UI, CX and service design. I’m currently working on youth banking. The UX UI Transform course has definitely given me the experience of what an end-to-end project is like. Now being in the workplace I’m learning how to apply it to the job at hand. The scale of the projects I’m working on is huge, but the training has provided me with a strong foundation. Unfortunately because of COVID I haven’t actually been into the office yet.

Hopefully that changes soon. Can you tell us a bit about life before Xi?

I was a university student – I graduated with a Bachelor of Design from UNSW in January this year (2021), majoring in Graphic Design. There was an interaction subject offered during my last year and I thought I’d just give it a try – it was something new. The process was interesting and really different from graphic or fashion design, where you’re given a brief and you do it. 

I was working as a junior print and graphic designer at my local printing shop while I studied and once I had graduated I felt like I was wasting my time. I wanted to advance further into my design career, but I didn’t know how to do it. I needed to do something to make that career shift happen. 

I looked online to see what was available training wise. Initially I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I thought about the interaction course I had done at uni that I really enjoyed, so I thought maybe I could try UX UI Design. 

How did you arrive at choosing Academy Xi for your training?

I decided to go with UX UI Transform at Academy Xi because I had a few friends who recommended this course specifically. I thought you know what, I’m just going to go with it. And here I am now studying – it has been great.

How have you found your training so far? Any highlights?

I was talking to the friends who recommended the course – the first of my friends is now a Product Designer, the course worked well for her and she spoke very highly of her instructor, Hayden. Another friend was doing the same course, part-time.  We were discussing the importance of teachers when you’re training in anything and how you want to have someone who is truly passionate about what they’re teaching – and the difference their enthusiasm can make to your experience. 

So I decided to go for the full-time option and off my friend’s recommendation I wanted to have Hayden as my instructor. I didn’t want to go part-time, I’d already spent three years at university doing my bachelor’s, I was ready to just get into it. 

“I went in with high expectations, which were all met. I totally understand why people recommend this course, and in particular, Hayden.”  – Yuka Mochizuki

With the first project taking place over seven weeks, we were learning about the design process as we were doing the actual assessment, and it has been really helpful. It refreshed my memory and validated a lot of things for me.

How did the job come about while studying?

With the graphic design industry it can be pretty frustrating because there are often roles pitched as ‘junior’ requiring more than two years of experience or skills that aren’t graphic design, like video editing or marketing or social media. I found it really hard to land anything in graphic design because of that. I didn’t want to be the person who did a million things. That’s not what I trained in.

I had been actively looking for jobs for the past two years, while I was studying graphic design at university and working at the print shop. I was searching on all the job sites and LinkedIn, I had all the email notifications set up. I’ve been proactive.

The Westpac role I landed was through Hatch. Each week they load new jobs, you answer some questions and do a small video of yourself. 

Did the training you completed help you land the Westpac job?

Yes, it was a major factor – it absolutely enabled me to get the job with Westpac. When I did the interview with them, I was about 75% through my first project – which was a mobile app for sustainability and recycling and featured a smart bin. 

I was prepared to answer standard interview questions, but the interviewer asked me to walk her through a digital project that I loved. So I was able to use my project. I took her through my work and discussed my design process, explaining that it was not yet complete, but that didn’t matter – she was really impressed with it. 

After a few days she put me in touch with others in her team that whoever would be successful in the interview process would be working with, so I got to talk with them as well. I feel that if it hadn’t been for this project within the UX UI Design Transform course, that I wouldn’t have been able to get the job. It gave me the chance to clearly demonstrate my skills and understanding of the full design process. 

Are you working with any mentors?

I have been paired with a mentor, Vikas Bhutani, through Academy Xi’s Designer-In-Residence program. He’s the CX UX Lead at Kmart and having him as a mentor is great. If I have any questions I note them down and take them to him. And since last year I have a mentor from Canva, as well as Hayden

Any other areas of study that interest you?

I think psychology. Being able to understand people and work with them in general. There are times when it’s really difficult to work with people – having that background would help. My dad’s studying it, so we have chats about different things.

Coming from three different backgrounds, I’m interested to know how culture could impact UX UI. I want to learn different things that can be added to my training.

I have the ambition to learn design outside of Australia too – places like New York or Amsterdam, or even Japan. Different cultures. Once everything is safer and we can travel again and I have a few years of experience, I might delve into that.

Once this course ends I might sign up as a mentor with Academy Xi.

Best of luck with your new role and the rest of your studies, Yuka! We hope you can get into the Westpac office soon (at the time of writing, Sydney was in extended lockdown).

I really find it beneficial – having someone there to guide me, especially if I don’t know how to do a certain thing. They give tips and ideas that you might not have heard of before. 

Academy Xi Blog

Student Spotlight: Berlin Liew

By Academy Xi

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Being introduced to UX design was a defining moment for Berlin; one that changed her career path and set her on a journey of self discovery. Berlin spoke with us about her experience studying UX Design and her ongoing passion for mentoring.

What was happening in your life before Xi?

I worked in digital advertising as a media buyer for 6-7 years. A manager from a previous life had met up with the user experience design team at AGL and she got in touch with me as she thought that I would really like the industry. She said ‘I think it lends itself as a discipline to your skills and if you haven’t already looked into it, I really think that you should’. And for me that sparked a whole journey of self discovery and finding out what UX was – at that point I didn’t know anything about it. It was just an acronym to me. So that’s how it started.

I studied UX Elevate in 2018.

UX is just an acronym for many people. In your own words, how would you describe UX?

I haven’t quite nailed it yet, which I think speaks for itself. There’s not one definition of what UX is and it depends on who I am speaking to as to how much I break it down, but a go to description of what it is: ‘helping digital experiences feel less clunky, more user-friendly and intuitive based on the customers’ needs, but also balancing what the business’ needs are and what tech can build’

I think that’s the best explanation I can give – otherwise it can lend itself to terms that the public may not understand. I don’t think my definition is perfect, but I think it can explain to others what I do.

Can you tell us about your experience of studying at Xi?

I completed my training in-house in Melbourne part-time, with classes twice a week after work. It was sometimes pretty tough balancing study and working full time. I was working at an agency back then, servicing NAB as our client, that alone was quite time-consuming. I was very busy so it was challenging and I did my work on weekends. 

The more I studied UX, the more I fell in love with it and I soon had the goal to switch careers into the UX field. I pushed myself to work harder to achieve that outcome for myself. Regardless of how busy work got, I found the time to make the balance between study and my job work out. It was an intense few months for me because I couldn’t let the ball drop at work and I really didn’t want to waste the Xi opportunity either.

Did the training enable you to achieve your goal?

Yes, but not at my existing workplace. In advertising as a media planner and buyer, it’s very numerical and quantitative. That environment is a great training ground for spotting trends, data analytics and stakeholder management, all of which I took on board when I moved into UX. What the course taught me was how to dig in deep to understand user needs, pain points, and then communicating that to a wider business. More of a customer focus. So the qualitative side of research and how you can translate it to any product or service you might be building. That mindset, I found, wasn’t always aligned in the advertising space. I felt if I wanted to switch careers into UX I would need to work elsewhere to make that happen.

The course helped solidify terminology, the process, and it exposed me to a lot of thinking that I perhaps wouldn’t have gathered on my own. That’s my learning style – I like being guided and I love the classroom experience when you don’t know anything about the topic. I loved studying UX, big time.

What did you do after your training?

About 5-6 months after finishing my course, I left the agency and then moved over to work in-house with NAB as an Experience Designer. They were one of the only companies at the time in 2018 that were hiring juniors, or people with less than two years’ experience in UX, so I jumped at the chance. Those opportunities were hard to come by then, they were very scarce in 2018. It just so happened I was familiar with them from my previous work.

Did you feel the training at Xi enabled that to happen?

I used what I learned in the training to get through the interview process. NAB asked for a design challenge to be completed. Had I not done the training, I’m honestly not sure I could have responded to that design brief. I basically had to reflect on what I had learnt and put it into a real-life context in this interview process. 

I didn’t have specific UX experience, but I could show that I was passionate and my existing skills transferred well with my training. I interviewed that morning and got a call that afternoon to learn I had landed the job. I think it was one of the best days of my life. It was such a tough transition, but I did it. Really the start of a whole new journey.

Where are you working now?

I was at NAB for about 8 months, then I left for a Telecommunications company called Belong. An opportunity opened up there and it was too good to pass on. Despite me moving companies, I left on good terms with my team at NAB. I stayed at Belong for a year and a half, and then moved onto Xero, which is where I’m at now as a Product Designer.

Was there a particular training highlight for you at Xi?

I was one of the earlier intakes of students for UX training. Back then, I think I was most excited by what I was learning. It was a whole space that was new to me. It opened my mind to a totally new way of looking at problems. The course content was delivered in a way that was consumable, it wasn’t too overwhelming and I truly loved it. I lapped it up! 

How did you find changing careers?

I think changing careers can be a very vulnerable time. It’s hard to explain or describe to someone. It can be a scary feeling to look at what you do and realise it’s not what you want and to make that call to change it. For those who define a lot of their identity with their work particularly that can be quite confronting. Taking a course is an investment, with no guarantee of what that will provide.

Xi provided great support during that transition, as did the mentors that I had while I was studying. I still keep in touch with them today, in fact I spoke to mine just a few days ago. This experience encouraged me to become a mentor myself.

Can you tell us about your mentoring experience?

About 6 months after I completed my training and was working in-house with NAB, I received a request to mentor for the same UX Design Elevate course at Xi. It was one of three mentoring experiences I had with Academy Xi. I think mentoring is really powerful. I’m still in touch with the first course I mentored, we got together for dinner recently. 

How has mentoring benefited you?

Mentoring challenges me to be extremely self-aware of what my own philosophy and opinions are. It encourages me to ask myself how I want to grow the next generation of designers, and consider what I did not have when I was breaking into the industry and what could be beneficial to others. I have been a part of the Xi Designer-in-Residence program since it started. I’m currently taking a break to give other budding designers an opportunity to mentor – I highly recommend it.

Looking at your career now, what aspect do you most enjoy?

I studied linguistics at uni and loved it – the study of language and how it works in society. I was told that if I wanted a career in this back in 2012 that it would have to be in academia and I didn’t want to work in academia. It’s very niche. Or I could do a masters in speech pathology; I didn’t want that either. 

The milestone for me during the study at Xi were the weeks where we looked into research to understand the benefits of talking to customers – actual interactions to discover their needs, wants and pain points and then translating that into something that you can use. That was similar to what I did in linguistics. Going out into the field, collating your findings, and writing your recommendations. It was an amazing moment for me because I could see that those same skills, that I had learned and loved, could be applied in a commercial sense. It was really exciting. 

I had filed that in my mind as something from my past that couldn’t be applied to a business setting. And now I can and I love that. A big moment of self-actualization that something I love could be a big part of what I do for a living. 

What would you say to anyone considering a career change into UX?

I would first ask myself:

  • What are the reasons for pursuing the change? 
  • What draws you into UX?

You need to listen to your own needs, not just jump because it’s a thriving industry or area to work in. Then you need to figure out how you want to get there. If you’re already working in-house, what are the chances you can explore UX within your organisation? Look for opportunities for a secondment or to shadow someone in the UX team. 

For those who don’t have the chance to explore in-house options, training with Academy Xi  is a great way to get the support and knowledge you need to be great in the job.

That place that I worked at at the time (in the agency) didn’t have an experienced design team. Because self-learning isn’t my strong suit, I knew that I’d benefit strongly from structured learning. Hence the course suited me very well. A pro of doing a course is that it is structured: there is a flow and you’re not always trying to work out what you need to learn next.

What is even better than the content at Academy Xi is their community. Xi strongly believes in support, so they’ve created the Designers-in-Residence program for that purpose, to connect full-time students to mentors. There’s also the alumni community, where you can connect with Xi alumni in the industry. That’s a huge factor with doing a course – getting access to those networks.

“I think what Xi offers as an education institution is amazing. I think they’re very attuned to the current needs and pain points of students and it is forever evolving based on that. To make a career change takes a big commitment, it’s not just about choosing the right training – you have to make sacrifices and it’s hard work. If you’re ready to do just that, I highly recommend Academy Xi.”- Berlin Liew

Academy Xi: Client Success Stories

Department of Health – Digital Workforce Transformation

By Academy Xi

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The challenge: Train a team of health policy professionals within the Australian Department of Health in digital and design disciplines, preparing them to launch and lead a new digital hub.

The outcome: The team participated in Academy Xi’s flagship project-based training program, which combines live instructor sessions and deep online learning content with real project delivery over a 12 week period. The program gave the team the knowledge, tools and confidence to embrace their new roles and launch the new digital health hub.

“I'd had limited exposure to these techniques in the past, although I had heard a lot about them, it was good to get some practical examples and play with the concepts.”

- Program participant, The Department of Health

The program kicked off with our 1-day intro to digital and intro to human-centred design courses. These engaging, fast-paced sessions provided a high-level overview of the topics to be covered.

The team then received a brief for the project they would be delivering back into the business. Based on this input, their dedicated instructor helped them prepare and run a kickoff meeting with their internal client.

Following the client kickoff, the team was given access to their own customised learning platform, which contained deep multimedia content covering the disciplines of digital design. The next 10 weeks were spent in a learn/do cadence: which included regular live theory sessions, self-paced online learning, and project work done in online collaboration tool Miro Board. The program culminated in a project presentation delivered to the internal client, and deliverables handover.

Key outputs:

  • Prepared the team to consult on design and digital projects
  • Embedded learnings through real project work
  • Gave participants a shared language and knowledge base to work from
  • Used multiple training formats to engage all types of learners
  • Instilled a learning mindset that has led to further training across the organisation