Academy Xi Blog

You don’t have to navigate your career alone

By Academy Xi

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Mentoring programs can greatly benefit all parties involved, presenting mentors and mentees alike with amazing opportunities to develop personally and professionally. We caught up with Designer in Residence mentor Joanna Grygierczyk to hear about  her career journey so far and the experience she’s had with being a mentor.

Q: Hi Joanna! Tell us a little about yourself and your professional background

I graduated from Design in Visual Communication at UTS with first class honours in 2012. It was my dream then to work for a brand agency (…and be ‘in’ with the cool kids). However, dreams don’t always go as planned and my first role was in a property consultancy where I had a fantastic director who encouraged my development and was supportive of my talent. 

I had the great opportunity to travel to various destinations, build brands, websitesall with the support of an external design mentor as part of my career development plan. This mentor was my champion and kept saying that “to grow you need to immerse yourself alongside other designers”.

In 2015, I landed my first role at a creative advertising agency, but I soon realised it wasn’t for me. 

After a night working on a pitch till 4am in the morning and coming in blurry eyed the next day, I thought, ‘I needed a job that energises me and something that isn’t driven by awards or egos’.

I found myself transitioning to a digital design focused agency called Canvas Group, learning how to design websites (in photoshop back then!). 

This is where I fell in love with digital and helping businesses and users navigate the digital realm. 

I landed my first role in UX/UI Design at Vodafone, which opened many doors to similar roles such as BWS where I worked on their e-commerce app. I then settled into a permanent role at Bilue – a mobile and emerging technology company, where I’ve been working on developing my breadth of knowledge in the end to end process. 

Reflecting on my journey, I couldn’t be any happier and also grateful for making the transition from graphic design to product design where I can focus on creating products that make people’s lives easier and daily interactions better.


Q: What made you want to become a mentor with Academy Xi?

I’m currently at the stage in my career where I want to mentor and develop my mentoring skills, as well as share my knowledge with others and help young designers navigate what can be a difficult landscape and industry. 

I’m also a natural empath and feel fulfilled giving advice and seeing my mentees grow and become confident practitioners. When I heard about the opportunity to participate in the Designer-in-Residence program, I thought it would be the perfect alignment to my career and personal goals. 


Q: How was the whole experience of being a mentor? 

This is my first time being part of the program and the experience so far has been really rewarding. I’ve been having regular catch ups with my mentee where we align on what the goals are and work together on what they’d like to learn. Sometimes I might prepare something before running a session, other times I give feedback on their work or just let them ask questions about what they might be concerned or confused about. 

I also like to help them from an empathic level by reminding them that Rome wasn’t built in a day and that your professional career takes time to develop. I let them know that it’s important to remind themselves that they don’t have to be an expert in their craft at this stage of their career. Making mistakes is part of what makes you a successful designer


Q: Has mentoring at Academy Xi helped you professionally or personally? 

Mentoring has definitely helped me on a professional level to build my skills in teaching, advising and communicating. It’s also a good platform for moving towards a lead role as the team grows. Personally, it has been gratifying to help others and see them be so appreciative of your advice and support. Further to this, it builds my network with other mentors and designers in my industry where we share our tips.


Q: How can one get the most out of a mentorship program?

I think to get the most out of the program it’s good to take part in the regular Designer-in-Residence catch-ups where we share our mentoring experiences and tricky situations and how to tackle these. You not only build your network, but also knowledge through a Slack channel where all the mentors share resources.

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Academy Xi Blog

Have you ever had a mentor?

By Academy Xi

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Whether it’s industry-related topics, career advice, job search, best work practices or leadership lessons, having the right mentor to bounce ideas around with can help a young professional break into a field and build a lifelong career. We chatted with Designers-in-Residence program mentor Daniel Foulds about his experience with our DiR Program and how it’s been so far. 

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Q: Hi Daniel! Tell us a bit about yourself and your design background?

I’m a UX-er currently working on Kmart Online’s new e-commerce experience. Like many of us in the field, I shifted my career trajectory from a different work stream a few years back. After formal qualifications in Graphic Art (print), I landed my first job working for a Swim/Sportswear wholesale company. From there, I held a number of product design and management roles working primarily in apparel within the street, surf & sportswear, and sporting hardgoods segments.

One of the speed humps I encountered in my professional career was being made redundant. It was a discussion with my brother-in-law who discussed with me the potential of a career switch to an emerging field with opportunities that are becoming more available. This is where the UX seed was planted. 

I got stuck into some initial thoughts and discovery about a career switch. I met and spoke with a few people. At that time, I had just gotten married and my wife and I were expecting our first child so there was a bit on my plate.  However, I fell back into what was easy and what I knew best and that was a design role at Kmart. 

Fast forward 8 years later, along with some pro-bono work, creating my own UX case studies, formal UX training, plenty of upskilling & reading, a couple of role changesplus a lot of grit and determinationI’m proud to be able to reflect on where I am today. 

Q: What made you want to become a DiR mentor at Academy Xi? 

When I first saw the post on LinkedIn relating to the DiR program, it piqued my interest. I thought, not only does it align with where I would like my professional career to be, but also an opportunity to help the next wave carve their path, which I know a little bit about. Also, one of the aspects of this industry that I’m in which I’ve always been impressed by is how giving people are with their time, knowledge, and experience. So I thought to myself, sure, I would love to throw my hat in the ring at this opportunity – an opportunity that aligns with my personal and professional values.

Q: How’s the whole mentoring experience going?

I am currently mentoring my second student! As a whole, it’s been ultra rewarding. The feeling of giving to someone to help guide them as they embark on a new professional experience is really fulfilling. 

To date I have experienced two contrasting individuals as my mentees which has kept me on my toes and given me the opportunity to think differently with how I handle our relationship, there’s definitely been some growth on a personal front. The one constant piece of advice that I would pass on is pretty simple: you really do get out what you put in and, ‘it takes two to tango’ if you will. 

This has rung true in my professional career as well. I encourage my mentees to come up with agenda points, send out the meeting invites and schedules and let me know how I can help them or ask them what is bothering them. 

I want them to know that I am here to help make a difference in their professional (and sometimes) personal journey in this industry.

Q: Any advice or anything else that you want to share to our community? 

As a mentor, an analogy I like to use is that I’m the guide rails on a bowling alley to stop the bowling ball from going down the gutter. If the ball happens to go in the gutter, that’s ok, we pick ourselves up, go again and learn from it. It might begin to sound a little cliche but I am a firm believer that persistence pays off when applied in the right manner.

One of the topics we discussed with our DiR group is that we aren’t ‘know-it-alls’ and don’t have answers to everything in our chosen fields. What we do have is depth of experience in different scenarios (and that could sometimes intersect with other industries) that can help steer, provide feedback or pose thoughts for our mentees to approach a topic perhaps from a different angle. 

In the program we have access to a massive knowledge pool via our various Slack groups and regular lunch and learn discussions and the like. I feel more than confident that if I receive a curly question or something I haven’t experienced in the past, I have a group of team mates ready to help and assist me and ultimately my mentee, who is in a really fortunate position to be in.

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