Zhenya: I think that your previous background is definitely valuable, even though it was with another, like industry or country or like a different language, it doesn't really matter. You still had those experiences and you still have that skill set that you can, you know you just need to adjust it to this new environment. And yes, it takes time, but eventually it'll work out.
Dianne: Hello everyone. Welcome to Pixelated Perfect. Today I have a very special guest, Zhenya, why don't you pronounce your name for everyone too? Because I wanna make sure that I'm pronouncing it correctly.
Zhenya: Oh, thank you so much. You're actually pronouncing it perfect. So it's Zhenya the same as you just pronounced it. <Laugh>. Thank you.
Dianne: Perfect. Okay. I love it. I love it. So Zhenya, we are going to talk a little bit about you. And right now you are an experienced designer at Adobe Express, which is awesome. Excited to dive in deeper there. You also are actively mentoring, and right now you are a mentor on ADP list. We've had many people on the podcast also from the ADP list, so we love chatting with mentors from the ADP list. You have a background in marketing and then you made this career switch and into product design which is super fascinating. And I know there's a lot of listeners out there that probably are excited to hear a little bit more about your story. And I know another big thing is that you are a self-taught designer, so you don't have a degree anywhere. You picked it up, you obviously found your niche and you're, you're killing it. So thank you so much for being here.
Zhenya: Thank you so much for having me here. I'm super excited to be here. Yay.
Dianne: Awesome. So with a lot of these podcasts, I usually start with the same question and I really love diving deeper. So this is, especially knowing your career switcher I think this will be interesting. So my question to you is, when did design come into your life?
Zhenya: Yeah, that's a good question. I think it actually came pretty early in my life. So I went to an art school for children back in Russia, and I started for I think like five years. So from the age like 10 to 15. And then it was a more, I would say, safer career journey to pursue something in like economics or marketing or finance. So I discovered marketing and I graduated. I have a master's in marketing and I've been working in this field for years, but I always had this thought about like, maybe someday I will do something to jump into design. And I work with designers a lot, especially when I was in like 10 companies. I was so fascinated to see what product designers do and how they collaborate with engineers, with product owners, with marketing managers too.
Zhenya: And so that actually was a starting point for me when I moved from Russia to the United States in 2017, I started to like to pick up some articles or YouTube videos, like YouTube tutorials to basic, basically to familiarize myself with this whole product design world. But I did not make, you know, very active movements towards that goal. So that happened in 2020 when the pandemic hit, and I was working from home as a marketing manager at the agency back then. And I think I was able to spend more and more time learning about design, like trying to do something myself in Figma and other tools. And I immediately liked what I was drawn to, and I just decided that I need to like, teach myself to do it right? Like from the very first research phase to the very, you know, executional part.
Zhenya: So I just decided to create this like a student project for myself. And that was the app for finding a veterinarian for your pet. So it's kind of like, like Zog doc, but for, for pet parents. And I just like did the whole, you know, past. So I talked with my friends who like having cats or dogs to like to discover their pain points with this, like, specific subject and then analyze the competitors and how this problem is like has been solved back then. And then like I did the whole process of sketching and ideation and with this amazing resource, which is YouTube, I learned a ton of different things about how to work in the software. So like from that I created this like first project that later I showcased in my portfolio. And even when interviewing at Adobe, even though I had already like some other projects in my portfolio, I still I always show this one because even though it's not perfect in any like way I feel that it's kinda, it was like an ideal playground for me and I still cherish that experience and I see some things that I would have done differently right now, but still I'm kind of excited about that first project.
Dianne: Oh my gosh, I love that. Okay, so many things from that that I wanna talk about. That's great. So I guess one of my first questions is kind of you going from marketing to design. Are there, are there things from your marketing career and background that you picked up and can use in, in product design and what, what are maybe some of those?
Zhenya: Oh my God, absolutely. I'm actually excited that I have this background because like being able to work with metrics, being able to work with different product and marketing KPIs and understand how design can, can solve those, that's really super helpful. And to be honest, I feel that product design is still such a young field and there are a ton of like different designers with all of their different experiences and backgrounds degrees or no degrees at all. So each way and each path is quite unique to it. So you think that like being able to work in marketing and mastering the storytelling part of it and like being close to the numbers and analytics, I think that's definitely helpful. Like right now I like better at articulating my design decisions and like to collaborate better with product owners, like product marketing managers and engineers as well. So I do cherish this background. I think that's super helpful right now.
Dianne: Yeah, no, I love that answer. And you know, I totally agree. I think there's my, so I went to school for graphic design, turned into product design, all those things. And I think something that I never really grasped until much later in my career was like the communication skill, how to communicate and understand people outside of design. And I think that's such an important skill set that they don't teach designers and you have to actually learn it and experience it in a different capacity as a marketer. And so I, the fact that you can bring that in is like a game changer and that's, that's really awesome. And I yeah, totally value that skillset that you're able to learn.
Zhenya: Agree. Yeah. That's super helpful. Yeah, <laugh>,
Dianne: Yeah, yeah, like way helpful, like knowing KPIs and numbers. I feel like designers are like, oh, that's not important to us, but it's so important to, designers have to know all of these things. They have to understand the business and be able to communicate to stakeholders how their decisions are making a difference to the company. So yes, I love That's,
Zhenya: That's great.
Dianne: And so about your, your kind of story of getting into design is being self-taught. So the 2020 pandemic, a lot of people did make the pivot and some did bootcamp, some went back to school. So what was your, what was your decision to decide to do it on your own and be self-taught?
Zhenya: Yeah, that's a good question. I consider different paths as well. I consider it going back to school or doing some bootcamp or like having this self-taught option as well. So like I think there is no, you know, like only right way to do this career switch. So again, like each pathway is unique to product design. And so for me, I understood that I already had years of experience working in tech, with product managers, with designers. And I think I had a lot of soft skills and just the whole understanding of the product roadmap. So I did not think that it will be you know, like valuable for me to go back to school for a couple of years because I, I thought that I can like work on that experience that I already had and just like teach myself some like hard skills that I did not have back then.
Zhenya: So like essentially how to like work in like Figma and other instruments. So that was like my initial goal. And I think that I know that a lot of like designers went through bootcamps and I think that's a really great opportunity to learn the whole product design process as well. And so I definitely considered that, but after like researching and like reviewing their like schedule and everything, I like immediately learned that like probably I will need like only maybe 15% of that like whole bootcamp agenda. So I do not need to like everything, I need only specific things. And so I just listed them and started to like to learn very practical things. And that's why YouTube bought my main instrument to learn because YouTube is amazing. So I don't know, like for, for everything.
Zhenya: So like right now having this experience of being self-taught it's actually super helpful to tackle every challenge in life as well. So if I do not know how to do something, I can go and research and watch a YouTube video or go to Medium and read an article about something new. And that's super helpful. So for me, that was, I think, the optimal way. I will not say that this was like the only way for me, I think I might have been like pick a grad school and would be super happy to spend those intense couple of years completely focused on education. That would be wonderful too. Or choosing a bootcamp that's wonderful. Opportunity as well. So I just picked this and like this way and I'm really, I'm, I'm really happy that I did and I think it kind of worked out.
Dianne: Yes, yes. Oh, thank you for all that information. I think what's really interesting about what you said was that you kind of assessed your skillset and you took a step back. You're like, where am I in my career and what do I need? And you recognized that a lot of those skills you already had and what we were talking about, the skills, how they transferred from marketing to design. So like you felt like you wouldn't be able, you wouldn't get as much out of maybe a full course because of what you already knew. And so you focused on the skills that you needed and that's what you learned. And yeah, YouTube. And I also think what's really interesting about what you said is how you can apply these self-taught skills and how you did that to like many parts of your life, not just design. And I think that's definitely super interesting today. And maybe my question to you is like the design field changing at it, it's always changed a lot, but right now it's like insane <laugh>.
Dianne: Many new technologies, ai, like everything, like that's coming out right now. So I feel like how, how, I guess my question is, I'm trying to think of my question. How do you feel like your self-taught skills and how to learn is helping you today?
Zhenya: Yeah, that's a really great question and I completely agree that like nowadays the industry is moving super fast and you need to be aware of all of the trends that are happening right now. And I think I use the same approach for my daily work. So if I do not like, know something about the project that I'm currently working on, I can go and read and research or watch a video. So sometimes it can be like very small, you know, tactical things that I do not understand in the software. And then you go to YouTube or other sources and you have a ton of valuable information and you can, you know, like to do it right away. So I think like nowadays, and that might like also change the course of like the whole educational system because like if you have this like skill of how to like learn of how to teach yourself things, I think you can basically master any like discipline or like any like lend any job you want because like, for example getting through the interview process, I think that's a skill as well.
Zhenya: And so I spent a ton of time mastering that skill. So my first interviews were terrible because I did not know how to present myself. And so I did spend, you know, a time to like master that. So I think I'm now using the same approach for literally anything. Like I can use this for my hobbies like oil painting or tennis or something like that, or like cooking. So in any field of life, I think that's really helpful to learn how to teach yourself.
Dianne: Yes. Ah, that was great. <Laugh> everything you said was great. Yeah, I think it's like, it's like education is more accessible, right? Like all you need is the internet and like you could learn anything. There's no reason you can't, there's no blockers, which is awesome. Which is a really amazing thing that we have today. So, yes. Yeah. That's wonderful. Okay, so one of my last questions about your kind of intro is this, this case study, this project that you worked on. I have questions about how you presented it in your current position, because I think that's really interesting and I think maybe it's like you did this project on your own, which first I encourage everyone. That's what I tell, like designers trying to get out there, like just work on a personal project, like learn, that's it. And it sounds like that's what you did and you were able to learn everything, but I love that you still use it today. And so how did you present, you talked a little bit about where you are, what you would do differently now or kind of like looking back, but I, I'm just curious that was, that's interesting that you able, you're able to still kind of reference that specific project today.
Zhenya: Yeah, that's a good question. So I usually, like when I do a portfolio presentation, I have like a couple of real projects that I did for the real company. And also I always mentioned this like a passion project or student project and I'm very open about like this project being my first project and that it's not, you know, it was not associated with any like a client or something like that. So I'm just like openly telling them that this was my playground. So that's how I learned. And I also have, I make sure I have like a couple of minutes to address some of the things that I would have done differently right now based on my real work experience. And I know that like the design process in real life is not that straightforward or simple, you know, as it is reflected in my student work because I definitely did not have any obstacles. I did not have any limitations like work or like time or like engineering resources to actually execute those or like the real work problem. So I'm really open to talk about that, that I know that like this is an ideal project that I did. And definitely like in real life things are never going to be the way like you envision them and that's totally okay. So you need to adapt to all of the things that come across.
Dianne: Yeah, totally. And I think it says a lot. I feel like presenting this, this project, this passion project also gives them an insight into you as a person. So being self-taught obviously is something that's important that you can talk about. And just kind of like showcasing like things personally, which I think a lot of times people in going into interviews don't do. It's like, it's like they don't show their personality as much and I think that's really mm-hmm. <Affirmative> a big thing that people look for in interviews is like a culture fit, which is outside of just the work they do. So
Zhenya: Absolutely agree. I think it's really okay to show your vulnerability that you are not an expert in any single thing. So when I interviewed, I always mentioned that I still like to consider myself on this learning path. So I still learn a ton about visual design because I do not have this degree or background. So I have this background in marketing, which is super helpful, but I'm still willing to learn more and sometimes I do not feel very comfortable in the visual design part of product design. And like, that's why I'm still, you know, trying to teach myself more and more about this specific area that I still like to see the potential for my professional growth.
Dianne: Yes, yes. Love it. Yeah, totally. And I think that's important to show your vulnerabilities and to say, I wanna continue to grow that says so much about you. So that's great. So I guess kind of like a segue question for you is kind of starting from this 2020 journey, you becoming a product designer to today where you are an experienced designer at Adobe Trust. So what is that? What does it mean by experience designer specifically and like what is your, how have you evolved since kind of from where you were to where you are today?
Zhenya: Yeah, absolutely. So 2020, that was like the year that changed a lot of things obviously. And so back at that time I joined a startup and that was really helpful for me to join this very early stage startup where I can, you know, bring both my marketing background and new product design skill set. And I helped them with pretty basic things at first. So they they did have their lead product designer, and so I helped him a lot and like, to be honest, he was like my like mentor and like he was so helpful. And that was a really like great opportunity for me to learn like how the product design is really like set up in this like startup environment where a lot of things are not like perfect, you know, in terms of like the pro processes, like the it's very like fast paced.
Zhenya: So that was a great challenge for me to tackle. And so like at first I started with some, like somewhere in between like marketing and design. So I helped with presentations, like pitch decks or banners or landing pages. And then eventually I like to pick up some of their more product design tasks and I tackle them. And I constantly was in communication with the lead designer like slash my mentor, and that helped a lot as well. So I've been there for a year and a half before joining Adobe. And I think that like being at a startup, it, it, it has, it's like good parts and bad parts, obviously. Like the good part is that you have the ability to try yourself, like your experience in a lot of like different things so you can help with all of the different things because like usually there are so many like projects and tasks, like the backlog is huge, so you can just go out there and like try your best to like deliver as soon as possible.
Zhenya: And that is a good like school life thing of life and like work as well like being able to deliver in such, you know, like limited resources. It's definitely helpful and I like going forward to Adobe. I think actually my experience in marketing and in, in a startup that actually helped me to lend this job because I work in a growth team. So I'm a growth designer and so this is quite a new field I would say in product design, like the growth design itself. And it's kind of like a combination between like all of the different things. So you launch the experiments you like, see how they perform and then you like to collaborate with others like teammates to make sure that like those learnings are you know, like sadness, this like project to success and like help users to tackle some challenges that they currently have. So that, like, that was a really interesting path from like a startup to being a growth designer in a larger company.
Dianne: Yeah. Oh my gosh, thank you for all of that knowledge and like walking us through that was super interesting. And I feel like I guess what's interesting from what you said is you're kind of in, you're in like a startup within a large company, right? Because you are gross, you are still, it sounds like doing little experiments and putting stuff out there and seeing what happens. And then I'm not sure this is what you do. I don't know if it's like, once it feels like it does momentum, you hand it off to another team but it does kind of feel like you're still in a little bit of a startup world, which sounds like that was really helpful for you to get the job because of your experience coming from that space.
Zhenya: Exactly. I think that it's actually like one of the most interesting things in the industry is that your own unique experience can be super helpful for this very unique position. So like, to be honest, when I was interviewing, I interviewed with different companies and I got a ton of rejection because I did not really like their perfect match and that's totally fine. And like I think with what my current role is, it was just a great combination of my skill set, my past experience, which is kind of unusual and also like with goals and like requirements for this specific role. So it's kind of matched and that's the best part. So that's why I am like encouraging other designers to dig like deeper into their like background, their, like personality, all of the things that matter to them, how they might you know, like present themselves as like this unique personality, like with this unique skill set and background because I am definitely sure that one like company would be very, you know, thrilled to, to have as like specifically you in their team.
Zhenya: So that's a perfect match. <Laugh>?
Dianne: Yes. Oh my gosh, yes. Yes. I, I think that coming in, I think that knowing who you are and what you want and feeling confident, and also we talked about sharing that passion and like mm-hmm. <Affirmative> a little bit more about you is really important. And it sounds like that's what you're, you're doing, you're encouraging designers to be themselves, to maybe dive deep and understand who they are, what they want, and if they're rejected, there's many factors involved in it and it, it's like it wasn't that perfect fit or maybe it wasn't. That means you have to learn and grow and get better at presenting and interviewing. Like, there's just so many things you can take away from that experience.
Zhenya: Absolutely agree. Yeah. 100% <laugh>.
Dianne: So this is, so we're talking about a little bit, I think we started talking about how you help other designers and so you're a mentor right now, you're mentoring at ADP list. And so what made you want to become a mentor?
Zhenya: Oh, that's a good question. I think like I mentored before in like my like marketing role as well, and I always like felt this like need to, to help other people and not only like career-wise, like I'm an immigrant and so like for me, this like path was kind of like challenging, you know, to learn a lot about like new country, new culture, like language and all of the things that comes with it. And so I like do like mentor people, not like only for like career related topics, but like how to like adjust to a new, like culture new role, like new career sometime. Yeah. So that was like always in me and I'm really excited to help other people, you know, like pursuing their dream job or dream country.
Zhenya: I encourage them to do this like shift and like transition because it, it might feel scary and I think that like, here is my role in this process, like to eliminate, like try to eliminate this, like fear of unknown, like try to try to make sure that this path is like getting more like clearer for the next person who would be, you know, transitioning, like switching from marketing to design because like there are like some steps you will take them and like eventually you would be like doing better and better and eventually it'll work out. So like helping people to realize that it's not that impossible to do. So I think like mentorship, it's kind of interesting position because you like yes, you can talk about like hard skills and like presenting skills and oth all of the other skills, but it's also about like psychology and like discussing like the fears, like being vulnerable and showing how like your previous experiences like both good and bad, like led you to this like current position because when I was like interviewing and when I like saw all of their like amazing portfolio presentations and like those LinkedIn profiles of designers and I thought that I never be, you know, in the position that they're at.
Zhenya: And I like, I have this like passion to eliminate the, this like gate keeping as much as possible and to show that you do not need to have like this very like, you know, specific and only one like way journey to the like career or life you want to, there are a ton of different ways and like, I'm the example of it and I'm just enjoying like encouraging people to like try to make those changes for themself.
Dianne: I feel the passion from you. I think that's wonderful. And yeah, I think that it's really important to be able to share your story because I mean, I think you mentioned it a little bit at the beginning, like storytelling and marketing background, like being able to tell your story and being able to like lean into your story is really powerful. And not even just to get a job, but just in life in general. And so I feel like you're more than just like a mentor, you're like a <laugh>, like a design therapist or something. Like you're really helping designers get deep inside of themselves and understand. And I think you also are leading by example, and so you have these personal experiences that you can share and that's, that's like, yeah, that's, that's amazing. That's really exciting. I really love that. Yeah. And I guess for the listeners out there, because we don't, we haven't taken a mentor session with you, but how, what was your decision to come to the US and to kind of decide to be here and build a life here,
Zhenya: <Laugh>? Yeah, that's a great question. So I'm originally from Osco, Russia and I've been working in marketing for quite some time there. I built my career, I worked in a large LA tech company back there. And then I just had this random opportunity to join a FinTech startup in order to be their marketing manager. So I got through the interview process and I got the offer and I could not believe that like that was happening. And so I just took a chance and I was like, I'm extremely grateful for that, you know, like the first opportunity, like the first job offer in the United States. And I worked with that company for a year and a half and that was like the most interesting and challenging experience. And so that's totally, mm like it was very, I would say educational for me as well because even though I had like years of my career in marketing, like it's, it was totally different.
Zhenya: So I still need to learn a lot. And so that was like I think the first <laugh>, you know, big break for me to be in a new country and like learning a lot of things about this industry that I've been working for a while, but still it was like so new for me. So yeah basically that was like this one job offer that got me here and then I worked with that startup and then like with another one, and then with an agency before I finally <laugh> made this switch to product design.
Dianne: Wow. That's inspirational. Like you were just like, something happened upon it and then you got it <laugh> and then you're like, oh my god, I guess I need to do it right. And like,
Dianne: And I think that's like great,
Zhenya: It'll be super scary. Yes.
Dianne: Oh my gosh. Like, I feel like that's definitely something you can bring into these mentor conversations. I, it sounds like you are like making that jump and you're like, no, the unknown is terrifying. And going to a new place with a new culture and a new language, like, oh my gosh, I can't even imagine. And that's very brave of you to come here to the US and build this life. But it sounds like you're still here, so it sounds like things are, you're happy to be here and you integrated in your own way and now you can help other people feel more confident and comfortable making that transition.
Zhenya: Exactly. Yeah. Thank you so much. I feel really welcomed here and happy. And I, I specifically love to like help people with you know, like different career, like non-traditional backgrounds like underrepresented minorities, like immigrants, refugees, so all of those like people with some, you know, like challenges in their life because like it's really hard to like overcome those challenges. And sometimes you are like you are so afraid of starting some new things and you feel like that you are not really, you know, good to be like to land this new job in a new country. So it's, it really takes time to, of course, like to adjust to a new culture and language and stuff. But I think that your previous background is definitely valuable even though it was like with another industry or country or like a different language, it doesn't really matter. You still had those experiences and you still have that skill set that you can, you know you just need to adjust it to this new environment. And yes, it takes time, but eventually it'll work out. Yes.
Dianne: Yeah, I feel like that's really inspirational for all the listeners out there that maybe are going through something similar, like trying to make that switch or going to a different country or even thinking about it. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>, it's good to know, like, you can do it, it is possible. It's scary obviously, but it's,
Dianne: If it makes sense, you gotta make the jump and, and try it out. So yeah. That's very inspirational. I love that. I love that. So I think kind of like, I wanna kind of segue to more of like maybe where you are now and where you're planning on going in the future. And I think one of those questions is like, where are you now ? How do you continue to stay inspired and continue to be able to grow? So obviously you've been able to make all of these jumps and you're really successful and things are going great, and like where do you see yourself and how do you feel like you're going on the path that you set for yourself?
Zhenya: Yeah, that's a wonderful question. I think about that a lot and to be honest, like after jumping so much and like having a soap like March career, like changes and life changes, I think like finally I'm in this place that I'm super comfortable. I would love to stay and grow at this specific team and company. So I'm really thrilled about the culture and like working with my teammates. It's been an amazing experience. So I've been with Adobe for only three months now. So like me, I'm still quite new, but I don't know, like I felt like I discovered my <laugh> perfect spot for my personal and career growth. And like right now I'm working on very fascinating projects and I'm working alongside amazing people, amazing teammates and that's super inspirational.
Zhenya: And so I think like for me, product design is this very interesting and constantly changing field and I think you never get bored with everything that is happening in product design. And I also feel so valuable here and like bringing this past experience and working on things like new experiments that we're launching that's super, super inspirational. So I definitely wanna grow my career here and I wanna learn from my teammates and from other designers in the industry as well. So I'm really excited about the whole design community. I think it's super like open and it's super friendly and so that's really lovely to like to be a part of this community. So I definitely wanna grow more in this product design field, like basically growing in my career and mastering my craft.
Zhenya: And I also want to have like I, I want to continue to, to mentor and to help others from the design community and not only like designers, but just in general people who are wanting to make a career transition or like to immigrate to another country or something like that. So I still want this to be a big part of my life. So I feel that I have two big areas of focus, like first of all my design career and mastering this design craft and also like helping others and mentoring. So I'm thinking about doing something like content creation. So I have not decided what that would be. So maybe like a medium blog or YouTube channel, like something that will help more people because like with the mentorship it's wonderful, but you can help only like so many people. But with content creation, like with what you are doing with this podcast, that might help many more people. So I'm definitely considering going like that content creation path as well.
Dianne: Yeah. Well I'm so excited to follow your journey. I like it. I just like it, I can feel excitement and passion. I said that before, but like, it's like coming out of you and I feel like you feel like you're in such a great place and that's amazing. And I also think from my conversation with you that I've learned about you is you always wanna be growing and pushing yourself. And so I think it's great that you said, Hey, I really feel like I found this company. And like, you're like, okay, now that I'm here, I wanna grow and I wanna continue to like to learn and craft my skill. And I, that's amazing. I feel like some people are like, oh, I feel great, like I'm good, but you're like, let's keep going, let's keep going. <Laugh>. And the mentor side.
Dianne: Yeah, like I, I feel like when this podcast comes out, we'll definitely link to like your ADP mentor page, because I feel like a lot of these listeners are gonna get a lot of value and want a schedule that time and looking forward to what's next of contemplation or how you can continue. I feel like your experience is, you've had a lot of very interesting experiences that other people are probably looking for someone that they can go to, for that. So I, I, yeah, I'm, I'm excited to follow on your journey. So yeah, thank you so much for chatting with me and telling me a little bit about your story and where you come from and what you're looking for and also kind of some tips and tricks about interviewing <laugh> and portfolios and self-teaching. So yeah, I really enjoyed it and thank you so much.
Zhenya: Yeah, thank you so much for having me here again, like what you're doing with the podcast, it's such a great mission. So I'm super excited to be here and I'm super grateful for you doing this. So thank you so much for having me here. And yeah, I will definitely like to follow the next episodes with the next guests as well. It's super interesting. Thank you so much.