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Co.Lab alumni Kemi answers this question by sharing her experience working as part of a team at Co.Lab
From writing her first “Hello World'' in February 2020 after spending years working an array of unrelated jobs such as teaching, customer service representative and the likes, to establishing businesses while working as a Product designer and mentor, Kemi’s journey to tech has very much been a sprint and not a marathon. To what does she attribute this need for urgency in her life and her career?
No stranger to the unfortunate experience of working at jobs that did not give her fulfillment, Kemi grew increasingly worried that she had not made any notable impact in life. Convinced that her current job was preventing her from working towards her dreams, she resigned so that she could concentrate on what she wanted to do next – which was to move into tech.
She reached out to a Senior Software Engineer friend for guidance and he gave her resources and advice that led her to begin coding. Now though, Kemi is a Product Designer and not a software developer.
“When I first began my coding journey, I was priming myself for a position as a software developer so I took on a hectic internship and it was at that internship I found out about UI/UX (User Interface/User Experience) design. After learning what it entailed, I realized that it was the discipline better suited for me so I added UI/UX design to my training.”
It’s this restless desire to learn more, to keep improving and to increase her experience and earn more certifications that led Kemi to Co.Lab soon after completing yet another internship. When she came across Co.Lab on LinkedIn, she felt that it aligned with her position as someone who had already received beginner training in tech. She saw Co.Lab as an intermediate level of online product management training for people like her who already had knowledge but were looking to upscale and to work in a team.
“It is an opportunity to interact and network. You meet people - like minds, you’re not restricted to people in your country alone. This is what enticed me to Co.Lab. It allowed me to connect with people from literally all over the world that I would not have met otherwise and I think that it is important to learn other people’s cultures, especially because as a designer, I want to create things that everyone can use and to do that, it helps to have an idea of who ‘everyone’ is.
Co.lab strives to accelerate the careers of individuals in tech by allowing them to build products in cross-functional teams. The reason for this is that in the workplace, one is hardly ever working in isolation and the work being done is usually in collaboration with others or an individual assignment that contributes to a larger team goal.
This opportunity to work with people outside of her immediate environment was definitely a major highlight of the program for Kemi. At Co.Lab, she and her team worked on a product called Alejo- a word which in Yoruba translates to ‘visitor’ and in Spanish, ‘helper’. Alejo was designed to provide international students in Canada with information on the country, insight on how to navigate their way around their city, find scholarships and job opportunities, basically, all that visitors need to settle down in a new country.
When teamwork happens the way it’s supposed to, things change. For Kemi, as a result of working with her team to build Alejo, there was a positive change in her communication skills. First, because all the team members were in different time zones, they had to be intentional about carving out time to have team meetings and discussions. To produce an MVP, the team had to meet often to decide together which features were worth pursuing and which weren’t. Her work as a designer benefited greatly from the input that she received from the developers and the product manager that made up her team. They made suggestions that ensured that her designs were of the topmost quality and that they were reflective of the team’s vision. As a result of this she learnt to investigate her work and consider the opinions of her teammates whilst still making designs in a way that was true to herself and her style.
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As a person who has experience working in a company and also as a freelancer, Kemi is an advocate for teamwork especially the way that it is done at Co.Lab. She appreciated that people at Co.Lab were patient and keen to help and this influenced her own people management skills. She was introduced to more terminologies in frequent use in the tech community and she learned to seek out others’ perceptions of a particular topic.
Kemi was able to see how people felt and thought in a work environment and she discovered how she worked in a group setting. She learned to contribute at meetings and communicate her opinions without conflict. Where disagreements arose, the team had to learn to manage crises. As she found out not too long afterward, the Co.Lab experience mirrored a real-life setting.
“In my current job, sometimes you have a Product Requirement Document and your stakeholders are expecting you to design and produce all these features. The team needs to talk about what is feasible. Building a product with my Co.Lab team taught me how to handle all these requirements at work”
It was easy for her to work as part of a team at Co.Lab because her teammates were cooperative and so was their mentor. Their mentor, Sophia Sun, a Product Manager at Flipgrid, was exemplary and the effort she made to show up for the team even just to silently observe their work, did not go unnoticed. Interacting closely with Sophia and other members of her team allowed Kemi to gain knowledge even on issues outside the scope of their work. For example, by working closely with the Product Manager on her team, who had at one time been an international student in Canada, Kemi learned the importance of being flexible and receptive to change especially in a new environment. These lessons were instrumental as she relocated to begin a new job in a different country a few months after Co.Lab.
Kemi admits that moving from Nigeria to work as a Product designer in America would have been a more formidable task had she not first attended Co.Lab and learnt to work with people with whom she had cultural differences and had been taught in ways different from what she was used to. This prior exposure allowed her to settle quickly into her work instead of spending time trying to navigate an unfamiliar work environment.
At the time she registered for Co.Lab’s Cohort3, she had already begun nursing the idea for DesignPal. The work she does in DesignPal, an academy whose aim is to train junior designers or anyone whose desire is to transition into design is a problem solver. Having noticed a predominant problem in the job market whereby designers are half-baked and cannot often talk through the thought process behind their designs, DesignPal trains the designer in the area in which they have identified lack. You can be a professional UI designer or professional UX designer without feeling the need to combine the two. And if you do choose to combine the two, DesignPal will train you one after the other to equip you with the skill set required to succeed in the industry.
Certain strategies that Kemi learned in her time at Co.Lab were pivotal as she took her idea off the ground and started her company soon after completing her program.
“Collaborative learning, and I still use that in Design Pal. I am always telling my students that they are there to learn with and from others. I experienced collaborative learning at Co.Lab in a way that I had not done in any other Bootcamp or internship. You are part of a team in which you have meetings, brainstorming sessions, and you learn from one another. Working in a team helps tremendously and it is beautiful to see. I saw that at Co.Lab, I experienced it and I enjoyed it.”
Now, she applies this in her classes, allowing the UI and UX designers to work in teams on a single project.
Kemi was sufficiently prepared by Co.Lab for an actual workplace and feels fortunate to have worked with a team that was so impactful to her work and career. She advises anyone interested in learning design at Co.Lab to first be determined that it is indeed what they want to do and then be ready to commit time to learning. Design takes time and anyone who claims to be too busy to learn it will not learn it.
She also emphasizes the importance of being patient with oneself and with teammates throughout the learning process. Attend team meetings, discuss with others and contribute because, in a real workplace, these are the things that affect your output.