The Job Search: Rohan Bondili
The Job Search is a series for international graduate students in professional programs.
'Internships are essential' is Rohan Bondili’s message. He is an example of someone whose career launched successfully because he realized, early on in his studies, that internships are the door to networking and professional training. After graduating from Maryland’s Human Computer Interaction program, Bondili landed a position at Sentrana, a firm where he completed one of his graduate internships.
Born in the culturally rich city of Hyderabad, India, Bondili studied computer science and engineering at Vellore Institute of Technology. While a student there, he was introduced to the idea of apprenticeship through Leadership x Design (LxD), a fellowship program through Make a Difference. According to their mission statement, “MAD Fellows learn how to be leaders on the ground, while serving their communities, and work to ensure even the most vulnerable children in shelters are able to realize equitable outcomes."
At first, Bondili volunteered as a mentor and teacher to young children so that they could receive the support and care they needed during their early years. After a year of consistent effort, Bondili was encouraged to apply for the year-long LxD fellowship. He was one of 350 fellows selected out of 25,000+ applicants in India. And he applied two additional years and was awarded the fellowship each time.
Through his 3-year experience, Bondili learned the art and science of approaching large-scale problems through hands-on and collaborative projects. He mastered critical thinking skills, explored diverse perspectives and transformed into a leader with advanced decision-making and execution skills. In his first year as a fellow, Bondili was responsible for building and maintaining relationships between different stakeholders and teams in Vellore, operating across 3 shelter homes, comprising of 226 children and 220 solution designers. In subsequent years, his responsibilities increased even more.
So it should come as no surprise that at Maryland, Bondili was just as hungry for these kinds of rigorous pre-professional work experiences, as before. Now, working in Washington, D.C. as a Product Designer, Bondili humbly reflects on his journey into the working world.
When you came wanted to study in U.S. what were your perceptions? Expectations?
Growing up in a family of engineers who obtained their master's in the United States, I often heard stories about the innovations that were taking place here. Furthermore, during my undergrad at VIT, I was exposed to collaboration projects with students at MIT and through those interactions I realized there was a support system that assisted anyone with a great idea. Overall, I was excited to have the opportunity to experience a different culture, broaden my perspective and start building products that solve large scale problems.
How did you prepare for your job search?
To this day, my understanding is that job opportunities come through meeting people in person - be it during Meetup sessions in DC or through attending design conferences. I also gain tremendous knowledge through listening to podcasts such as Inside Intercom, Masters of Scale, a16z, DesignBetter etc. These podcasts feature established designers who explain the design process and challenges in organizations. Listening to experts, I can reverse engineer the skills and crafts that are necessary for my type of work. It was also important for me to understand the landscape of companies out there and knowing the type of work I would get to do in different environments. I was able to source this through Quora. Once I did that, I mapped my strengths and career goals, narrowed the search list, personalized my profile, and increased the probability of success.
Did you have an internship (paid or unpaid)? What did you learn there?
During the course of my Master's degree, I completed three internships. Two of them were unpaid. While I was able to apply the skills I had learned via the program in a real world setting, in my perspective, the biggest take-away was being able to understand myself better. I used these internships to explore new areas in my field, and, in turn, I was able to identify my strengths and weakness, likes and dislikes. Things as small as preference for an open-space office, commute distances, etc. started to become clearer. These details helped me to identify opportunities during my job search where I would be I able to give my best.
What, based on what you know, is networking like here in the U.S.? How did you go about learning it?
Through my nascent experience, I’ve found meeting people in person during large conferences or even Meetups has been effective. In addition, attending tech talks at UMD is another opportunity to meet people professionally. I learned early on through peers and mentors that networking is a must in the U.S. So, I took active measures to attend conferences and meetups. In my experience, getting an introduction goes a long way toward building a relationship - whether such a meeting converts to a professional connection or not, it helps extend one's network. For example, if my friend happens to know a professor/designer I want to connect with, asking my friend to introduce me to them would have a relatively higher impact when compared to a cold call. However, I do want to acknowledge that, at first, you do have to put your own effort into starting a network. During those initial days, being precise and crisp in your introduction and being upfront about your purpose can be useful. Also, as it goes with any relationship it's always better if both parties contribute. Doing a little research and finding common ground can be a good way to introduce yourself and establish a relationship, while at the same time networking.
What advice or tool worked particularly well? What did not work?
In terms of tools, it boils down to understanding where your profession has conversations and establishing a presence there - in that realm. It is useful to know the in-person, social media, and online environments. For example, a lot of designers have conversations on Twitter and Facebook Groups, and less so on LinkedIn. Establishing your presence and contributing your thoughts and opinions on these platforms can help with getting noticed and meeting new people.
How did you work on your resume? What was the process? Who looked at it?
For me, working on multiple iterations has been most useful. I’ve seen my resume evolve quite drastically over a period of a year. To begin with, I started looking at resumes of designers from whom I take inspiration. I looked at what stood out and how they described their work and experience. I was able to source these resumes by visiting their portfolios. Once I had prepared a base, I worked on tailoring the resume to ensure my unique strengths and personality were evident - be it using the right font selection or by being intentional about the layout. Peer review and constructive critique from mentors at my internship helped me in refining my resume further.
Career aspirations? What do you hope to do long term?
In the short term, I’m hyper-focused on exposure, learning and increasing responsibility. In my perspective, high-growth startups are ideal spots for new grads to do exactly this and I am fortunate that I found work in this kind of a dynamic environment. The long-term goal is to synergize my experience in design, engineering and product development. I haven’t quite settled on where I wish to be, but I am leaning toward a career where I could lead teams in my home country. India is an emerging market and presents interesting challenges to technology companies. Being able to tackle these challenges head-on in some capacity is my ultimate hope.
How is a U.S. work experience or education perceived in your home country?
U.S. education is well known for its research. It is considered one of the technically advanced education systems and is applauded for its mindset of starting initiatives to push the envelope forward.
Currently I’m working with at Sentrana as a Product Designer. As an early stage startup, I knew there would be an opportunity to wear multiple hats and that I felt that access to multiple responsibilities would be beneficial as I start off on my career. At Sentrana, we enable mid-tier enterprises to become A.I. self-sufficient via our automated Machine Learning platform. As a designer I ensure we, as a team, build the right product and deliver the best value to our customers.
How do you continue working on your networking?
Since starting my job, my networking has been restricted to local meetup sessions. I’m also on the lookout for conferences across the country and plan for them in advance. Attending large conferences provides an opportunity to meet with designers from other companies and to expand my perception and knowledgebase.
Any parting advice?
For the past few months, I’ve made a deliberate effort to know myself better. I feel like the path to self-awareness is a continuous and conscious learning process that has allowed me to grow as a person both intellectually and emotionally. I’ve found that pausing more often during day, looking within, and practising meditation has been really helpful. If it can work for me, perhaps it would be useful to others.
(By Anna De Cheke Qualls)(Photo Credit: Roop Bondili)