Don was a Graphic Designer who aspired to secure a Tech career – preferably in UI/UX, to leverage his current skills. He came across a Study Now Pay Later opportunity from Zuitt which then turned out to be his starting point to become the AI Technical Manager that he is today.
In this interview, Don shared his strategy for obtaining career growth through his years working in the tech industry. His drive and hunger for knowledge helped him move upward in his career. As a career shifter, Don’s attitude toward grabbing new opportunities will inspire you to take on your next challenge as he did.
(Interviewed by Karla Hechanova)
Exploring Career Opportunities as a Graphic Designer
—— Introduce yourself.
Hello, I’m Don Dilidili from Stratpoint Technologies Inc. I am currently the Technical Manager for the AI team. I have attended Zuitt’s Bootcamp back in 2018.
—— How did you discover Zuitt?
I came across Zuitt (which back then was Tuitt) when I saw their ad on Instagram. It said: “Study Now Pay Later” and I thought to myself, “I’ll take this opportunity because I have no money yet, haha.”
I was doing graphic design back then so I asked myself this: “What if I explore the career of UI/UX?” That was what I have in mind. My mentality back then was to leverage graphic design. I was told that UI/UX career is good.
—— Why did you choose to study with Zuitt?
I have someone I know from Zuitt who was an instructor. I tried it out. Charles was my first instructor in the Bootcamp. And sometimes we still reach out.
—— Why still study at Zuitt even if Zuitt’s focus is not on UI/UX?
UI/UX was my mindset before but during the Bootcamp, I figured that it was about learning web development and having a software engineering career. I was thinking that this was a whole new monster that I need to slay. So I thought to myself that maybe UI/UX won’t be the only thing I will do that’s why I ended up here.
—— Tell us about your overall experience through Zuitt’s Developer Career Program.
I really appreciate the Bootcamp because you can ask anyone. In my batch, everyone is really willing to help everyone and explain how things are done. And with one of the instructors, I appreciate how he explained a concept. He even drew a bus just to make it easier for us to consume an idea. And knowing now what he was explaining back then, and realizing how complex the idea was before, I’m amazed how he was able to explain it to us through a concept of a bus.
The instructors were very helpful. I learned many things. They are good at explaining and they challenge their students especially when they see the potential in someone.
—— Which part of the Developer Career Program did you enjoy the most? Any challenges?
I enjoyed the Front End because I know that I am good at it. But was I challenged with the Back End? Yes. And because I enjoyed being challenged, I learned to love Back End eventually even though there were concepts that were too much for me – like my brain felt like it can’t absorb a huge chunk of knowledge anymore.
I think that’s when I faltered during the Bootcamp. But did I enjoy it? Super! I super enjoyed the challenges during my training. So from the Front End, I ended up loving the Back End more.
I encourage you to try and challenge yourself.
Job Hunting Journey: Challenges and Wins
—— After the Bootcamp, what was your first job?
I did not stick with graphic design. After the Bootcamp, I decided to file an immediate resignation. I ended up having a 3-month Freelance Developer job for practice. I wanted to apply what I have learned right away through freelancing until I got a call from Stratpoint Technologies Incorporated.
—— How did you find your first job?
I was doing well in the Bootcamp so I decided to try and look for jobs that are not related to UI/UX. I looked for jobs that are related to Front End and Back End. I was really trying to apply it to everything.
—— Did you have any challenges finding a job as a career shifter?
I am a career shifter. I had 4-5 years of experience.
So basically about the salary, I had to lower it for a while for the first year at least when I was looking for a job. That was one of the difficulties. When I was applying for a developer job, let’s say that I am already at level 3 but I have to go back to level 1 because I have 0 experience in a Developer/Programmer job.
But here’s a thing, I gained it all back in 2 years. It was that easy. It was that fast. I have recovered whatever I was earning back then because it is an IT job. With an IT job, salary increase is fast.
It was a good risk. You have to endure it for like your first year in the IT Industry but your goal is to level up. You need to have the drive to level up. I thought to myself that I needed the promotion because I needed to gain back what I was already earning before. And it was all worth it!
—— Can you share how Zuitt helped you with finding a Tech Job?
The thing about Zuitt that I appreciate is that they gave me a glimpse of everything – Back-end, Front-end even the part on how you can deploy your website. They gave me a glimpse of that.
To me, It was just a matter of asking myself which of what I learned from the Bootcamp should I take on as my career path. So when I got the job, that’s when I realize how things are done in the real industry. At least I know the idea of what the flow is.
Web development is Zuitt’s specialization but I was diverted to machine learning. But again, Zuitt gave me that starting point and that is what I value about the Bootcamp. They gave me enough confidence to start applying. And then it is up to your guts, and how brave you are to apply for jobs like I did. I only tried the AI thing and luckily, I got in!
—— Why AI?
AI is a growing field. It is not mature here in the Philippines. There are few AI companies here and it is starting to grow. It’s a little different here because most of the local companies are taking the data science path. They have an overlap with AI.
I think AI is a growing field in the Philippines. In 5 years’ time, AI will be abundant. And the funny thing is that when I was talking to one of the CEOs of Stratpoint, he said that it is possible that if our AI team matures enough, we can pivot Stratpoint into an AI company. And I think a lot of companies are going in that direction. We will see in 5 years’ time and I am excited about how these things will turn out.
Career Advancement in Tech: From AI Associate to Technical Manager
—— How did you land your current job as a Technical Manager?
It has to do with a lot of grit and drive. First, the small fine print, I wanted to obtain the same amount as my old salary. I wanted to evolve as a Developer because, at the end of the day, I enjoyed it.
I was enjoying when I was doing Graphic Design but I kept asking myself what is my end goal. I was driven to study. I took certifications. I took the next tasks. I asked my seniors to teach me. I also learned from self-paced learning and also learned from my peers.
The good thing about working with people with a higher level than yours is that they can pull you up with them. I communicate what I do not know and they will teach me. I think it’s also about communicating what you do not know. It’s also about being honest about what you do not know.
Developers like explaining. They enjoy explaining what they did. So, I transformed that to my advantage. I learned from them. Eventually, I got rewarded by the company, they saw that I was doing well and that I was trying. From there, you go up the ladder gradually. It really had something to do with drive and hunger for learning.
—— When the job was offered to you, did you have factors that you had to consider?
I did not hesitate at all. I had a leadership experience before when I got into Software Development. This is what I want. I want to lead a team and train juniors. But of course, to train juniors I have to know what to train them so that’s why I need to learn it too.
Any difficulties? Maybe it’s more about putting more time to study. I think that is the drawback when your career shifts. There is this imposter syndrome like “you think you are not good enough but you can.” There is that. And to compensate for that (since I did not study Computer Science and I am surrounded by people who did), it was like something that I have to do to prove myself.
I think that I don’t deserve the same level that they have. And I think that was the difficulty or the negative part of getting into the managerial position. I asked myself, “Am I good enough?” But at the end of the day, it was all about studying and your perseverance to learn.
And the funny thing is that if you get to interact with these developers, “they also do not know everything.” Being a manager does not mean you know everything. Once you go up, you become more specialized in what you do.
—— How did your managerial transition go?
Just to give you an idea of how I started my career in Stratpoint: When I was an AI Associate, it was about creating machine learning models, cleaning data, and doing all the legwork.
As I matured in my position, I learned more about how I can serve the model to the cloud. I needed to learn how AWS is used to deploy the model on the server. Things like that. I became more specialized in what I do.
A managerial position does not mean you have to know everything, you just have to be more specialized at what you do.
—— Do you have any current career goals?
I have so much I want to learn in the Machine Learning World. I want to study “Machine Learning Ops” It’s kind of similar to the DevOps in Software development but it’s a DevOps specialized in Machine Learning.
So that is my career goal right now. In 2 years’ time, I want to be able to implement a framework for our team where there will be a continuous model deployment and make it all automated.
Right now, I’d say that I’m still a bit awkward when I say MLops especially when I attach that label next to my name. I am still awkward with that idea because I’m still at ⅓ of developing that for my team right now. It’s too young for me to be called MLOps. But if we’re talking about goals, that is the goal. I still have many professional goals.
—— Aside from technical skills, what soft skill does a developer should have?
Soft skills are a very needed skill especially when you talk to a business developer or a sales associate.
Companies function like this: They will get a client, then that client has a problem. There are people in the company who will translate it before it gets to the developers. The transition from the sales team, the product owner, to the business analysts is that they will transform the problem into something digestible for developers. And if the developers are too strict (with a technical mindset), and does not know how to communicate back the logic, and can’t translate how to do a feature, the project will suffer. Developers need to be able to communicate well. And that is the Developer to Business people communication skill.
For the Developer to Developer communication skills, like Senior to Junior. If I am a Senior without good communication skills, and if I have to transfer to a new project, I have to know how to communicate well. If I need to handle a new Junior Developer and I am not able to explain my code, he would have to go through my codes for maybe about 1- 2 weeks just to read it. If I am not capable to do knowledge transfer and explaining things, the project will suffer. Development days are important for the sales team.
Words of Wisdom from a Career Shifter
—— What is your advice to career shifters to Tech, fresh Bootcamp graduates, or beginners?
If you are a career shifter, take a leap of faith. For me, it paid off really well. This all goes to everyone. It paid off because I worked really hard even after the Bootcamp. I challenged myself that I need to study more. I have to learn because I have an end goal.
I have to shine at doing something – like something they can put beside my name. And I am still working on that part but that’s the goal. For instance, when someone comes across a problem, they’d be able to say “Don can answer it.” That is my perspective. That is where I get the fire to study. I don’t just study a lot because I need to learn this and that. It is not about the horizontal breath but it is all about the depth.
You should build on that foundation. Just continue exploring. When you get into a job, look for the job scope and check what they do. Continue studying and improving yourself every day because IT is an ever-changing and ever-progressing field. When you decide to stop learning, that’s when you’ll be obsolete. Continue studying and never stop learning.
—— How important is career advancement?
Don’t make it about making money. Enjoy what you are doing. Don’t make it a goal to be promoted. Your goal must be to improve yourself because the promotion will come after. I think that is the gist of my advice. You’ll be noticed when you are doing well. You’ll get to where you want to be at some point in your career, Someone will discover you. Do not make it about money and make it about improving yourself and everything else will follow.
(End of interview)
We backtracked on how past Zuitt boot campers are doing so far years after their Bootcamp training with us. If you have a similar experience to share with our boot campers, drop us a message at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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