This month I had the chance to catch up with Randy Tolentino, a UX developer at IBM. He and I took a moment to explore his path to UX, the struggles he worked through, and the work he is doing to help support those taking a similar journey to a new career in tech. We cover topics such as UX mentorship and changing our mindsets to grow our careers.

Starting out

I was a Hip Hop artist. Ever since I was a little kid, I was always into Hip Hop, but it was actually a side thing that I did throughout college. The most I ever made was $500 at a show at U.C. Irvine. I thought I had made it. What I was doing to earn a living was running after-school programs.

One year when the “Hour of Code” movement started, I began teaching kids how to code. And then I got hooked too! So, we went through the lessons together. Eventually, the kids dropped off slowly. However, I thought, “man, I can do this for the rest of my life!”

Joining a Bootcamp and UX mentorship

When we joined, it was a rough time. We just moved to Austin, TX with a newborn. The Bootcamp was fine. I went through it in about three months. But after I finished and started looking for a job, I kept getting rejected. I applied to maybe 50 or 60 job postings and I got nothing. During that time, I could see that our bank account was getting smaller and smaller.

Networking even when you’re uncomfortable

MakerSquare offered different kinds of events. They did socials, talks, startup crawls, etc.. The focus was to get people to network. The career director would be at all of these events, and she knew everyone. I asked her how she was able to know everyone?

She said, “I make sure that I go up and talk to everyone, and get to know something about them.”

You know me. I’m a big introvert, but I made it my mission to go to these events. I was able to get to know other students, alumni, people who were actually working, etc.. That was when I met a former student, Mateo. He said that the startup he was working for is hiring. I applied and got the job.

UX mentorship opportunities

About a year ago, I got asked to lead a small team of UX designers. I got thrown. It was not my natural skill set. When I was working on building my developer skills, I realized that I was never going to be the perfect developer. I was offering as much as I can, but I approached my manager and asked, “what else can I do to help?”

Right away without much debate, she said that she could put me up for an open lead position. I got it, but I won’t lie to you. It was tough. You are no longer just responsible for your own work. As a lead, you have to be accountable for the success of the project. This depends a lot on the health of the team. To be honest with you, I feel they gave me the role because they felt I could be the glue to hold the team together.

Of course, I wasn’t the design expert. They needed someone who can come in and keep things cool for the team.

If you’re broke, why are you sleeping?

Morning routine and mindset

I remember when you joined the Security Team at IBM, one of the first things you said to me one of the very first early mornings together in the office was, “oh, I’m not the only weird one.” It all started a long time ago. I was finishing up my second degree, broke and my wife and I had a newborn. The baby will keep you up. If I was awake, I thought that I might as well study.

There’s a motivational speaker, Eric Thomas, that said, “if you’re broke, why are you sleeping?” I was broke! So, I just got up. Eventually, I found that I was a morning person and more productive at that time.

Writing and giving back to the UX community

A co-worker of ours, Jessica Tremblay, put something out into a FED (front-end developer) Slack Channel about Smashing Magazine doing an open call for article submissions. She also added that no one from IBM has ever published there. So, I thought that I could at least put together something from my experience.

One thing that I was learning to cope with at the time was working with a team spread across time zones like Austin, TX, Ireland, Germany, and Taiwan. It was primarily developers. Most people think that developers can just crank out code and be done with the work. But it requires a lot of coordination. For it to be effective, we needed to work as a good team.

I was fairly new in my career. Their skills were far more advanced, and I needed to learn a lot from them. And basically, they were also going to review my code. So, I also needed to have a good relationship with them. At the time, I felt we were just communicating with just group chats on Slack and DM’s (direct messages). Ultimately, I ended up writing about my experiments with injecting “human” elements into a technical process.

I had a great experience working with Rachel Andrew, the Editor and Chief to help craft my message. She is a hero of mine in the front-end developer space.

Bigger vision for your career

The thing I’m talking over with my wife right now is possibly sponsoring someone who was like me when I started out. Broke, just starting to develop skills and very little network. But they have the drive to improve. I want to be able to remove the financial burden and get them that education and training.

Links and resources

Check out more interviews with up-and-coming UX professionals
Learn about a free UX education with Jonathan Morgan

Where to find Randy

Site: randytolentino.com
LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/randytolentino
Twitter: twitter.com/makertolentino
The Standup Project

Other links:
Hour of Code
MakerSquare
Eric Thomas

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Matt Eng

Matt Eng

DesignOps Manager. Based in Austin,TX. Worked with clients such as Alcatel-Lucent, Ogilvy, RBC, Deloitte, Whirlpool, Polycom, Symantec, and Pebble. Matt teaches, mentors, and speaks about design, creativity, and fostering stronger connections within teams.