Life after life – Michelle

This internship can change your career and the way you see the future.

I ended up in Silicon Valley under rather unusual circumstances. During my 4th year of studying architecture at Aalto, I acquired an arm injury that made studying extremely difficult. While researching new technology that could help me, I stumbled upon Startuplifers.

A couple of weeks later I landed an internship at a small startup called Omada (they’ve since experienced enormous growth). I applied for a J-1 visa and flew to San Francisco 6 weeks later. My intention was to spend the summer in San Francisco and then return to my studies in the fall. But within a heartbeat, three months had passed, and I was still not ready to return to Finland. So I decided to stay for the full duration of the visa, which was 12 months.

Twelve months later I knew one thing with deep conviction: I’d found my true calling, and it wasn’t architecture. I decided to complete my bachelor’s degree remotely so that I could apply for the H1-B Visa. However, the odds of me securing this visa were pretty slim due to the lottery aspect of the application. I read up on different Visa types and found an “extraordinary ability” Visa, also known as the O-1 Visa.

In order to apply, you had to meet certain criteria, all of which were supposed to prove that you have a unique ability. And I thought “perfect! I actually do have a unique ability… 

 

The right mindset may lead you to unexpected success.

 
Thanks to the amazing Startuplifers team at the time, I had pretty reasonable expectations going into the internship. We had all been pre-programmed to take initiative and not expect any kind of “managerial hand holding”, and I can’t state how important that mindset was in my own personal journey.
The projects during my internship mostly centered around visual design and photography. I jokingly called myself the “illustration factory” because of the large number of illustrations I would tune out each week. Being the first designer with an illustration background, I ended up setting the company’s visual style for years to come. I also did a fair amount of product design work. One of the most challenging projects that landed on my plate was to design and create a series of interactive games that would educate our users on food and nutrition.
I also had the opportunity to work on a few video projects. A fun experience was flying out to Georgia and Florida to shoot a series of testimonial videos. A colleague and I rented a car, drove out to multiple remote locations and interviewed 8 of our customers. The video ended up having a significant impact on the business.

Let’s put it this way…

If someone had told me five years ago that I’d be the design director of a company, I wouldn’t have believed them. I’ve been pretty lucky, to say the least. At Curology I share the design director role with an amazing designer (and good friend) and together we’ve helped build out an amazing creative team that now functions as an internal agency in the company. We have videographers, designers, animators, photographers, product designers etc. on our team. Moving towards a managerial role has helped satisfy my hunger for personal development, and it helps me stay challenged on a daily basis.
We’re currently in a rapid growth phase and our projects and budgets keep on getting bigger and bigger which is exciting.
 

 

Who you believe you are, is who you become. Take the leap and apply.

 
During my first year in SF I experienced enormous amounts of personal growth, and at times it was extremely difficult. In hindsight, I realize these were just some of the growing pains that I had to endure in order to grow. They say adversity builds character and I couldn’t agree more. The biggest challenge I had to face was overcoming my fear of social situations. I deeply feared to talk in front of larger groups, presenting, and striking up spontaneous conversations with colleagues. I honestly thought I had some kind of phobia when I first came to the US. Now I’ve come to realize that who you believe you are, is who you become. Meaning: if you think “being awkward” is encoded in your DNA, you will always feel awkward in social situations.
My fear of social situations was in part due to low self-esteem and in part due to lack of practice. Moving to the US got me out of my comfort zone and forced me to practice on a daily basis. I slowly gained confidence in my ability to connect with people, and I realized that I’d been labeling myself wrong: I actually started enjoying the situations I’d previously feared.
And to the women out there that don’t feel like they qualify: don’t worry about the skills you don’t currently have, the key is truly believing that you are capable of learning whatever you set your mind to. The tech industry is just as much a place for women as it is for men. Some of the best teams I’ve worked in have had an equal gender ratio. It’s also an amazing place for creatives to rapidly progress in their careers. In fact, talented designers are so sought after, that it takes companies months to find the right designer. I would encourage all my friends who love working in a fast paced and ever changing environment to apply to Startuplifers.
 


 
Would like to give Silicon Valley a go? Build your own happy path and apply! Besides California, you can also submit your application towards Singapore.
Want reference stories? Read what Emma wrote about her experiences.
 

 

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