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Stand on the shoulders of giants

Posted 8 years ago in Tech by Philip Fierlinger

For several years running, Xero has been a sponsor of Summer of Tech, where university students get matched up with tech companies looking for interns. The program has grown over the years, and now includes design students, as well as comp-sci and engineering students.

While the program helps us cherry pick rising talent, we also hope to offer some inspiration for a whole new generation of students entering the work force.

In my final year of university, I did an internship at a place called General Magic. It was an amazing experience, kickstarting my career and giving me an extremely valuable insider’s view of what it’s like to be part of a high flying start-up.

As I’ve been reviewing some of this year’s design interns, I thought it’s worth sharing some basics I look for in candidates:

  • An online portfolio with plenty of work samples is an absolute must. Without that, you won’t be considered. It should go without saying, the design of your portfolio is as important as the projects presented.
  • An online portfolio also shows you know the basics of web production, coding and site deployment. To be an interaction designer you need to know basic nuts & bolts.
  • I take notice when people have their own domain. It shows you understand the value of branding.
  • The ability to write clearly and concisely. Design is communication. The words you choose show if you’re thinking about users and their frame of reference.
  • Participation in social media is good to see, it shows an interest and involvement with tech and culture, plus some insights into your personality.

Specific design skills I look for:

  • Information hierarchy and typography – page layouts that establish a clear order of importance.
  • Visual style – fine tuned composition, lighting and color balance that triggers an emotional response.
  • Simple usability – links, buttons and navigation follow common conventions, they look and behave the way people expect. Experimentation and innovation are nice, as long as the basics are covered.
  • Craftsmanship – sweating the details, an obvious sign of passion for the process.

And some worldly advice as you set out on your adventures:

  • Don’t be afraid to be naive – in reality, nobody knows what they’re doing
  • Challenge everything, especially yourself
  • Fake it, till you make it
  • Where you look is where you go
  • Stand on the shoulders of giants

One final piece of advice – do a little research. It’s dead easy to know all about the companies where you want to work and the people you’ll be meeting. It makes a big difference when you express a genuine interest and some understanding of the people and their business.

Best of luck & have fun.


Matt Alsbury-Morris
August 28, 2010 at 10.22 am

Couldn’t agree more, great post! Being a qualified HR specialist who has turned geeky finance guy this sums up what people starting out need to know! Just wish someone told me it… many moons ago!

August 28, 2010 at 7.53 pm

Excellent advice. I’m constantly surprised by the number of young designers and programmers i meet who say they are webby but don’t even have an online portfolio. At least it makes it an easy talent filter.

Ruth McDavitt
August 29, 2010 at 12.42 pm

Thanks Philip, sharing this stuff is priceless, and I hope our Summer of Tech candidates are sitting up & taking notice! We really appreciate your guest lecture / Design Bootcamp last month, too. Huge thanks to you & the rest of the team at Xero for your ongoing support of the programme. Really looking forward to some fun conversations during the Speed Interviews!

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