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How Mana Habibian went from a science lab to a creator’s table in less than a year

When Mana Habibian was nearing the end of her science degree, she refused to think about the future. “It was such a scary thought,” she remembers. “I got to the question of ‘what am I going to do?’ And I just didn’t know the answer.”

She ended up working in a psychology lab, “because that’s what everybody was doing,” she laughs. It was a good experience, even if she found the work tedious and the human interaction minimal. “But it wasn’t really what I wanted to do,” she states simply.

Of course, what Mana was really interested in didn’t seem feasible. She filled her spare time with creative projects: painting, sketching, pottery, even glass blowing—“That was really fun!” she enthuses. “I was always trying to find a creative outlet outside of what I was really doing, because I thought I couldn’t pursue creativity as a career.”

The UX solution

Mana’s mindset changed drastically when she visited her brother where he worked as a software engineer in San Francisco. “I talked to the UX Designers he worked with about what they do,” she remembers. “It was shocking to me that these people got to do these really creative things and work at such a cool place.”

One of the designers had even earned a kinesiology degree before getting into UX, and it struck a chord with Mana. “I had been feeling really down because I had this degree and I thought I had to stick to the science industry,” she says. “But this girl had done something similar to me and now she was doing UX and was happy.”

Chasing a creative future

With her mind effectively blown, Mana began digging for UX programs closer to home in Vancouver. She came across RED Academy, and reading forum reviews and sifting through curriculum gave her a good feeling. But it was the work with real clients that hooked her. “Coming out of science, I had felt like I couldn’t put anything on my resume that was hands-on,” she says. “I wanted to have something to show people, like a portfolio. That’s where RED really stood out.” So, she scheduled a meeting.

Within a day, someone reached out to her. “I remember being so nervous for my interview,” she says. “But it was so chill.” She signed up on the spot.

Rather than stop at one program, Mana went Full Stack and signed up for both the UX and UI Designer Professional programs together. “I wanted to get the full design experience,” she says. It’s a good thing, too, because she never would have discovered her latest artistic skill if it wasn’t for going Full Stack.

An Illustrator is born

After six months of intense class, group and client work, Mana looks back on her RED experience as the biggest influencer in changing her future. “It gave me the opportunity to meet people who were in the UX and UI field, to connect with people, to meet all these amazing instructors,” Mana says. “And it opened a lot of doors for me.”

One of those doors was an entirely new hands-on creative outlet. “I always thought illustrations were really cool but I never thought about how you would go about doing one,” Mana says. Luckily, with two or three UI courses focused on using Illustrator, she didn’t just become familiar with the art—she got excited about it. “It was completely my instructor, Fiona,” Mana insists. “The way she simplified it made it seem like something I can actually do.” Pairing students up with each other, Fiona demonstrated how to trace a photo of someone using Illustrator and had them take a crack at it.

Original creative illustrations by Mana Habibian

Mana was so intrigued, soon she was finding ways to practice her new skill. “When I was creating my portfolio I didn’t just want to use a picture for my ‘about me’ page, so I illustrated myself,” she says. It only grew from there. “I did a 30 day challenge, where I illustrated one of my friends every day. I got really fast at it, and started thinking about all the things I could do in the future.” Umm, did we just hear Mana say ‘future’?

Creative career FTW

Less than a year later, Mana is five months into her role as Product Designer at Venngage in Toronto, where she’s in charge of improving the usability of a design tool for non-designers. She gets to be creative every day in her work, from research phase to sketching phase to innovative problem solving. “I really like my job, I’m learning a lot,” Mana says. “I already have so many responsibilities, which means I get to prove myself and take ownership without being micromanaged. Plus, I’m a designer working on a design tool, so that makes it really fun!”

That’s not the only fun part of her job. “The culture here is great, we have a fridge with beer—very similar to RED, with very chill people,” Mana says. “I’ve made a lot of friends.”

And her illustration skills have come in rather handy—she just finished illustrating every one of her coworkers for the ‘About’ page of the company website. “It took so long—we’re growing a lot, so every week when I think I’m done three more people join!” she laughs.

Opportunities to grow new skills just keep on coming. There’s another illustration project in the works for her, and Mana just signed up to speak at her first conference—albeit, with a little hesitancy. “Our Head of Marketing asked me if I’d thought about speaking, and I said ‘yeah, down the road!’” Mana tells. “And her response was ‘How about not down the road?’” Mana will take the stage to speak about creating engaging visuals for reports to an audience of consultants and marketers at The Paraplanner Conference in June.

A whole new view on the future

Reflecting on how much her life has changed, Mana is amazed. “It’s just crazy to me how different a year ago is,” she says. “I didn’t think work life would be so enjoyable, or that I would be such good friends with everyone that I’m working with.”

Thanks to that mindshift in San Francisco, and Mana’s decision to act on it, she has a whole new view of what lies ahead. “When I graduated from university I wouldn’t even think about my future—it was too scary,” she says. “But once I started RED, I was no longer terrified. I can see the possibilities of where the future will take me, and I’m excited.”

Written by Carly Walde

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