Careers are often defined by big bold bets we make on how we want to spend our time. As Andre shares in this awesome and knowledge-filled interview – there is no prescriptive path you can take to get to “where you want in life.” Rather, it is often best to constantly be doing things you enjoy.
Andre, as you’ll find out, does some pretty incredible things, while traveling off the conventional path and finding his own. While we are all really just making things up as we move along, Andre enforces the idea that the best thing we can do is just treat people like humans and build real relationships. We do not have time to irrationally worship others, or vice versa, treat people poorly because we believe they are “lower” than us.
Together, we can all grow. When the water rises, all the boats rise too.
Without further ado, check out this awesome interview – comment, share, subscribe – let us know what you think! And of course, thanks Andre!
Hey Andre! Thanks for taking the time to share on Student Hustle.
Introduce yourself! Tell us about where you go to school, where you have worked, and what you are up to nowadays.
My name is Andre Tacuyan and I’m currently living in Palo Alto right now. I went to school at Pacific Lutheran University and interned at different companies like Google and Microsoft and some smaller startups as well. My first job was at Google where I worked on projects at Android, Chrome, and YouTube. After spending a year there I decided to move into the startup scene. I spent the summer talking to different people about projects they were working on and found out that Andy Rubin, the founder of Android, was working on something cool and looking for a designer. I met with the team and really liked their vision and what they were trying to do so I decided to join them as their first designer. Now a year later, Essential is out of stealth mode and we are preparing to launch our first product, a brand new premium smart phone.
What did you study in school before you dropped out? Was anyone of it helpful?
I fell in love with design and technology at a really young age. I spent most of my time as a kid on my computer and my parents bought me Adobe Photoshop when I was in elementary school. I grew up with a passion for design but never saw it as a career. During my first couple of years at school I really didn’t know what to major in. Since I was still designing as a hobby, I had my portfolio up to find clients but during my sophomore year, I was reached out to by a recruiter for an internship at Microsoft. I ended up getting the internship and that summer I decided I wanted to pursue that career path. My school didn’t offer any user experience or interaction design programs so I majored in Graphic Design but spent my free time taking courses online and working on other side projects to learn more about what it means to be a digital product designer.
Where did you pick up most of your design skills? Any resources / advice you’d give to someone trying to break into design?
Constantly build new things, get others’ eyes on it, your friends, family, mentors and over time you will naturally pick up on what works and what doesn’t.
For hard skills like how to use tools like Sketch, definitely use YouTube and watch tutorials. For more of the softer skills just build things. If you see an app you think could have a better experience, go redesign it for fun. Reach out to smaller companies and ask if you can help them with their website. As a student, you’re not trying to make money you’re trying to grow your skills so these smaller companies can afford to have you work on things. Constantly build new things, get others’ eyes on it, your friends, family, mentors and over time you will naturally pick up on what works and what doesn’t.
What was it like working at Google? Any surprises and what were a few of the biggest things that you learned?
I learned that people there are normal people like me and it made me less intimidated
It was great working at Google! Some of my favorite things about it was knowing I was working on products that would impact millions of people’s lives and also all the people I met and worked with there. I was surprised about how normal everyone was there. I look up to a lot of designers and before I worked at places like Google, I would put these people on pedestals and almost worship them. Working there myself, I learned that people there are normal people like me and it made me less intimidated. It’s good to not put people in the industry on pedestals especially if you’re young because then they will never gain respect for you as a peer.
How do you think about taking risks in your career? Do you have a framework that you use?
I’m a big believer in that everything happens for a reason so when I make a decision to do something, I know that no matter the outcome I’ll be happy. I go with my gut and it hasn’t ever failed me. I weigh the pros and cons and since I’m a visual person I usually make a diagram or spreadsheet about the decision I’m trying to make. At the very best, I’ll stumble upon an awesome opportunity that’s everything I’ve ever wanted and at the very worst, it’s a life long lesson learned. I’m always trying to stay on God’s path.
You’re now working at Essential. What have you learned working at a company scaling incredibly quickly? What have been the biggest challenges?
I was one of the first few employees hired at Essential and now we’re at over 100 employees so I definitely had first hand experience at seeing us scale so quickly. I was able to see how our culture has stayed the same as well as changed during the past year. When I first joined, our whole company would get lunch together at a specific table in the cafe at the same time everyday. As time went on, slowly our whole company couldn’t fit on one table so some people would go at later times or just sit at different tables. I think that’s a metaphor that could work for other aspects of our growth too.
Another thing is that there are more meetings and emails that we have to go through when making decisions but still definitely not as much as somewhere like Microsoft.
What are the biggest differences between working at a huge company like Google and a small team at Essential? Which do you prefer and why?
At Google, I had a lot of very senior designers to turn to and a lot of resources to use. It was very structured there whereas at Essential things are more ambiguous and I have to go with my gut and learn a lot of things by mistake. I think it was good to start off my career at places like Google and Microsoft to learn the basics of what a good product is and making the right connections but right now I definitely feel the startup world is a great fit for me, especially at a place like Essential. It’s not one of those startups started by me and my friends so I still have the ability to ask people who have been doing this for years for advice but at the same time there isn’t too much structure so I can try new things on my own not knowing if I’m doing the right or wrong thing. I think it definitely depends person to person so maybe this might not be the best place for someone else my age but personally I think this is where I should be right now.
What does your day to day look like at work now?
Being one of the only designers in the company, I’m surrounded with people from all over the company from marketing, to software engineers, to even people working on the hardware side like the physical product designers. This has caused me to wear multiple hats at Essential where some days I’ll be working closely with my engineers trying to build out a sick prototype and other days I’m sitting in on marketing meetings brainstorming campaign ideas with our influencers. Since we are also working on different products, I get to spend some time on other projects besides our phone like our smart home device.
Have you worked on any side projects? What are they and how do you find time to balance full time and freelance / part time work?
I work on a bunch of side projects all the time. My friends know I like to spend my time building things so I get pitched ideas all the time. I also keep a note on my phone of problems I want to solve and ideas I come up with that I jot down on randomly throughout the day. Right now I’m working on a messaging app with a friend from New York and doing freelance for a friend on his site, Commaful (check it out!). I also like to work on side projects that fit what I’m into at the moment so I’m working on this app that helps you build squads to go on trips with to festivals and stuff but it’s still in the very early stages.
Do you have any mentors? Who and where did you find them?
I have a lot of “unofficial” mentors. I don’t meet with them regularly but when I have a career question or two I usually turn to them. A couple are Nick Sears (co-founder @ Android), Tom Leung (Director of Product Management @ Youtube), and Reagan Kim (Product Design Lead @ Oculus). Most of them are ones I met from my internships at Google and Microsoft and a lot of them are ones that I randomly reached out to.
What is the worst advice someone has ever told you?
I really don’t think there’s advice people can give (unless it’s common sense) that works for every single person since everyone is so different.
I really don’t think there’s advice people can give (unless it’s common sense) that works for every single person since everyone is so different. But me personally, I think the worst advice I could get is when I’m told to do something because it’s safe. I’m always trying to challenge myself and grow and staying complacent or doing something with no risks is the complete opposite of that. I can see some people living that lifestyle and being comfortable but I make an effort daily to put myself in uncomfortable situations. How else am I going to grow??
Where can people find you and what opportunities are you looking for? (Twitter, linkedin, personal site, medium, etc).
I’m always looking for new projects to work on and new people to work with. Whether you are a designer, engineer, or even an Instagram model, reach out and let’s collaborate on something!
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