Get comfortable with your fears to help you reach your goals

Meet Jonathan L. Su - Product Designer at Gallery - a collaborative tool from Material Design, Google. Jonathan volunteered at our design systems conference in September 2019 and also at a few other events throughout the past years. His story is particularly inspiring since he challenged his fear of networking and ended up connecting with a dream opportunity at one of our events.

You’re currently working as a full-time product designer. How would you describe your path to what you’re doing now?

Earlier in my career, I worked as an environmental designer. I moved to the bay for my first design job out of college and had the opportunity to design at different scales from school and civic spaces to park master plans. I really enjoyed my work, but something didn’t feel right about working in landscape architecture for the rest of my life. I was really curious about product design and the opportunity to tackle the problems of the future. 

My product design career started with a short contract with a civ-tech startup creating software to help cities track and manage their innovation projects. It was a small team working with the city, which I did often when I was an environmental designer. I had the opportunity to really own the work, from breaking down the problem to bringing in my team and our users' perspectives into the solution.

In one of my contracts after working there, I had the opportunity to start a design system for the team. I really enjoyed the opportunity to bring structure and fix problems in a process that we depend on all the everyday. Since then I’ve been learning and getting involved with more design system related work (RETHINK events have been really great for this), which has eventually brought me to my current opportunity.

What exciting projects are you currently working on?

I'm working with Gallery - a collaborative tool that assists product teams all over Google to get feedback and handoff product designs. The tool also serves design teams outside of Google, which provides its own challenges and opportunities.  Most of my current work is under NDA, but is focused on improving team collaboration and communication.

What was the process like to get the current job?

I met my current manager at a design systems conference hosted by RETHINK. At some point we were talking about our current roles. I mentioned that I just finished some work and was looking to building upon my design systems experience.

She was looking for help for her team at Google. I was intimidated, but connected with her on LinkedIn and messaged her on the spot. She followed up and after a few rounds of interviews with the team I was heading in for my first day in the office a month later.

What are your tips for people who are looking for their next opportunities at networking events?

I would recommend attending events in general to practice your interviewing skills or make connections. RETHINK events are good because they usually cover more advanced topics from experienced speakers and this helps you get a better perspective on how teams collaborate internally. Check out one of my favorite talks, Linda Dong’s recorded session, a comprehensive guide on building a color system.

What is your approach of overcoming the fear of starting a conversation with people while at events

I sometimes don't go to events because networking feels kind of strange, inauthentic, and intimidating. If you start conversations with the objective to find a job, it ends up feeling weird and one sided.

Recently I've been taken the pressure off of events by going with the goal to just enjoy the content first and maybe connecting with people after. It’s really helped me enjoy events more and talking about the content of the event with people has been a good starting point for more interesting conversation.

As someone that can get choked up talking with new people, I find it really helpful to prepare a quick intro about who you are as a designer and what brings you to the particular event. People always ask and it’s getting through that initial awkwardness of meeting someone new. It’s a good conversation starter and I think starting the conversation is always the hardest part. I also really like design events as a place to follow up with people and check in with people you’ve met at previous events.

What are your top 3 lessons learned during this experience while searching for a job? 

1. Ask good questions

This is my favorite way of being interviewed. Interviewers can learn about what you’re interested in from the questions you have for them. If you need help with questions, think about what would you want to learn about from the scale of the company, the industry, the manager, the team, or the role you’re applying for? 

2. Get clarity into what you’re looking for

Teams are looking for more than just skills & experience. Sometimes interviews can feel just like a test of your skills and about your past work. One of the most intriguing question I've learned the most from was "What kind of problems do you want to solve here?” I was a little stumped at first, but I really enjoyed the question. Despite being caught by surprise, it was a good opportunity for me and the interviewer to imagine working together. Although we talked about other topics in the 45 minutes, that question felt like the most important thing we shared in the whole conversation.

3. Invest time in your portfolio presentation

Portfolio presentations make me feel nervous to my core. For me, preparing a portfolio presentation way ahead of time allowed me to get some much needed practice in so when I did  present it and stumble, I could easily pick it back up instead of spiraling into oblivion. Having a nice portfolio presentation makes it easier for your panel to ask good questions and allows you to give even better responses. 

How did you set-up for success in this new role? 

1. Get to know your team

In my experience, starting a new role usually involves a lot of freaking out (which is normal). Proactively setting up coffee chats with teammates, especially some you might not directly work with all the time is a good way to warm up to your environment while your software gets set up.. Everyone wants to help you out with your on-boarding when you start and they don't always know how to help. Usually the team is super busy. A good question might open up a lot of advice and maybe an anecdote about having a similar question when they started.

2. Become comfortable with feeling imposter syndrome

I’ve worked at several startups in the past two years. I have always started off thinking I need to instantly prove myself or that they’ll see through me and I’ll end up embarrassing myself and get fired. It’s ok to feel that fear. It’s normal to feel a bit overwhelmed starting a new job. If you are still feeling super stressed (this was me during the first couple of weeks at Google), reach out to friends and mentors. They can help remind you about your strong points and sometimes just sharing your feelings helps a bunch. 

It all gets easier with time and you shouldn't expect to be a superstar in your first months. Your first months are for really getting comfortable with the teams  and processes. 

What is one book that you’d recommend to fellow designers to overcome imposter syndrome at work? 

I recently read this book: “The First 90 days” prior to starting my new job. The book talks about how to set yourself up for success in the first 3 months of your job and helps you form that plan. It would be good for you if you are like me and don’t want to mess up on the first weeks. 

The book can help you frame conversations so you can understand what has led to team success and failures and how you can bring value. I personally like the structure because direct questions can help team members share challenges or accomplishments that they might not talk about in a regular conversation.


People who support Leadership Circle

Deepest thanks to the following people who graciously offered feedback
and support while beta testing Leadership Circle.

Leslie Yang

Director, Product Design

Jeff Smith

Senior Design Manager

Julie Zhuo


Aniruddha Kadam

Product Design Manager

Jen Kozenski-Devins

Head of Google
Accessibility UX

Jian Wei

Design Manager

Courtney Kaplan

Leadership Coach

Cammy Lin

Product Design Manager

Sun Dai

Senior Product Designer

Liana Dumitru

Design Manager

Mike Dick

This conversation if part of a series of interviews featuring lessons learned and success stories from members of the RETHINK community, celebrating some of the amazing people we’ve gotten to know through our events.
Jonathan Su
Product Designer, Google
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