Hellem studied Design at FAE, Curitiba and was a grantee of the Brazil Scientific Mobility Program from August of 2012 to August of 2013. During her grant, she studied at Parsons, The New School for Design and interned at ThoughtWorks, Inc.
Can you briefly describe what ThoughtWorks, Inc. does?
ThoughtWorks is precisely what you will find in their statement: “A community of passionate individuals whose purpose is to revolutionize software design, creation and delivery, while advocating for positive social change.”
Specifically, ThoughtWorks develops solutions to problems using technology, specifically software. They also do a lot of other things like advocate for many causes and support initiatives related to technological inclusion. In my opinion, the overarching thing that ThoughtWorks does is to bring a bunch of passionate talented people together to change the world through technological solutions and build a better reality for humanity.
How did you find your internship at ThoughtWorks?
Professor Carlos Teixeira of the Transdisciplinary Design Program at Parsons introduced me to the idea of interning at ThoughtWorks while I was taking his Enterprise Design and Knowledge class. I had never even considered it because it was an opportunity specifically for Master’s students and, even though I was taking a bunch of Graduate classes, I was still an undergraduate. I figured the worst that could happen was for ThoughtWorks to not pick me as an intern and I went for it anyway. Good thing I did because it made the Summer of 2013 the best of my life.
What were your specific duties as an intern?
I worked with a group of girls who had won the 2013 Technovation Challenge, the largest international competition of social-impact driven apps for girls from middle school throughout college. ThoughtWorks NY had the girls spend the summer at the office in order to develop their project. It was my duty to support the girls throughout the process of building their app. Ed. note – the winning project was submitted by a group of girls from the Nightingale Bamford school. The app, called Arrive, allows students to check-in at school using a mobile device.
On a typical day at the office I would get to work, have some coffee, and review the project to see if any progress was made overnight before the girls arrived at the office. Then, I would align priorities with them, organize the deliverables, and dive into work. Everyday was different, but my work mostly involved a lot of white boards, post-its, virtual and in-person meetings, trello boards and prototypes. We also did usability tests and interviews. To sum it up, I collaborated with teams all around the world, engaged in team and project management, developed internal team communication strategies and platforms, created visual identities, completed innovation studies, and strategized reach-out, presence, communication and marketing of initiatives.
An image created by Hellem
What was the most interesting thing you did at ThoughtWorks?
To work in such a diverse environment with people from so many different places in one place was truly amazing. The most meaningful thing, however, was all the things I did not expect to be doing because of the freedom and autonomy I was given to make things happen. Being with the girls, helping them develop a project, and having the chance to be part of a project that impacts others touches me very deeply. Having the chance to play the role of a design manager, use design in a strategic and human driven way on a daily basis was very valuable. It allowed me to understand the importance of design experiences not just for the users, but for the company, the stakeholders, and the internal team, as well.
What do you feel were some of the most important things you learned during your internship?
Change is good – Change is part of the project development process so there is no need to stick to an idea or format or anything, actually. As the project develops and changes, whatever is really valuable will continue to be a part of the project, so the essential idea will remain.
Empathy = Curiosity + Ears – As designers, we need to ask questions instead of acting like specialists when working with people from different backgrounds. Empathy is a skill designers need to have, so ask as many questions as you need to and listen carefully. No questions is useless if it enables you to understand the context of someone else’s reality. No answer is useless if it can help you better understand your user.
Design means strategy and empowerment – Many people say design is all about solving problems and I agree to a certain point. From my experience, design has, above all, shown itself to be the most powerful way to let someone create their own way to interpret, analyze, plan, and act on their perception of the world. Design empowers people. We don’t even realize it, but when we design something we are designing our own experience.
Professor Carlos used to say that designers need to become leaders and use their skills to become interdisciplinary agents in multidisciplinary terms. I now understand that. It is my duty as a designer to facilitate the knowledge development process as well as to empower people to create what they feel they need and to design new realities for themselves.
What were the biggest differences in American and Brazilian work culture you discovered while interning?
I’ve always worked in the creative industry in organizations that are very international, so I don’t think I witnessed many differences. Speaking about work cultures in general, though, I can say that people in the U.S. are very fast and straight to the point. In Brazil, there are little bureaucracies that hold us back and we worry about not being good enough for international business. I believe that we are very traditional in Brazil, meaning, we hold on to existing models. The Creative Industry in Brazil is huge and an exception among other industries, but how long will we hold-on to old models while trying to solve new wicked and hairy problems?
It’s hard for me to draw lines between the U.S. and Brazil because I see one market, one industry, one world. Within the creative industry, we work along the same lines. There are some old-fashioned working cultures, but I feel they won’t last much longer in the Creative Industry.
You interned at ThoughtWorks when you returned to Brazil, what did you do there?
I was responsible for bringing the Technovation Challenge to Brazil as ThoughWorks’ partner. Basically, I was responsible for the relationship between the project and ThoughtWorks and carrying-out the project in Brazil. I traveled to Recife and Porto Alegre aiming to recruit 5 teams of girls to participate in the program in 2014. In a matter of weeks, I was leading a team of 10 volunteers spread all across Brazil. In the end, approximately 75 Brazilian teams applied for the Technovation Challenge in 5 cities around the country. Since August of last year, I have been heading operations and partnerships of Technovation Challenge here in Brazil.
A photo by Hellem, New York City
What are you doing now?
I am an innovation analyst at ZOOM. I have 2 main focuses now: developing projects that explore opportunities within the educational market and designing, planning and implementing a new culture within the company. I must say, this is one of the most challenging things I have ever done. My work is basically to feed the office with new information that may spark their curiosity or help them to develop more creative confidence. I do that by organizing pitches, workshops, trainings and by designing internal practices.
Can you give some advice to other design students on how to have a really fulfilling AT experience? What are some things you did that you felt made you a good intern?
Don’t hold back for even one second. I know it’s tempting to be in another country and have a list of places that you want to go and things to do, but when will you actually be in this place with amazing professionals and amazing opportunities to build a network again? This is the first step to building an international career, so do it now while the scholarship is giving you all the support you need to make it happen and do your best. You may have the chance to return later, but the energy you have now – being in college and having enough humility to learn from every mistake – that’s something you may not have afterwards. So do it now.
Make mistakes. The things you learn as a result will make a huge difference no matter where you work. Look for diverse and collaborative environments, meet as many people as possible and listen to their stories. Look for new experiences; try new job descriptions that might challenge you.
Give it all of you. If you do, you will find that it changes you in ways you never thought possible. Because of my internship, I now know what I want to do, how to do it and whom I want to do it with.