How I Went from Failing Design School to Being Hired at Google

My 10-years journey overcoming mediocrity.

8 min readApr 18, 2024


Like most people, when I finished high school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a living. Having grown poor, I knew one thing: I wanted to make money.

I remember browsing my school’s career portal, looking for high-paying jobs, when I stumbled upon Video Game Designer. The site said it paid $400k and required a Graphic Design degree.

To be fair, this was probably the most bullshit entry on the site. Games designers made $80k at best in Canada back then. But I didn’t know that. So I signed up to design school.

I quickly realized I had made a terrible mistake

  1. Graphic design had little to do with video games.
  2. It only paid $50k.
  3. I was terrible at it.
My very first graphic design project that got me an “F” grade and a warning from my teacher 🥴🤣

In fact, I was so bad at it that in my second year, my teacher told me that, if I didn’t improve, I’d never get a job in design. This was the trigger that turned my life around.

Fast forward to 10 years later, not only did I get a job, but I ended up joining Google — one most selective companies in the world. I don’t make $400k quite yet, but I’m getting closer every day.

How did I do it?

1. I Had the Right Attitude

I remember when I realized I was bad at design. We had just finished our first class project, a 3-fold flyer. Mine was terrible. My teacher called three other classmates and me to her office, where she told us that we had to improve quickly; otherwise, we wouldn’t make it in the industry.

The three other students had a bad reaction. They banded together and complained to the program director, trying to get the teacher fired. He dismissed them.

I had a different reaction. I wasn’t mad at my teacher. I was mad at myself. I was mad that I wasn’t the creative and smart person I thought I was.

I considered quitting. But then I thought: If I can’t learn a $50k job, how could I ever get a $400k job?

It sounds silly, but I decided to continue, not to become a designer per se, but to see if I could figure it out. I would give it another year, and my 100% focus, and see if I could make it work or not. In either case, I’d learn something valuable about myself.

Looking back, this was a key decision where my life turned around.

2. I Got Technical First

What I hated the most about design was that it felt too subjective. I’ve always been a very logical, objective person, with a mathematical mind. Concepts like aesthetics and vibes were completely alien to me.

I felt like my grades depended entirely on whether the teacher liked my work or not, and I thought the teachers were very unclear about what made a design good or bad. It was either you got it, or you didn’t, and if you didn’t, there was nothing anyone could do about it, including the teachers.

While I couldn’t understand design, there was one thing I could understand: Photoshop. The software functioned in a logical way. I could learn that.

So I found a website called PSD.Tuts+. Back then, it was the biggest Photoshop tutorial website on the planet.

I set off to complete one tutorial every day, for about a year. By the end of that year, I knew more about Photoshop than my teachers.

This did two things for me:

  1. It built my confidence. Even though I was still far from being a good designer, at the very least, I had the capability to translate any idea from my head to the screen. I could confidently approach new projects knowing I could at least do something.
  2. It got me my first job. At that point, I was so good at Photoshop that I started writing my own tutorials, and I got paid for it! At 20, I was still in school, but I was already writing for the biggest Photoshop website in the world. This is where I started gaining momentum.

3. I Got Real-World Experience Early On

Once I got my Bachelor's degree, I received my first and only job offer, from a small, unknown Web design studio in Canada.

I had to choose: I could either keep going for my Master's degree or work full-time as a Web designer.

I ended up doing both.

This was by far the most exhausting time of my life. I was working between 60 to 80 hours per week. I was miserable. I had no life. But looking back, this was the best thing I could’ve done.

Me, all the time, back then.

While other students were busy working on made-up school projects, I was dealing with real clients, real budgets, and real deadlines. I had skin in the game.

This supercharged my growth. Every day, I would learn something in school, and get to apply it the next day in a real-world context.

On top of that, because I was the first and only designer at the company, I quickly learned to deal with a lot of responsibilities. I handled communications, project pitches, managed priorities, and made difficult design decisions all by myself.

This allowed me to leapfrog my classmates. By the end of my school, I had a solid portfolio of real projects that would open many doors to me.

4. I Moved to the Bay-Area

In my last year of school, a few classmates and I participated in a student design competition. Our team flew to Paris, where I gave a presentation, and we won first place!

Winning was great, but the best part of the event was seeing the booths from all the biggest tech companies in the world Google, Facebook, Apple, etc. I worked the courage to walk to the booths and talk to the employees.

This will sound silly, but this is when I realized these people were real humans, just like you and I. And they were also designers! We used the same software, liked the same fonts, and dealt with the same day-to-day issues.

For some reason, I’ve always felt like big American companies were unattainable. As if there was an invisible wall between me and them. But then, I internalized: If these people can work at these big companies, why couldn’t I?

This was also when the movie The Internship came out. I remember watching it and being blown away by how amazing Google was.

The movie got me into the Silicon Valley rabbit hole. I read How Google Works, and the Netflix Culture Deck. I loved ideas such as being a Smart Creative, and working in a pro-team — the NBA of tech — where success and impact are highly compensated.

Furthermore, I learned the salaries were incredible. In fact, they went all the way up to that 400k number I was dreaming of back in high school.

So I decided I would move to the US, and work at Google!

5. I Worked With The Smartest People I Could Find

Once I finished my degree, I took a one-month vacation in Silicon Valley. I arrived San Francisco with my pixel-perfect portfolio, ready to go! I went to the Google career page, applied, and then…


I quickly realized it would take a lot more than just a portfolio to get a job at Google. I’d have to network my way in.

So I applied for other jobs.

Thankfully, Silicon Valley is and has always been hungry for design talent. After a month of interviewing, I had a few offers in hand.

Silicon Valley is always hiring hundreds of designers

One stood out the most. It was a small company called Osmo. They had a unique idea and a beautiful web page. You could tell they cared about design.

The best part: the two founders were Ex-Googlers. I thought, if I could work with them, I could learn the Google way. Ansd perhaps eventually they could recommend me to Google.

During the interview, I quickly realized they were the smartest people I had ever interviewed with. One of the co-founders, Pramod, told me that his co-founder was the smartest person he had ever worked with in the past 10 years at Google. I was sold!

The catch? They gave me the lowest offer of all the companies I had interviewed for.

But I joined anyway — betting that working with smart people on a great idea would eventually pay off. And it sure did.

I joined as the 12th employee. Again, I was the first and only designer at the company. I learned more in my first year at that company that I did in my 5 years of design school. Everything from making difficult product decisions, to doing hacky weekly user tests, and even copywriting, PR, marketing, hardware sales, and much more!

Thanks to everyone’s hard work, the company became successful. We were being used in over 40,000 schools across the US, sold worldwide, and had won dozens of product and design awards.

In 2019, we got acquired for $120M.

Getting my Dream Job

After the acquisition, I felt it was time to try Google once more.

This time, I reached out to an ex-colleague from Osmo, who was now at Google. He put in a good word for me, and the very next day, the recruiter reached out to me.

I passed the interview, and finally got my dream job!

Looking back, what made the biggest difference for me was:

  • Growth Mindset: Feeling encouraged rather than discouraged by my teacher’s negative feedback.
  • Getting Technical: Focusing on my strengths as a way to build confidence and momentum, despite my shortcomings.
  • Having skin in the game: Taking on real projects, with a lot of responsibilities, early on.
  • Networking. Being physically present in Silicon Valley, and building a reputation for myself, rather than staying home and applying online.
  • Opting to work with the smartest people on the most interesting ideas, rather than taking the higher paying offers.

Hope this helps!

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