It may be weird to say my life changed because of an app most people use to fall down multi-hour rabbit holes to watch people dance or try out a viral recipe like NyQuil chicken, but it did. My name is Lucila Hernandez Del Carmen, I’m a Year Up alumnus-turned-Slack Design Operations intern for the last six months, and I owe it all to TikTok.
In August 2021, I was working as a credit specialist in the Bay Area and knew I wanted to pursue a different career, but I wasn’t quite sure what. That’s when I saw a two-minute video that changed everything. Among all the cute baby animals and DIY videos, the algorithm fatefully fed me a post from someone talking about their experience with Year Up, and I immediately needed to learn more.
A little bit about Year Up
Year Up is an amazing nonprofit organization committed to closing the opportunity divide among people of different backgrounds, incomes, and zip codes. After providing young adults with access to gain valuable skills and experiences, Year Up matches applicants with internships that will ultimately boost their career trajectory. Once I learned there were a few locations in the Bay Area and a project management track that would help me start a career in the tech industry, it was a no-brainer. I had recently made the difficult decision to end my college studies because it was becoming unaffordable on my own; an opportunity to enter a competitive field without drowning in student loans seemed too good to be true.
When I learned I had been accepted into the year-long program, I was thrilled and beyond ready to dive into my courses. For six months, I prepared for my internship by taking classes like business communication, computer literacy, small group communication, and even a SCRUM Master course. My favorite was my speech class because it helped me be more comfortable presenting.
Getting the internship
Then came the big day: my internship assignment! While Year Up participants don’t get to choose which internship they’re matched with, I was encouraged to advocate for myself. Whenever I got the chance, I expressed my interest in UX Design and that I wanted to intern at a company with a friendly, empathetic culture that would push me to grow and take initiative. On my first day at Slack–a company I was thrilled to be matched with because I was already a fan and user of their product–it felt like Cinderella’s glass slipper: a perfect fit. I have never met a kinder and more supportive group of people and before no time at all, I felt like Slack was a safe space where I could learn and be myself.
For my first project at Slack, my manager had me design a timeline, and it was clear this internship would let me make an impact. One of the projects that I am most proud of working on is the Design Culture Squad–I got to be a coordinator and lead my own pod (a group of people who execute the initiatives of Slack’s Culture Squad). I got to brainstorm creative ways to celebrate people’s birthdays and come up with scalable strategies for creating memorable activities for our remote team. During my time here, I’ve also had the opportunity to work on Slack’s external brand efforts and even be a part of the behind-the-scenes process of this very blog you’re reading!
Lessons learned on the job
Lastly, in addition to obviously improving my Slack skills, I’ve learned so many valuable lessons over the last six months:
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help: I used to worry about asking too many questions, but quickly learned they are the key to success at Slack. I’m grateful for my manager, Sheila, who encouraged me to ask all the questions I had and to never be afraid to ask for help. Sometimes it’s scary to be the intern, and it can often feel like you’re bothering your co-workers, but remember: the reason you’re here is to learn! And it’s impossible to learn or improve your work without asking questions.
- Network and get to know people: Sheila really helped me at the beginning of my internship by encouraging me to connect with so many people, including SVPs (who, I must admit, I was a little nervous to meet!). I would recommend to anyone entering a new company to ask their manager who they should connect with, or even make a few introductions for you. Having a bi-weekly meeting with the Design Ops team helped me learn more about my colleagues and their projects, and gave me a better understanding of how things work both on a macro and day-to-day level. (Not to mention gave me the opportunity for some major education and team-building opportunities!) Setting up one-on-ones with as many people your manager believes you should be connected to is a crash course in how to build professional relationships and learn more about the company as a whole.
- Even if you are scared, do it anyway: At Slack, there’s a monthly Design Lightning meeting where designers get together and share what they’re working on (and have some fun while doing it!). In November, our host couldn’t make it last-minute and Sheila suggested that I take over. This presentation was the biggest presentation I had ever done, so, you know, no pressure! While I was scared to do it, I ended up having a lot of fun during the meeting and was proud of myself for getting out of my comfort zone. Now I have the experience of leading a team meeting at a major tech company! The Lucila scrolling on TikTok last year would never believe it!
I’m so grateful for my experience here at Slack and want to give a special shoutout to my manager Sheila Kazan, who’s been in my corner from day one. She is the best manager ever and I have learned so much from her. Special thanks to Year Up and my peers, you all have a special place in my heart! Thank you to everyone on the creative, product design, and Design Ops teams; I will forever be grateful for this opportunity and I’m excited to see what comes next.
Lucila Hernandez Del Carmen is a Design Operations Manager at Slack and a Year Up Alumni. In her free time, she enjoys reading and going on walks with her puppy Lily.