Olivia Sutanto

By: Joy Harjanto

Question and answer has been edited for length and clarity

For most individuals, friendster is nothing more than an outdated social media platform. But for Olivia Sutanto, it is where she developed a knack for design.

Olivia joined Google as an interaction designer where she completed a two year design rotational program. She graduated from the Rochester Institute of Technology with a degree in new media design in 2016. Olivia says while design is one of her many passions, she also enjoys helping people. As a designer, she tries to make her design useful and helpful.

How did you develop an interest for design?

It started when I was in middle school or maybe when I was even younger. I always liked making things looking prettier. I would change the font, layout, color, and the background of my (Friendster) page. I also got into photoshop around the same time because my dad does photography. I would read his books and try a couple tutorials. That’s the beginning of it.

Can you tell me more about your journey into design?

When I got into college I originally thought I wanted to do graphic design. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a portfolio because we didn’t really have art classes in my high school so I got into the school undecided. I took a drawing class for non majors my first quarter, built my portfolio and then found a design major called new media design.

Why did you decide to start your career in the United States?

I personally always knew I wanted to stay before going back because there weren’t many opportunities yet in technology (when I was a senior in Indonesia). For me, it was finding job opportunities here, honing my skills and learning more before I was ready to go back. I knew I wouldn’t get the same opportunities at home as I would do here.

What was your greatest obstacle in trying to secure employment in the United States and how did you overcome it?

It was trying to find sponsorship. I knew hiring me was going to cost the company more money compared to hiring an American so that was definitely a challenge. I knew I had to be good in what I was doing. My (mentality) when I was in school was I have to give employers a reason to hire me. So I worked hard in school and honed in all my craft.

Some designers prefer to work for smaller companies. How did you design which company size is right for you?

I interned at a start up my junior year but I didn’t really like the experience. The people were great but what I was looking for was mentorship and a structured environment. So I decided after I graduated I would either go to a bigger company where I actually believe in the product or a design agency.

How has working for google been like?

Been interesting. I think you don’t realize the scale of the company until you get into it.

Do you face imposter syndrome? How did you overcome it?

For sure, I still do. I think feedback and validation from other people really help, knowing I was doing a good job and they appreciated the work I was doing. Other people helped me realize I made it there, deserve to be there and it was not a mistake that I got in.

What kind of impact do you wish to have as a designer?

Being able to improve people’s lives. One of the reasons why I chose Google was because of the impact I know it has.

Can you give me an example?

In junior year of college, I did a project on the Tsunami in Aceh in 2004. I chose that because I knew it was a big problem because a lot of people died. I researched and I found our country didn’t have a tsunami warning system that worked by the time. Now we have a tsunami warning system and it is only accessible to people who work there.

I did a project that made tsunami warning more accessible to people (using an application). That project started my passion for making design that is useful and accessible to many people making processes that exist right now.

Do you have any advice for Indonesian students who want to go pursue a career in design like you?

I think definitely network and try to expand more than just the Indonesian circle. Network with your upperclassmen and professors. I wouldn’t have gotten my current job if it weren’t for my professor from college. Another one is figure out what your passion is and infuse it into your design. That will reflect when you talk about it to your employers. People will be much more interested in you.

What is the greatest challenge you have faced so far as a designer?

The most recent one is trying to convince other people design is needed and design is important.

How did you overcome that?

By voicing my needs. You always need to tell them what you need to get what you want.  I definitely see this trend with younger people. There’s the mentality you’re young, new to a workplace and are just here to learn but recently I realized you’re as equal as all your other co-workers who’ve worked there longer. It’s okay to voice your needs it doesn’t mean you’re being needy or asking for extra attention you’re just doing your job.

How do you destress and what do you like to do for fun?

I have a cat so that helps. Also having a hobby like pottery and exercising.

Processed with VSCO with hb2 preset

Learn more about Olivia here:

Portfolio | Linkedin | Instagram

This story is part of our Home Away From Home series, where we interview Indonesians who started their career abroad. Click here for the second installment.

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