Choose Your Trail
By Alixandra Rutnik on Jun 22, 2023
Three Critical Mass Trailheaders discuss their career shift
Making a career switch may seem daunting, but it’s not impossible. Before Julia Child became a celeb chef she actually worked in advertising, Vera Wang was a journalist before she became a fashion icon, and Jeff Bezos worked on Wall Street before launching Amazon. You might not get famous, but The One Club's Bronze Member Critical Mass has a program called Trailhead designed specifically for people looking to shift careers and get into advertising.
We talked to three individuals who all went through the Trailhead program and now work at Critical Mass. Louis Ralli is the Co-Founder of Ralli Design Studio and is working in UX Design; Miné Doro recently graduated college and is a Project Coordinator; and Gwen Tulin switched from theater to Copywriting. Three very different individuals from intriguing backgrounds have found commonality through Trailhead at Critical Mass and here are their stories.
Louis, when did you start designing furniture?
I never thought of myself as a furniture designer. The projects I've been involved with were so varied and didn't always result in a piece of furniture being designed, so I usually introduce myself as a product designer.
When did you decide that you wanted to switch things up?
I definitely wanted a new challenge and the opportunity to work with more people on projects for global brands. After the isolation during the pandemic, I realized I couldn't wait to get back into an actual office and work with people IRL!
You co-founded Ralli Design Studio with your sister. Tell us what inspired your business.
My sister Sophie and I were both fascinated by small space living and clever space-saving design, so we decided to develop a range of ceramic homeware in collaboration with Royal Stafford, a renowned British manufacturer.
How did Trailhead land on your radar?
I was looking for entry-level UX roles and came across Critical Mass on LinkedIn. What intrigued me about the role was that they were interested in candidates that could bring previous design experience but not necessarily from a digital/web-based background.
"What intrigued me about the role was that they were interested in candidates that could bring previous design experience but not necessarily from a digital/web-based background."
What compelled you to switch from product design to UX design?
It was shortly after taking an accelerated UX course at General Assembly London when I realized I wanted to make the switch. What really inspired me was the agile methodology applied in user experience design—where ideas are tested quickly, iterated, and then the process is repeated.
What motivated you to participate in Trailhead?
I decided UX was the right career path for me before I applied for the role.
How is UX Design similar or different to product design?
The beauty and tactility of materials, as well as the fabrication techniques used to create both handmade and manufactured objects, are the most appealing aspects of three-dimensional design. What I love about UX is the ability to produce rapid prototypes, compared to 3D working prototypes, that look and feel like the real thing and can be tested quickly with users to get instant feedback.
As a Trailhead Associate, what did you gain from participating in the three month program?
I gained valuable insights from more experienced colleagues and knowledge of how other departments function within the structure of a global agency.
What makes this program unique?
The fact that CM is open to candidates with previous work experience, possibly from different industries, is unique. The program gave me the confidence that I'd made the right decision, especially seeing others taking similar leaps into new careers.
Miné, you studied economics and sociology in college, so what led you to project management?
During high school, I initially planned to pursue an undergraduate degree in science and later enter the medical field. However, after starting university, I realized that this was not something that truly sparked my interest. I decided to switch my major to economics after my first year because it combined my love for mathematics and critical thinking. As I took a few elective courses in sociology, I became more fascinated with studying society and individuals in various areas such as family dynamics, healthcare, and the workforce.
I was not aware of a career field in project management until my second internship term in marketing at a fintech startup. As I researched more about this line of work, I discovered it was a perfect fit for my introvert-extrovert personality as it involved working with a team while also allowing me to work independently. Furthermore, it aligned with my passion for organization and finding ways to enhance and streamline processes. With the variety of work that comes with project management, ranging from financial services to oil and gas companies, there is always something new to learn and explore, providing various opportunities for personal and professional growth.
"As I researched more about this line of work, I discovered it was a perfect fit for my introvert-extrovert personality as it involved working with a team while also allowing me to work independently."
You recently graduated from the Winter 2023 Trailhead program. How did Trailhead land on your radar?
Prior to joining Trailhead and finishing my undergraduate degree, I had the opportunity to work full time at a Fintech startup after completing an eight-month internship. As the end of my four years in undergrad approached, I realized as I graduated from university, I also wanted to “graduate” from this company and pursue a long-term role that better suited my interests. I began dedicating more time to job searching, compiling a list of specific criteria for my future company or employer. Most of my job search involved scrolling through the jobs section on LinkedIn, which led me to discover Critical Mass Trailhead.
What drew me to Trailhead was its requirement for no prior work experience. Although I had some previous work experience, I lacked a strong foundation and understanding of the fundamentals required for success in the project management field, making this program an excellent opportunity to learn those essential skills. Upon joining the program and starting my role in project delivery, I quickly identified areas for improvement and discovered new skills that I could incorporate in how I approached project management. However, my previous experience was helpful in this role as it allowed me to understand what was expected of me, leverage my existing skills to contribute to the team, and bring a fresh perspective for process optimization.
What did you gain from the “curated learning and development programming, dedicated mentorship, and community” Trailhead experience?
One of the best parts of the program was the ease of connecting with other Trailhead Associates and employees and quickly making friends. We were encouraged to add our unique perspectives and personalities to the Critical Mass culture rather than fit into it. Another highlight was the gradual transition into my assigned client group over three months, which prevented me from feeling overwhelmed. One challenge I faced was the inability to attend some learning sessions as I became more involved with my client group. However, I would say the biggest highlight of the program is being a part of something that creates a unique opportunity for new graduates and aspiring career changers.
"We were encouraged to add our unique perspectives and personalities to the Critical Mass culture rather than fit into it."
During my time participating in Trailhead, I learned that individuals in the workplace are always striving to improve their skills, regardless of their experience level. The program not only emphasized the importance of seeking mentorship and learning from others, but also provided various ways to gain mentorship and connect to those around you. It also showed that people are willing to share their professional experiences and knowledge if you ask. I felt supported, not only by my Trailhead managers but also by leaders throughout the company. Now that I have completed the program and became a Trailhead Alumni, I have found the support, encouragement, and opportunities for growth and mentorship have only continued to expand.
What makes this program unique?
One of the great and unique aspects of Trailhead is that everyone in it is starting out fresh, which helps to create a sense of reassurance and similarity. It provides you with a group of individuals who you can quickly connect with based on the fact that everyone is embarking on something new that feels possibly scary. Whether you have years of work experience or are fresh out of university, you can relate to the emotions that come with starting a new job. I'd highly recommend Trailhead to my friends and acquaintances who are either starting out in their professional careers or looking to make a career change, because it allows you to explore a new field without feeling intimidated and offers a supportive network of peers and mentors to lean on throughout and after the program.
I know this might sound cliché, but Trailhead has helped me to trust and be confident in my own abilities. Prior to joining the program, I was hesitant to lead meetings or share my ideas and opinions. However, the program not only encouraged me to speak up, be more confident, and trust my abilities, but also provided me with various resources and tools to improve my communication skills, such as learning sessions and one-on-one meetings with my career developer/manager. Most importantly, the program gave me the opportunity to share my ideas, improve my public speaking skills, and take on projects in a comfortable and safe environment, without feeling pressured or overwhelmed.
What does a day in the life look like as a Project Coordinator at Critical Mass?
Working in project delivery has shown me that no two days are the same, and this is something I truly appreciate as someone who loves having the opportunity to try different things. One day I could spend the day providing project status updates in meetings and interacting with the team, and the next day, I might be diving deep into project planning and process optimization. What has surprised me the most is the level of unpredictability that comes with this job. As someone who initially thought project management was all about organization and detailed planning, I never expected the daily surprises that could come my way. Nonetheless, I've learned it requires a certain level of flexibility to hold everything together and ensure deliverables are met for our client. One of the things I enjoy most is working with my team every day. We collaborate as often as we can and ensure we accomplish all necessary tasks, but we also do it with a sense of humor, joy, and mutual understanding. I can 100% say that I work with some of the best individuals at Critical Mass.
I find the most challenging aspect of my job is juggling quick project changes while maintaining organization, preventing my team members from being overworked, and still ensuring we deliver projects on time. Nevertheless, this difficulty comes with opportunities to learn and improve, which is something I appreciate about my role. What I particularly enjoy about my job is that I get to learn from professionals in various disciplines. I have the chance to interact with individuals from the creative team and the production team, gaining insight into their work. It's interesting to see what goes into their work, and I love the opportunity to expand my knowledge and gain new perspectives.
Gwen, let’s start with your love of theater. How did you end up on this path and when did you decide that you wanted to switch things up?
The performing arts always felt like home. I was a musician from a young age and loved visual art as well. Being an artist is a lifestyle, and I don’t perceive my addition of copywriting to my skill set as a dramatic change—it’s another branch of the same tree. One of the cool things about this industry is how many designers and writers have other creative work they do as well. I don’t have to hide that I’m still writing plays, running theater workshops, or designing music programming.
"Being an artist is a lifestyle, and I don’t perceive my addition of copywriting to my skill set as a dramatic change—it’s another branch of the same tree."
How did Trailhead land on your radar?
Pre-pandemic I worked in theater and music. Emerging from peak pandemic, I was at a different point in life where being in rehearsal or performances all the time wasn’t a great fit. I had a friend who’d been in advertising for a long time as a strategist, and they introduced me to the industry. I was lucky that Trailhead’s inception lined up with my interest in advertising—I don’t know that someone with my eclectic background would have been a perk anywhere else.
I went to school at F&M and love Lancaster! What about living in Lancaster do you love the most?
Yay F&M! Woo Lancaster! I actually run interdisciplinary theater workshops in F&M’s psych department a few times a year. I’m still fairly new to Lancaster, I moved here in the fall of 2020 when everything was shut down for pandemic purposes. I recently got involved with the Lancaster Dramatists Platform, a playwriting group with fantastic facilitators and local writers. I’ll be writing in their upcoming 24 hour play festival, and I’m hoping to get a workshop of a full length play up with them in the fall. I also run theater workshops at Millersville and teach devised playmaking at a local Montessori school here. Lancaster’s a great city to live in—it’s smaller, so easier to navigate for housing and school, but has a great downtown. The Amtrak gets you to New York, Philly, or Baltimore in a skip and a hop. I’d be remiss not to shout out Pocket Books, a local bookstore just a couple blocks from me that rivals any chic Brooklyn or Chicago bookstore.
I noticed you wrote the opening piece for the online magazine WIP. Can you tell me more about the WIP magazine?
Yuppers! I served as the lead writer, so I touched pretty much any writing that was in there. WIP – Work In Progress - was conceived by the inaugural Trailhead class as a sort of thesis project/yearbook club for each Trailhead cohort to work on together. It’s an opportunity to flex your wildly creative muscles and showcase yourself however you want. There’s a second issue in the works focusing on A.I. It’s printed on giant newsprint—a sight to behold!
"WIP – Work In Progress - was conceived by the inaugural Trailhead class as a sort of thesis project/yearbook club for each Trailhead cohort to work on together."
As a Trailhead Associate, what were some of the highlights and challenges of participating in the program?
For sure working on WIP. I loved getting to flex my creative muscles in such a broad, weird way. I can’t imagine any other “day job” where that would have been so welcomed and encouraged. It’s also where I built community outside of the account where I now spend most of my working hours. In terms of challenges, the account I’m on is a hard one, and the learning curve is steep. I’m almost a year in and there are still a myriad of things I run into that I have to seek guidance for. Basically, I got to go to ad school for three months while also getting paid, which was the only thing that made this career move feasible for me. I was fortunate to be paired with an amazing career developer who’s a great fit. That made my onboarding to a challenging account a cool learning experience instead of a hellscape.
What makes this program unique and valuable?
While I can’t speak more broadly about programs in marketing and advertising, I do know that without this gracious inroad, I might never have found my way into copywriting. It’s been a good fit all around, I like to think, and for that, I’m very grateful. Would I recommend it? Depends on whom and where they are in their own career. A “desk job” isn’t for every creative person. For me, it gives me stability - a place to cast an anchor - in the often volatile field of performing arts. And it’s made me a better writer across the board.
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