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Maria Teresa Stella – Meet the Mentor

Maria Teresa is a Senior UX Designer with a background in Psychology and is based in northern Italy. Having worked most of her career so far in a design team of one, she believes in bringing forward design knowledge and working in multidisciplinary contexts. On the side, she enjoys mentoring young designers and is now also dabbling in public speaking.
Maria Teresa Stella

Senior UX Designer, Cerved Group SPA

Why did you decide to become a mentor?
It all actually started when I was still a second-year student in the Master’s course in Human-Computer Interaction. I had a student job as a tutor where I would help new students navigate their new journey at the Psychology faculty and, being the student representative for my course, I would often receive messages from prospective students wanting to learn more about the Master.

Shortly after graduation, people instead started contacting me about career paths after getting their degrees. I had at this point been mentoring on and off, until about 6 months ago I found Mentorcruise! I wanted to become a mentor in a more official way because every time I found myself teaching or helping students, I found it truly fulfilling. I’m glad that this platform helped me do that on a more consistent basis.

How did you get your career start?

I actually came into UX from a completely different field: Psychology. I loved studying it at Uni, but when I got to decide what to do after graduation, I was torn. I had tried the path of academic research, but after working in a lab as an intern during my third year I found it to be less exciting than I had previously thought: there was a lot more desk research than actually conducting experiments and I found that having an impact in this field takes a lot of time as the path to publication is long and often complicated. At the same time, before this lab experience, I had already put aside the thought of becoming a therapist because while I loved the theory, I felt it wasn’t the best path for me.

It was shortly after that by accident (and luck!) that I discovered that my University was offering this new Master’s in Human-Computer Interaction: I quickly discovered how my knowledge in psychology could be applied to the field and I was surprised to find out that my interest in tech could be coupled with my previous studies: I had always loved playing with websites and had grown up with videogames. So it was no surprise that when I started the course, I quickly learned about UX and fell in love with it. Then, trying to take advantage of what the University and my area were offering, I began attending hackathons and design or tech meetups. This helped me immensely! I put my learnings to the test as well as got to know people which would later become colleagues and even friends. 

Wating to have work experience abroad, I sent out several CVs in northern Europe and I was able to secure two internships abroad for my second year, one in a company in Belgium and one in a design agency in Sweden. In both places, I met very talented designers who challenged me and shared valuable learnings that I still bring with me today. After coming back to Italy, I sent a few CVs to local tech companies and got selected for a student job at an IT company in their digital signage department. The job later became a full-time position. Thinking back, it was a tough start as I was the only designer on the team at the time. Fast forward to today, I work in a bigger team of 14 designers in one of the biggest data companies in Italy.

What do mentees usually come to you for?

In most cases, my mentees are recent graduates from UX boot camps who need help in entering the UX field. The most important thing I help them with is reviewing their portfolio: I share tips on how to make their website appear beautiful, functional, and professional; then, I review their case studies thoroughly so that they can improve their storytelling and avoid presenting projects with gaps or mistakes. As it often happens with most online courses, students work with imaginary situations and receive little feedback during the process. Through my feedback, I can therefore best prepare them to produce quality work to help them in the job hunt. Another valuable activity is reviewing their CV in order to help them stand out against the competition. If my mentee is a student, I help them with their coursework or - my favorite activity - I support them in picking out a project and following them through the creation of a case study from scratch. This allows me to check if they are applying design thinking methodologies correctly, and they get to learn through practice with the support of an experienced designer throughout the whole process. Moreover, I share any insight from my own experience or material that might be useful to them during the process.

I work with junior designers too: in this case, I help them navigate daily work life with developers, PMs, and stakeholders. And more importantly, I provide them with feedback and guidance on their current projects in order to help them get unstuck.
What’s been your favourite mentorship success story so far?
Honestly, it has been amazing seeing my first mentee grow in confidence and skills as we go forward with our mentorship. When we first met, she was unsure about her work and was lacking feedback as her course didn’t include tutoring: I reviewed her work, shared material, and advised her on how to create a new case study. Now for example she can confidently interview users, review bad UX designs and brainstorm new solutions independently.

I also feel it is very empowering to help women enter the field: when I started my first full-time job, I was not the only designer, but also the only woman in my department. I found that intimidating and at times frustrating, as I felt I had sometimes trouble getting my voice heard and didn’t have someone to turn to. So if I can be of support to a fellow woman in tech, I find it extremely rewarding! In general, though, I love seeing students happy after helping them out during our sessions.

What are you getting out of being a mentor?
I looked into mentoring as a consistent side hustle initially because I was looking for a way to earn a bit more money for a down payment on a future house. I was glad I found Mentorcruise because, as I mostly work remotely, the platform allows me to manage mentoring students around my 9 to 5 job. 

But more importantly, I feel like mentoring has been one of the tools that allow me to fight my imposter syndrome and improve my own confidence as a designer. In the past I would always think of myself as not experienced enough - the “senior” in my title was somewhat scary. On the contrary, when a mentee asks me something, I find myself able to explain concepts without fear and to apply my knowledge and experience in different contexts. Thanks to this, I felt more confident trying to go into public speaking and was accepted as a speaker for both a conference and a meetup. My next goal is to teach a course - hopefully, I can achieve that before the end of 2023!



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