After a three-year stint teaching the principles and elements of design to high school students at a Florida public school, Erich Schulz finally landed his dream design job. He grew up admiring studios like Pixar, Dreamworks, and Disney, and he even specialized in character animation in the Emerging Media Track at the University of Central Florida. Now, he’s a product designer for Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, creating digital interfaces for the park’s food and beverage and lodging experiences. In fact, he was so sure of his desire to work for Disney that he created a personal project specifically for the interview.
“I basically pulled a lot of elements from Disney’s existing mobile apps and used my own design solutions to solve a problem that was outlined in the job description,” he said.
Even though he’s working for his dream company, Erich emphasizes that work-life balance and finding fulfillment outside of work are paramount.
“As human beings I don’t think we should put all of our energy into finding our identity through work, even though work is a big part of who we are,” he said. “I think it’s important to build relationships and fulfill our needs outside of work as well, otherwise we’ll be let down if we put our whole identity into our work.”
In 2017, I graduated from the University of Central Florida with a degree in character animation. I always loved Pixar, Dreamworks, and Disney. My dream was to eventually work at one of those companies as an animator. But things didn’t really go as planned. I did some contract work at Rockwell Collins [an aerospace company] on their simulation programs for training pilots, but the work dried up and I needed income. So I went backwards a bit and worked at Publix [a local grocery chain] for about nine months. It wasn’t the most glamorous job, but I want people to know that moving forward doesn’t always look the way we want it to.
Then I found out that in the state of Florida, where I live, you can teach for up to three years without an official teaching certification as long as you have a bachelor’s degree in a related field. Since I had a degree in fine arts, I ended up teaching the K-12 art curriculum.
My wife wanted to homeschool our kids, so I knew I needed to earn a higher income. I enjoyed teaching but I had a long commute. During that time, I opened my own studio and I worked on some projects for big companies, but I wanted more stability. Friends I spoke with told me about UX design being a growing field. I looked it up and sure enough, it’s one of the most sought-after positions right now. I decided to learn UX design so that my wife could pursue her dream of becoming a full-time mom.
What really stood out to me about Springboard was the mentorship program and the fact that you could study at your own pace. Since Springboard offers a job guarantee, I knew that meant they had skin in the game. I also loved the accountability that I would have from working with a career coach. That’s what made Springboard shine over many of the other programs I looked into.
My mentor was Vlad Danciu [senior UX/UI consultant at NEORIS]. I really had the best mentor. He was a little easier on me than I wanted him to be, but he would always come with good advice. He would say, "These are the things that you're doing very well, and here’s what you can improve on.” But I told him straight out of the gate, “I’m determined to make this work. I need to take care of my wife and family, so I’m going to give this everything I have. You don’t have to be nice.” That gave him the freedom to give honest feedback and help me make improvements.
During my first week on the job, I had to reorganize the geolocation services for the Disney Parks Experience mobile app. Next week, I’ll be working on user flows. Disney is updating a lot of its processes over the next couple of years, so it’s really fun to be part of a team that is building something from the ground up and doing so much restructuring.
Actually, several different departments were fighting over me–the Disney Products and Experiences, the cast team, Disney Cruise Line, and then food and beverage. They all wanted me to join their team. I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.
Absolutely. Disney was always the end game for me. You get to work in the entertainment industry at a huge company with an amazing repertoire. So I made my own personal project specifically for the interview. I basically pulled a lot of elements from Disney’s existing mobile apps and used my own design solutions to solve a problem that was outlined in the job description.
So I came in with a personalized solution for Disney. I didn’t have a lot of information to go off of, but I think they really appreciated it. I was also able to reference my experience working with another designer on the Industry Design Project at Springboard.
I was intrigued by the prospect of creating things that people are going to use and solving problems to make people’s lives easier. I'm happy to be able to do that with a company like Disney.
Definitely the mentorship and the Industry Design Project because I was able to use them as selling points during interviews. When companies would ask me, “Have you worked with other designers before?” I could truthfully say, “Yes, I have.”
They also saw that I had taken the initiative to create original designs in my portfolio projects. Also, the Industry Design Project was difficult because you have to collaborate with other designers and come to an agreement on certain decisions. It was a rewarding experience and made for practical work experience that I could put on a resume.
Teaching taught me a lot of valuable skills like leadership, project management, time management, collaboration, public speaking, and communication. So I would go to interviews and say, “I believe that anyone can press buttons and learn a program, but what teaching has taught me over the past three years is that I can communicate, I can take complicated ideas and simplify them into smaller chunks, and I can teach these ideas to other people. So I would fit in at any company that is looking to grow.” During interviews I would emphasize these soft skills more so than my practical design experience.
It's been great so far. Some days your job is going to feel like work, other days you’ll feel like you’re on top of the world. That said, at the end of the day, a job is not the end-all be-all. As human beings I don’t think we should put all of our energy into finding our identity through work, even though work is a big part of who we are. I think it’s important to build relationships and fulfill our needs outside of work as well, otherwise we’ll be let down if we put our whole identity into our work.