The biggest achievement in my career so far has been getting a job at Apple at a very young age of 24. So how did I do it?

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Disclaimer

For those of you who don’t know who I am, I’m Chethan KVS, a 24-year-old self-taught designer from Bangalore, India. I am popularly known as Design Pilot on social media. I’ve built a good following on YouTube and Instagram over the past few years and that’s where people know me from. Do check out my website if you want to know everything about me.

Let’s get started!

So this is not going to be an article where I’m going to tell you how to crack Apple’s interview. Or how to apply for the job. Or how to build your portfolio, etc. I’m not even going to tell you how to get a job at Apple.

Rather, I’m going to tell you how to get a job at any company you want! Yes. That’s right. Any company!

And this article is more than just that. I’m going to share a few of the key moments in life that have made me the designer I am today. I will also add a bit of philosophy, my approach to life, and a few life principles that I follow. Hopefully, this becomes the most inspiring article you have ever read or you will ever read this year.

I have a small request. Do highlight the key takeaways from this article. I’d love to know what resonated with you and inspired you.

Before I get started, let me answer the first question you may have.

What’s the design role? Are you going to be designing iOS, macOS apps, work on the human interface guidelines, or some top-secret project?

Well, neither of those. The title is called, Design Evangelist.

It’s a public-facing role, where design evangelists are the first point of contact for anyone building apps for Apple products. Those who need advice, suggestions, or assistance surrounding Apple design guidelines and technologies.

In a nutshell, the role consists of delivering talks, providing 1:1 consultations where we advise designers on how their app can excel in aesthetics and usability. We will also help them figure out what technologies they can use to make the experience of the app really good.

So now that you know about the role, let me get started 🔥

Oh, by the way, I am going to be showing a few of the pictures I took when I had recently gone to Italy in February this year. Since this article might be text-heavy, I decided to bring in some wonderful images.

You can find all the high-resolution images on my Unsplash account.

The right mindset

So let me start by asking you a question. I’m sure that you’ve watched a lot of movies and TV shows. Ever wondered what makes detectives so good at solving crimes in these shows? I know that it's scripted but they still have to come up with ideas to solve crimes right?

Let me ask you another one.

I’m sure you’ve seen actors playing all sorts of roles. I’ll give you an example. Ryan Eggold plays a criminal in the show Blacklist. He also plays the Medical Director in the show New Amsterdam.

One persona is of a person who kills for a living and the other persona is of a person who saves lives for a living. These are two ends of a spectrum. So how do these actors and detectives act so well? How do they pull it off? What’s the secret?

It’s simple. They try to stay in character as much as they can.

I mean think about it. Let’s look at detectives. Even when they are back home or done for the day, they are still thinking about the case they are working on. Sometimes they even dream about it. They are always thinking like a detective. And BAM! They find a break in the case. I’m sure you’ve seen these scenarios in a lot of shows.

Let’s look at the actors. It’s not like they become normal and flip a switch every time they need to act in front of the camera. They need to assume that the character they are playing is actually them in real life.

And as a designer in order to stay in character, you need to make a habit of thinking like a designer.

So how do I actually make this a habit? Any tips?

Yes. Let me give you an example of what I do. When I watch a movie, I do more than just watching it. I pay attention to things like storytelling, cinematography, sound design, title sequence, etc. And as a designer, these are the things I like to pay attention to.

When I walk into a mall, I pay attention to things like the arrangement of the shops, the buttons in the lift, the way shop keepers greet and try to sell products, the visual look of the ads, and banners.

Try to look at everything in your life from a designer’s perspective. Try to see how you can improve things and how you can solve problems. You don’t have to really improve or solve things. Just make a habit of thinking about it. That’s all.

But do I really have to do this?

Definitely not. Hey, I’m no design guru. I’m just sharing what worked for me. Maybe it’ll work for you. Maybe it won't. But let me try to convince you one more time.

As a product designer, thinking about users and solving problems has become the new normal for me. It has helped me think of improving products, getting better ideas. Not just in terms of interfaces, but also how to get things done in life. It has helped me grow my personal brand, put out content that people are looking for. And most importantly, it has helped me stand out from the crowd quite distinctly.

Similar to how designers think like end-users to solve problems, detectives think like criminals to solve cases.

I hope you are able to understand what I’m trying to say. Staying in character might not have a measurable output, but you can definitely feel it.

Goals vs Expectations

So Chethan, where did you apply for the job? Which job portal?

Here is the kicker. I didn’t apply for the job. I was reached out by Aniket Roy, a Design Evangelist from Apple.

Wait, what? Are you kidding me? 🤯

Haha. Yes. But hold your horses. I wasn’t offered any job back when he reached out to me a year ago. There wasn’t even an opening for the role.

Then why did he reach out to you?

Sometimes in life, you experience things that you never imagined would happen. Working for Apple was not something that was even on my mind as I just had 5 months of design experience. All I was thinking about was developing my design skills at that time. And being reached out to by someone from Apple just blew my mind.

It all started with a very particular Instagram post that I had posted. That’s right. If I had not posted that very particular Instagram post, I wouldn’t have gotten the job at Apple.

The Instagram post decided my fate. Try to wrap your head around that 🤣.

You are totally bluffing dude!😑

Haha. No, I’m not. I know it sounds ridiculous. But let me tell you what happened.

In May 2019, I had started making carousel posts on Instagram. I posted content about UI and UX. It was around that time WWDC 2019 had announced Dark Mode. And if you know me, then you know that I am a hardcore fan of Dark Mode. It was also the same time Google had announced Dark Theme at Google I/O 2019.

Since Google was the first to announce it, I spent a few days learning all the guidelines. A few days later I uploaded 5 posts on Designing Dark Theme for Android.

These 5 posts blew up on my profile. Follows, likes and comments poured in. It was an incredible moment. And so I decided to make the same for the Dark Mode guidelines that Apple had announced.

But there was a small problem. The problem was that I had a hard time understanding the guidelines completely. Primarily because I did not own an iPhone and was not very much familiar with the Human Interface Guidelines.

And so, I decided not to post it as I knew it would attract questions that I may not be able to answer.

But for some reason, the FOMO (Fear of missing out) inside me forced me to post it. And without having any expectations, I posted it. And to my surprise, it blew up. It performed way better than the other 5 posts on Dark Theme.

Everyone was sharing it. People were sharing it in their stories, bookmarking it and it was even visible on the explore tab.

And on July 12th, Aniket who saw it on someone’s story reached out to me on Instagram and told me that he wanted to have a chat. But like I said, there was no opening. He just wanted to connect with me, understand my goals, ambitions, and know more about me. We spoke for 2 hours over a phone call.

Trust me. I got goosebumps when he introduced himself. I just lost my sh**.

Then what happened?

Before I tell you that, let me explain something. And that’s the difference between goals and expectations. I always tell people that,

Setting more goals and less expectations helps you acheive more, as your intentions are very different.

A lot of people who reach out to me for mentorship and advice, tell me that they are demotivated, have low self-confidence, and no passion.

According to me the reason for that is because they set expectations rather than setting goals.

So what’s the difference between the two?

According to me, if the outcome of something is measurable, it becomes an expectation. And if the outcome is not measurable, it becomes a goal.

Another difference is that expectations tend to be short term in nature and require quick gratification. But goals help you think about the big picture.

Let me give you an example. I have been a YouTuber for over 4 years now. I have 45k+ subscribers, which is very less for someone who has been on YouTube for 4 years. I have uploaded over 200 tutorials and have an overall view count of more than 3.5 million.

Creating a video takes an insane about of time and of course as a person who put in a lot of effort, you would set an expectation of how the video would perform. Now, not every video is going to meet the expectations you set. You would expect a certain number of likes, comments, and views.

But I never have set expectations on the videos I post. Some do very well, some do really bad. And setting expectations is very dangerous as it can bring down your confidence a lot. Hence, I set goals rather than expectations. For 4 years, my only goal was to post as consistently as possible and post the best content the world has ever seen.

This mindset of setting goals is very different. If I had set expectations, I would do it only for the follows and likes. But when you set goals, you are opening a huge door of surprising and unexpected outcomes.

Let’s talk about my Instagram Post on Dark Mode. If my expectation was to get a certain number of likes and follows, I might have not posted it as I would have been scared of the outcome. But no. I set a goal of posting good quality content that no one else in the world had posted. And that got me a once in a lifetime opportunity.

There is another benefit of setting goals. Let’s say that you set an expectation.

  • If your expectation is met, it makes you 1x happy as you had expected it. And that’s good.
  • If your expectation is not met, it makes you 5x sad.

But let’s say you don't set an expectation.

  • If the outcome is in your favor, it makes you 10x happy as you had no idea that it would turn out in your favor.
  • If the outcome is not in your favor, you don’t feel disappointed much, as you had not set any expectations in the first place. You just learn from that lesson.

It’s just like those times in school, where you just decided to give the exam even though you had not studied, but then surprisingly you end up doing well. And that makes you really happy as you had not expected that.

In life, you need to keep moving forward. And in order to do that, you need to build the momentum of achieving, succeeding, building self-confidence. And setting too many expectations is like tying a bomb to your chest. Start by achieving small and tiny goals on a regular basis.

Try to apply this logic to everything you do in life and you can clearly see a difference.

The secret formula

So let’s continue the story. How does a designer with less than 2 years of professional experience and no design degree get a job at Apple?

The last 15 minutes of the call that I had with Aniket was the most important part of the call. This is what he told me.

I’m not promising you a job or anything. But I can promise that you will have a relationship with Apple as you seem to be a good designer. I’m not sure if there is any possibility of getting you into Apple as there is no requirment as such. Just to focus on the Apple side of things and keep learning. Let’s see what happens

That’s it.

After the call ended, I needed a few minutes to wrap my head around this conversation and digest it. Now, there were two paths I could have taken.

  1. Either ditch this idea as it seems too good to be true since the chances of getting a job at Apple is one in a million. Or
  2. Try my best and become the best version of myself. If not Apple, I might get the next best thing.

But you know which path I took. One thing I would like to point out was that in this case, I had set a goal and not an expectation. I wanted to become the best version of myself whether or not I get a job at Apple. I was not expecting to get a job at Apple.

I asked myself one question.

Chethan, do you think you are worthy enough to get into Apple so soon? Do you think you have what it takes?

And the answer was…

It doesn't matter. Let me try my best to prove myself.

And so began the hustle! Things are about to get a bit serious now. I hope you guys are ready 😎.

So the question I asked myself is, how does a designer who is fresh into the industry prove that he is worthy enough to join a Trillion-Dollar Company?

I mean, how to even start thinking about approaching this problem statement?

How do I bring my A-game?

I knew that I had to become a version, better than the best version I thought I could be 🤣. But how?

I had to apply my secret formula.

  1. Do things that others are scared to do.
  2. Do things that others are lazy to do.
  3. Do things that others do not want to do.

Remember, I talked about staying in character right at the beginning of the article?

It was time to think like a designer. I knew what the problem statement was. But then I had to think of the end-user. What sort of skills do I need to have as a Design Evangelist?

  • Visual design skills
  • UX design skills
  • Knowing how to use design tools
  • How to give talks and presentations
  • Being familiar with the human interface guidelines and Apple’s technologies.
  • Skills to mentor/advise on improving an app in terms of aesthetics and usability.

The problem statement was defined. The user persona was defined. The research was complete. And now it was time for execution.

There are two things that have really helped me become the person I am today.

FOMO (Fear of missing out) & Proactiveness!

I think this is a fantastic combination. You can pretty much achieve anything in the world if you include these two qualities in your career.

I have been in the industry for almost 2 years now. I have spoken to and seen tons of designers who are early on in their career and one thing I see is that they lack proactiveness.

They expect to get answers delivered to their doorstep in a gift box. But unfortunately, that's now how you achieve things. The world is filled with resources online and offline. All you need to do is be proactive to find answers.

This is an unpopular opinion. But according to me, the only way you can be proactive is if you have the fear of missing out.

Remember those days where you had sleepless nights, trying to find the answer that dreading math question? You so badly wanted to know the answer (FOMO) with the fear that it might come in the exam. And so you would do everything in your power to find the answer (Proactiveness).

Don’t be that person who expects an answer. Try to be the person who hunts for the answer.

Why am I talking about all this?

It’s because I had to be proactive and figure out what projects to work on to convince Apple that I am worthy enough. There was no one who could help me find an answer to this. Even Aniket had no idea on how I should approach this.

I knew I had to make a first good impression and so I decided to work on a project that would be ridiculously hard for me. The first project that I decided to take up was to design an app for the Apple watch. Just be to clear, I had never used an Apple watch before. I didn’t even own an iPhone. So I had no idea about how the Apple watch worked.

I spent almost two months learning about the guidelines. I watched the WWDC videos, read case studies, used my colleague’s watch to understand how it all works, and then worked on my project. It was super hard.

In the end, I designed a watch app for StepSetGo, which took quite a good amount of time to complete.

I even created animations to show the interactions of the app and wrote a full-fledged case study. And was happy to know that I made a first good impression.

This proved that I was a person who would go out of his comfort zone to accomplish something great. As I said, I had to bring my A-game.

It was pretty much around the same time I was getting invited to give talks and conduct workshops in colleges. I was invited to 3 colleges in India to give talks and conduct workshops. I made sure that Aniket was aware of all this. I used to send regular updates to Aniket every 2–3 weeks and shared my progress. I did this for almost 8 months.

With my YouTube videos, Instagram posts, and design articles that I put out, he could see how passionate I was about design and learning.

I wrote the Ultimate Guide for Designing Dark Mode for iOS apps. I even made a YouTube tutorial on it. Both performed extremely well.

And my final project was to redesign the Splitwise mobile app. I redesigned the entire product from the ground up. I made sure to follow all the human interface guidelines. This project took me 3 months to complete and it blew up on social media when I launched it.

I got invited to be a guest speaker on various podcasts, YouTube channels, and online events. I made sure that I kept working on projects and had to keep providing an update every month.

I was also invited to the Apple office in Bangalore to attend the App Accelerator programs that were conducted by his team. I applied for leave from the office and made sure to attend it every time they conducted it.

With all this, Aniket was impressed with my visual design skills, creative skills, UX design skills, and public speaking skills. But there was one thing left.

In February 2020, I decided to personally start mentoring designers and help them with their design projects and case studies. And I did this for almost 5 months. I would review their design work on Figma, hop on 1:1 calls with them, and give feedback.

My time at Unacademy really taught the value of feedback. Not only how to be open to feedback and ask questions, but also how to give actionable feedback and critique a design.

I feel that learning to give valuable and actionable feedback is a skill that every designer should learn. You can clearly identify the caliber of a designer just by listening to them give feedback.

And it feels very proud to say that, many of them ended up getting jobs, many of them started posting content online, grew their design skills.

And this activity of mentoring is one of the core responsibilities of a Design Evangelist. I even sent him a video recording of me giving feedback to a project so that he gets an idea of how I actually give valuable feedback.

Doing more than what you are told

Aniket had been slowly talking about me to his team that I might be a good addition to the team. But of course, they had to see my work before they gave the green light.

In March, Aniket asked me to send a small PDF with all the links to my best work so that his team could have a look at my work.

Now preparing this PDF would have taken me an hour or so. That’s it. But as I said, I had to bring my A-game. So this is what I told him.

Hey, I don't want to send you a PDF. I will build a full-fledged portfolio website. I want your team to have a really good impression of me. Just give me 2–3 days.

So I spent the weekend designing the website in Figma and built it from scratch in Webflow. It took me approx 20 hours to get it ready. You can check it out at chethankvs.design. And his team was super impressed.

All he had asked me was for a PDF. There was no reason for spending 20 hours on making a portfolio website. But I had to bring my A-game.

Now I’m sure you are wondering about the interview process right?

The average interview process is having 5–10 interviews over a period of a few months.

But for me, the process was entirely different. Aniket ended up doing all the heavy lifting where he had to convince his team and many other departments that I would be a great fit. And the only reason he was able to vouch for me was because I had a huge repository of work that I had done over the past year.

I just had one formal interview where we discussed a few general things. And viola 🎉. I’m forever grateful to Aniket who really trusted me and had faith in me.

The crazy thing is that Apple had to formally create an opening just for me. And this is usually a very long and administrative process. It wasn’t for mass hiring. It was just for me 🙈.

Just remember this.

Make sure to invest time and energy in going the extra mile. Because the return on investment is always, 100x the value of investment!

The compounding effect

I was once watching an interview of a standup comedian who had just released his Netflix special. The interviewer asked the comedian, how long it took him to come up with the jokes for the 1-hour Netflix special.

The comedian replied …

It took me 2 years make compile all the jokes.

Can you believe that? Spending two years for a show that lasted for an hour? Sounds ridiculous. But that's how you succeed. Things take time.

I once read this tweet by Hardik Pandya. Felt very apt to mention it here.

Working on an extremely large scale product is an exercise in patience and persistence. The bigger monumental changes (if ever) are extremely rare, but the compounding impact of small changes made over days, weeks and months is very underrated.

You’ve got to have patience. Things take time to come to fruition. Don’t set unrealistic expectations.

To get the job at Apple, I had to continuously work non-stop for almost an entire year. And there wasn’t even any guarantee of getting the job. It was like running a race where you didn’t even know whether or not it had a finish line. But without having any expectations, I kept running the race.

But the regular and constant effort over the past year had a compounding effect that landed me this incredible opportunity.

So basically what I'm trying to say is that you need to look at the big picture. Achieving goals helps you look at the bigger picture.

Expectations are short term goals that require quick gratification. And hence is not the best approach when it comes to looking at the big picture.

My approach to life

Some of the questions I get asked on a regular basis are,

  • Why do you post every single thing online for free?
  • Why do you dedicate time to others when you can spend it for yourself?

Helping people is something that brings me immense joy. It could be anyone. When I was getting started in design, there was extremely little information online that would tell you how you could become a good self-taught designer. And so it was ridiculously hard for me. I had to work my ass off to swim across the ocean and reach the shore.

I had to be proactive and figure out everything on my own with the limited online and offline resources that were available to me.

But today, there is a plethora of information. It’s 100x easier to become a self-taught designer. And people still find it really hard. Mainly because they are not proactive enough.

What I realized was that not everyone is like me. Not everyone goes out of their way to do things. Not everyone pushes themselves. Not everyone has a mindset to hustle. And I totally get that.

So was there anything that I could do to make things easy for them?

That’s when I decided to start putting out as much content as I could. My only goal was to help people as much as they can and teach me everything I knew. I had absolutely had no expectations in return. I was not looking for subscribers of followers. And becoming a very popular designer or influencer was not even on my list. It just happened over a period of time when people started seeing the value I provided.

And I feel that for all the effort I had put without any expectations, karma rewarded me with an insanely rare opportunity. I’m not sure if you believe in karma, but I sure am a hardcore believer of karma. I think it’s pretty much the base for all the decisions I have made in life.

What goes around, comes around!

To answer the question of why I share all my knowledge for free, the answer is very simple. To become the self-taught designer I am today, I never paid a single rupee. I learned everything online for free. So if I did not pay a single rupee to learn, why should I charge people for teaching what I learned for free?

After all, my goal was not not to make money, rather to help people learn design.

Everything comes at a price

Dude, you got a job at Apple. What could you have really lost?

Teaching design, posting valuable content and tutorials online, and working on side projects is something I love to do. I’ve been doing it for four years now. And I was hired by Apple for this very specific reason.

Now after I join Apple, I will still be delivering talks, putting up content, advising designers. But not socially as I have been doing till today.

It will be for a curated and handpicked set of designers who are really in the midst of launching their game-changing apps that have the potential to disrupt industries.

So what that means is that, if you are a person designing an awesome app for any of Apple’s products and need any sort of assistance or guidance, you are more than welcome to book a free consultation with us.

I’m pretty much going undercover 😂. It’s a big sacrifice for a big benefit. In a way, it’s also a relief as I will now have time for myself. I can learn new hobbies, spend some quality time with family and friends. It’s a win-win.

On the brighter side, I get to do what I really love to do for a living. Not just designing interfaces. But much more than that.

So what’s next?

Well, I’m insanely excited about this new career path that I will embark on. It feels proud to say that I am the youngest design evangelist Apple has ever hired.

As of now, there are only 4 design evangelists in Apple all over the world. And I am now the 5th one. It feels very proud to be a part of an elite team at Apple who is very excited to meet me and work with me. I cannot be grateful enough for this opportunity.

At the same time, it’s insanely scary. Haha. It’s a lot of work, responsibility, and most importantly, a lot of expectations that I have to meet. Being a public face of Apple is no joke! But I’m super excited as there is so much to learn and explore.

A year back, I found this tiny ray of light in a dark tunnel. I spent a year following that light and finally reached the end of the tunnel. And guess what. I have entered a brand new world with so much to explore and learn. Sounds like a Pokemon adventure 🤣.

So I hope that you have been motivated and inspired enough to go and achieve great things. But I’m sure you have one final question.

Yeah 🙈. What’s the pay like?

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And that’s a wrap!

I’d like to thank all of you who reached the end of this article. It means a lot that you spent a good 20–25 mins reading my article.

I’d like to end this with one final thought.

If any company sees great talent, they will do anything to acquire such talent. And you might be the next one. Make sure you are ready to grab every opportunity that comes across your way. Because you never know who is watching!