From web hobbyist to tech strategist: An alumna’s journey through the FWD program

We love catching up with our alumni, to talk about life after BCIT, their careers, and what tips they have for prospective and current students. In this Q&A, meet Front-End Web Developer (FWD) grad Zerlene Fernandez, who graduated with a Certificate in 2016. Check out her technological odyssey: from self-taught designer to Industry strategist.

Learn more about FWD and join us for an online Info Session on Thursday, April 4, at 1:30 pm.

What led you to BCIT and the FWD program specifically?

I started designing websites in the early 2000s when the Internet just started to become a thing. I was fascinated by what you could do but never considered it something I could work towards career-wise.

Years later, I accidentally stumbled into web design again when my employer needed a website. I volunteered to make it despite not knowing what I was doing. I haphazardly put together some sites using internet tutorials and what I thought was best practice.

Though the process was challenging, I loved it and decided to look for a program to learn how to do it for real. My older brother had taken some courses at BCIT and worked in tech. His experience and guidance led me to FWD.

How did you benefit from the program?

I learned so much from the program. It allowed me to understand how websites are designed from a user perspective and the infrastructure that goes into supporting a website. The combination of design, user experience, coding, and deploying websites gave me enough knowledge to decide where to focus my attention in the future.

What was a highlight during the program?

I really enjoyed the group projects. Creating something as a group makes you see things from different perspectives. Everyone has something to contribute and to learn from.

The fast-paced, project-based learning style really set me up for the real world. Having multiple projects with overlapping due dates is like working in a tech company. Learning to manage time was a bonus I didn’t account for.

Was there something you didn’t expect or underestimated and had to adapt to?

I’m a terrible artist. I can’t draw or paint, so my biggest concern with design was my lack of art skills. The program helped me understand that designing for the web isn’t really about being able to draw or pick out colour palettes.

It’s about user experience and making sure designs are inclusive and accessible. I had never thought about design in this way before. It definitely opened my mind to a new way of thinking!

What kind of work are you doing now, and what makes it exciting?

After graduation, I spent six years as a front-end developer for an online gift card company. I got to work with many well-known international brands on building their digital gift card programs.

Now, I work for a digital agency as a Product Strategist, setting the direction for website, software, and mobile apps.

I work closely with our customers to figure out what they need for a great online experience. Then, I make a plan for how to organize their online services and list the steps our computer programmers need to follow to build it.

It’s an exciting position because I help businesses grow and establish a strong digital presence.

Do you have any tips for prospective students?

Technology moves fast. The program is a great stepping stone to the tech industry. Its foundation will open doors, but it’s important to keep learning and challenging yourself after graduation.

Learn more about FWD and join us for an online Info Session on Thursday, April 4, at 1:30 pm.

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