Startup Institute

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Simon Bogdanov: Photographer to UX/UI Designer at Bstow

One day, I decided to quit my job even though I was living paycheck to paycheck. I knew that if I didn’t have a job and I had bills to pay next month, I would hustle harder. That stress of not having a job and bills coming in made me think, ‘what am I doing wrong?’ and I realized that I wasn’t networking … I wasn’t meeting anybody in the industry.”

Simon Bogdanov has never been afraid of taking risks. A year after earning his associate’s degree in photography at the Art Institute of Seattle, he decided to move almost 3,000 miles across the country to New York City without securing a job.

“I moved here because of the opportunities in photography, however, photography is a very challenging industry,” Bogdanov explained. “You can find jobs easily, but they’re not going to be fun, they’re going to be boring and that’s not the reason I wanted to be a photographer. I decided to learn another skill, so I would still be able to do photography the way I like doing it, but also make money in other ways.”

That skill was marketing. After a year of grinding it out as a freelance photographer, server and bartender, just to scrape by, Bogdanov applied and was accepted into Baruch College’s marketing program. But after a semester, he realized it wasn’t for him.

“I really didn’t enjoy it … it wasn’t the marketing part, I didn’t like the way my classes were structured. It took too long to learn,” he said.

Realizing his restaurant job wasn’t fulfilling him, but was instead taking up too much of his time and ruining his positive spirit, Bogdanov took a leap of faith—he left without any other sources of income and began to research, which is how he came across tech groups.

“I have always wanted to work in tech, I just didn’t have the right skills or the resources to learn them,” he said. “Then I found out that there are various meetups where you can learn from other people about coding and design, so I started learning coding on my own.”

At the time, Bogdanov wasn’t aware that coding bootcamps existed, but once he found out about them, he started probing different programs. He came across Startup Institute through a meetup group and attended an info session.

“I just went for it,” he said. “The program was the right amount of time for me and fit my budget.”

Bogdanov’s determination paid off. He found a better job at a nicer restaurant, and was able to save enough to give him a comfortable amount of runway to attend Startup Institute. He took the web design fundamental skills class before the full-time program, which made for a smooth transition.

“I originally wanted to do web development, but was advised to take web design because of my background as a photographer,” he said. “Thankfully, I listened and took their advice because it’s a lot more enjoyable for me and also lots of my skills were transferable."

“The best value is not even learning web design. For me, the best value was learning how to network, build myself professionally and present myself better in any environment. My soft skills went to another level.”

During Startup Institute, Bogdanov worked on a partner project for Ladder Digital, where he did user interface design for one of their products.

“I found it pretty valuable … in two months, I learned 10 times more than what I learned in four to five months at Baruch,” he said. “It was a safe environment to learn by actually working on a live project.”

Bogdanov is currently a UX/UI Designer for Bstow—a free micro donation app that lets you donate your spare change to charity with every purchase. He found out about the company through one of Startup Institute’s career fairs, during which he met founder and CEO, Jason Grad.

Towards the end of the program, Bogdanov contacted Grad and was offered a part-time internship to help out with user research. Now, he’s heavily involved in reiterating and improving features for Bstow’s web and mobile app platforms making it more user-friendly as well as creating email templates for marketing campaigns.

“I believe that if you work somewhere where you like the product, where you believe in the product, you enjoy it,” he said.