Robert Managad is a new grad Product Designer in the PGH office working in the Monetization Area. He graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in May 2020 with a BDes in Communications Design.

Robert Managad at Duolingo HQ in Pittsburgh, PA

^that’s me at Duolingo HQ!

How many people can say that their first job out of college was their dream job? When I was offered to join Duolingo’s design team, I was ecstatic. Basically everything aligned, from the company’s mission and size to what I personally felt I could contribute to both the company’s products and culture. So, the decision to accept the offer was easy, but the road to get to that point wasn’t short or simple.

In my long search, I had a couple of picky pointers guiding my thought process. I asked myself: would the companies I was interested in…

  1. Align with my values? Was the company dedicated to global good?
  2. Champion my personal passions? Do my side interests have opportunities to grow at the company?
  3. Support my career trajectory? Are my long-term goals acknowledged and embraced?

Aligning with my values

I care a lot about what makes people different, and how I as a designer have the responsibility to champion the identities of many in the work that I do.

Growing up, “identity” was always something that awed me. When I was younger, I paid an odd amount of attention to what made me, me —from the color of my skin and the way I spoke to the stuff that my family could afford and the places I lived in. This compounded when I became a design student—suddenly, these fascinations became considerations, and I soon came to believe in the power of design as an advocate for identity, accessibility, authenticity, and inclusion.

Robert Managad's past work in civic design

past civic design products (personal work)

So, during my senior year at Carnegie Mellon University, I was on the search for a company that aligned closely to my personal and professional mission as a designer. This mission was the glue that held my work together, and I wanted to use my experiences to contribute to a product that championed similar values.

Being mission-driven meant letting my values lead my decisions in choosing the right organizations to reach out to.

Collage of screenshots of Duolingo blog posts, podcasts, and news

When I first started doing research on Duolingo, I noticed immediately how mission-centric the company was throughout the many blog posts and podcasts that popped up in my search results. Universal learning and representation are core to the Duolingo brand, and seeing these values bubble up through my own use of the learning app made me pretty certain that these were at the heart of everything Duolingo employees do.

Championing my personal passions

Around the time I discovered Duolingo, I was working on an independent illustration and animation project focused on developing a more sensitive practice for depicting people and the places they’re from. This was a topic near and dear to my practice as a designer, so it constantly lingered as I searched for companies to apply to.

Robert Managad's people-and-place and folktale sketches

people-and-place + folktale sketches (personal work: fall 2019)

As a young designer, it’s important for me to be able to diversify my skill set and explore my passions in the work that I do.

Months before my interview, I had a chat with Megan Barker, one of our incredible illustrators, where I learned how critical Duolingo’s illustrations are to representing cultures from around the world (check out her blog post about Duolingo’s art style). Unlike many other products in the tech industry, Duolingo is a unique case where both illustrations and character animations are core to the user experience, not just used as supplements to the company’s marketing goals.

Illustrations used in the Duolingo learning app

illustrations used in our learning app

Even though I was interested in pursuing Product Design as a career, I was pretty adamant about not letting my other experiences go completely to waste. So, with Duolingo’s illustration- and animation-heavy product suite, the job was like a two-in-one deal that I couldn’t give up.

Supporting my career trajectory

Around the time I had applied for the position, I was starting to realize that I cared a lot about supporting others to achieve their own personal and professional goals. My then-job as a Teaching Assistant for freshmen and juniors in the design program was less of me giving tutorials on design software and more of me helping younger students nail down what they really wanted to do and how to plan the steps to get to those goals.

Robert Managad with the Carnegie Mellon communications design class of 2021

me with the CMU communications design class of 2021

I have to admit: when I told this to the hiring manager (now my current manager—shoutout to Jay!) and the VP of Design during my first calls with them, I was actually pretty nervous they’d raise a collective eyebrow. They did—but not out of suspicion. They were genuinely excited to hear about my goals!

It was crucial that the companies I was interested in could acknowledge, plan for, and support my new-found trajectory in people management.

From my continued conversations with the two of them, it became more than apparent that my professional aspirations would not only be acknowledged at Duolingo, but wholeheartedly supported. This made my decision to join the company a lot easier: I knew I’d have so many opportunities to learn from some really talented leaders.

So… How’s it been?

As of writing this, I’m now 3 months employed at Duolingo! I’m surrounded by people who carry the mission on their sleeve. I’m on a design team full of incredible oddballs who are uber-talented at the things they love to do. And I’m being managed, and supported, by folks who care a lot about the ins and outs of my career.

So, without getting too much more into it, I can say with a good amount of confidence that this company was absolutely the right choice for me. Go Duolingo!

Bonus tips for job-searching new grad designers: (1) Know the company- Research what their mission is, how it bubbles up into every part of their product(s), and why they believe in it. Does it align with your mission? What could you contribute to it? (2) Reflect on your career aspirations — Think in the long view about your professional goals. What's a company’s role in getting you there? Let them convince you how they can support your growth. (3) Be proud of your identity — Hiring committees want to hear about who you are. Be your true self, show off what you care about, and let your values radiate in the work that you do.

Interested in working at Duolingo? We’re hiring! Check out our University Programs page for more information.