Written by Mzwakithi Shongwe
By the standards of my LinkedIn feed, non-traditional career paths are the norm these days. Chefs turned UX/UI designers, English majors running last-mile logistics businesses, and the list goes on. In our evolving work world, these professional shifts reflect the evolving professional environment we’re adapting to – and my journey is no exception.
Held up to this bar, my career is not unique; its distinguishing factor is the range of its geographic meanders and the lessons accumulated along the way. These lessons were refined by my experience at Centre for Digital Media (CDM), and that refinement has equipped me with dynamic tools that can match the pace of change I will encounter throughout my career.
In late 2020, I found the Master of Digital Media (MDM) program thanks to a friend. She was in the (long) process of correcting my ignorance about the range of experiential graduate-level opportunities in Canada (a tale for a different time). Suffice it to say, she handily won that argument. I had just turned down an MBA opportunity at a top American business school and had earlier deferred and then forgone an opportunity to pursue a graduate degree in England. I was frustrated by the thought of returning to the classroom and not getting an experiential opportunity that would accelerate my abilities in managing a technology team in an agile, fast-paced environment within the product development space. When I discovered the MDM program, I realized what it offered checked all my boxes, and I was hooked.
In the closing weeks of 2020, I spent time researching the program and its outcomes for students. I aspired to work in the business-to-business (B2B) space, so I was concerned that many of the program’s graduates gravitated towards working in the gaming industry. However, exploring the database of student-led projects unearthed many projects run by multi-disciplinary teams that tackled practical applications of interaction technologies in non-entertainment fields as well. I attended a virtual information session to learn more, and the professionalism of the administrators left a strong impression on me. I sensed the CDM staff truly cared about the student experience, and given the many cautionary tales of international students left unsupported as they went through the process of obtaining their study permits, this was a winning facet of the CDM’s MDM program.
Friendship, mentorship and the privilege of creating one’s chosen family are gifts that keep on giving. A friend from Nairobi and another friend from my high school in eSwatini (the quirky mountain kingdom I call home) helped me put together well-reviewed work as part of my application to the MDM program. Later, when I faced many struggles securing my study permit, it was that international community of close friends/chosen family that rallied to my cause and helped me find my way to Vancouver. The folks at the CDM deserve a special mention here – they were with me throughout the study permit saga, always supportive and checking in.
It was clear that I had come across a caring community of digital practitioners and educators, and that epiphany was reassuring.
It is no small feat to leave family, friends, and hard-earned professional dues behind, even if the economic ceiling hangs low. Some things economics cannot quantify – community, companionship, and trust. Throughout my experience prospecting the MDM program, getting accepted, struggling to lock in a study permit, and learning remotely for the Fall 2021 program term, I found all three of these things in abundance through both my personal community, and the colleagues I would soon call community through the MDM program.