Going to school in the United States was something Iliyana Bozhanina had thought about for a long time.
After starting private English lessons in Bulgaria in the 7th grade—and loving them—Iliyana remembers her teacher encouraging her to study in the U.S. or U.K. if the opportunity ever arose.
But even with the teacher’s advice tucked in the back of Iliyana’s mind, it would still be a few years before she would take the suggestion and turn it into a reality.
As she prepared to attend the University of National and World Economy in Sofia, Bulgaria, Iliyana found herself interested in marketing and psychology.
“I had been drawn to marketing because it combined psychology—in terms of understanding user needs and consumer behaviors—and creativity, which I was striving for.”
Her first foray in marketing came during her final year at the university when she took a job as a sales executive at Dara Advertising. There, she learned to move opportunities through the sales cycle—from lead generation to close—and translate technology features into business solutions for the appropriate audience.
Iliyana graduated in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in marketing. It was the first step to uncovering her true career interests.
Understanding User Needs Around the World
Iliyana wanted a career in which she could be creative and market products according to what she understood about the users, their behaviors and their needs.
In 2016, Iliyana joined HP’s Managed Print Services division, as an EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa region) services designer.
“For the first six months, I was part of the design team, with whom I learned how to analyze our customers’ current printing fleet and create designs according to users’ needs,” she says.
An out-of-the-box thinker, Iliyana was quickly promoted, bringing her greater responsibility in managing multiple accounts.
Over the next two-and-a-half years, she was responsible for six key multinational accounts in that same region—SAP, Merck & Co. (MSD), Renault-Nissan, Deutsche Bank, Bolton Group and Carl Zeiss Stiftung—and worked within cross-functional teams of project managers, account managers, service-delivery managers and pricing consultants.
It was also during this time that Iliyana’s former English teacher’s words, her passion for understanding users’ needs and her family’s encouragement would come together.
“As a service designer for HP, I did user research and created user-centered designs. Through that process, I fell in love with understanding our users, building empathy for them and designing according to their pain points and needs,” she recalls.
“My brother, who is a software engineer, suggested I check out user-experience/user-interface design, as he thought it was already very similar to what I was doing at HP.
“I did my research, and I thought it would be a great next step to take in my career path. So I started looking for bootcamps and universities that teach UX/UI design.”
Studying UX Design in America
“I wanted to find a program where I could get up-to-date UX knowledge focusing on hands-on learning and practical experience,” Iliyana says of her decision-making criteria.
“I started thinking again about the United States, and in particular, San Francisco. I knew that the knowledge I would get would be most relevant and up to date, given that Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area is the epicenter of innovative technology companies.”
She was thrilled to discover our UX/UI Professional Program.
The program covered all of her needs:
UC Berkeley-quality education with instructors who are experienced professionals in the field
Location, location, location
Regarding her first requirement, Iliyana praises our instructors and curriculum.
“The Professional Program in User Experience (UX) Design curriculum is very well thought-out,” she commends. “In every course I took, the students had to work on projects with other students and be collaborative, which I find very important.”
Iliyana enjoyed the program so much so that it’s hard for her to pick a favorite course.
“I loved the Diagramming and Prototyping for UX course with Matin Mohammadi,” she says. “He’s always there for his students and goes above and beyond to make sure everyone understands the subject matter. His classes were well-structured and balanced between lectures, practice and group discussions. He helped me build the foundation of my diagramming and prototyping skills.
“Another favorite course was Information Architecture (IA) and Content Strategy with Rakesh Patwari. He is an amazing design professional and teacher. He has great empathy for the students, he is very patient and manages to break down the process so it can be easily understood.
“In his course, we learned what information architecture is, what goes into it and why it is needed to make a great user experience. We got hands-on project experience where we built information architecture from scratch and did user research—such as card sorting and tree testing—to test the usability.
“Another great course was the elective UX Design Portfolio with Olia Birulia. I recommend this course be taken last, as it is best to already have design projects to start building your portfolio immediately. Olia is a great teacher who helps you develop your portfolio and enhance your personal branding. In addition, she provides students with tips on interviewing, design challenges and how to be competitive in this high-demand market.
“During her course, I successfully built and improved my portfolio and learned important tips for the ensuing job search.”
Learning UX Remotely
Once the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Iliyana managed to successfully complete the program by studying online. She didn’t let the changes interrupt her learning in Berkeley.
“In March 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic, I stayed in the U.S., as we were hoping we could go back to the classrooms for the summer semester. I decided to stay in the U.S. to be sure I could continue my education and graduate.”
As for classes taking place through Zoom, she says, “I wouldn't say it made it more challenging. The instructors were great professionals, and Zoom offered features such as breakout rooms where we could work in groups of two to three students, similar to how we were working before in person. The instructors continued to engage us in discussions and ask us questions as they did before.
“I loved that the quality and the effectiveness of my courses didn’t change,” Iliyana says. “We were still able to do our school projects and deliver them successfully.”
Expanding Her Expertise
As the world continues to adjust to providing educational experiences during a pandemic, would she recommend our UX/UI program? Going back to her education requirements of quality and location, Iliyana praises:
“I would definitely recommend UC Berkeley Extension to potential students because of my firsthand experience with the UX/UI program. In my opinion, UC Berkeley Extension offers everything you need to be successful: Berkeley-quality education; instructors who are experienced professionals in the field; engaging, ever-changing classroom discussions; and an amazing community where you can build a strong academic and professional network in person and online.
“I can’t imagine another place more suitable to learn UX and UI design. All of the instructors I had work for leading companies, and they have the right insight and up-to-date knowledge to teach you how to be successful. Being in San Francisco and around Silicon Valley can be very motivating and inspiring, and overall, you feel like you have a lot of opportunities around you.”
Since completing the UX/UI program, Iliyana freelanced as a product designer, improving the UX and UI design of a client’s internal performance-marketing dashboard. It required understanding and applying fundamental concepts such as information architecture, user-interface design, user research, and diagramming and prototyping—all topics that she had studied and learned in our courses.
Iliyana’s skills continue to bring her rewards. Her next UX career step came in the form of an early Christmas gift: She received a job offer to become a product designer at VMware.