Some people are born into things, others are born to do things. Some – like Sophia Mary McDermott – just, kind of, fall into their life career, embrace it, and never look back.
The former “ratbag” might have never seen herself in as being in a senior UX role at a global agency, but that’s exactly what she did through her dedication and imagination.
Not only does McDermott produce great work as a senior UX designer, she also creates dazzling, large-scale murals in her spare time.
However, like the rest of us, that dastardly COVID-19 upended McDermott’s professional life and sent her bouncing between Europe and Australia, and the office and spare bedroom remote work. But that didn’t stop this talented Bananalander from scoring a B&T 30 Under 30 Award for her work in Tech.
With the early bird entry gates for the 2022 B&T 30 Under 30 Awards set to close this afternoon at 5pm (AEDT), we decided to have a little gasbag with McDermott about her unsuspecting start in the industry, maintaining her burgeoning career and confidence throughout the pandemic era, and what unexpectedly winning a 30 Under 30 gong did for her.
B&T: What initially prompted you to pursue design?
SMM: I actually studied it because someone told me to. I was a bit of a ratbag in high school, and I didn’t have a huge amount of aspirations. But I had a really good art teacher who suggested a degree for me. It was QUT’s Fine Arts majoring in interactive visual design. The year I studied it was its first year in offering.
My teacher said, “Sophia, I think you should study this. I think it’s gonna be good for you.” I had no idea, I just took it based on his word. [I thought] ‘Well, I got nothing else to do’. I remember crying on my first day of uni because I was like, ‘I actually have no idea what I’m doing’.
I moved out of home really young, and I needed a fulltime job to pay for myself. I got a job in the industry the first year I was at uni. I was 17 [and] a front-end developer. It was the same year the iPhone 3 came out. It was a really serendipitous time to study interaction design.
What have you enjoyed most about design, or being a designer, so far?
I’m a UX designer but I’m also a muralist; I do outdoor large-scale murals. What’s important for me is the communities in both of them. It’s a really supportive community and something where you learn from people all the time.
UX and tech is so fast moving, and people use it so much. People are so addicted to their phones, [and] it’s an extension of themselves. I [love] the opportunity to be part of that extension of people’s lives, in the hope you can create something that’s positive, or disrupt the norm.
What inspired you to enter the 30 Under 30 awards? Did you enter yourself, or did somebody do it for you?
My managing director, Vinne [Schifferstein] recommended for me to do it. It was with the support of her and my UX manager, Kean [Edwards].
They thought I would be a great candidate and wrote up this beautiful letter about me. I’m not really the kind of person that enters those things. I didn’t think I had a chance at winning at all. My boss said, ‘Oh we’d love to send you down there [Sydney], we think you’ll win!’ And I said, ‘Absolutely not, but I’d love a trip to Sydney.’
What did it mean when you actually did win?
It meant a lot to me. I work for a company called MediaMonks. I lived in Australia previously, and they offered me this role and moved me over to Amsterdam. Which was amazing, I loved working headquarters over there. But then COVID happened, and I had to move back to Australia. That was really disruptive.
I ended up joining the Australian MediaMonks team, and that was really fantastic. But the last few years uprooting my life, moving over there, all in the name of wanting to do something great in tech and wanting to do something that I was really proud of, I was [pre-award] a little bit like, ‘Oh, wow, my life… I’ve uprooted it. I’ve moved it here, I’ve moved it there’.
I suppose a lot of people during COVID would’ve felt like a bit of a failure, because things didn’t work out the way they wanted it to. For me, things didn’t work out the way I wanted it to.
Winning that award at the time that I did, was really nice to get recognition for all the things I had done. Especially within that year, when I had no expectation anyone would notice [my work], because I was sitting alone in a spare bedroom at home.
Why do you think it’s important we celebrate young people in this industry?
Being in a leadership role now, I have learned so much from them, and I hope – as a young person – people might learn things from me as well.
Especially in tech, the younger generation being on the pulse of everything that’s going on, you have this new generation of ideas and nuances that’s so exciting. Without celebrating that, we just become stagnant and do the same things and operate in the same safe boxes.
How do you think initiatives like 30 Under 30 help young people in the industry?
After I got the award, I got an incredible amount of job offers.
Tell us about that!
I had a lot of different people emailing me and contacting me through LinkedIn. I don’t want to name them, but one of my dream agencies offered me a really impressive role that I thought I would always absolutely take. But I turned it down because I love my role at MediaMonks.
I also won a Gold Cannes Lion a couple of months after. Obviously, I didn’t win it alone, I did it with my team. [It was] a project called ‘The Uncensored Library’ for Reporters Without Borders. That was exciting. A very big career highlight!
All from a year spent working in a spare bedroom!
A variety of spare bedrooms.
What words of wisdom do you have for those thinking of entering this year’s awards?
It’s hard to tell, because I don’t really know what particular thing won it for me. In general, advice I’d give to people under 30 is to pursue passion projects as well as their own job at work. You don’t always get the briefs you want to get, or you don’t always get to do the work you want to do on the briefs you get. Pursuing those passion projects outside of work really allows you to continue to learn, and learn other skills outside of your own role.
For me, having that balance between being a UX designer and a muralist has gotten a bit of attention, because you can show to people you really care about those things and you’re willing to work outside of your 9 to 5 to achieve those things.
However, you MUST be under the age of 30 on the day of the event (Thursday 31 March) to be in the running. So, be sure to include your ID and profile photo with your entry.
Oh, and please save your entry in a Word doc in case so many of you jump onto the awards portal that it crashes. It’s better to be safe than sorry!
The 30 Under 30 Awards, presented by Vevo, are widely regarded as the leading showcase for the brightest young talent working across marketing communications.
Three outstanding individuals will be recognised for their achievements in each of the 10 categories, as well as a Grand Prix award for the most influential individual overall.
You can find all the details on the awards right here and, to avoid disappointment, we highly recommend gathering your crew and securing your spots at the 30 Under 30 Awards night by purchasing early bird tickets (your bank account will thank you later).
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