From Self-Taught to Senior Designer at Instagram: My Career Journey

Get inspired by a self-taught designer’s career journey from college dropout to Senior Product Designer at Instagram.

Meet Nina Geometrieva, a Senior Product Designer at Instagram and Dribbble Mentor. Nina’s career journey started in Macedonia where she dropped out of computer science to teach herself graphic design, eventually leading her to the field of product design. In this post, Nina shares her career story and advice for new product designers, including the importance of mentorship and making the most out of your career.

Nina Geometrieva Product Designer at Instagram Dribbble Mentor

Hi, I’m Nina Geometrieva, a Senior Product Designer at Instagram, New York City. I’m an armchair artist recently obsessed with AI art, and you can usually find me dropping hot takes on Linkedin or being a cyborg on Instagram.

What is your background?

I come from Macedonia, where I started studying Computer Science but dropped out shortly after to teach myself graphic design via Youtube and Google Search. I got obsessed with making posters and I started publishing my work online, some of which got a decent amount of eyeballs and opened up interesting opportunities for me abroad.

After a quick stint in Vienna and Berlin, one of those opportunities took me to Singapore, where I worked at a couple of startups and slowly started getting more exposed to UX and product thinking. I eventually got headhunted by a Design Manager at Google who discovered my work online – thank you Dribbble!

After spending a few years working on Google Pay in Singapore and Google Maps in Tokyo, I made my way to New York City last year to join the talented team at Instagram.

How did you become interested in product design?

Before becoming a product designer, I was a visual designer at a startup in Singapore. I remember admiring the product designers on my team and their ability to distill complex problems and turn chaos into order. They seemed very thoughtful and it felt like there was a whole new level of depth for designing apps that I never really came across before. I immediately wanted to be smart like them.

I also wanted to challenge myself and become good at something that didn’t come naturally to me. People tell you to choose your career based on what you’re good at, but I think you shouldn’t shy away from the things you’re bad at. Everything is learnable.

“I wanted to challenge myself and become good at something that didn’t come naturally to me.”

Product design has helped me understand people, collective & individual behaviors, and the world. I feel much more prepared to approach any problem, even outside of work. I like training my intuition and heuristics to be better, learning new things, and being surprised.


What advice do you have for designers applying for jobs today?

Surprisingly, the biggest mistake I’ve seen designers make when applying for jobs is not standing out. This can come from a lack of experience with the interviewing process and not knowing what interviewers are looking for.

The gist is to help the interviewers make an easy decision about you. Interviewers usually have a checklist in mind. For example, they want to see you demonstrate high-quality craftsmanship, strong collaboration, pushing back on crappy projects, fighting on the side of users, being entrepreneurial, etc. If you help them check these off the list, you both win — they get an easy hire, and you get a dream job.

Don’t answer questions for the sake of answering them, be sure to understand why they’re being asked in the first place.

Feel free to take a pause to think. Silences are ok too. Don’t try to maintain a facade of an all-knowing perfect being. Interviewers can tell. Admitting when you’re wrong or don’t know is often more important than giving the right answer. Also, don’t be overly diplomatic, especially when asked hard questions that involve a tradeoff. Show personality and don’t be boring. Say a stupid joke. Then laugh at yourself. Be human. Be different from all the other designers who describe a double diamond process.

How do you think product design has evolved in the last few years?

Design gained an even deeper influence in tech. There are more designers and more design founders than ever before. Design standards are higher than ever, with beauty and usability no longer being a competitive advantage but a minimum bar. Design salaries shot up. Becoming a designer is even more prestigious. Designers are involved in strategy and are getting deeply involved in product thinking. A team without a designer is unimaginable. Yes, you can build it without a designer but never launch it to market and expect it to succeed.

It’s a great time to be a designer.

How can designers today get ahead?

In the age of AI and the Metaverse and crypto and ever-evolving tools, the best skill one can develop is perhaps genuine curiosity towards newness. It’s easy to be cynical and skeptical towards new tech and tools, but giving things a chance can truly give you an advantage.

The power of mentorship

For a long time, I was too shy to ask for mentorship help because I didn’t want to be a burden. Over time, I realized that good mentorship can grow both the mentee and the mentor. This made me feel much better about reaching out and intentionally spending time with those who are better than me.

I’ve also been mentoring designers and helping them land their dream roles both internally and externally since my time at Google. This has helped me re-examine myself and form better hypothesis about product design, and what it takes to be good at one’s job.

“For a long time, I was too shy to ask for mentorship help because I didn’t want to be a burden.”

Advice for new product designers

Product design is easy, but good product design is hard. Let it change you as a person, because the only way to get truly good at product design is to internalize a different way of thinking and solving problems.

Want to keep up with Nina? Follow her on Dribbble and LinkedIn or find her teaching students in Dribbble’s Product Design-Career Prep Course.