Alumni profile - Raluca Semenescu
Currently, I am part of the Speech, Audio and Music Intelligence team in Europe for TikTok. I am mostly involved in music technology projects, where I collaborate with developers, data scientists and music producers to deliver new products for ByteDance.
Why did you study Multimedia and Arts Technology (now Creative Computing) with Industrial Experience at Queen Mary? I mainly chose to study this degree because of its interdisciplinary nature. As an eighteen-year-old, I wasn’t sure what I should do career-wise and wanted to allow myself to experience a variety of subjects and refine my goals over time, rather than settle on something from early on. Growing up, art and technology had been important hobbies for me, so I wished to pursue a degree which offered a combination of the two. The industrial experience part of the degree was also an important requirement for me, seeing as I had no past work experience whatsoever.
What aspects of your degree did you find most enjoyable? I personally enjoyed the creative side of the degree the most. That is, the modules that included problem-solving and design skills, such as Arts Application Programming, Design Studio, Graphical User Interfaces (GUI) and Interaction Design. These modules helped me discover new areas of design that I would have otherwise been unaware of - this includes user experience design, the area that I am currently professionally involved in.
Why did you choose to study at Queen Mary in particular? Initially, I chose Queen Mary because of this specific degree. Coming from a different country, I didn’t know much about universities in the UK. At that point in my life, finding a course to suit my interests was more important than things like reputation. Once I received an offer from Queen Mary, I started doing more serious research into the university. The numerous academic and research achievements stood out to me, as well as the location – growing up in a small town, I wanted to experience the big city life as a young adult. I also wanted to ensure my career options were broad enough.
What advice would you give to future international students wanting to study at Queen Mary based on your own experiences? Whatever you do, make sure you use all of the resources available to you! Queen Mary has so many opportunities you can benefit from, like extracurricular activities, career guidance, mentoring… everything you need to develop yourself is there, but you need to reach out for it. One mistake I made during my first year was spending a good portion of my time being homesick – thus, less aware of what was actually happening around me. Being able to live and study in the UK is a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity, so try and make the most of it!
Huge congratulations on starting a new job as a UX/UI Design intern at TikTok! What does this role involve? Thank you - I was really happy to have landed this job! Currently, I am part of the Speech, Audio and Music Intelligence team in Europe. I am mostly involved in music technology projects, where I collaborate with developers, data scientists and music producers to deliver new products for ByteDance. For now, I am the only UX/UI designer in the team, so my main responsibility is to lead the user experience and design aspect of the projects I am involved in. My daily tasks are never the same, they depend on the needs of the projects, but they generally revolve around planning and carrying out user research and user testing, defining UX flows for web and mobile applications and producing design solutions through wireframing, prototyping and high-fidelity design. In other words, the role itself is quite creative and fun, which is one of the reasons why I enjoy it so much!
How did you secure this internship? What was the application process like? I learned about this role towards the end of my final year in university, while I was looking for work opportunities on LinkedIn. Being a TikTok user since 2018, the product had been a long-term hobby for me, so I always thought the company would be so much fun to work for. Needless to say, I didn’t think twice before clicking the “Apply” button!
The application process was very quick, and it involved three stages throughout the course of a month. Two of these stages involved a portfolio review with the hiring manager, as well as completing a design challenge as part of the final stage. This was a great opportunity for me to show my thought process and prove myself further. In terms of actually securing this job, I definitely think that my past work experience has played an important part in this.
Please elaborate on your past work experience, where did you do your year in industry? And why would you encourage others to take a year out for industrial experience? I actually worked for two different companies during my placement year. The first one is ITRS Group, a global tech company which specialises in monitoring software for financial services. They have been recruiting placement students from Queen Mary for a long time now which is how I learned about the opportunity. After being part of their Client Services team for ten months, I decided to join the second company - Royal Bank of Canada - as a UX/UI design intern for three months.
I had very little, if any, knowledge of the working world before completing my year in industry. While lectures and seminars are useful, they are often not enough. In order to understand something truly, you need to experience it first-hand, and practical work is the best way to achieve this. The year in industry has allowed me to challenge my abilities and meet and learn from wonderful people who are industry experts. Because it is temporary, it is the best opportunity to experiment with various disciplines, reflect on what you enjoy and don’t enjoy doing and ultimately make more informed career decisions. Taking a break from studying can also help you in your final year – in my case, I was more focused and more disciplined with my work when I returned to university.
Finally, the year in industry has made me more employable and has helped me secure a job straight after graduation. When applying for jobs in my final year, I already had lots of skills and experience to bring up during interviews, which enabled me to set myself apart from some of the competition. Sometimes, employers ask interns to return to their company after graduation, which is another big plus!
How does it feel to work for such a globally renowned company? It is exciting but challenging at the same time! The environment is really fast-paced and there’s always something new to learn or to get involved; there are lots of opportunities for personal and professional growth. Despite being a tech giant, TikTok is still a relatively young company that has maintained its start-up vibe. Everyone is encouraged to speak their mind and bring ideas to the table. In my experience, this is less common for big companies, which makes TikTok special. In addition to this, having such a big name on your CV is a plus!
How did your time and study at Queen Mary help your career and development? For me, the past four years have been some of the most constructive years of my life. Looking back, I have come a long way, and this is all thanks to the time I spent at Queen Mary.
Being involved with extracurricular activities allowed me to improve soft skills such as communication, empathy, teamwork and leadership, as well as gain relevant experience for my CV. The modules I studied throughout the years have equipped me with valuable knowledge and have helped me build a portfolio to showcase my skills. Moreover, I was able to secure my first job during my third year, through the university. The placement year has been like a revelation to me – it was the time when I finally understood what the “real” world felt like, and when I refined my career aspirations. Since then, everything else has been yet another steppingstone to achieve even greater things!
Is there any advice you would give to current students or recent graduates considering their career options? The best advice I can give right now is to be as flexible as possible when it comes to applying to jobs. Use all the resources you have available and consider anything that sounds even remotely interesting; ultimately, any work experience will benefit you in one way or another. Once you do secure a job, try and get involved with things outside of your comfort zone sometimes. From my experience, this is one of the best ways to discover new sides of yourself and to become a better version of yourself. I know these are trying times… but, remember to keep a positive mindset and keep trying!
What was so special about your time at Queen Mary? Can you give one or two examples of your most memorable moments? There were many special moments for me, however my fondest memory is my very first day of university. I remember how nervous, yet excited I was, and how happy I felt meeting everyone else joining the degree. Multimedia and Arts Technology (now Creative Computing) has always been a course with a relatively small cohort, so we were always quite close to each other.
Do you have a favourite spot on campus? If so, where is it and why? I definitely have a few, but one of my top favourite spots during my final year was the Grad Centre study area on the 10th floor – it’s just so quiet and peaceful, and it’s got a killer view of Canary Wharf!
Were you involved in any extracurricular activities during your time at Queen Mary? Yes, I used to be quite active outside of lecture hours, during my second year especially. First year was all about adjusting to a life far away from home (and to the chaotic schedule of a student, of course), so the only activity I took part in was volunteering. During my second year I was a designer for CUB Magazine (Student Media) and Queen Mary Business and Enterprise Society (QMBES), as well as a One-day Volunteering Leader. During the second semester I was also a Student Ambassador for my course. I truly enjoyed being involved in extracurricular activities - I find them essential for self-development.
What are your future career aspirations? Despite the fact that I have some experience working, I feel like I have so much more to learn; I also need to discover my identity as a designer and build my confidence. I plan to spend the next few years working for TikTok, or other companies like TikTok, and acquire as much experience as possible. In the future, I would also like to join a team of designers, find a mentor, and run a business of my own, perhaps a UX design consultancy agency, or something of the sort. I generally like to keep my options open and try new things so my plans might be subject to change!
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- Since completing this profile, Raluca has been employed full-time as a UX/UI Designer at TikTok; her internship acted as the stepping stone to a full-time job!
This profile was conducted by Alumni Engagement Officer, Nicole Brownfield. If you would like to get in touch with Raluca or engage her in your work, please contact Nicole at email@example.com.