From Orlando to Silicon Valley: The Tale of One Graphic Design Graduate

Matt Ma is chasing the American dream.

He’s living in Silicon Valley, working for one of the nation’s biggest companies, and is earning the attention of folks in the tech world.

But his start in digital media and website design – and the world of coding – came at Valencia College. Back in 2008, Matt was in his mid-20s, studying to earn his associate in arts degree (A.A.) when he realized that he really wanted to find a career related to computers – either computer programming or graphic design.

So he switched programs and signed up for classes that would lead to an associate in science (A.S.) degree in graphic design and another in interactive design.

Eager to pursue his goals, Matt crammed to complete his degree as fast as possible, often taking more than 15 credit hours each semester. “I finished all of the classes in a year and a half,” he recalls. “Even in the summer, I took five classes.”

Though Matt was studying graphic design, his passion is designing websites. Even before graduation, other students in his portfolio class asked him to freelance for their employers. “I started doing freelance work before graduation,” says Matt. “I got paid to do what I love to do – that was really good.”

During his last semester, Matt took the Portfolio Review class, a course in which professional graphic designers, marketers and ad agency executives are invited to examine the students’ portfolios and give advice. “Those people who come to Valencia really want to find the talent from those graduating students,” says Matt. “I think that’s really a great way to connect the students to the real world. Instead of you going to a lot of different agencies, the Valencia professors basically present all of them to you. They put their students’ work into the right hands.”

Shortly after graduation, Matt landed a job at Push, an Orlando ad agency known for innovative work. “At the time they were not looking for graphic designers; they were looking for a web developer,” Matt said.

But Matt already knew some web development and quickly taught himself Javascript, one of the most popular programming languages. During his 15 months at Push, Matt helped create websites such as, which receives more than one million page-views each month, and the Disney wedding blog, as well as websites for Smokey Bones and Tijuana Flats restaurant chains. He also helped with the redesign of the Push agency’s website and Valencia College’s “The Grove” website – and was promoted from web developer to senior web developer in less than a year.

Matt jumped to another job, working for a Maitland firm as a software engineer and UI engineer for eight months. But in 2012, he landed a job at a Silicon Valley startup, which created an advertising platform that allowed companies to directly publish their ads on Bing and Google’s search engines and track how many users clicked on the ad and then bought the product.

In 2014, the startup was acquired by Walmart – and Matt, who’s now a senior software engineer, spent much of this summer helping prepare Walmart’s website for the Black Friday onslaught.

Matt credits his basics in coding to his classes at Valencia. “When I was at Valencia, I was using Illustrator to create and logos and billboard images and Indesign to create magazine layouts. And then in one of the classes I took, interactive design using FLASH and action script with an instructor who, at the time was lead interactive director for Monster Media,” Matt said. And that’s one of the benefits of learning at Valencia, Matt says – because some of your instructors are industry professionals who teach at night at Valencia. “The things you learn in school in the A.S. program are pretty cutting edge because all the professionals are coming from the industry,” he adds.

Today, Matt, who’s in his early 30s, receives calls and emails from recruiters, eager to hire him for other Silicon Valley companies. His advice to Valencia students? “Go on the Internet for what’s trending, what’s cutting edge and follow the creators and influencers in your industry,” he said. “I follow a lot of industry leaders who are doing Javascript and then read the trade media to get a lot of information quickly.”

He also contributes to the open-source community and he has authored several libraries and frameworks, command line tools and tutorials to help fellow software engineers establish the best practices in software development. You can follow his open source projects on github or follow him on Twitter @bigmabig

Finally, Matt adds this advice: After graduation, he says, be passionate about continuing to learn. “I have never stopped learning. The technology has been changing rapidly, so you have to learn every day. Spend 30 minutes a day, doing some learning every day.”


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