Mentor Spotlight- Maria de la Riva - UI Designer

Mentor Spotlight- Maria de la Riva - UI Designer

Valentina Calandra

One of the unique features of the CareerFoundry experience is our mentor community - we work with a wide variety of mentors in iOS development, web development, UX design and UI design, from all over the globe.

In order to increase the visibility of our wonderful mentors and give you the chance to get to know them even better, we have created Mentor Spotlights. In today’s spotlight, user interface design mentor, Maria, recounts her status as a truly global citizen, her career change from the medical world to the tech industry, and her passion for diving.

Though Maria is originally from Guatemala, she has been more or less nomadic for the past year.

“I have been moving to a different country every month or so,” Maria explains, “my work is portable…it is probably one of my favorite aspects about UI and a career in tech”.

Indeed, her globalized and transient potential is virtually limitless: having traveled to 14 countries, including St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Lucia, Grenada, the BVI, France, England, Germany, Norway and Italy, Maria’s profession has quite literally sent her far and wide (next year she plans to make her way over to Asia as well).

From Medical School to User Interface Design

Maria’s journey into UI design stemmed from a love of typography.

“Without even realizing it, I fell into UI”, she tells us.

The root of Maria’s passion involves helping bridge the gap between humans and computers. Aside from mentoring and helping to create and revise course content for CareerFoundry, Maria also writes for other online platforms, and spends time ocean diving.


Like many of our students, Maria was also a career changer; she spent a couple years in medical school before finding her passion for UI design. The realization that a medical path was not right for her came “sometime after pass[ing] out during an XX dissection for anatomy class.”

It took fainting for her to realise what it was she really wanted to do, and it wasn’t medicine: “my true calling wasn’t patients but pixels”.

From mentor to course content editor: Maria’s collaboration with CareerFoundry

Maria’s motivation to come on board as a CareerFoundry mentor was mainly related to her involvement in writing UI course content:

“I wanted to stay involved with the UI course and help push it forward. I also think that being a mentor gives me a unique perspective and helps me make better decisions when we make improvements to the course”.

Her enthusiasm for helping students both through working on the course, as well as mentoring is evident. As with many of our mentors, Maria finds it most rewarding to see her students evolve, learn, and empower themselves and their career change.

“I get super excited when I see students progress. It is awesome to see someone come into our program with no design experience whatsoever and graduate being fully capable of designing a killer UI”.

The 180 of the CareerFoundry life change - from complete beginner to professional is a powerful and moving facet that motivates not only our mentors, but our whole team here at the headquarters as well.

From startup to freelance

Before embarking on her nomadic lifestyle, Maria was able to work in a variety of settings:

“Startups are super fun because they are so dynamic and full of energy. Because not everything is completely planned, you have to improvise, be flexible, and adjust to change. I’ve been fortunate to work with startups that have great teams who genuinely care about the product or service they’re working on and it makes for a much more pleasurable work environment.”

Of freelance work she says:

“Going freelance is a curious thing. It afforded me the most freedom because I am not bound to a company or agency and can define my own hours and processes. But I’ve got to run my own business, which is kind of binding. So, you win some, you lose some. My biggest problem with freelancing is how lonely it is sometimes. I’ve no one sitting next to me to tell stupid jokes to.”

Facing and overcoming challenges of online mentoring

One challenge Maria encounters is having to push students to submit polished and portfolio-ready work. Indeed, eliciting “that something special” from their submissions is for her a constant challenge. She deals with it by offering her own narrative, thereby providing empathy and support to herr students. This is a common theme among CareerFoundry mentors; we consistently find that our mentors are not only there to grade work, but to emotionally, personally and holistically support our students in their enormous and brave endeavor.

“I normally offer stories detailing how my early work got tossed in the bin and remind them that I genuinely believe all my students are capable of producing work worthy of being featured on any gallery out there.”

Revision, feedback and the entire mentor-student relationship is of course a two-way street, and Maria is grateful for her students’ motivated and determined attitude:

“My students are all hardworking, have great learning attitudes, and take and respond to feedback really well. I am eager to see what they’ll come up with after they graduate from CF”.

Underwater apps and Maria’s future projects

As mentioned previously, Maria has a deep (pun-intended) love of diving:

“I am crazy about diving. If I could, I would live and mentor UI underwater. I recently finished my Divemaster and throughout my course, felt immensely frustrated with the quintessential diver tool: my divelog”.

A divelog is a book divers use to store all sorts of important information: depth, time, interesting animals encountered, as well as any issues. Maria’s issue with it is that it is made out of paper:

“I mean, how counterintuitive is that? We are in the water constantly. I destroyed like 6 just by touching them with wet hands”.

Driven by her passion for diving and frustration over this poorly designed tool, Maria began downloading a series of diving apps - with unfortunately, little success:

“I downloaded about 10 and wanted to crawl into bed and cry for days.”

As none of them were up to standard Maria began designing her own diving app. As for the issue of water -

“Apple just came to my rescue with its waterproof iPhone 7!”

Her most vital advice to students reflects her own recent undertaking;

“Always have a personal project going on. Not only will it help you build and refine your skills, it will keep your passion for your craft alive”.

Maria cites her biggest achievement as helping shape the UI course, and finds it super rewarding knowing that something she helped create is changing people’s lives, and helping to bring them closer to a profession they love and is fulfilling.

Are you interested in a career in UI design? Sign up for our free 7-day UI Design Short Course now!

What You Should Do Now

  1. If you’d like a step-by-step intro to find out if UI design is right for you - sign up here for our free 7-day UI short course.
  2. If you are interested in becoming a UI Designer check out our UI design course (you'll learn the essential skills employers need).
  3. If you’d like to speak to an expert Career Advisor for free about how you can really get a new job in tech - connect with us here.

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Valentina Calandra

Valentina Calandra

Contributer to the CareerFoundry Blog