In the Loop
Alumni News : Sep 7, 2017

Digital Worlds alumna hired at Microsoft as UX designer

By Marshall Carpenter

Alexis “Ali” Benter (BA Digital Arts Sciences ‘16) is already quite accomplished, in spite of having only just graduated from the University of Florida (UF). After a rigorous series of interviews and preparation, she was recently hired by Microsoft as a UX, or user experience, designer in December 2016.

This is a major accomplishment, as Microsoft has only begun university design recruiting in recent years. They are now hiring designers more than any other position.

“I went to the Career Development Workshop before Career Showcase for the program manager internship and was forwarded to a design recruiter,” Benter said. “After receiving some constructive criticism from the recruiter to include process in my portfolio, I fixed my portfolio and included more information about the steps I took to achieve critical design decisions and high fidelity mockups.”

In total, she said there were about seven interviews that she had to go through before getting hired.

As a final step of the interviewing process, Benter flew out to Redmond, Washington, where she went through four one-on-one interviews and a final, hour-long portfolio presentation. She said that she was mostly asked questions about design, whereas before in her program manager interview she was asked about half coding and half design discussions.

But why Microsoft? Benter stated that she was drawn to Microsoft was because she had a keen interest in emerging technology, was attracted to their corporate culture and felt inspired by their mission statement to “empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more”.

Benter attributed much of her success in the application process to a variety of freelance work throughout her college career.

“Freelancing taught me time management, professional behavior, reaffirmed the parts of my skillset that are worth something, built my portfolio and helped me to develop an understanding of what customers want and how to put it into a creative vision,” she said. “I wouldn’t have my job without it.”

Her time as a Digital Arts & Sciences student at the UF Digital Worlds Institute (DW) played an instrumental role in her getting hired.

“Digital Worlds was a huge opportunity for me,” Benter said. “I started off with as a psychology major, but just kept creating on the side. I wanted to make products and experiences.”

Benter went on to explain that one of the most appealing aspects of DW was the fact that the faculty taught students how to use the tools while letting students take the reins creatively on their projects. They also emphasized portfolio-building and had a very favorable student-to-faculty ratio, allowing for a more intimate experience and greater individual attention.

The most rewarding and helpful experience to come out of her time at DW was her senior project, entitled Paper Dreams, a 360° music video that she worked on with friend and fellow DW student Kendall Robertson. It is the first video of its kind.

The panoramic component presented a whole new level of challenge.

“The push and guidance we received from the faculty at Digital Worlds was really helpful to prototype before promising a project,” Benter said. “If we’d jumped straight in, we would have failed.”

The project is now showing in VR cinemas after having been bought by Netherelands-based SamHound Media.

“Creating Paper Dreams taught me how to just do and create,” she said, “to not be scared of the never-been-done before.”

In addition to her normal school activities, Benter participated extensively on campus with the Virtual Experiences Research Group. Supervised by Dr. Benjamin Lok, the group is dedicated to facilitating training of interpersonal skills through human computer interaction and virtual reality.

Benter’s involvement was deep and particularly integral to the development, testing and completion of a crisis training program for police officers. This program required her to visit the Alachua County Crisis Center, and the simulation was tested with actual police officers.

Benter said that the simulation taught her how to research and design for other people much different from herself.

“I also learned how many different fields need to collaborate in order to produce a product like this,” Benter said. “It’s extremely important to be a good collaborator across disciplines and to understand your user. I think that everybody should get involved in some sort of research that they’re passionate about.”

You can view Paper Dreamshere.