We’re pleased to present this blog segment, a piece designed to celebrate the journeys and achievements of non-traditional tech talent in our community. MnTech is committed to continuing the work necessary to strengthen, energize, and diversify the tech ecosystem. Whether you’re a woman, BIPOC, someone without a traditional IT/CS degrees, someone who’s considered early/late in your career, you’ve recently made the leap into tech from a different industry, you’re actively searching for a new tech role, etc, we’d love to highlight your story and shine some light on the diverse variety of backgrounds and paths that lead folks into technology.

Humble beginnings
Having grown up as a Korean American adoptee in small town New Hampshire in the 90s, Jeff Petrovitch is no stranger to overcoming adversity. At the time of his high school graduation in 2001, the beginning of a turning point in technology, computer science wasn’t yet considered a staple in education. Petrovitch was unaware of the opportunities in IT ahead of him, and so he took a few jobs during college that he knew would be stable enough to support his liberal arts education; he began working at the local bank where with his natural affinity for leadership and management, he worked his way from teller to branch supervisor. With plans to pursue his investment license, Petrovitch quickly realized the suit and tie finance life was not for him.

In an unexpected turn of events, Petrovitch ended up working at a coffee shop in a neighboring town and quickly found himself very content with the slower-paced lifestyle, the shorter hours and schedule flexibility, and the genuine human connections he was making. His passion for the hospitality industry was born. Petrovitch stayed at this small coffee shop until 2012, when he began to feel the natural inclination toward a major personal life change. He tagged along with a friend to visit Minneapolis, and though deceived by the unseasonably warm winter of 2012, Petrovitch quickly fell in love with the Twin Cities and made the decision to move shortly after.

From restaurants to bootcamp
Upon settling in Minneapolis, he resumed his successful career in the restaurant industry, taking up the GM position at French Meadow Bakery and moving on to Blackbird Café, Stoneridge Golf Club, and eventually landing at Volstead’s Emporium several years later. Petrovitch reflects on these years with a mixture of gratitude and fondness, but acknowledges the growing pains, difficulties, and stress that accompany a life in the service industry.

Newly married, Petrovitch began having thoughts about seeking a more stable career, and a schedule that better aligned with his partner’s. During this time, a friend who worked at Horizontal Digital suggested a UX/UI career path, noting that Petrovitch had the analytical, problem-solving mind required in the design field. This friend also pointed out that Petrovitch was already doing this kind of work in a restaurant setting daily, though in an analog format instead of a digital format. As COVID hit and forced restaurant closures nationwide, Petrovitch decided to take a shot at the 18-week bootcamp UX program at Prime Digital Academy after accepting that pursuing another four-year degree was unrealistic. At Prime, he was able to quickly develop and master his design skills, despite the forced shift to completely virtual learning, eight hours of Zoom each day, and evenings filled with homework. Petrovitch speaks candidly when he notes, “I’m not going to say it was easy. The program is extremely intensive.”

The illusion of experience
The strenuous job search began before Petrovitch even graduated from his Prime cohort; with an increasingly competitive market, companies tightening their belts due to the pandemic, and general hiring challenges faced by non-traditional/minority talent, he found himself experiencing great difficulty getting interviews and call-backs. He picked up some freelance contracted UX/UI design work on the side and spent much of his days aggressively hunting for the perfect position. In total, Petrovitch submitted over 500 job applications within a six-month period. Though he was confident in his technical skills and ability to do the work listed in job descriptions, it seemed many companies were not willing to take a chance on a recent Prime grad coming from a very different industry, and making a later stage career transition. “It’s the illusion of experience, right? What does experience really mean? There are plenty of people who have had tons of experience and still performed poorly at their jobs,” Petrovitch reflected. “I was coming from the restaurant industry where you’re constantly on your feet, always problem-solving, and in those ways it’s very relevant to the tech space where you need to work on teams and must communicate well.”

Earlier this summer, Petrovitch officially accepted a role as a UX Designer at MnTech member company, Starkey Hearing Technologies, after a lengthy search process. He was impressed by the company’s hiring process, where a woman of color was among his interviewers, and he got the warm sense that diversity and inclusion were more than just empty statements on paper. In his Starkey interviews, he was asked direct and relevant questions about his capabilities, and he was able to showcase and demonstrate some of his past work and projects rather than asked exclusively about experience and years spent in the field. “This company is doing good work, and that’s important to me. I’m really interested in emerging tech because there’s ways to make bigger splashes in that pond right now, and I’ve also done a lot of work studying accessibility. I think of UX as a way for me to be in technology and help underserved communities.”

Dreams of a future tech ecosystem
Looking toward the future, Petrovitch is looking forward to building meaningful relationships and establishing himself within the tech space, whilst settling into a more peaceful routine that will allow him the flexibility to spend more quality time with loved ones and to enjoy the simpler things in life – his enthusiasm for lawn care, being one of them. From a UX/UI goal standpoint, Petrovitch, a car fanatic, would love to work on building and designing a visual or voice interface for Tesla or a major vehicle/transportation company in the future.

When asked about advice for other aspiring non-traditional tech talent who may be facing similar challenges and hurdles, Petrovitch said, “It’s doable and possible. You can change your life, but I don’t tend to sugarcoat anything. There are a lot of walls and a lot of barriers saying you don’t belong, or you can’t do it, but you have to be persistent and set realistic goals for yourself to be successful. There will be many times you want to give up and that’s okay if you do. But we’re in a time in history both in technology and with what people of color can do, that we can make really positive strides forward and that’s really important to me in both my personal and professional life.”


Adriana Nguyen
Marketing & Events Manager