Paddl Profiles: Tom O'Dwyer - RMIT Grad and Paddl Games "Challenger of the Day"

August 09, 2019
By Aaron O'Farrell

Tom O’Dwyer is an RMIT graduate of Sustainable Systems Engineering & Industrial Design. Paddl Co. first met Tom in Melbourne at our EnergyAustralia Paddl Games in May, 2019, where Tom took home the “Challenger of the Day” prize.

1. Hey Tom! Can you start by telling us a bit about yourself? What did you study? What are some of your passions, interests and hobbies?

I actually started my RMIT journey in a double degree with Mechanical Engineering & Industrial Design, but transferred in my second year to Sustainable Systems Engineering & Industrial Design, because I wanted to have more of a focus on environmental sustainability, and transportation systems. After just a few years (well, five and a half), I have had plenty of experiences that have culminated in my passion for service and experience design, using human-centred design principles to solve complex issues. I have been really lucky (and worked hard enough) to have had volunteer experience learning about humanitarian engineering in Cambodia, experience learning about rail network project management in Australia and time spent studying in the Netherlands, all of which have helped me to get where I am today.

My passions include travel and learning foreign languages – I am currently working towards my HSK 3 proficiency certificate in Mandarin, and I speak some Dutch and Portuguese as well. I really like practicing languages when I’m abroad, and constantly challenging my assumptions by thinking about things in new ways in other languages.

I keep myself fit by cycling to work and playing Ultimate Frisbee (it’s a real sport, please believe me – it’s approximately 5km of running per game. It’s also self-refereed and played mixed at the highest level of the sport. It’s a very inclusive and positive part of my life).

2. We first met you at the EnergyAustralia Paddl Games in May 2019. How would you describe this experience? Had you participated in anything similar before?

This was a really positive experience – I learned so much and met some really inspiring people. I was also really stoked to win the 'Challenger of the Day’ award for my teamwork and help with facilitation, considering that I didn’t even know this award existed on the day, so I was just doing my normal work as a designer! It was a nice surprise, and I was really grateful to my amazing team for making it such a rewarding day.

I had participated in similar innovation and design thinking activities before, whilst on exchange in the Netherlands but also during events in Melbourne such as the Melbourne International Student Conference, which meant that I could provide more of a mentor role to my team. That being said, the members in our team who had not participated in something like this before were at no disadvantage – the resources made available to us on Slack before participating in the challenge meant that we were all well-equipped to flex our design thinking muscles on the day. Furthermore, it’s all a learning process – there was intensity on the day, and pressure to ensure we were sticking to the timeline, but ultimately the focus was on learning and developing. The challenge day was an invaluable opportunity to practice skills that are not always taught or reinforced at university, even in traditional design disciplines!

Paddl CEO Dominique Fisher with Tom at our EnergyAustralia Paddl Games in Melbourne where Tom took home “Challenger of the Day.”

Paddl CEO Dominique Fisher with Tom at our EnergyAustralia Paddl Games in Melbourne where Tom took home “Challenger of the Day.”

3. Can you tell us a bit more about your team experience at Paddl Games? Was it easy coming together and forming your solution, considering you were all from different disciplines?

Like any team, we had hiccups along the way. I think our team got a bit stuck in our problem definition and ideation stages, where we had to define the problem and then come up with as many blue-sky ways to solve it that we could. This meant that we were a little pressed for time later in the day, but I didn’t find this much of a problem – our team worked exceptionally well together. Before the day began, I felt like our team needed to get to know each other better, so I set up some icebreakers. This meant that we could hit the ground running, know everyone’s background and skills, and find the best fit for each team member’s unique skill set; I think this really helped us because we were already gelling as a team before we even started working! Having many different disciplines was really beneficial, because we could bounce ideas off each other and get different perspectives each time.

Additionally, having such a diverse range of people at the EnergyAustralia Games meant that I was able to practice my Mandarin and Portuguese on the day, which was a really nice surprise! It was really rewarding to work with people from all over the world and learn from other perspectives on design thinking and innovation.

4. Since your success at the EnergyAustralia Games, have you explored any similar experience opportunities to Paddl Games Challenges?

Regrettably not – I was actually in my final semester of university (and in the final part of my honours year project), so my main focus after the EnergyAustralia Games was to apply my design skills towards creating the best outcome I could – which I think paid off!

That being said, I am keen to pursue more opportunities like the Paddl Games in the future – I think it’s really important to make the most of the time as a student and/or young graduate to get as much experience and industry knowledge as possible, as all experience is useful.

5. Congratulations on your RMIT Adobe XD award! Can you explain more about the award and your experience? Has this success opened any doors for you with regards to employment, or have you any career plans for the near future?

Thank you – this was such a whirlwind experience! We only found out about the award nominations about a week and a half before the actual awards night, and once I found out that I had been chosen as a finalist, we underwent practice pitches with staff from both RMIT and Adobe, and then had our final pitches in front of about 100 staff, students and industry professionals at RMIT’s beautiful new Capitol Theatre. It was a little nerve-wracking (mainly because this was happening in the same week as my final Mandarin exam and final honours presentation), but it was a really rewarding experience. It was a little challenging too - I had to condense a years’ worth of honours research and design decisions into a 2.5 minute speech. I have been working doggedly at improving my presentation and pitching skills since my first year of university (when I would print my entire speech paragraph onto a palm card and also onto my slide, and just read that word for word), so I was really chuffed to be the Overall Winner because it meant that all my hard work had paid off! The event itself was lively and fun, and I met some inspiring students and industry professionals afterwards.

In terms of career plans, my goal is to get some experience in the service design area, as this is where my passion lies. I’ll keep you updated on whether any doors have opened with regards to employment – it’s in the works at the moment!


6. According to research by Upfront Analytics, 75% of Gen Z wants to convert hobbies into full time jobs. With social media channels like Youtube and Instagram offering alternative avenues for young people to create entirely new career paths, the possibilities for alternative professional experiences seem endless. What is your experience with people your age using these alternative avenues? Have you any friends taking this route? Would you like to?

I feel like I might have my millennial status revoked if I write this, but I actually don’t use social media very much! (Pause for gasps.) I mainly use WhatsApp to keep up with my overseas friends and Reddit for language learning tips and practice.

However, I do use LinkedIn regularly, as I find that it’s a really good way to keep in contact with industry professionals that I’ve met, and for understanding more about the design industry and companies that I might want to work for!

I personally haven’t had much experience with people taking this route, but I believe that it can be challenging. As with any pursuit that has traditionally required grit and constant development of your personal brand (for example, stand-up comedy, or becoming a famous artist/musician), you have to be very determined. Because these new channels are seen as an alternative avenue to create a new career path, but also because they are open to anyone, it means there is a lot of competition. Even on sites such as LinkedIn, you have to find a way to distinguish yourself, to show why you are different to the competition. So I think for me, as much as I see the importance of an online brand, I still find the best way to pursue my career is to keep connecting with people face-to-face. I believe that connecting in person can really help to facilitate a two-way exchange of information more than passive online engagement can.

At the same time, I would love to convert my hobbies of language learning and travel into a career. I already use my Mandarin at work to help customers who prefer to speak it instead of English, however I plan on being proficient enough at the languages I am learning that I can either use them in my daily work (for example, doing design work in the Netherlands, using Dutch) or pursue a travel-related career using my multiple languages. I see this as a passion of mine that I will integrate into my life where I can, so stay tuned!

7. From your experience as a Paddl Games Challenger, how important is it becoming for your generation to get involved and gather experiences outside of academics and traditional ‘work’? 

I think it’s really important – as much for your career development as your own personal development. University is stressful – I think there’s sometimes a perception that uni students do limited work and just party all the time, which is really not true! University courses have constant deadlines and a lot of pressure, so I think as much for one’s own sanity as well as development, it’s important to get involved in things outside of just your studies, so you can have a more balanced life! What’s more, those skills will help you in your career. I have been lucky enough to have been a Team Captain for RMIT’s Ultimate Frisbee team on several occasions, which has helped me to develop leadership and motivational skills that I use in my workplace daily.


8. What advice do you have for other Paddl users or non Paddl users looking to navigate their professional journey?

Well, on the note of experience from above, yes it’s important to gather experience, but it’s actually even more important to be able to reflect on that experience and think: “How can this be helpful in my career?” For example, if you travelled overseas, this shows organisation, it shows resilience, it shows cultural awareness, all of which are valuable skills in industry!

As I’ve mentioned a bit above, I also recommend talking to people (generally, people are keen to have coffee and talk about themselves) and finding out more about your industry. I have found going to free events from institutions such as Academy Xi and General Assembly really helpful to not only understand the service design industry and how the tools I use at uni are applied in the workplace, but also to meet like-minded people and see what career paths you can take.

9. Paddl is building a platform for emerging talent to showcase their experience, especially experience and skills gained from alternative avenues. What sort of features would you like to see Paddl make available as we continue to grow our platform?

I know this sounds like I’m just talking about how great Paddl is because this is a post on their blog, but honestly, I actually love the Paddl platform. It can be really frustrating as a student who is about to graduate, applying for so many different graduate programs and other jobs, to have to enter your employment details over and over again, and usually in a format that isn’t overly user-friendly. The Paddl platform, on the other hand, is not only easy to use but it actually allows you to clearly show your experience and, as mentioned above, what skills you have developed during that experience!

I think I would love to see more opportunities available on the Paddl platform – it would be great to see more employers get on board, to allow you to use the seamless Paddl profile you’ve created to apply for new jobs (for example, graduate ones) instead of having to manually fill out information!

The tools students are given to navigate their careers are broken, that’s why we created Paddl. We help students become professionals.

Join Paddl today,  create a profile, and  see how you can unlock your professional potential in an innovative way.