One Student’s Path From Work to School and Back Again

Autodesk Education Autodesk Education March 24, 2022

5 min read

Transitioning from the safe cocoon of academia to the wide-open plains of professional life can intimidate anyone. With industries and skillsets transforming quickly with Industry 4.0, the journey can feel foggy and it’s easy to get lost in the grind of it all. But there are many ways to get from point A to point B—which is rarely a straight line, especially for creative people with varied interests.

Enter a fellow tinkerer, maker, and student-turned-employee to illuminate this path and offer his unique perspective on becoming career-ready using different tools and platforms. Phil Kopsaftis is currently earning his Associate in Science (AS) degree in Drafting & Design from Valencia College in Florida after spending the last decade running an e-commerce business making wallets from recycled leather. Kopsaftis listened to his intuition, pivoting from e-commerce to formally pursue his dream career in drafting & design.

Phil Kopsaftis in front of self-repaired amplifiers and synthesizers.

After graduating from undergrad and before pursuing an AS in Drafting & Design, what was your career trajectory and how did it impact your professional outlook?

I took a slightly different path by running and fine-tuning an e-commerce business for the better part of the last decade. In a nutshell, we made wallets from recycled leather in a small-scale, home-grown industrial operation and were largely successful. I realized somewhere along the way that my favorite part of that venture was the exploration and streamlining of the various processes and production methods. The actual business side of things interested me much less than the actual designing.

Did this experience influence your decision to go back to school?

Absolutely. I returned to school to obtain my first Associates of Science degree in Computer Aided Drafting & Design. Currently at the beginning of this academic journey, I am hoping to build a strong foundation in hands-on CAD modeling and drafting. I would like to eventually work my way in to Production Engineering. Right now, I want to learn as much as I can about as many processes as I can. I know the whole “jack of all trades, master of none” is cliché, but why can’t I be a master at having a strong working knowledge in many fields and working to bring them together in the best way for a given task?

How did Autodesk Fusion 360 benefit your studies?

Honestly, Fusion 360 was super easy to grasp and the user interface can’t be beat. The features and interface in Fusion 360 felt like home from day one. I still use it outside of school. If I come across a challenging crossroad while modeling, I pull up Fusion 360 to wrap my head around the concept.

How did the Instructables platform help you transition from student to professional?

I’ve been a causal lurker of the Instructables community for years, just looking for ideas and inspiration to support whatever project I was working on. It wasn’t until recently, along with the help of the Autodesk Fusion 360 Student Discord team, that I realized Instructables’ full potential as way to showcase my projects and share ideas with like-minded makers.

My phone is filled to the brim with random photos from various projects in different states, mostly as a reference to show whoever I know working on something similar. Early on, I would think to myself, “If only there was a nice way to organize all my project chaos into something a little neater with thoughts on what I’m doing and why I do it.” Well, it turns out Instructables is a pretty great platform for just that.

It sure is a neat community of makers. Did using Instructables contribute to building your portfolio as you were looking for jobs?

I was someone with a lot of soft experience but less official training or hard experience in any industrial capacity beyond my bedroom hydraulic and drill presses. Everything I learned was through trial and lots of error. Aside from my experience in the wallets e-commerce business, I have various hobbies from building instruments to maintaining and repairing bicycles.

At a certain point I realized I really need to showcase all of what I’ve learned even if I don’t have a degree to show for it. I started to see the value of a lot of my personal projects and really thought more about framing them so the layman would understand the intention, inspiration, steps along the way, and the result. Once I started taking my portfolio seriously, I began applying for a few positions that I might not have thought I was ready for, but ended up nabbing a really great job!

My first post was part of a larger effort to showcase my real-world experience for the asset that it is. And it certainly helped me create an online presence that gave color to my resume and professional experience.

The assembly of Phil’s custom fighting game controller.

So where are you working now?

I’m an Additive Manufacturing/General technician with Viable Engineering Solutions. We’re a concept-to-creation engineering and production center that bring together multiple disciplines and processes to get results without the red tape. I keep our 3D printers running and tackle whatever new situations pop up in a given day. I’m still very much a student but it was hugely beneficial to take the time to hone my broad skillset and to recognize and take ownership of just how beneficial that real, hands-on experience can be to potential employers.

What advice would you give a student who is hoping to find a job in manufacturing, design, or engineering? 

Keep applying. And in the meantime, keep trying new things in whatever capacity you can. Get excited about stuff and make things with whatever you have. Find other people doing the same, even if they are only online friends. Eventually, you’ll have more tools, knowledge, and a network of comrades that can help inspire you on your professional journey. But really, it just starts with you trying to solve whatever problem is right in front of you, right now. I don’t really think that will ever change. The problems just get bigger and more fun to solve.

Whatever you do end up working on, document it well, explain your intentions on the project, and don’t be reluctant to share these kinds of experiences, even if hobby-based, with prospective employers. These were the exact things that helped me progress in my career.