My Journey From Architect, to Designer, to Strategist


It’s taken 19 years to get here.

My journey started in college. For as long as I could remember, I wanted to be an architect. After 4 long years at the NJIT School of Architecture, and 2 equally long years as an intern, I finally realized that a career in Architecture was not for me. As luck would have it, opportunity knocked, and I welcomed it with open arms.

It was the dawn of what would later be called the internet bubble… and I was given a chance to jump in feet first. All I had to do was learn HTML, and I’d get hired as a freelance programmer at Edelman Interactive Solutions – the first PR firm with a presence on the “world-wide web.” They even had a CD-Rom brochure! VERY cutting edge.

This was the first time my fairly linear path took a sharp turn. I left the dorm life so I can focus on my school work while learning HTML. I had 2 weeks to do it, and with the help of the O’Reilly HTML book (1st Edition, with the koala bear on the cover) and plenty of Cuban expressos, I joined the team at EIS. 3 months later, I was hired as a junior programmer, and I quickly realized that my design background was allowing me to visualize things in ways other programmers couldn’t. With a few electives left in school, I loaded up on “computer design” classes at Rutgers University, where the credits were cross-honored at NJIT. As they say, the rest is history.

With some solid agency experience and digital design skills, I left EIS to join a small company that specialized in employee recognition programs. As the art director at Special Recognition, I further sharpened my skill set, designing AND programming web sites for fortune 500 companies. I transitioned from a “programmer with design experience,” to the more valuable “designer that knew how to program.”

It was after this that I took the next sharp turn, joining the marketing team at Clear Channel Entertainment (now called Live Channel.) I was hired to provide graphic and presentation support to the sales team at CCE, and created campaigns for T-Mobile and Boost Mobile, to name a few. It was my first exposure to PowerPoint…and it set me down an entirely new path.

It was at Tim Hunter Design that things started to take shape. I was a confident designer, but THD allowed me to grow as a visual story teller, a marketer, and a leader. I played an integral role in the growth of the company and in the acquisition of new business, and managed multiple accounts as a creative director. I worked alongside brilliant designers, marketers, and entrepreneurs, and absorbed as much as I could every day that I spent with them. I learned the importance of storytelling from Tim Hunter himself, one of the best in the business. I learned that ideas are formed with a pen and paper, and that all the tools I’d learned how to use were just that… tools to tell your story. I matured professionally at THD, and will be forever grateful that I had the opportunity to work there.

When I joined Ogilvy CommonHealth, I was brought in as a presentation specialist, and I very much looked forward to applying the skills I had acquired. I brought a foreign approach to presentation design – I came to meetings with sketchbooks instead of my computer; I offered insights and suggestions along with the PowerPoint skills. I became the visual storyteller… the pitch guy… the visual presentation strategist. I had the privilege of working alongside managing partners, presidents, EVPs, SVPs, brand planners, and of course, the digital strategists. Once again I was blessed with the opportunity to learn from the very best in the business, and I soaked in as much as I could.

Ivan Ruiz: Budding StrategistAs I write this, I am 6-months into my newest adventure as a Digital Engagement Strategist – still at Ogilvy CommonHealth – and what an adventure it has been. I chose digital strategy because it made sense to me: I’m a designer, a story teller, a marketer, and I have a foundation in digital design and development. Once again, I am surrounded by a team of brilliant marketers and strategists, thought leaders – and I’m literally learning something new every day. My new career as a strategist is still budding, but I’m proud of what I have been able to accomplish in my short tenure with the Digital team, and look forward to what’s ahead.

I share my experiences because I truly believe there are a lesson or two to be learned here. Never settle… be nimble, and flexible. Surround yourself with amazing people… learn from them as much as you can. Be proactive with your career… nobody will hand you opportunities – you have to be willing to risk it all to take them.

In the immortal words of Jay-Z… “Can’t knock the hustle.”