What I Learned at Every Job I’ve Had
In my relatively short career as a professional interface designer and front-end developer, I have had the privilege of working for some amazing companies and even a world-renowned university. I spent most of my free time in college doing freelance work or just designing and coding websites for fun. I worked hard and became extremely well-versed in many areas of design such as motion graphics and 3D modeling, but my real passion has always been for the web. Looking back, some of my earliest works were atrocious, but they started me on a very special path. One that led me to some of the nations leading agencies, each giving me enough experience to move on to the next.
In 2010, I was offered an internship at Liferay in Los Angeles. I had just finished my sophomore year of college, so moving across the country for my first career-oriented job was slightly intimidating. I was never even interviewed for the position. Actually, there was no position. They created an internship program at the company that summer for 6 interns including myself and two of my best friends.
I spent a large portion of the summer learning basic user interface design techniques, photoshop shortcuts, the fundamentals of HTML and CSS, OSX terminal commands, and coding standards. To this day I write code the way I learned how to do it that summer. This was also the first time I got to work on a large product with a large team so I also developed professional communication and relational skills. It was one of the most valuable experiences of my career thus far.
I worked at Liferay remotely throughout my junior year of college on an extended contract after my internship ended. The day I signed my termination contract was the day I arrived in San Francisco to start my internship at Odopod. The world-class design agency had never hired an intern before, so once again I was pioneering uncharted lands. I was quickly placed on Team Green, the best and most talented team in the company. Expectations were high.
Throughout the summer I learned more about how to finish someone else’s design and let others finish mine. I learned how to create motion graphics animations that could be incrementally expanded as the project unraveled. I was tasked with an internal company website that I was to not only design, but also develop with code. By the end of the summer, I had bonded with some of the most talented designers in the industry. I was incredibly thankful for the opportunity to work at such a prestigious agency with rock-star designers and developers on projects for some of the worlds biggest brands.
Trying to figure out how to pay my way through my senior year of college, I was contacted by a recruiter who introduced me to a company called Backbase, located in lower Manhattan. Not long after, I was interviewed, I started the remote position and focused primarily on interface design and re-skinning the existing product. I learned a lot about style guides and that modal windows actually had a name. I had weekly meetings with a team in Germany for which I would Skype in and have them review my work. It wasn’t quite the right fit for me in the end, but I did learn a lot and the experience was incredibly valuable.
It was the end of my senior year at RIT that I joined a tech startup named Codify as the lead visual designer. I spent nearly 2 years refining the app UX, designing hundreds of screens, creating motion videos, creating e-blasts, designing stickers, designing logos, building prototypes, solving UX problems, designing posters, designing the website, collaborating with developers, taking business trips, and doing it all remotely on top of the full-time job I got at Dumbwaiter just a few weeks into the project. Phew. The startup nature of the company required me to be available around the clock, but I did work with some amazing people and learned a lot more about time management and expectation management throughout the process of co-founding a successful tech startup.
I never thought that 8 months after graduation I would get asked to teach a college level course at one of the most reputable technical institutions in the nation. My alma mater reached out to me asking if I would be interested in teaching an intro course in web design and development to freshman students in the New Media Design & Imaging program, the same program I just graduated from. I agreed, even though I had no idea what I was doing and had never taught formally before. I wrote the curriculum for the course. I learned how to connect with students and level with them when problems arise. Having a <3 year age gap between the students and I really helped them to respect me. I just did things the way I wished my professors had done for me. It all went really well and everyone passed, but more importantly, everyone learned a lot and had fun learning more about web technologies.
I actually asked for my current job 3 months before graduating and got involved part-time before taking a full-time offer in May of 2012. I do a little bit of everything from business strategy and client communications to front-end development and UX design. Daily tasks include “run the company”. I actually do many of our sales pitches to new clients for work, which often turns into new business. That experience has taught me a lot about professional communication and allowed me to really refine my language.
Within a year I had moved up into an Interactive Art Director role where I oversee all things design related and regularly communicate with our clients to ensure their satisfaction and happiness. The work we have been doing lately is getting better and better. Higher quality products equate to higher quality clients in the future. Higher quality clients typically have larger budgets. That means the company is growing and I am really enjoying being a huge part of this small and nimble, yet wickedly talented team.