I never really thought about this until recently, but my first job as a product designer came when I was 32 years old. Maybe it’s best to backtrack and show the progression of what I thought I was.
In 2nd grade, I made a sculpture of my father’s head. It looked better than the other kids. I thought, “Maybe Im an artist?“.
Around that same time, I loved playing with computers. My dad bought us all kinds of early equipment including a Commodore 64, an Acorn Atom computer (ran off cassette tapes), and an early Apple II knock-off called the Franklin computer. I loved computers and I even learned a little programming.
- 10 PRINT “Glen “;
- 20 GOTO 10
- 30 END
That program was flawless! Zero bugs. I thought, “Maybe I am a computer programmer?”
In High School (circa 1987-1988), I realized that I wasn’t a very good artist and thought “What combines computers and art and cartooning?” Right around then Pixar was starting to do really cool things with animated shorts. I thought, “Maybe I am a computer graphics person for a movie?”
In community college (I didn’t get in to a university) I stumbled into an honors program by pure fluke. This was the first time I had a teacher that inspired me. Shoutout to Dr. Beisel (History) and Mrs. Frank (Public Speaking) who both opened my mind. I joined Student Senate and learned about leadership. I learned to play pool really well. I thought, “Maybe I am a leader?”
In University at Buffalo (I transferred), I majored in something called Media Study. It was supposed to teach about Film, Video, and Computer Graphics. Perfect, right? Wrong. I didn’t learn a damn thing. They had terrible old Amiga computers and we learned next to nothing. I hated that time of my life. I thought, “What the hell am I going to do when I graduate?”
I graduated college and immediately went to New York City and walked around looking for companies in the “entertainment industry” so I could get a job as a movie computer graphics person. I saw a place called Force One Entertainment. They were a Temp Agency for entertainment and publishing companies. I got temp work as basically a secretary. This earned me a full time position at Columbia TriStar Television Distribution. They sold Ricki Lake, Friends, and Seinfeld into syndication. I thought, “Maybe I am a secretary?” Things were certainly not what I expected. Although I had my own apartment in NYC, so that was nice.
On year later, in 1995, I stumbled into a weird situation. I taught myself HTML because I thought it was cool. I fixed up a Columbia Records early website for Billy Joel. (They were in the same building) Then I started a company doing HTML for people. For the next 7 years, I was the CEO of a web application/services company in NYC. I had two partners and 30 employees. I thought, “Maybe Im a CEO?”
After September 11, 2001, it all fell apart. Just like that, I was back to square one. I had to learn alot about servers because I was firing everyone who managed them. I started thinking, “What job should I have when I fire myself?”
We moved to California and Silicon Valley in 2003. I had experience managing projects as a CEO. “Maybe I’m a project Manager?”. Unfortunately, I am a terrible project manager and I got fired within a year.
I was good with computers and had to run many of the company servers. I thought, “Maybe I’m a Systems Administrator?” I even took classes to become MCSE certified. I didn’t like that job at all. It wasn’t very creative. I was bored.
In 2004, I saw this job posting for “Interaction Designer”. It was a funny moment. I thought, “They are going to pay me 100k to do THAT?” I always thought interaction design was the fun part of work that only the CEO got to do. I combined so many of my interests. I could describe the job of Interaction Designer as:
- Computer Programmer
- Project Manager
- Systems Administrator
I was 32 years old and found the thing for me. I thought, “This is what I am. I am a designer.”
Now, I have 3 sons who are on their own journey. The question comes up, “Is college worth it?” I really don’t know the answer. I learned just as much (or more) from Mad Magazine as I did from Buffalo. The point, I think, is that college is just one part of a path. There was luck in my journey and happenstance. I was yearning to find my place and it took me a long time.
I’ve been a product designer and manager for the past 14 years. It’s certainly possible that a young person can find their perfect major and know what they want to do. They could save a decade or more and just jump into the right thing. Maybe. Or maybe everyone finds their path in a different way. The word that keeps popping up is Maybe.
Maybe is a powerful word.