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A Circuitous Route

Apr 6, 2010 In Process By Tim Aidlin

Question: “If you don’t have the 5 years’ experience requested by the job description, how do you break into the industry?”


At industry conferences like MIX10, one of the most important things you can do is attend outside events—the ones hosted ad hoc or set up from people outside “the inner circle.”

So often, these events give you otherwise unavailable opportunities to meet Creative Directors, Designers, Developers, Evangelists and just regular guys and gals that have the same questions you do. It was during one such event that someone asked a great question, which spawned a discussion: “If you don’t have the 5 years’ experience requested by the job description, how do you break into the industry?”

Professor or Fast Food Super-Nerd?

Well, let’s be honest: I have a degree in poetry.

Back in college, I thought my life would result in one of two career paths: Either, “Good morning class. My name is Dr. Aidlin and I’m here to teach you about Beat generation poetry and its relation to jazz and mid-twentieth century culture” or, “Would you like to hear what I think about Dostoyevsky while you wait for your French fries?”

Up until my senior year of college I got by using a Brother SX-4000 word-processor,which showed three lines of text at a time and required you to edit in the most ridiculous way. But you could edit,which was (kinda) better than a typewriter and carbon copies. But then I got into visual arts, while creating the layout and design for a literary journal I was producing at the time. This was 1995, and the graphical-user-interface was finally a standard—no more stupid DOS screens, crappy printouts, or no way to transfer your information. I could visually grab and move things where I wanted and use different fonts. Using rulers felt like using art-boards.

This was amazing.

So, job led to job which led to school and conferences and a million late nights searching and trying to meet people who knew more than me.

I did everything I could to learn what I’d missed in school and went out on a limb to either succeed to totally fail. I spent time building up my portfolio, learning and working super late on projects I thought were interesting, even if they had no commercial value or weren’t even “appropriate” for the job I wanted.

What did this behavior show potential employers? Drive, intelligence, and the ability to learn on the fly. As Tim Brown from the amazing design company IDEO notes in his book “Change by Design,” (I’m paraphrasing) it’s absolutely important for companies to invest in a varied and diverse workforce to ensure a wide array of viewpoints, disciplines, and expertise solving important problems.

The best companies will look not only at your resume, but also at your skills as a whole, as well as your personality and interests.

Getting There

For me, the answer to the MIX10 attendee’s question is simple: build your portfolio. Make it shine. Read books. Meet people. Make connections. And above all, don’t be afraid of failure. That’s how I got here, anyway.

How did you get where you are? What are you doing now to get further along? What advice could you give to people who are just starting out, looking for jobs or hoping to push their career?

Leave a comment below or tweet us at @MIXOnline.

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6 comments so far. You should leave one, too.

Abdurrahman Abdurrahman said on Apr 8, 2010

Graduating from a computer science school with top grades apparantly was not enough to get the job I want. Simply because I didn''t know what kind of job I love to be doing!
I went on a 5-year journy in different jobs that literarly was a failure, a success, another failure, and then another success (with embeded failures to be accurate!). After that, I figured out that I''m a natural technology evangelist who strives for value. I finally got a job I want to do... I''m here at Microsoft for more than 4 years and I do evangelism!
Is this my ultimate park? The answer is no! I strive for value where technology "truely" serves business and in order to achieve that, I need to explore the "business world" academically, pracrically, or hopefully both.
My advice to everyone: Let failures come, and never think of them as set backs. Failures are practical opportunities to learn and discover yourself.

Robert Hellestrae Robert Hellestrae said on Apr 8, 2010

Yes, build up a portfolio of projects that you as the designer or developer ("devigner") find interesting!

In my case, Silverlight-based web design and development projects which explore different aspects of Silverlight such as line-of-business, animation, media, graphics, multi-touch, interfacing with Flickr and Twitter REST API''s, Windows Phone 7...

Tim Aidlin Tim Aidlin said on Apr 8, 2010

I absolutely agree with the above. One absolutely cannot let "failure" stop you from persuing what you love, and when you''re doing something you find engaging and worthwhile, it''s much easier to pick yourself up and try again.

As well, while it might sound trite, each stumble provides an opportunity to learn and -- most importantly -- *not make the mistake again.*

Thanks for the comments, y''all.

Johan Nilsson Johan Nilsson said on May 7, 2010

I really liked: “Would you like to hear what I think about Dostoyevsky while you wait for your French fries?” – an interesting concept indeed! ;)

One problem to deal with (for some of us anyway) is the everlasting question: "What do I want be?" or "Where would I like to be in ten years or so". Sometimes one could envy people who know their path from the beginning. On the other hand; not knowing is an creative journey!

Tim Aidlin Tim Aidlin said on May 7, 2010

I agree, Johan, I imagine it would be comforting to know *exactly* what one "wanted to be when they grow up," or at least in 10 years. For me, I never really envisioned this *particular* career, but I did know that I wanted to be involved with visual art in some way, and was always attracted to science, but could not keep up with the complicated math.

I guess at the end of it, I found a nice way to marry two, sometimes very disparate worlds.

How I got here, however, is a series of lucky breaks, risk-taking, late nights, learning, mistakes, and a very supportive social-network and family.

Good luck!

Shanthi S. said on Mar 18, 2011

Hello, I am a high school junior and I just came across this article while browsing the internet during my Social Studies class.
I''ve told many older mentors my dilemma with what i want to do and have hoped that i would find the answer soon in order to make informed decisions.
I''ve read books that promise self-realizing epiphanies...which came, but did not last long.
The usual advice i get is: "Be what you love"
It is true that i want to "do what i love and love what i do" but how do i find what that is?

Any advice? Any tips?