Today marks my fourth week of working as a designer at Gaslight. I found Gaslight through a series of Google searches and applied immediately upon finding the website on the Fourth of July. Ever since I got my first email back from our CEO, James, to schedule a first meeting and tour of the office, I couldn’t see myself working anywhere else. Luckily, they had me back in for a second interview and had me do a front-end coding exercise and soon here I was, hired as a real Gaslighter! I no longer had to spend embarrassing amounts of time looking at their website, wondering what my life would be like if I worked there.
Before coming on at Gaslight, I was a fresh, eager Miami University grad, waiting for my career to begin. I was spending my time traveling, freelancing, and working on my design portfolio, but itching for a full-time job in the city. I was struggling to find my confidence throughout the job search process. It was so hard for me to find value in myself when I hadn’t yet proven myself useful in the “real world.” We heard a lot about the “real world” in school, and I wasn’t sure if I would fit in there.
My journey to a college major was sporadic to say the least. I was Bailey the Engineering major, the Math major, the Studio Art major, and then finally the Interactive Media Studies major, all while holding down the identity of Bailey the Violin Performance minor and Photography minor. I was indecisive, yes, but even more so unwilling to settle. I just wanted to do something that I loved, and I loved so many things.
My final major, Interactive Media Studies encompassed everything from graphic, interaction, and UX design, to animation, to front-end development, to electronic music, and beyond. I’ve always been a woman of too many interests and hobbies, and I thought I’d never be able to narrow down my active and grand pursuits to just one career path. When I found my major, I finally entered into a group of people who were just as indecisive (in a good way) and as curious as I was.
When I changed my major three times, I was clearly having an aggressive war between the left and right side of my brain. How could I study math and science while ignoring my artistic side or vise versa? I felt unsatisfied choosing just one route until I figured out that it didn’t need to be that way.
I found web and UX design mostly by accident. It was part of my major’s curriculum and wasn’t something that I really set out to study specifically, but seemed interesting. I remembered tinkering half-heartedly with HTML and CSS in 5th grade in order to add Fall Out Boy and Usher lyrics to my Xanga blog, so I figured I’d enjoy taking my required web design courses. I was right! I loved web design because I could switch back and forth between design and code, which was freeing. I finally found something that let me utilize my left and right brain. The rest has just been hard work and persistence.
I am extremely grateful to have been given the opportunity to work at such an amazing organization. Gaslight is a place full of spectacular people and has a nurturing learning environment, a deliberate focus on quality, and a vibrant culture. So far, it’s been a blast. The first few independent projects and real code contributions I’ve given have been very rewarding. It’s been super cool to finally see lots of dark green squares on my GitHub profile. Being a new Cincinnatian, it’s also been great to make new friends and engage in the community. I’ve loved hanging out with my coworkers, whether it’s been at our many community events, the design conference OFFF last weekend, or just in the kitchen at lunch.
I still have a lot to learn, but here’s some of the wisdom I’ve gained from my experience here so far:
School is nowhere near the end of learning
Near the end of attending university, I began to mourn the fact that learning would no longer be a daily ritual for me. I’ve always craved structure, schedules, and projects. I changed my major more than recommended because I wanted to say “yes” to every subject that could be learned. I thought graduation would be the end of that and the rest of my days would be spent in repetitive, monotonous tasks, never again experiencing the joy of learning in a classroom environment.
I was very pleased that I was wrong, however. If you’re doing what you love, your career can be much better than school. At Gaslight, I’ve learned more than I ever expected to in just the first four weeks. The best part about it is that it’s real. No more theoretical lessons about what fictional clients might want. I get to do the real thing with real people, and it’s way more rewarding.
The best way to get into something is to just get into it
This applies, I think, to both work and play. Whether it’s a movie or piece of music or book, we all have our tastes and natural inclinations. But there’s also a gray area of like and dislike that can be determined by our desire to like something. When it comes to work, there’s no point in complaining about something not meeting your preferences. It’s better to just dive in and try to get into it. When you give it a chance, you may find that you end up enjoying it much more than you expected.
Skills aren’t given, they’re earned
Because I work with such smart people, I have to remind myself that they weren’t just dropped out of a cloud with wizard-level development, design, or business skills. They worked hard to learn what they did over time. Before I start comparing myself to others, I need to remember that there’s a long road to mastery.
There’s a popular idea that it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill. The best way to feel discouraged about learning something is to compare yourself to others and ask, “Why can’t I do that?” There’s a lot of interesting research on rather talent or practice are more important in developing a skill. There are certain amounts of drive that children may be born with which may determine how far they’re willing to go. However, no amount of pure talent is going to get anyone anywhere. Natural inclinations aside, I believe that anyone can learn anything if they put their mind to it and follow through.
Confidence is hard, but comes with experience
Figuring out how to present yourself as a new college grad is a sticky situation. You’re not a student, but you’re not quite a real person in the workforce, either. It’s hard to market yourself when you have so many doubts about yourself and want to remain honest. This was one of the biggest struggles for me in the beginning. It seemed like the first step to being a real designer was the largest one I’d ever have to jump.
I have no quick solution to finding confidence yet, but I feel better knowing that I’m taking steps to improve each day. I’m already pretty surprised by how much more confident I am now than I was before. When people are so respectful and encouraging like they are here, it helps in this area tremendously. Gaslight is dedicated to making sure employees thrive.
It’s easy to let the job search process turn you into a robot. Nerves are running high and you don’t want to come off in a negative way, so you freeze. You should present yourself professionally, yes, but you can be both professional and yourself. It’s a hard thing to balance, but no one wants a professional robot. If you show some of yourself, it will benefit both you and the people interviewing you. They’ll get a better sense of who you are and you’ll ensure that the job you get aligns with your values. Hopefully, the people interviewing you will appreciate your personality quirks and see them as positives. I hope that in my interview, my coworkers got a good sense of my personality so they haven’t been too surprised figuring out how weird I am.
Work environment is important
Gaslight values trust and empathy and believes that these things make our team special. Gaslight also values a balance of personal and professional development. I knew during my job search that my future work environment would be the top contributor to my happiness. I knew even if I was doing interesting work, if the work environment was unhealthy, I would be exhausted and stressed. It’s for this reason that I am so grateful to work here. I feel so inspired coming to work each day, knowing I’ll get to learn so much from great people who are passionate about their jobs. I know that my workplace will always be a respectful, open, and inviting environment so that I can rest easy even when work gets hard. The people at Gaslight are so extremely nice and I feel like I can be myself here, which is very important to me.
Don’t settle on mediocre design. Don’t settle on unsolved problems. It’s okay to start off simple, but keep digging. This applies to the job search as well. Don’t settle for a job that doesn’t fit you well, given you aren’t desperate for a job. If you’re blessed with enough resources to wait awhile in your job search, keep looking for a better fit. You’ll be so much happier when you’ve found something that inspires you and you’ll thank yourself for not jumping at the first job offer that wasn’t so you.
Teamwork is awesome
School is a wonderful, structured, and enriching environment, but for many people it has skewed perceptions of teamwork. We all know how it goes in school group projects. The hard-working people do all the work while the others sit back and relax. That’s not how it is when you’re working with driven, brilliant people. Working at Gaslight in the short time that I have, I’ve realized the joy of working in tightknit, agile teams. We respect each other’s time, mental health, and strengths and weaknesses. Starting your first job is intimidating, but my friends here have made me feel so extremely welcome and comfortable.
Teamwork is the thing I now treasure above all else. I no longer have to feel like an island like I did as a freelancer. It helps tremendously to be able to talk through the challenges I face with other people not just so I can feel less alone, but also so that I can understand problems better for myself. At Gaslight, you’ll hear people asking each other constantly, “How is your project going?” I love that, and it proves that the people here care a lot about the quality of their work and the well-being of their team members.
To any recent grads struggling in the job search - hang in there. Don’t take things too personally, open your mind to all the opportunities around you, and don’t settle. Don’t let your fear talk you out of going for something big if you feel called to it.
I am so extremely excited for my future here at Gaslight. I am very grateful that I’ve been given the opportunity to do what I love straight out of school. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.