Up until graduation at the University of Tulsa, athletics was all I knew. Athletics had consumed my life for over a decade, but now I was given the chance to be professional at something that was not athletics. Nerves, anticipation, excitement, and uncertainty – these were just some of the words that described me prior to starting my first day on the job as a professional designer. I had been hired at a tech startup in Waterloo, Ontario. What is it like to be a designer at a startup? Here are some things I learned and experienced so far:

Organization is Key

If you are unorganized, you are doomed to fail. You might not have adequately learned this in school, but you need to have organizational skills at work. No one is going to look over your shoulder and tell you when and how to do things anymore. This is now your responsibility. Being organized helps your team and saves time needed elsewhere.

Never Stop Learning

Working in a startup often means you are being introduced to new projects and the latest technologies. This could range from new apps, mobile devices, code bases, to having to utilize new design tools. To keep current with the latest trends, you need to do research, learn, and practice these skills outside of the job. Over the last six years, my design work has overlapped with development, marketing, and sales. These are areas I might not have been exposed to working at an established design agency.

Find a Role Model

In my first startup job, I was a junior designer and not required to make big design decisions that impacted the direction of the platform. As I held a more junior role in the company, I was required to assist the senior designer. My advice to all junior designers in this position is to learn from your more experienced coworkers. Ask questions about how they problem solve and about their design process. This will only help you learn and improve.

Be Open Minded

At a startup, the atmosphere can be hectic at times. What I mean by this is that even though you may specialize in one area of work, everyone works together on a variety of projects to help the company succeed. You may be utilized in a lot of different situations, which may be new and make you feel uncertain at times. This is an opportunity to be a great team member, to learn, and to contribute to the success of the organization.

Get Feedback

You may have spent hours designing a great user interface only to have it turned down by your manager or senior designer. Accept this, and communicate with your coworkers to learn and achieve an end goal efficiently and effectively.

Six years later, I still work in startups. This industry has allowed me to accumulate skills and experiences I never expected to learn when I graduated university and started this career path. I highly recommend to any designer to start their career with a tech startup if the opportunity arises. In my next blog post, I will write more about my experiences as I continue my series – An Athletically Inspired Educational Journey.

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