This past Monday marked the 5-year mark of working in the design industry. While seemingly a small milestone, I thought I would take this time to reflect on some of the professional lessons I’ve learned since grad school through various jobs and industries. Many of these are “people skills” while some are situation-specific.
- Invest in your people. While seemingly a simple phrase, carrying this through to fruition is quite difficult. Standing by your people, giving them what they need, and guiding them is so critical to their career. And this doesn’t just apply for managers, it applies as peers and teammates looking out for each other.
- Being set up for success is pretty difficult. A great manager makes such a difference in advocating for you. Which leads us to…
- Being a manager everywhere is difficult. Uncle Ben called it when he said “with great power comes great responsibility”. And a lot of managers don’t realize that…
- Be a people manager… only. As a design manager, it’s pretty difficult to do design work and manage people. Don’t try to do both; it rarely works. I personally think about becoming a design manager as having the opportunity to design someone’s career rather than design a product. Obviously, not every organization makes it possible to only be a manager (and not contribute design work), but let’s be better!
- Give people hope. Offering professional development opportunities goes a long way in allowing the employee to feel as if they are building their skillset. As a company, it’s also important to lay out career trajectories (with the white space to develop individual trajectories) to let people have hope, see, and aim for future roles.
- Enable trust with the new person. The hardest part of starting a new job (and I’ve started 4 in the last 5 years) is trust. Coming in as the new person, it’s hard to collaborate with the team when you don’t feel a sense of trust (and subsequently respect that you’re good at your job). Obviously, I can understand building rapport with your team members, but if it doesn’t start with a sense of trust, the new person’s mountain to climb just becomes steeper.
- White space is important. In line with giving people hope and trusting them, having allocated white space for side projects (like Google’s 20% Project) or general time for up-skilling, team socialization, or general maintenance of work life is crucial for employee engagement.
- Believe in the best intentions in everyone. As a naturally pessimistic, critical, and skeptical person, I always jump to the worst conclusion. This is something I’m clearly working on but a manager said to me “believe that they came from good intentions” and it has helped shift my thinking to be more positive (and conducive to how I relate to my teams).
- No one knows how to build software. Essentially everyone is figuring it out. And even if they do get into a groove, there are always moving pieces from people to roles to the market and economy.
- Work life balance is a real thing. Employees need the balance to produce good work. This leads me to the next point…
- Burnout is real. Monitor yourself. Working day and night will not make you a happier person based on the number of boxes you can tick (which leads to dopamine hits, but you can’t have too much of it or else).
- Pandemic work ≠ remote work ≠ distributed work. A lot of people have already experienced this or starting to, and it’s difficult. Dropbox wrote a great piece around this.
- Don’t run away from hierarchy and structure. I’ve noticed a tendency for other creatives to do this because it’s too “corporate”. However, it is necessary to be effective. Finding the balance is where this is tricky.
- Everyone is on a spectrum or a maturity curve. From their skillset to where they are in their career to the domain space, everyone has something to learn and something they’re aiming towards. Ask them so that you can bolster each other together.
- Different strokes for different folks. I have just been amazed by the wide variety of working techniques, styles, and attitudes people bring to the table with reference to their work. Sometimes they gel well with your own and sometimes not. Key is to acknowledge the difference and figure out how to work together.
I’ve gotten the chance to work in some incredible environments in the last 5 years for which I’m truly very fortunate. Here’s to another 5 years of failing, succeeding, and building more products, friendships, and skills along the way!