Sweet! Startup Life Log: Post 1! This series of posts are a transparent look at what makes Widgetware tick. We post the good, the bad, and the ugly, as well as some general advice we’ve learned over the past few years. In this post, I
talk rant about startup life, who I am, and what this series is all about.
Widgetware is a startup company. While we’ve been around for quite a few years, we are finally hitting our groove and focusing what we do. We have officially branched into the world of SaaS or Software as a Service and we learned a ton of hard lessons from our years as a small business that we don’t want to leave completely behind. One of those lessons was transparency, so we want to document our experience of becoming a Tech Startup complete with the good, the bad, and the ugly.
My name is Scott Wyatt and I am a Co Founder of Widgetware as well as the Senior Designer/Developer and CTO. My goal in this series of blog posts is to relay our progress from nobodies to our goal as industry innovators from my perspective starting off with what I do and a few pro tips. I don’t want to leave anything out that you might want to know, so if you have any questions make sure to drop me a line or two in the comments below.
That awkward moment
I find myself always fumbling for an answer when someone asks, “So what again do you do for living?” Even if you have a relatively meager social life like myself, this question inevitably comes up. If you’ve ever seen Office Space, it’s a lot like sitting down in front of the Bobs where you clearly know what you do but have no idea how to express it. My answer almost always varies, not that my job does, but the social definition of my job is really inconsistent. I’ve ranged from “Backend Designer” to “Frontend Developer,” all the way to “User Experience Engineer” and “Systems Engineer,” always trying to find that 2 or 3 word phrase that sums me up. For people like me, there really isn’t a good answer for exactly what we do that doesn’t sound overly pretentious. Simply put, “if it’s digital, I do it” isn’t something you can really say because it has that funky air surrounding it like the saying, “I’m in between careers,” might. It sounds like something a desperate barista might say if they really wanted to leave that job at that local café to work for corporate. It’s almost like saying I specialize in specializing.
So what is it that I do? I run the gauntlet for all things design and all things programming and then I tie the middle ground together in neat little packages that people can actually use while looking good. If that sounds a little bit like, “Jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none,” you would almost be right. This skillset is a fine line between beauty and disaster, and it’s one of the quickest evolving careers I’ve ever even heard of. It’s almost like being a digital adrenaline junky where you are constantly ducking and weaving to stay at the edge of your game while always hoping to stay one step ahead of total utter calamity. Fast paced, high stress, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Is this valuable?
You might be asking yourself if this masochist skillset is even valuable. Truth be told, that’s almost more of an awkward question than it is trying to define it. There are only two types of places that actually need this skillset, and to them it’s invaluable. One is at startups and the other is as directors. Having a person who can sit in any chair, wear any hat, while also being able to translate between the different moving parts produces some incredible results. It’s like having a conductor who can theoretically play every instrument in an orchestra. Since the maestro has an intrinsic understanding of each musician’s job, the best performance can be coaxed out.
That still doesn’t answer the question
I know there are other people out there that do what I do, but it’s not like we have a club and a secret handshake. There’s not a collective body that has officially labeled this skillset and there’s no institution that trains them. This is actually pretty dangerous for the industry. Since there is no regular title, job listings are created that are filled by inappropriate specialties. For example, on job forums the titles “Designer needed with expertise in backend development,” or “Software Engineer required with bachelor’s degree in design,” are starting to pop up more and more regularly. Since this skillset is difficult to define, often a job listing is created that should be filled by two completely different people, especially if it is dealing with entry-level positions. Employers are having a golden dream of hiring two people for the price of one.
So what is the Human Resources department or the people in charge of the hiring/firing missing? They know the solution they need, but are confused about the relationship between designer and developers. It’s gotten so bad, that people who are equally good designers as they are developers are being referred to as Unicorns. Mythical creatures who’s blood, if swallowed, can make you turn a profit in the first quarter. Scary. To me, people with this skillset are more like narwhals. (These horned whales were also once thought to be mythical, but the truth is, you just need to know where to find them, but don’t worry, I’m not actually going to refer to them as narwhals.)
Having a “Unicorn” in your company can have a massive impact. It really can improve your team’s workflow and communication (sadly, it is also very easy to abuse and burnout a unicorn since they are so wildly flexible.) If staffing a unicorn sounds great to you and you are quickly making a decision to hire one, you still need to know how to find one. That’s the tricky part, you can’t. See, what a unicorn actually is, is a multi-function problem solver. They aren’t born with the ability to be a code ninja or be an awesome designer, they are driven people who take an initiative to solve puzzles and learn new things. They are that kid who has an assortment of odd hobbies and is always learning something deifferent. You might be reading this at the office and you can probably think of one or two people you work with that fit this description. They are your baby unicorns.
So now that you’ve found them, what do you do? You invest in them. Give them the resources to explore the other disciplines that your office handles. It won’t take long for that to pay off. Not only will you be increasing the productivity of your team, but, you will make someone like me extremely happy. If you are convinced that you don’t have any baby unicorns staffed and are considering placing a job listing to find an existing unicorn, don’t waste your time. You don’t stumble onto a full-fledged unicorn, you recruit them. It may finally be time to dabble with Head Hunters, but that’s a story for a different post.
So, to finally answer my own question, what am I? I am a professional problem solver with an emphasis in design, development, and user experience until I master more.
If what I’ve described sounds a lot like what you do, please let me know how you define your job title down in the comments below!