Working in Tech with an Art History Degree

Never in a million years did I think I would be working in tech. I saw myself as the antithesis of technology– devoting my education and early career to preserving the art and art-making techniques of the past. However, through a series of seemingly random events and a lot of hard work I find myself a User Experience and Interface Designer at a mobile development and consulting company. Six months in and loving it, I’m taking inventory of how I got here and what I’ve learned so far.

My first job out of school was working for one of the foremost book-binding supply shops in the nation (you probably didn’t even know that was a thing, did you?) Eventually I landed my first “big girl job” in Museum Education, feeling like I had “arrived.”  Have you ever heard of that woman who became a curator with just a Bachelor’s degree? You haven’t? Duh, because I made her up. Without an advanced degree or a desire to pursue one, I quickly realized I was stuck. Thankfully, I had been cultivating design and letterpress printing skills on the side and decided to dive headfirst into the freelance life, working as a wedding stationery designer. Three years, approximately five bridezillas and few dozen invitation suites later I was struggling to stay inspired. I had learned so much about myself and about running a business, but it was now time for a new adventure.

enterprise mobile app devThis is where my foray into tech began. Mostly out of curiosity, I began to take classes in User Experience, Sketch, basic web design, wireframing, and designing for the screen. I was hooked. I watched hundreds of YouTube videos on how to mask this or animate that, scanning forums for answers and googling like it was my job. I dogeared outdated books about “mobile first” and read articles about fighting for the user — anything I could get my hands on. Then, one wonderful summer day, I interviewed for a design position at BlueFletch and the rest is history.

At my new job I had to learn to swim by being thrown into the deep end. During the first couple of months I would make daily lists of all of the words and acronyms that I hadn’t understood that day to look up later, in secret. It took some time, but to my relief and surprise I didn’t drown. I began picking up more jargon everyday, building my understanding of this brave new world, piece by piece. This is the ever-progressing land of Marshmallow, Kit Kat, Lollipop, and Jelly Bean, of cookies, toasts, breadcrumbs, chips, wizards, trolls, portals, clouds, easter eggs, and bugs — it’s quite the place.

The constraints inherent to designing and developing apps drive creativity with a speed and ferocity that I have never before encountered. This kind of work has redefined my understanding of what it truly means to be creative. It is narrow-minded to suggest that creativity only courses through the veins of musicians, painters and photographers. Being creative is the posture of approaching a problem and endeavoring to solve it in a beautiful way, a goal shared by the right and left-brained alike.

The tech industry isn’t for everyone. If you are looking for a career to coast you into retirement, it’s probably not for you. The techsphere and the people who inhabit it will advance and swallow you up as they pass, leaving you and your skillset irrelevant. The tech industry is however, for the forever-learners, the self taught and the classically trained. It is for the computer scientists and the engineers and also for the lawyers, actors, musicians, teachers, and artists. It is for the people who planned on being here all along and the people who arrived here by happy accident. This industry is a melting pot of talent, enriched by the diverse collage of backgrounds brought to the table. Here my non-tech past experience isn’t a handicap, it’s an asset.