Jamie: April 2009 Archives

Tim Stutts is a graduate of NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program, where his thesis project involved designing and programming a neighborhood mapping application for children. Drawing on his previous background in film sound, he now creates immersive user experiences in software. His UI work extends to everything from museums to enterprise offerings. For examples of his work, please visit www.sound-interactions.com.

1. What did you used to do in the corporate environment and what is your
position now in the startup industry?

My previous job was working as a User Interaction Designer for a large, enterprise software company.  Some companies might also call this position User Experience Designer.  I would talk to my team product managers and fellow designers to determine key UI issues, and then design usability tests to try to capture specific details from our users. 

My current position is User Interaction Engineer for a very small company that is centered around event-based micro-messaging.  The job title reflects both the design process and technical execution of designs into working prototypes that eventually become the product. There are limited resources for creating design review documents and specs. Instead the process becomes consolidated to conversations, sketches and execution.

2. What do you feel are the biggest differences between corporate and
startup life?

One big difference is the specialization of roles.  In a larger
software companies, you find people working in a very specific capacity--a designer might become an expert around the UI Design of a certain application or even a feature set within that application.  In a startup people wear many hats and work fast. You may design a site one week, code it up the next week, and then work on a proof-of-concept video for your offering the following week.  A junior to mid-level designer might also code, become involved in marketing, or get involved in recruiting.  In the larger companies, the people who choose to wear many hats are usually senior-level, since the offerings and processes are much more complicated.  Also, startups may pay less in terms of monetary compensation, but can provide early employees with stock options, and fast promotions, should the product take off.  There's a greater risk, but the rewards are potentially greater.

4. Based on your first impressions of your new job, what stands out to you
as the best reason to work for a startup?

Being able to shape the product at an early stage, without a lot strict formalities and handshakes.  It's very rewarding.  You feel personally invested in the process.

5. Do you have any advice for people facing a similar decision that you
faced: corporate or startup?

If the job is your first one out of school, and involves relocation of your life, home, and personal things, a corporate gig may be a good choice, as your job is usually more stable.  There is a more gradual on-boarding process for new hires.  Start-ups can be great too, if you find the right team and offering, and are prepared to work late hours to get things underway.  Your placement in either job situation is likely to be based on a common connection or personal recommendation, so establishing those is key.  Also, if you've just left school, there
will likely be a lot of progressive ideas about your area of study that are fresh in memory.
If you were preaching them back then, going anywhere--either corporate or startup--will likely involve putting these ideas to test. Some of these ideas will fly on the job, and others won't, but don't let the uncertainty stop you from being bold and sharing what you've learned with your team.

6. What would be your one (or multiple, if you have some!) piece of advice
for people trying to get a job at a startup?

- Work on becoming well-rounded.  In a startup it's more about the breadth of your skills than the depth, though it may be important for you to have depth in certain areas that compliment the abilities of your team.  If for instance you have previous experience in interaction design, learn to code in a couple languages.  If you are an engineer, read up on user experience.
- Stay on top of the current trends and technologies that relate to the areas in which you are interested in or claim to be an expert.
- Working for a big company beforehand can give you some credibility. People trying to staff up for start-up positions are often eager to soak up the lessons you've learned from working on a much larger offerings.
- Finally, If you are a designer or have an interest in design, subscribe to the blog Designing Possibilities.  We're trying to inform people about career-related decisions, such as this one.  I'm an active participant in this effort.

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This page is an archive of recent entries written by Jamie in April 2009.

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