I started a new UX contract position three weeks ago at a bank based here in central Ohio. It wasn’t at all the environment I thought I’d be in, you think bank and you picture suits, stuffy communication, cubicles, and the lamest lame that ever lamed. I am elated to report that this has not been that. At all. In the least.
While the rest of the company are in cubicles, walled off and cloistered, my IT team and I are in open pods. Desks facing each other to form a six-armed creative beast, chatting or earphones, standing or sitting. Oh, and we wear jeans. No one else there wears jeans, except on Fridays. It’s not an official law but we are overlooked and for that, I am grateful. Our director is open, kind, contributes frequently, and clearly values his carefully crafted team. Co-workers are left to design, build, create, fail, try again, present, and communicate freely. Some come in at 9 and leave at 4. Some come in at 10 and leave at 1 to finish the day at home. No one bats an eye, everyone is trusted to be adults and do the work. I’ve worked from home two days this week to absolutely no guff (on my brand new, gorgeous, company-supplied MacBook Pro).
This is – without hyperbole – the polar opposite of my previous employer. Most of them, actually. That adage about if managers and owners trust employees and treat them well, they won’t leave? That’s true. Several of my coworkers are contracted, like I am. I don’t know if they’ve been offered a job to stay on, but I know two have but haven’t accepted because they like the freedom of contract work. But it also means they’ve stayed on, uninsured, because they enjoy it there.
While the first few weeks were a little confusing and frustrating, I joined a team already well meshed and with projects in process, I learned the vibe of the group and learned to speak up with questions. I attend every meeting which could possibly teach me more or a new thing, and at my first user testing day a few weeks ago, I just sat there and soaked it in. It’s happening! I tried so hard to break into dedicated, professional UX and finally, someone let down the rope. They’ve made me feel part of the team, my manager is friendly and helpful, and the team members seem to really enjoy one another. Every day, something happens where I stand there boggled at what a difference this is compared to my previous work experiences. It’s a little like college. Yes, it’s about the job but it’s about so much more than the job, too. It’s about what you learn and what you bring in.
The UX conversations themselves are fascinating. Everyone in the room is a detail person, considerate of those around them, and concerned that communication is clear and with good intention. Problem-solving and finding ways to do things better, it’s what Interaction Design is about and its designers and writers reflect that. It’s a breath of fresh, safe employment air.
I have always been a lone wolf at every job (either my preference or accident) and I’m the first to admit that I don’t always do well in groups that I am not running. I feel insecure at their established bonds, not in on the joke, and uncomfortable at the idea of inserting myself into a group that may not want me. This is thinking and behavior that is dyed in the wool, and my new environment is challenging me daily to take out my earphones, ask someone a question that could lead to a non-work conversation, and find ways to get involved. I feel awkward doing those things, but I know that’s how the group bonded in the first place and I want to be part of them.
But because every silver lining has a touch of gray, a lunch I had with my recruiters last week left me feeling like an offer was surely coming, but two days ago they let me know that as the team is growing, the bank is interviewing and hiring (which they said was “due diligence”), and my future there is not, in fact, certain. If they offer a contract extension, it will be for six months. That will carry me through the holidays, a planned trip to New Orleans with a friend, and into April. That is more than enough time to get to Sr. Designer level, if I were to leave the bank. But the fear is that they will pass me over for those with more experience, in spite of being told I’m doing well and they like me there. Anxiety is always lurking in the corner and even when happy in my work, this is no different.
Sorry to end on a down note, it’s the piece of reality I need to keep with me to keep from being caught off guard. Fingers crossed that the next update involves a contract extension and so much more to learn.