Growth Rings: A Reflection Through Transition

 
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What. A. Year.

Personally, it’s been pretty damn good. I moved across the country, got married, and landed a fancy new job. I’m incredibly thankful given how absurd this year has been.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have a month off between jobs. Something I’ve never had the opportunity to experience over the past thirteen years of my career. The last three and a half years at Curalate have been a tremendous growth period in my life. Thankfully, I’ve been able to look back fondly at my time with that incredible team and fully decompress from it all.

People much smarter than I have said that a period of transition is a great time to step back, take a deep breath, and reflect on how you got here. Hopefully feeling gratitude for all the things that have come your way.

So, I have.


What Are My Values?

For a business, core values support the company’s vision, shape the culture, and reflect the company’s identity. They’re usually prominently communicated to all employees and involve the way that the business vows to serve clients, treat colleagues, and uphold professional standards.

Your personal values could do the same.

In the past, before I’ve joined a new team, there are a few core values I’ve looked out for. Primarily to see if the company values align with mine. But, I only subconsciously had an idea of what to look out for — I never attempted to write a damn thing down!

So, I’ve spent some time reflecting on what makes me tick. A little less “Well, I guess that’s true?” and a bit more “Hell yeah, that’s-a me.

Now, I realize this is entirely self-involved. But I think it’s important for others to know a little bit about who you are and how you’re put together. These are basically your IKEA instructions. Here are mine:
 

Curiosity

Will I genuinely care to dive deep into their business area and the people it affects? The last thing I’d want to do is join something that doesn’t excite me.

Humor

Is this team able to step back from the day-to-day and enjoy being around each other? We spend so much time with our colleagues, it’s important to have fun.

Honesty

Can this team be real with me and provide honest feedback during good times and bad? An honest team is one that will help each other out.

Compassion

Do they deeply care to understand the people for whom they’re trying to solve for — and follow through? Compassion is contagious–if the vision is clear the team will rally around it.

And finally,

Growth

Is there an opportunity to learn a lot with this team?

Growth is a huge one for me, and I’m going to assume it’s a huge one for you too. Whether it’s financial, professional, or personal growth, we all want realize our potential. Whatever that means to us. As long as there’s positive momentum, we’re probably happy and engaged.

In fact, “87% of millennials rate “professional or career growth and development opportunities” as important to them in a job; 69% of non-millennials agree.” (Gallup)

→ Yep, I hate that it referenced the “millennials” too.


What Does Growth Look Like?

Career growth is similar to growth rings within a tree. Ever-expanding based on the conditions around it. Trees can show their age through these rings, but for us, we can use it to reflect on what got us here.

“Growth rings happen because of the change in growth speed through winter, spring, summer and fall, so one ring usually marks the passage of one year in the life of the tree. Enough moisture and a long growing season result in a light, wide ring. A dry year may result in a very narrow, dark ring.” (Wikipedia)

 

 
 
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Happy Light Rings

Throughout my career, there have been periods of heavy growth where I’m my happiest and most engaged. Where career and personal goals align and explode into a bubble bath full of champagne and kittens.

 

 
 
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Sad Dark Rings

Then there are the times when things start to go south. You’re overworked, you’ve lost trust in leadership, and you’re not learning anything new, except how to manage stress through meditation while inhaling a box of Cheez-Its.

→ You could argue that Cheez-Its aren’t actually a sad thing.

For your career, It’s natural to have these periods of growth, stagnation, and transition. Our interests and values change a lot, so we need to adapt to our surroundings in order to grow in the right direction. And just like growth rings, it tells a story of who you are.

Your story is important

If you’re looking to move into a new job, you’ll need to tell it. As a hiring manager at Curalate, my favorite question was always “Tell me about your career path so far?” It’s the biggest opportunity you’ll have to tell a story that will help others empathize and connect with your past.


Build Your Rings

I’ve put together a short retrospective in order to help capture what I’ve learned. By answering these questions each year, I’ll attempt to build my growth rings from here on out.

  1. What went well?
  2. What didn’t go so well?
  3. What did I learn?
  4. What did I accomplish that I wasn’t expecting to?
  5. How can I make what I’m already doing even better?
  6. What are some things I’m not doing that I wish I was?
  7. What do I need to stop doing?

Remembering everything over the course of a long stint at a company is no easy task, It’s best to keep a journal and write in it a few times a week. From there, you can build out your growth rings and tell your story.

We’re all a work in progress. Trust the process.

Thanks for reading!

How do you reflect after a job transition? What do you get out of it? What methods or frameworks do you already have? Message me on Twitter at @andyodore

 

Figure it out …and get help.

 
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For the past three and a half years I’ve been heads down building Curalate. A crash course in building a product design practice, ever dedicated on finding a product market fit.

In 2014, I left an amazing team over at Think Company to take a chance on an idea and an opportunity. A night of tacos, margaritas, and “You can do this …right?” with Melissa sealed it for me. I took a big risk, and a pay cut. In return, Curalate took a big chance on me.

On day one, I power-posed in the elevator like a real weirdo, was handed a laptop, and essentially had to figure it out.

This is the reality of most startups. One of the biggest advantages to working at a startup is the ability move fast and wear all the hats. You want to do some user research? Congrats! You’re the user research team. Dependencies? Hah. You simply must depend on yourself.

 

Fast forward

Oh hey, you’re a manager now. You’ve hired five more designers and are still growing. To hire the right folks, you need to have a clear story to share with the world about who you are, what you’re working on, and how they can contribute. But hey, I had to learn that somewhere right?

Coordinating with leads and stakeholders to define the right goals is your jam now. Shielding the team from conflicts is your butter. But, where is the bread?

 

Make your bread.

There comes a time when it’s important to build a stronger foundation with the goal to help others so that they don’t have to just figure it out.

  • Create a shared sense of purpose
  • Focused, empowered leadership
  • Enable authentic user empathy
  • Clarify to understand, articulate, and create value

If you do this right, the team will do a better job than you ever did. Nothing gives me greater energy than to see my original work burned to the ground because we’ve done a better job organizationally to enable others to produce great work.

This is where we’re at. This excites me.

 

But, how?

After years of figuring it out as a design team of one or two. I’m now a design manager of one. Back to where I started. Am I even doing this right? How many times can one read Radical friggin’ Candor?

 

I hired a leadership coach.

About a month ago I decided to invest in myself. Finding honest, unbiased feedback can be challenging when you’re flyin’ solo.

Are my values aligned with my career path? …Wait, what are my values?

Deep down I thought I knew what my strengths and weaknesses were. But I needed to meet them face to face. With a goal of providing clarity and direction to benefit myself and others.

 

What energizes you? What drains you?

With the help of my coach, I completed a strengths profile. You answer questions, then receive a detailed report with the following:

Realized Strengths — Things you’re good at, that you know you’re good at
Develop them even further — Dial them up and down depending on the situation

Learned Behaviors — Things you’re good at, but you’ve learned
Try not to use them too much — Use your strengths to support you

Realized Weaknesses — Weaknesses you’re aware of
Delegate to others who have this as a strength — Use your strengths to compensate

Unrealized Strengths—Things you’re good at, but you don’t realize
Look for new ways to use them — Align them to your goals

Knowing which activities boost and drain your energy is important to growth. We’re still sifting through it all and so far, and it’s been an incredible and uncomfortable experience. (Good uncomfortable!)

I’m super excited to see where it takes me.

 

What’s next?

I’ve taken this approach and extended what I know so far to the design team — focusing on their personal growth. I believe if you’re able to build transparency around these areas within your team, you’re able to fill the right gaps and provide the best support for each other. They will benefit from this long past your guidance as their manager.

Don’t ever be afraid to ask for help, because not only will your team appreciate your desire to grow as a leader, so will the people that use your team’s product.

Thanks for reading! If you practice additional growth frameworks with your team, I’d love to hear about them. Say hello on Twitter!

 

 

Many thanks to Melissa Mandelbaum who inspired me to head down this path. And Aly Valli who has empowered me to figure it out.

 

Join the Curalate Product Design Team!

 
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Open roles:
🌊 Product Designer, Seattle | Apply
🗽 Product Designer, NYC | Apply
🔔 Product Designer, Philadelphia | Not yet, but let’s chat.

Wait, Who are we?

Who are we looking for?

We’re hiring generalists. All of our designers are owners who take an idea from inception all the way through to implementation. This includes; research, scoping, planning, discovery, prototyping, testing, visual design, implementation and back again. It’s challenging, fulfilling, and equally empowering. It’ll help you stretch every design muscle you own. 

You’ll balance quality with efficiency, while managing expectations.

 
 Last years product development jamboree in Seattle.

Last years product development jamboree in Seattle.

 

What’s the team structure right now?

We’re a small team of 5! 

We pair with product managers and engineering owners to build product across 3 offices. At a high level, we set OKRs and hold retrospectives to make sure we’re hitting our goals while learning from our iterative process.

Design has that ol' seat at the table. We meet weekly with our founders and business partners to share our ideas and work, help align objectives and get their feedback. It’s important that our teams work autonomously. We believe every designer should approach their work with an entrepreneurial mindset.

To support and learn from each other, we meet twice a week to discuss organizational objectives and hold design critiques — We call it a Show & Yell. With great folks in Seattle, New York, and Philadelphia, communication, transparency and flexibility are held in high regard. But, laughter is held even higher. 

 
 
 Unison-Our evolving pattern library.

Unison-Our evolving pattern library.

 

What kinds of projects would I be working on?

There are currently 3 high-level areas of focus across 7+ teams. We have 3 designers working on our client experience, while 2 are focused on building engaging consumer experiences. Everyone contributes organizationally — your voice matters.

Organizational

  • You’ll play a key role in the design system strategy and its tactical implementation. This is an ever-evolving project and we’re looking for someone who has great experience to share. 
  • You’ll be part of a core team who will do all the research, design, and implementation. You’ll help decide what our products and services will look and behave like. 
  • You’ll evolve our overall design processes and values. 

Client Experience

  • You’ll empower our users to efficiently traverse our platform journey. Providing marketers with tools to help consumers discover their next purchase, growing revenue at scale.
  • You’ll provide clear insights to validate the ROI from experiences built within the platform.

Consumer Experience

  • The way we shape our desires for products and services — and how we ultimately buy them — is changing rapidly because of advances in connected devices, visual social media and artificial intelligence. These moments of discovery are proliferating and changing faster than we’ve seen before. What’s not changing is that personal expression and shopping are intimately related. Connecting the two through authenticity is key to powering discovery. How can you help consumers find what they didn’t know they wanted?
  • Devices and bandwidth create many more opportunities, and the accessibility to those devices is rapidly growing. You’ll create the experiences that connect these moments of discovery to paths to purchase where consumers engage online.

New areas pop up as the product evolves. We’re a startup. Depending on where your passion lies, you will have a say in the area you’d fit best. We do hope you bring your ideas as well.

 

What’s the hiring process like?

When you apply, the design team reviews every portfolio and resume that comes through. We’d love to see 2 to 3 projects you’ve worked on in the past, from conception to launch. The finished product is great, but we look to you tell the entire story on how you got there, your role, and the results.

Our interview loop looks like this:

  1. ☎️ Initial screen with our people team
    Casual high-level view of who you are and what to expect.
     
  2. 🗣 Designer 1 (High level)
    Tell your story; What’s your career path been like so far? Where are you headed? Walk through a project in your portfolio that you think best represents your abilities. This interview focuses on collaboration, communication and the areas you’re looking to grow.
     
  3. 🔍 Designer 2 (Portfolio Review)
    A more in depth review of your portfolio. What problem were you trying to solve? What was your role in it? How did you test and learn? How did you solve conflicts among stakeholders?
     
  4. 📚 Product Manager & 💻 Development Lead
    It’s important that we understand how you work with product managers and engineers. What approach do you take to sifting through the data you collect? What does the design/development hand-off look like to you? Collaboration is emphasized, as you’ll partner with these roles to build successful products.
     
  5. 🤴🏽 VP of Product
     
  6. 👑 Founder

We break these interview sessions up over a couple days. Oh, and we don’t do those group exercises or random whiteboarding tests that nightmares are made of. Nobody needs 5 hour interview loops. 🙅

That’s it!
If the above interests you, but you aren’t sure if you would be a good fit, feel free ask me any questions via Twitter. Slide into my DMs. 🏄

 

Interested? Apply!

🌊 Product Designer, Seattle | Apply
🗽 Product Designer, NYC | Apply
🔔 Product Designer, Philadelphia | Not yet, but let’s chat.

If product management and engineering is more your thing, check out our other job openings.

 

So long, Philadelphia.

 

Dear Friends – Liz and I are moving! 🚚

2015: Our first trip to Seattle – we fell in love with the city.
2016: Our second trip to Seattle – we got engaged.
2017: Our third trip to Seattle – we move in!

While this has been a difficult decision, I’ve never been more grateful for the opportunities that have come my way here in Philadelphia. I love this town, I love its people, and it’s been amazing to watch this town grow into a city I can be proud of.

I’m thankful that I’ve been given the opportunity to transfer to Curalate's Seattle office and grow with a larger team of product designers – and we’re just getting started. I couldn’t be more excited.

So, on January 20th, Liz and I are going to jump into our jawn (car), grab a cheesesteak or two (Dalessandro's Wiz Wit), and drive across the country. (Southern route of course!)

If you’d like to catch up, I’d love to grab a drink before we ship out next month. Seattle folks – I can’t wait to see you. 🎉 I🎉

I'll be sure to share our adventures here as we travel across the country next month.