This is a true story. Descriptions of companies, clients, schools, projects, and designers may be altered and anonymized to protect the innocent.
Editor: This is a continuation of "Good Ol' Boy's" story of chasing his dream I.D. job. If you missed part 1 or part 2 of this story, check them out first!
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Going into my second year of ID grad school, life was good. Sure I lived in a dorm, but room and board was paid for by the student loans. I was supporting myself through ID internships and then a summer ID job at [Manufacturer of Soon-to-be-Obsolete Products] that paid pretty good, because their products weren't obsolete yet.
My Alias skills had gone from almost zero to literally knowing more than the teacher. My portfolio had expanded well from both the internships and the classes; the school pulled in good corporate partners and we got to work on cool projects, like "What should Appliance X look and behave like in 15 years?" And during that summer job, I got to work on designing an entire line of [redacted], which I knew would impress [Hot Design Consultancy], where I really wanted to work.
Most importantly, I had taught myself to hustle. And sometimes when you hustle, you have to be a little ruthless. That's why I can still sleep at night knowing that I've done what I'm about to tell you.
Like I mentioned before, in undergrad there were two guys in the program who demonstrated no talent, but put their noses to the grindstone and got good ID jobs. That was eye-opening. I'd started off thinking of those guys as of no consequence, and ended up thinking of them as potential job rivals worthy of respect.
Here in grad school, there were plenty of guys with no talent, since the program took people with non-creative-related majors. I was friends with one of these guys, I'll call him "Mike"; we'd shoot pool together sometimes down by the cafeteria, which was perhaps appropriate since I would have to one day hustle him.
Mike was a nice guy and a slick talker (undergrad degree in Marketing) who couldn't draw, make a model or conceptualize worth a lick. During our 9-Ball sessions and sometimes in class he'd go on and on about how he wanted to get a job with [Consumer Electronics Giant], who had a satellite office in the same city as our school. I never opened my mouth, but every time he said it I thought Yeah, good luck with that. CE Giant was a household name and probably had their pick of the litter in terms of hiring designers. But Mike absolutely loved this company, he carried their products around, and he tried (badly) to imitate them with his class submissions. I realized that CE Giant was to him what Hot Design was to me: It was the only company he wanted to work for, and the entire reason he'd come to grad school.
Can you see where this is going yet?
All's Fair at the Job Fair
So one day I'm in the computer lab working on an Alias problem. I was in there for hours that day, close to cracking something I'd been trying to figure out for months. I lost track of time and forgot there was a Job Fair down at the Student Center that day. I'd been meaning to stop by, but hadn't made it a priority; my summer job at Soon Obsolete Products had been extended to a first-semester paying internship, so I was good for work.
Mike strolled into the computer lab, he was over the moon. CE Giant was at the Job Fair, Mike had engaged their representative with his silver tongue, and had lined up an interview for 3pm the very next day. He'd also found out what they paid their interns, which was five dollars an hour more than I was making at Soon Obsolete.
I didn't think he'd get the job.
I also hadn't thought the no-talent guys from undergrad would wind up working where they managed to end up working.
And I could use that extra five bucks an hour.
As I mentioned before, my plan to get my dream job was Skills, Book, Opportunity. I now had the Skills. I now had a good Book. Now here was an Opportunity. It wasn't the Opportunity I'd originally aimed for, but it was a good Opportunity.
Mike left, to go crow to somebody else about his interview. It was 4:35pm—and the Job Fair was scheduled to end at 5pm.
I saved my file, then ran to my dorm. I grabbed my ready-to-go portfolio off of the portfolio shelf and sprinted over to the Student Center.
I was sweating like a pig, but I made it there at 4:55. CE Giant's representative was just packing up their table, and I interrupted him. "I'm sorry I'm late," I said. "I was just printing out some drawings for my book, specifically to show to you guys," I lied. "Damn printer broke, and I had to get more ink cartridges."
CE Giant's rep was friendly, and I had my book open and out on the table before he had a chance to change his mind.
All my work up until then paid off. CE Giant's rep stayed for fifteen minutes past closing time with me, looking through my book, asking questions about how I'd done this or that. I dropped Alias science on him. It was clear I knew my stuff.
"Well, [Good Ol' Boy], he said, extending his business card to me, "we've got an interview slot open for 4pm tomorrow. Bring your book," he said.
That was on a Wednesday.
By the following Monday, I'd quit my internship at Soon Obsolete and was now the new industrial design intern at CE Giant. (My advisor at school had told me you should never quit an internship, but I went with my gut; CE Giant was better than Soon Obsolete by a mile.) I'd beaten out a dozen other applicants, including Mike, for the CE Giant position.
From Day One at CE Giant, the work was Alias-heavy, and I slid into it with no problem. I got along well with my boss, whom I'll call Nice Boss, and the office had Aeron chairs, which was freaking awesome.
My first week there, I got my first thrill of opening an Alias file containing a real-world product that I recognized. I was studying it closely when I heard a hubbub in the hallway. Y'ever been in an office environment, then all of a sudden you hear feet moving quickly across carpet and multiple voices just a little louder than they should be, so you know there's a problem? And I heard the word "Security" several times.
Turns out somebody had somehow gotten past the front door security and made it up into the industrial design department, showing up at the door of the Director's office before security intervened and escorted him out.
Yep, it was Mike. He didn't see me, but I later found out that he'd been continually calling them after his interview and trying to convince them that he should be hired. Needless to say, after forcing his way into the building, he didn't receive the warm reception he'd been hoping for.
Mike didn't know I was the one who had been hired. I let a good month go by before I finally broke it to him. I waited until after we'd shot pool and were in the cafeteria so that he wouldn't have a stick in his hand.
But he did have a fork and I wasn't sure how he was going to react, so I kept a table between the two of us when I told him. Strangely, he didn't look mad—just depressed. He didn't say much and sort of slinked out of the room after that.
You might wonder if I feel bad about it, and the answer is, I don't. You try putting in two years living with your mama and designing supermarkets for almost no money, then you tell me what you're willing to do to get a good job. And it's not like I stole it from him; we both interviewed. My book was more solid, and it goddamn better have been after the kind of work I'd put into it.
I did well enough at the CE Giant internship that they kept me on as intern for my second, and final, semester at grad school. That last semester flew by, and to tell the truth, I put more effort into my CE Giant work than schoolwork, because I knew I was gonna graduate no matter what. (You should have seen some of these projects turned in by the people who had degrees in French Lit.)
The work at CE Giant, by the way, was awesome. Obviously I'm not going to get specific, because even though it was years ago, I signed NDAs. But I can tell you that it was heavy Alias work with some hand-sketching. I worked on consumer electronics and amazingly cool conceptual projects. I turned out renderings, animations, interactive DVDs, video fly-throughs—it was all amazingly high-tech for the time. And I could deliver Alias work faster than some of the staffers.
One month before I graduated, Nice Boss asked me if I'd like to work there full-time as a junior designer. Now at this point I wanted to work more for CE Giant than I did for Hot Design, my original dream. I was told CE Giant would start me at $42,000 a year. On top of that I liked my coworkers, I loved the work, I'd get to live in my dream city, and it was a sure thing. So I said yes, controlling the timbre of my voice so that I didn't scream HELL YES. I even went down to HR to read their pamphlet on their retirement package, which sounded pretty sweet. And I imagined never having to work on my portfolio ever again. My next apartment wouldn't have a portfolio shelf in the middle of the wall, it would have a big-ass flatscreen made by CE Giant.
Job Offer the Table?
But of course, there was a wrinkle. Just two weeks before I graduated, there was a boardroom shuffle at CE Giant. Nice Boss was being transferred back overseas to the main office. A new guy was coming in to take his place, I'll call him Evil Boss. Paradoxically, Nice Boss had a degree in Marketing but was super cool; Evil Boss was an industrial designer—and a total asshole. But I didn't know that yet. All I knew was that before he left, Nice Boss told me my job offer still stood, that he still had the juice to push it through before he went back to [foreign country]. That was one of the last things he said to me before he left.
Now I thought one of two things would happen next: I figured things would either go right, or they'd go wrong. Because when you're a dewy-eyed industrial designer fresh out of school, you don't realize that there are a helluva lot more options than that. I had an uncle who was in the Army and when I was little, he used to say "There's three ways to do things: The right way, the wrong way and the Army way." It's like that.
Evil Boss showed up the next week, moved into the same office where Nice Boss had offered me a job, and soon I was back sitting in the same chair. Evil Boss had requested to see my contributions to the projects I'd been working on. I showed him my stuff and it was clear I knew what I was doing. But it was also clear that Evil Boss and I were not the type who would get along. I didn't like the way he asked me certain questions, and it didn't seem like he enjoyed the way I answered them.
So I was surprised when Evil Boss offered me the same junior designer position Nice Boss had promised me. "You can start full-time right after you graduate next week," he said.
Then he hit me with it: "And the salary is $35,000 a year."
"Wait, wait, wait a second," I said. "[Nice Boss] said it was $42,000."
"No, he made a mistake," Evil Boss said. "Starting salary here is $35,000. That's final."
I didn't say anything, I just sat there thinking. It was a kick-ass job, and if things didn't work out here in the future, it might even be a gateway into getting a job—or at least an interview—over at Hot Design. And there were at least two CE Giant projects I was working on that I really wanted to see through to completion. But $35,000 a year was too low—I had, or would shortly have, a Masters Degree, for Christ's sake.
All specific names, companies, clients, designers, and details will be kept anonymous to protect the innocent. You needn't write the story out; a Core77 Editor will interview you to produce a write-up (and to be sure you ain't pulling the wool over our eyes to win that sweet gift certificate!).