"[Jimmy the Bear], this is [Family Man]," Batcopter Boss said, introducing me. "He's a talented designer. And right now he needs some extra work."
I didn't need extra work, as far as I was concerned; I needed to be paid the correct amount for the work I was already doing. But I kept my mouth shut for a second, to see just what the hell was going on here.
Jimmy the Bear got up and came around from behind the desk to shake my hand. I call him Jimmy the Bear because that's what he looked like: A big, bearded gentle giant type, who moved and even blinked ponderously and deliberately. "How are you doing, Family Man," he said, encasing my hand in his huge mitt. "So what's your skillset?"
Batcopter Boss excused himself while I ran down my list of credentials. Jimmy motioned for me to follow him back out through the door and into yet another office.
In this room two guys were sitting in front of some monitors. They looked pretty young, I had at least ten years on both of them. On a large table against one wall were some drawings for the coffeemaker I'd seen the other guy working on in the model shop. Jimmy started describing where they were in the project and what more needed to be done, quizzing me on various parts of the drawings; I offered input and pointed out something on one of the drawings that I thought would be a problem to mold.
Underneath the messy stack of drawings was something that didn't match, and I pulled it up to ask about it. They were drawings for a toy design, another ID area I had experience with. Soon Jimmy and I were talking about that project too. Now here's the thing: At that point I didn't have a lot of money, I didn't have a lot of what I considered professional respect or renown, but I definitely had a shitload of experience. And in that 15 minutes, Jimmy saw it—because next thing I knew, he was asking me how I'd like to head those two projects up. A half an hour ago, he didn't even know my name.We went back into his office to discuss the salary. He couldn't offer an annual, but agreed to pay me $45 an hour, roughly the hourly-rate version of my Liberace Batcopters salary. We figured that between the two jobs, I could make what I needed to make.
This wasn't what I signed up for, but I didn't have much choice. "I'm in," I said. "When do you want me to start?"
"How about right now?" he said.
So I started immediately. In one day I'd gone from Batcopters to coffee makers. Ah, the life of an industrial designer.
Let me give you the lay of the land here. Batcopter Boss had hired Jimmy as his first designer. Jimmy eventually broke off to start his own ID firm, here in the same building, where he was the principal and de facto Senior Designer. The two remained friends, and as there was no overlap in their client base, weren't competitors.
Jimmy's firm was a small operation: Besides him were the two guys I'd seen sitting at the monitors; one was a CAD guy and the other a junior designer, both of them fresh out of design school. In addition to them was the bearded modelmaking guy I saw in the small shop room and then three interns, two guys and a girl, all of whom were immediately assigned to me. Then there was Ray-Ray, but I'll get to him in a minute.
By the end of that first week Jimmy had seen what I could do, and said he had more work for me. A lot more. I figured he meant two, maybe four more projects—instead there were ten. And he wanted me to run them all.
The reason for that was a guy I'll call Ray-Ray. Jimmy had hired Ray-Ray to do sales, and the man was a Sales guy through-and-through—slick talker, snappy dresser, he even had slicked-back hair. Until I got there, Jimmy was doing most of the design work, but Ray-Ray felt that if Jimmy came with him on the road to assist in pitches, they could land more work. And Ray-Ray wanted to get as much work as possible, as he worked on commissions.
So two weeks in, I was basically running all 12 projects that they had on the boards. Since it was mostly consumer electronics and toys, I was back in my comfort zone. I was a little disappointed that the Batcopter work was petering out, because I'd really been looking forward to growing my knowledge and adding those amazing vehicles to my portfolio. But I had a family to support and couldn't afford to be choosy. And soon I was too busy to worry about it anymore.
More importantly, I was being paid hourly—and in this case, that was a good thing. I did the quick math on the twelve projects, versus the small size of our staff, and saw that there was going to be shitloads of overtime.
By the end of those first two weeks working for Jimmy the Bear, I'd earned a check fat enough to make up for the amount I was shorted by Liberace Batcopters. Jimmy and Ray-Ray were on the road searching for more work, so I was doing a shit-ton as the senior guy in the office. And I also finished up what I didn't realize would be my final renderings for Liberace Batcopters. The contract they had been waiting on never materialized, and soon I wasn't using the front entrance of the building anymore, but going directly around back to Jimmy's firm.
Which was fine with me. I got over the disappointment of things not going the way I'd thought they would, and I started to enjoy using my experience to execute things I was already good at. And for me, the money trumped the job satisfaction; with all of the overtime, I was making way more than I would have with a fixed salary at Liberace Batcopters.
Overtime is a double-edged sword, of course; I was getting to see my family less and less, and that can take a toll on you. But six months in, Ray-Ray and Jimmy had landed a monster client and a $400,000 project, so I knew I had to put the time in while the gettin' was good.
By the time I'd been working for Jimmy for a year, Liberace Batcopters had folded, I was nearly killing myself with overtime hours for Jimmy, and I'd fattened up the family bank account a considerable amount. This move had started off looking like a disaster and instead turned out to be a windfall.
But when I looked at a family photo of us when we'd first moved into the new house, then looked at myself in the mirror, I saw how much older I looked, in just the space of a year. And my boys weren't going to put their growing up on hold while I brought home the bacon. So soon, I knew, I was going to have a tough decision to make, and think about looking around for a cushy corporate gig with regular hours and a salary. But that's another story. I set out to tell you how this cross-country move turned out, and now you know. Time for one of you to step up and tell your story.
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!).