The travelling circus

Entry no. 6|web development |

Some days it feels like I’m a part of a travelling circus, bouncing from one place to another, juggling various roles and responsibilities. I’ve been on the road for just over 13 years now. I’m not some digital nomad or wandering free spirit or life hacking digital disruptor. I’m a husband and a father who happens to have a skill set that is universally applicable.

A Jack of all trades…

I started out like most other kids who end up where I am, with a strong interest in graphic design and photography. After studying both for a few years and learning basic web development in my spare time, I started to realise skills in web design and development were growing in demand. Albeit this was during the early 2000’s in New Zealand, so in relatively small demand. I also saw the need for web designers to be able to code — though this is a different debate I’ll save for another day — so I taught myself all that I could about the languages used to build websites. To be honest, I’m still learning and I always will be, the languages of the web are forever evolving.

After a few small freelance projects and the odd agency job, my girlfriend — now wife — politely informed me that she would be moving to Australia to take up a PhD position and I was welcome to join. With nothing really substantial on the horizon, I agreed on the spot.

This decision was pivotal. I guess the arrogance of youth worked in my favour here. I didn’t over think it, I just did what felt right and went for it. Had I squandered this decision and thought through all the possible outcomes, I probably would have never left New Zealand.

Shortly after arriving in Australia I was offered two jobs. One at a software company, the other at a design studio. I took the former, because the work was more varied and I felt this would broaden my skill set.

master of none…

It certainly broadened my skill set, from working within a massive team, version control, software development, icon design, community management and interaction design. The list goes on and from this experience I realised I was still very much a greenhorn. It was humbling and certainly what I needed at that point in my career, a swift kick to my ego. The main lesson I took away from this period was to shut up and listen. To be empathetic towards the end users — in this case, records managers around the world.

Now with an expanded skill set, I felt more confident with moving on and shifting my life to Sweden. Though it was a double-edged sword, with my new found confidence came complacency. I took a job within another technology company, a massive Fortune 100 company with a head count hovering around 300,000. I was also unsure how life would be in Sweden and wanted the safety net of something familiar. This was a mistake. My days were filled with strict corporate guidelines and zero room for creativity or personal development.

Umea, Sweden
Winter setting in. Umeå, Sweden.

With everything I know now, I should have immersed myself within the surrounding environment, taken a job locally and thrown myself into the deep-end. I did pick up some new skills during my four years there, I made some great friends and travelled to some amazing places. There are pro’s and con’s to everything, but in this case my career development suffered due to my aversion to taking risks. Lesson learned.

but ofttimes better than master of one.

Wanting to explore more of Scandinavia, we shifted further north into Arctic Norway. I left my job and started the search for work locally in the small arctic town we had settled in. I didn’t have very high hopes due to its remoteness — 350 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle.

Surprisingly though, it didn’t take too long. My broad skill set and proactiveness turned out to be an ideal match for a Biotechnology company searching for a graphic designer. Up for the challenge of something new, I dived right in. Ever since then, I’ve been evolving this position and now work as the Creative Lead for their parent company.

There is no right or wrong way to go about getting creative work - it’s all contextual. In the context of traveling the world for the past 13 years, it has helped me greatly to have a broad skill set, an open mind and to be proactive about learning new skills. Try not to get too bogged down in the reeds, see the forest for the trees. It’s easy to get hung up on the details, but try to open your eyes and see the bigger picture. You’re only here for a short time, make the most of it.