How I started working in digital

I started out my real web career in an ad agency. When I signed my contract I’d never heard of the agency, contrary to other people I knew. Three years before, I got my master in experimental film and had not much knowledge of graphical design. When peopled asked me where I worked, a lot of ex fellow students from art school seemed to be weirdly surprised.

After finishing my master as an experimental film maker, I embarked on a post-graduate stage design. After earning that degree cum laude (still happy I did that), I started looking for a job.
And that was harder than expected. For young people with no experience, it’s hard to find a place to start, a place to get a chance and to grow.

I didn’t like to present my portfolio of my stage designs in person and “harass” possible companies. After a while I figured I might make a website. It was new, I could make it at home and just sent my url to companies who could browse through my work and then contact me if I seemed an interesting candidate. I figured it would spare them time, and me the annoyance of traveling to and from companies for a useless interview. I haven’t had the chance to find out if my idea was a good one. Because once I started playing with dreamweaver (we had a trial because at art school we used premiere for editing) I had my ‘aha-erlebnis’, my epiphany. I knew: wasting hours and hours behind my computer, trying stuff, surprising myself with writing words that can actually produce shapes, colors, change things upon hover or click… , this is what I want to keep doing, it’s amazing and awesome.

As I had already two degrees and didn’t feel like another long period of studying – I had a rent to pay for my room and worked in the evenings for it – I subscribed for a short web design course that would take 4 months. After passing the submission exams and following an obligatory preparatory course Dutch (which is my mother tongue, but I somehow failed the test, though I passed my English and French test, shame on me), I could start the next course a few months later. After three months I started an internship and directly enrolled in my first position with an IBO contract as a flash animator at a smaller firm specializing in online flash e-courses. (IBO is a special program you can enroll in if you finished a course at vdab, a Flemish government affiliated organization tasked to help unemployed people to get a (new) job.)

Two months later I got a call. One of the companies I applied to for an internship a few months before. The ad agency. I contacted them for an internship because they had a funny website: the ‘about us’ page was made of pictures of all the employees and on hover their heads would nod a little. That seemed like the kind of place I wanted to work. So when they called, I immediately agreed for an interview and two weeks later, I signed. The man who hired me is still the best people manager I ever had. He has a knack for putting the right people together and creating great teams with members that can depend upon each other, thank you Wim.

In that agency I learned everything that still helps me today: being flexible, being accurate, being fast. I could put my nature for multi-tasking to good use.
But after almost five years I was a senior there. It was a kind of agency where a lot of colleagues came and went. Though ‘the core team’ was still close, at a certain point it was just time to seek new horizons. It was then that I decided to only look for places where there is one very important thing, that I couldn’t find in advertising: projects that really matter, making things that people actually use, where you can have a positive impact on the daily live of users. Not just gathering e-mails and data to sell stuff more effectively. It was 2007 and that was just the main goal of most projects at that time.

Since then I’ve chosen to work in companies where the portfolio is focused on (to me) relevant projects. I’ve worked on many projects, mostly for non-profits and cultural institutions.

Four years ago I started my first in-house position at a non-profit working on many different projects (website, apps, software) and I had a new realisation: as I made the shift to UX and UI design, working in-house has become a must for me. As the interesting and hard part of the job only begins when users actually use what you designed. Even when you did the reasearch and when your ambassador group tested and tried, once out there, flaws become clear and you have to/get the chance to learn from actual behavior in real life context, reasses, redefine, revise and make it better. Because I still get most satisfaction when I succeeded in making some small thing easier than it was before.

And so started my journey into digital.