Despite my age I’m an old hat when it comes to the Web. I became enamored with it as a teenager in the late ’90’s. I spent my teenage years learning and building things instead of wasting them doing stupid stuff like most people do as a teenager. I participated in the Web standards movement. I built my personal websites using Web standards. I started building websites for others using Web standards. It’s how I became interested in Opera, and this was before Firefox even existed. A lot of designers who started their careers when I did can do both design and development. Today we’re called “unicorns”. Personally, I don’t understand how you can design for something when you do not understand how it works, but that’s for another discussion and not what I’m wanting to say here.
I avoid writing about my personal life. I’m a very private person. I value my privacy which is why I have been outspoken about privacy issues on the Web. I don’t have Facebook because the company has a complete disregard for the privacy of its users. It is, after all, how they make their money. I do have a Twitter account, but I refrain from posting personal information there. I mostly tweet things in jest, retweet funny-or-interesting-to-me things, and like a lot of people are doing these days disturbing things about the orange monster in the White House. In the near decade I’ve been on Twitter I have maybe said a handful of things about my personal life. I’m now going to write about it here. I feel like I need to even if no one reads it.
I graduated from university in May of 2005. I can remember the day vividly as if it happened yesterday. I actually had hair then. It’s also the last day I can remember being content. I’ve been happy at times since then, but being content is something completely different. Why exactly do I say this? Almost exactly a month later my father had a heart attack, and bad things haven’t stopped happening. A few months after that my parents lost their house. We moved into a small rent house and began a two year battle of keeping my father comfortable which we ultimately lost in July of 2007.
Six months passed before anything else occurred. It’s a long story, but my mother was then diagnosed with COPD. That began a seven year struggle where I became the primary caretaker for my mother.
Everything wasn’t all bad. I’d been doing freelance design work for Opera off and on for about 5 years, and for two years I had constant work to do for them which led to my employment in January 2012. I am extremely thankful for this because it gave me the financial stability to take care of my mother; it allowed me to get her out of that small rent house; furthermore, my immediate superiors actually cared which I’ve come to understand is an oddity these days. I worked remotely and was able to take care of my mother simultaneously. She, however, got progressively worse over the years where by the end it became a full time job to take care of her which I happily did while also working full time for Opera; ultimately she passed away in January of 2015. On April 20th, 2015 I was laid off along with everyone I worked with in the Oslo office. I wasn’t laid off from an inability to do my job and was told repeatedly when I was laid off that was not the reason. My immediate superiors offered to vouch for me if ever a prospective employer wanted references. I never received a complaint. I didn’t know it then, but Opera’s executives were setting Opera up to be sold.
Oh, but that’s not all. April 20th was a Monday. That Wednesday my brother was diagnosed with inoperable small cell lung cancer. Anyone who knows me personally knows of my dog, Tyke. I had him since I was a sophomore in high school, and he started to get ill around this period as well. The day before Election Day last year I had to get him euthanized. Everyone knows what happened on Election Day. A few days before Thanksgiving my brother died.
This has been my twelve years.
I’ve essentially been unemployed since late April 2015. Things haven’t been uneventful. I decided to take an already planned vacation to Canada, but shortly before that I was approached to be part of a startup and accepted. At that point in time I didn’t have any experience with startups, but I knew of the reputation: long hours, no pay, catastrophic failure. I was told up front upon the first round of funding we’d be paid a living wage and backpay with promised future equity if the company took off. I was okay with that. It sounded great. It didn’t last until the first round of funding. The details involve differences in culture, micromanagement down to the second, and the founder’s not being completely on board with the idea because his heart was into doing something else instead of what his venture capitalist advisors suggested we do. This caused the idea of what we were to build to change by the day. It collapsed within a month.
A month after that I had two interviews with a promising employer. The first interview was with the recruiter which went well. The second was with my possible boss, and all he wanted to know was what happened at Opera and got progressively more irritated with me as the interview progressed because I wouldn’t divulge any more than what was said in the press. I was under a NDA and couldn’t give details about projects which weren’t public. I would constantly try to steer the conversation toward relevant topics. It ended awkwardly as a result. Needless to say I did not get the job.
I haven’t gotten a single interview since. There are no shortage of jobs. Anyone can see a long list by visiting various design-related job posting sites. I’ve applied to just about all of them, including twice to this particular design group. The creative director of this company was one of my early clients. When he was starting out he would sub out some of his work to me, especially if it involved any vector work. We got along well, but I suppose not well enough to reply to my job applications with even an automated rejection.
That seems to be a common human relations problem in the industry. As of today I can count on two hands the number of times I’ve actually gotten a reply at all. To give an idea of how many applications I’ve sent out as a comparison, I sent out twenty last week alone. It is nice to know that when you spend the time working up a job application you never get a reply — almost as if you’re not human at all. It doesn’t even have to be a personalized reply. We have these things called computers, and sending a generated reply to each rejected candidate isn’t difficult. Is that not what BCC is for in email? I’ve applied to many, many places. I have even applied to jobs which are well below my experience level, including entry level jobs. I even applied to a design firm known for exploiting college graduates while I was in town, and I couldn’t even get an interview. I have even applied to front end developer jobs knowing I’m extremely likely to not get them because I do not have a CS degree. I’ve applied to jobs where ex-colleagues work and shamelessly prodded them for input. Nothing — yet.
Despite what has happened around me the past dozen years job hunting has been the most demoralizing. I have watched three of the closest people to me and a devoted companion whither and die, but those experiences don’t hold a candle to this. My job hunting has gone in spurts mostly around whatever was going on with my brother, and the odds were I’d get on board somewhere. Nope. Aside from the email setting up the first interview all the replies I’ve received have been rejections. The record is five minutes after I sent an application; at least I got a reply. I have received a couple of nasty replies which essentially said I wasted their time with my application. I feel completely worthless as a consequence of all of this job hunting.
I was laid off from Opera at nearly the worst possible time for me. I’d spent the prior three years taking care of my mother when not working and as a consequence not building up my portfolio. I have added work to it since, but I haven’t added any client work to it. Everywhere I apply to expects an overflowing portfolio of work, but everywhere I potentially work including where I previously worked expects me to sign a NDA which would prevent me from showing non-public work in my portfolio. It is a situation similar to when you’re just starting out as an adult and need to build your credit only to find out no one will loan you money because you don’t have a credit history. I have seen many other designers complain about this Catch-22 situation before, so I am not the only one who has pointed this out. The way to get your first loan is to get a co-signer which many do not have. The designer’s dilemma equivalent to that is to have someone already in somewhere to help you get in. It’s what I had at Opera; I do not have that now.
In the middle of all of this job hunting fun time I worked on a project with my sister called Ook Ink. We’d been talking about it for years, and finally at the beginning of this year we launched it. It’s just starting out, and we haven’t a clue how well it will do. Both of us are learning, and it could very well take a while to take off. I am at least trying different things, and I have other projects in the works, too. It would be nice to devote all my free time to working on Ook Ink and those other projects, but these days I’m still helping out at my brother’s business so I can at least pay most of my bills so I’m not bleeding thousands of dollars every month. My life has been put on hold where I have lived the past two years at the bare minimum I possibly can. I don’t need a whole lot of money to live, but I’ve cut out everything that isn’t absolutely necessary. I am still short every month. I put back almost everything I’ve made in my career, and because of my extreme frugality I have have been able to live as long as I have with little income.
I’m confused. I don’t know what to do. What I do know is what I am doing now isn’t working because no one seems interested in hiring me.
Throughout this nearly two year process of soul searching and anxiety I have focused on different things which are relevant to my goal. One was a revamp of this website where I have resumed my blog with a primary focus on my portfolio on the landing page. I intend on writing more and have already. Ook Ink was another. I tend to paint late at night shortly before bed just to relax and empty my mind of the 24/7 anxiety so I can sleep at night. The combination of the limited amount of time spent per day and the calming effects the process has on me causes a single painting to take months. They usually end up in my portfolio where today there is an excess of showcased illustrations compared to Web work. I recognize this problem with my portfolio, and I’m working on that. However, I would be happy with either illustration or Web design work to be honest. It’s why I call myself a designer and an illustrator.
I don’t use social media as effectively as I should. I have this tendency to compartmentalize things. What I mean by this is that for example I post a lot of progress of my paintings on Instagram, but I don’t on Twitter.1 It isn’t really intentional, either. I tend to wall off sections of my life. Being a private person I suppose it comes from that, but whatever it is I must break that habit. I need to more effectively sell what I do, and it’s stupid of me to not take advantage of social media to do that.
I have thought of several things. I could really push for freelance work again. It would be interesting to do an illustrated children’s book. My thoughts have even ventured into the crazy of streaming art on Twitch. The eventual solution could very well range from none of the above to all of the above.
I must try to resume my life, though.