Knowledge and Opportunities

Where do you work? When did you decide to work there, or, at least, in that career field? Are you pursuing your childhood dreams? If so, have you stopped to think of how your dreams were shaped by your environment? And, thus, your longings and desires and, ultimately, where you end up in life?

In your adult life, have you ever encountered a job that you never realized existed? I don’t mean a small role, but a significant position, a career field with the power to affect our built – and natural – world?

During one of our many discussions about the differences in our childhoods, I told Misty that there’s a fundamental difference between her childhood experiences and her career and my own (and the folks I knew growing up): We weren’t prepared – didn’t even know about – careers like hers in interaction and experience design to the same degree. Yes, we had computers in schools, but we didn’t have the interaction with the people who could teach/show/demonstrate/live these roles to use so we’d know they existed – could exist – in the world. (And we didn’t have the best technology, either.)

Some of the careers I’m talking about didn’t exist when I was a kid, but most did. At the very least, careers like interaction designer and experience designer were just being called something else – something job-sector specific. Now, however, the same person who designs how you use your new smart watch also designs your experience of Walt Disney World. How cool is that?

I’m not bashing the South on this just because I picked up most of my education in the Deep South. I think it’s the same – or was the same – most places between the coasts. Unlike Misty, we didn’t grow up in Telecom Corridor or whatever. Thus, we weren’t ready for Silicon Valley. We didn’t see a new company town on the horizon until it was too late to buy in.

We don’t all start out on equal footing.

Misty didn’t dream of being an experience designer when she grew up or even when she began working. She taught herself the skills she needed, though, and worked her way up to become a top designer.

I think of my old friend Scott Romero in Biloxi, Miss. I’m fairly certain that had I continued living there, I doubt I’d even know today what an experience designer is or that they exist. Because in Biloxi – and other areas of the country – the business isn’t computers, it’s the Air Force or shrimping or, now, gambling. Not design. My bet is that, if he still lives there (which, last I checked, he did), he still doesn’t know careers such as Misty’s exist.

I believe this is because (a) you know your local economy and (b) base your career choices on what you see and, unfortunately, (c) you never meet people who have careers like Misty’s, so they aren’t options. You don’t know what you don’t know. You also can’t pursue it.

You’ll say the Internet has changed all this. I’ll argue there’s a significant difference between knowing about and being a graphic designer versus knowing about and being a user experience designer, including a difference in remuneration. What’s the saying? “As much as things change, they stay the same”?

It isn’t fair by a long shot. But this isn’t to complain about it being fair or not. Most important, it isn’t to call anyone stupid or ignorant. This is just to express the facts on the ground. To believe we all get the same shot from the same starting position is just patently false – proven merely by the reason I’ve given throughout this essay. If you live in an area where there are limited opportunities, your knowledge of all the opportunities that exist will be limited, even, and especially, those opportunities beyond your county lines.

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