I’ve had a lot of questions lately about what I do for a living. Not just from my family and friends but also, heck, even a few managers that I work with at Gusto. In general there’s a lot of folks who ask me what my job is and appear to be confused by it and I’m asked this question so often that it’s started to confuse even me.
And I kinda get why – my job straddles that Bermuda Triangle of front-end development and design and product management.
But I know for sure I’m not a product designer, or a front end engineer, or a manager though. I’m in the design org but… I pushed the second most amount of code in February? Although I wouldn’t call myself an engineer because I don’t care about the back end and I’ve spent the last decade learning about design (also I couldn’t do a fizz-buzz test if you put a gun to my head). And, sure, I plan a bunch of stuff and tell folks what to tackle but I don’t want to point things and I don’t care about being in 1x1s all day long. I don’t want to be a manager or a product designer or a front end engineer, really.
I want to do all of it.
L O N G S I G H
I think…I’m a design systems product manager? A technical PM? Someone that can figure out all the minutiae of implementing a plan – what to design, how to go about it – and getting people into a room to make a decision that will ship.
Jina Anne mentioned this sort of feeling a couple of years ago for 24 Ways where she writes about hybrid designer/developers:
Sometimes, companies don’t know how to deal with hybrids. I’ve been told to choose a side, and have even been made to join a development team simply because I could code my designs (and then when I couldn’t deliver the same type of code my teammates could, and I felt like I wasn’t able to use my talents in the most effective way).
Being in this hybrid role has made me feel immensely lonely and isolated from the rest of my team as my work appears to be valuable just not in the same measurable way as pure designers or developers. To be honest it’s pretty dang frustrating and at many times it’s impacted my self-esteem and anxiety in gut-crushing ways.
I’ve gained a ton of weight over the past twelve months and I sort of think it’s because of this feeling, too.
Yet the weird thing about a design systems team is that there has to be at least one person that can toggle between both worlds and that’s because you need someone to understand the codebase and front-end development intimately as this will let you gauge the fires in front of you and figure out which ones your team must snuff out first. You also need to understand design, you need to be inundated with the culture of the org and you need to be okay with being constantly wrong about everything. You don’t need a product design background to fill this role although you need to be particular about certain things like component or illustration audits.
This weird job that I have is really just about giving talented people space to do what they think is best and picking up all the pieces that they might drop as they’re focused on some bigger part of the puzzle.
Also? You need to be really, really good at spreadsheets.
But that still doesn’t help describe what my current role is to folks at Gusto, or help me figure out what my career moving forwards is either. Hmph!
And that’s not because I care about ‘career growth’ – today I really enjoy the producing side of getting things done and I don’t care much for titles. I just want to make a good thing; I love unblocking engineers and setting deadlines for designers so that a project can go out in a timely fashion. I love building UI Kits and understanding the intricacies of Figma and I adore learning about accessibility issues. I love working on a library of rules and documentation and components and I adore pairing with designers or engineers to make a thing real great.
I love working quickly, shipping code, doing design and supporting my team in small but meaningful ways.
Is this a Design Technologist? Ugh I hate that term though and I feel like the English language just gasped at me for even contemplating saying it out loud. I guess the only other job title I could possibly have is something that sounds much more daring and exciting, something that truly defines what I do everyday.
Okay, okay, fine. You can call me a cyber designer I guess.
Behold! My newsletter—sent infrequently—about new things that I’m working on. Every so often it’ll contain notes about web design and publishing things that I’m interested in, too.