It will be six years in August since I walked into the offices of RD2 Inc. in Dallas for the first time. I was still in school as a Marketing major, and still processing the fact that someone might pay me to do what I loved to do on the internet. RD2 was then and is now a small team of brilliant minds, taking on big projects and working their damnedest to make the web a better place.
I learned a lot in my first job. I got to work with talented people for fantastic clients and learned a lot about myself along the way. Some of those lessons were hard to swallow. But now, all these years later, I still find myself thinking about those experiences all the time, so I thought I would share:
Life Lessons from My First Job, or: The Shit They Don’t Teach you in Business School
1. Always take notes like you’re the one who’s going to be doing the work.
It’s about accountability, responsibility, and focus. Never assume anything – pay attention and document meetings in notes as if you were the one who was responsible for it. Even if you don’t know how to do the action item, on a small team you may be asked to figure it out.
I was often not the person who would be doing the work, but the person accountable for it. Don’t just make sure things get done, make sure they get done right.
2. Never Assume Anything.
It’s all about Communication. Don’t make assumptions. It’s better to ask and clarify than head in the wrong direction and waste money and time. Even with a small team of 10 people, poor communication can make everything fall apart.
3. Perception is Reality – Presentation Matters.
This one used to frustrate me to no end. I had this mentality that if my work was fantastic it shouldn’t matter what it looked like. I learned a hard lesson that not only does presentation matter, but it’s crucial.
If you build a fantastic website, but when you present it to a client you make it sound complicated, they’ll decide it’s too hard to use. If you make a brilliant user experience guide, but it’s difficult to read and the flow doesn’t make sense, you’ve shot yourself in the foot before you even got started. People make first impressions in split seconds, set yourself up for success always.
In customer service, no matter how many hours you’re putting into a client, if they don’t feel like they’re getting good service, it doesn’t matter.
4. The Best Way to Learn is to DO
For most of my undergraduate years I thought I was going to go to grad school right after graduation. I had this fear of the real world and thought going to grad school would help me improve myself and my skills, without that pesky adulthood thing creeping in.
It took about one month of my first internship to realize that the best way to learn something is to do it. That applies in most professions, but especially in web. In a world where everything is changing all the time, the best way to stay up to date is to use the tools. Keep yourself surrounded with smart, curious, early adopters and you’ll see trends coming a mile away.
I may go back to school at some point in my life, but for now I’m happy to learn at work every single day.
5.It’s Better to Work for People who Get it.
In my early years I thought it would be easier to work with clients who knew very little about the web – that they would trust us because we were the professionals they paid to come in. I quickly learned that if the client has no frame of reference, you spend so much extra time educating and justifying yourself that every decision is a battle.
The more everyone is on the same page, the better the client relationship… and the better the work.
6. Tools are Important
It’s important to have high quality tools. That means big things like laptops and furniture, but also bags & notebooks & even pens (seriously, don’t good pens make you more excited to do your job?). These are the tools needed to do your job and do it well for the clients. It’s ok to spend a little money to set yourself up for success. If something is broken or not working, replace it.
My first day of work, I was handed a Levenger Junior Notebook that I still use to this day (the exact same one). Essentially it’s a plastic front and back cover with black rings that hold the paper in. The paper can be taken out similar to a three ring binder, so I just keep replacing sheets when I run out. It is by far my favorite tool I use daily.
7. I Love Working for a Small Company
In a small company, everyone wears lots of hats. You get training and experience in lots of different areas. And if you are eager and willing to learn, people are willing to teach.
With a small team, there is also a high level of accountability. There’s no flying under the radar. I love that.
The RD2 Shredder – Yes, that’s shredder from TMNT
8. Have Fun at Work
I know, this sounds obvious. But when I chose a degree in business, I didn’t picture the “fun” side of “work.” I pictured myself one day working in a big office building for a huge company and wearing a suit to work everyday. I didn’t think about things like company culture, challenging work, or the relationships you form with clients and coworkers.
Fun can mean beer on Fridays, but it also means genuinely enjoying the company of the people you work with. Fun also means being challenged at work. I have been blessed to work with clients who inspire me, and that makes going to work every day fun.
While I’m in nostalgia mode, I’d like to give a special thanks to Leia Scofield for recommending me for my first internship at the ripe age of 19, Chris Ronan & Candice Paddock for being great mentors, and Eric Rosenstock for being my partner in crime over the years at RD2. Thanks for all I learned from all of you!