On this episode of the Digitally Diverse podcast, Ellen talks to Sophie Benjamin, Content Designer at Canva. Sophie talks about going through three career changes, and the process of transitioning into tech. We discuss the principles of content design and the similarities and differences between them and UX or Product Design. The episode also covers a wide range of topics spinning out of Sophie’s varied career history, including how to build a sustainable culture, find your workplace fit, manage the risk of burnout, and grow your career.
Thank you for joining us for another episode of Digitally Diverse, a podcast where we do a deep dive into the journeys of the movers and the shakers of the Australian design and tech industry. So today we are so grateful to have Sophie Benjamin joining us. She is a content designer at Canva.
Thank you so much for joining us. Thank you for having me. So, first off, I’d love to hear a little bit of an overview of your journey so far and how you’ve gotten to where you’re at.
All right, so I’ll start at the beginning and get more details. We get to where I am now. So this is my third career change, I think.
So I went to uni for music originally to be, like a songwriter and a producer. Sweet. And then after about 18 months, I realized not for me.
And I switched into journalism. So I was a journalist for seven years. So I worked for the ABC.
I worked for an independent news website called. Crikey. I worked for commercial.
Yeah, for commercial radio. And I loved it. I particularly loved radio.
Honestly, if I didn’t have to think about my health and money and someone gave me a radio job, I would go back. But after kind of seven years of sometimes not even daily deadlines, sometimes it was hourly deadlines, just like kind of what that does to your stress levels over a period of time. You’ve got to have a bit of a time limit on it.
So I switched into comms, just like communications that are not for profit. And then about four years ago, I ended up transitioning into tech. So I spent three years at NYOB as a content designer, the accounting software company, and then about nine months ago, I started my current job at Canva.
Amazing. So I guess you’ve always had kind of like a creative job and been in that creative space. How did you find after three transitions, is there any advice that you would give to people who are thinking about getting into tech? Some people say, oh, it all made sense.
Looking in reverse how I got here, I still don’t think it does. But I will say the two kind of threads throughout all of those things are having. They talk about a portfolio career.
Every single one of my kind of careers has had a bit of a maximum of, you’re only as good as your last work. And to be thinking about the projects you work on, whether that’s gigs or stories or tech product launches, to be thinking about how you would present that in a portfolio to another person. So that’s kind of been the constant thread, and another constant thread is asking questions every day at work.
I use the skills that I used as a journalist. They’re actually not that different. And all through all of these things, it’s been ever changing technology.
I think as I was one of three women in a class of 40 people doing music production. So I was always very interested in the technical side of things. And as a journalist, I figured out pretty early on that I didn’t want to be a print journalist because it wasn’t looking good for my job security.
So I was very digital focused and trying to stay on top of changing software, changing products. And that kind of mindset has set me up well. The transitioning into tech, where everything changes so fast, you have to keep your skills fresh, and you’re always kind of thinking, how would I tell the story of this project I’ve just worked on to someone else to get more work in the future or just to demonstrate how I think and how I work? Yeah, that’s super interesting that it’s almost like a muscle that you have finessed over a really long time.
It’s like a workout, and you’re just always on top of it. Yeah, that’s a really good point. And it got me thinking.
My partner works in health, and I remember telling her about stand ups in tech, where you have your daily stand up and you talk about what you’re doing, and she was horrified. She was like, that’s like, I can’t believe you have to do that, that level of saying what you’ve done and what you’re going to do. But I think back to hourly deadlines, where if I didn’t do my work and deliver bulletins every hour, I would be found out very quickly.
So it is a muscle, and like all muscles, if you’ve ever had an injury and you have to teach yourself how to function properly, again, you’re very aware of what you’re doing when you first start, but as you get more and more confident, you don’t have to, I will say critiques now as a content designer, feel very different to the critiques that you had to do in uni, where you would either perform or play back something you’d recorded and then 80 other people would just rip it to shreds. Yeah, you must have a really thick skin after that. Yeah.
But I think I’ve also learned, and this is the difference between whatever that was and working in design. It’s a real art to critique things well, I think to look at a piece of work someone has done and go, what’s good about it? How could it be better? But more importantly, what are you trying to achieve with this? Because once you know what that is, then you can actually give proper critique. That’s interesting as well, because I never really thought about it that way.
There’s definitely criticism for the sake of criticizing, or is this actually productive? Is this actually substantial to make a good impact on the work as a whole? Yeah, I guess for people who are unfamiliar with the job title of a content designer, can you maybe give us a rundown of what your day to day looks like? Yeah. So how I explain content design to people, sort of, if they’re familiar with tech, I say it’s like a UX or product designer, but instead of focusing on the visuals and that kind of thing, it is about the content. So whether that’s words, whether that’s images of the experience, and some projects desperately need a content designer and a product designer.
Other projects need content more than product and vice versa. So I would say my job looks very similar to a product designer’s job, where you are doing research, you are doing wireframes, going to critique, interviewing people. I suppose that’s part of research and dealing, doing your day to day in a multidisciplinary team.
So working with engineers, a product managEr, I felt very spoilt when I came to Canva, where we have a data analyst in our small team, and most teams have in my part of the business, have a data analyst. And now I feel like, okay, it’s great. We have one, we need three.
Now we know what we’re missing out on. Yeah, even just to have one. And so I don’t have to go diving for stuff as much as I used to.
I can just ask our lovely data analyst to do it and she’ll do it for us. That’s sort of the day to day cadences in terms of my work. I would say it is 90% all that stuff and 10% writing.
So as I say to people, if you’ve ever been on a website and been really unclear as to what it is you’re supposed to do or what it is that clicking that button is going to send you, a content designer probably would have been a real asset to that experience. So, yeah, basically doing all of that stuff and then writing and then testing it, and then if it works, great, if it doesn’t go back. And increasingly, I’m starting to learn more and more about how we localize everything at canva.
Because canva is available in more than 100 languages and we take it really seriously. It’s not just a case of running all the canva copy through Google Translate and calling it a day. We have a whole team, and not just the words aren’t the only thing localized.
We have little stickers and images and stock photography, and that is localized to different countries and different cultures. Right. So if you log into canva in Brazil, not only is everything going to be in Portuguese, as you would expect, but all your stock photography is going to be looking regionally appropriate.
You’ll be having little stickers and graphics and templates for local regional holidays. And there’s many reasons why canva is really popular around the world, but that kind of focus on making sure the content is local is part of it. Yeah, I never thought of that before.
Like just making something not only super accessible with the bare basics of language, but also making it relevant as well, with those little touches, that surprise and delight aspect of it. That’s really cool. Is that something that you’re involved with, or are they like super local teams of content designers? So we have lots of different markets that we’re focusing on for different reasons, whether it’s, we’re having a lot of growth there, or there’s population there, or they’re a good kind know space financially for us to be focusing in.
But I am in the part of Canva called user voice, so kind of on first glance and at other companies, it would just be support. And so most everyone has tried to get support for things. When things have gone wrong and you expect like help center of articles, you expect email tickets and it gets fixed or it doesn’t.
Whereas at Canva we collect all the support tickets, all the chat bot chats, complaints on social media, lots of other things, and funnel that back up into the product team and that informs, along with other things, the roadmap. So if users are asking for features that we don’t have, if something is repeatedly not working, we track all of that and fix it as we go. So that is really interesting to me, because at previous jobs I’ve been at most companies know what’s going wrong.
It’s just lacking the will to fix it or the will to take it seriously. And Mel, Melanie Perkins, who’s one of our co founders, takes all that customer feedback really seriously and it’s a know priority for her. So user voice is very interesting in that we’re in a part of canva that users, nobody fires up Canva wanting to have to speak, to support, they just want things to work.
And we’re in an interesting viewpoint to be really close to our customers and as a designer I love it because you can find out exactly what’s not working and fix it. So the project I’ve been working on since my time there is really helping users to solve their own issues in a way that isn’t just go read this help article or log a ticket. Yeah.
Because people hate that, and it doesn’t actually solve the problem. We want to be able to go, oh, you’ve said you can’t access this feature. That’s because you’re logged into the wrong account, or you’ve said that this other problem has happened.
We’re pretty sure. Here’s why. Click this button to fix it.
And what that does is it means the user can get back to what they’re doing quicker, and it also reduces the load on our support team. Yeah. So I think I worked at an accounting software company prior to this.
I really love things that seem boring on the outside, but have a real impact if you get it right. And this is a nice little area for me to really get into boring but important things. Well, I think that’s true, though, that good design looks seamless and it looks, like, beautiful and nicely packaged on the outside, but under the hood, there’s so much going on and there’s so much thought and so much detail that people have had to iterate hundreds and sometimes thousands of times.
Why is the button that color? Why does the button have those words? I mean, that’s the classic content design. Whenever people are trying to prove a quick win with content design, they go, the button used to say this, but then we changed it to that, and then we made a million dollars, which you can’t discount, but I think doing support in multiple languages, I’ve found really interesting, too. So we have a chat bot, like everybody does, and I’ve worked on that, and it’s been so interesting seeing basically how chatbots work with the new kind of generative AI, chatbots that everyone knows through chat GPT, but also the older style ones, and also just how different cultures and countries respond to chatbots.
So China, because they have WeChat, it’s very part of the culture. They’re fine with it. Brazil, also very fine with it.
Other countries, people hate chatbots. And it’s really interesting, as a designer, to challenge your own biases, because I went into it going, everyone hates chatbots. But then you figure out, actually, no, not everyone does.
And what does that mean about how we build these things? Is that kind of like the main problem that you’re solving with them at the moment, or is that just one thing, and there’s like a bunch of other tasks that take up your day or projects. There’s a bunch, there’s sort of chat bot stuff and there’s the self help flows that we’re doing. But at the end of the day, everything that I do is trying to get users to solve their own problems so they don’t have to lodge a support ticket.
But if we know that there’s no way out of it, but except to lodge a support ticket or a support ticket is the quickest option. There are some problems our users face where the support ticket is going to be quick. It’s the best way to fix it.
So for me it’s about how do I work with our product designer to make sure that any option, say, if there’s a bunch of drop downs and users need to select one, how do we make sure that how we describe a problem matches how they describe a problem? Yeah. Is a big one because quite often we’ll see tickets go through and we say, why did it end up here? They could have just selected this other option, but clearly it didn’t match. But yeah, I think it’s the stuff that I’m finding really interesting is the multilingual stuff and how that affects everything.
And also I’m getting really into the nerdy support weeds. You can tell, but the sort of problems that we get in markets where mobile is the number one kind of way that people use canva versus people in offices with huge, fast computers, the issues that they have, they’re all very, very different. So how do you deliver a really good support experience for people who are using canva at work in big companies where we’ve got hundreds of seats in an enterprise account versus someone who’s designing on a non Apple phone on a free account.
And how do you make everyone feel good about it? Yeah, I think that’s so many different ways that the users can interact with the product and with the platform. It must be so many different personas and so many different. Yeah.
And then the prioritizer. I don’t think I’ve ever worked at a workplace before where everyone is fantastic at their job and gunning all the time, nobody is coasting, but everyone’s also very lovely. And so I’ve learned a lot while I’ve been there about how to prioritize and at what point you go, that is a good idea, but here’s why we’ve had to go with something else.
I think you find how it links in with strategy as well. It’s been very interesting, because I just have that sort of brain where I want to solve everything all the time and then nothing gets done for me. Anyone that I’ve spoken to that has been either working with canva or has worked with them in the past, it seems like a very genuine culture.
This doesn’t seem like there is money, egos. How have you found it? Has the culture been really good with you? It’s really extraordinary, actually. I think that there’s a lot of focus with canva in that we have nice offices, we get lunch and breakfast cooked for us if you are in the office, and that they’re very chill with remote work and that’s actually underselling.
They’re not just chill with remote work. They make sure that that canva culture is actively inclusive to people who work remotely. So you’re not getting a second class experience, minus the food, I suppose, if you were in the office.
But I found it so interesting that they really are really big on creating a culture where you don’t have to step on someone else to get ahead yourself. They really push the whole thing, saying, there’s enough opportunity here for everyone. There’s no need to step on people to get noticed.
And lots and lots of feedback. It’s a very, very feedback driven culture. And more importantly than that, it’s acted on.
I think we’ve all been at places where they have a staff feedback survey and you go, oh, there’s no point even filling this out because nothing’s going to change. I’ve seen change come from the staff feedback surveys we do after every big off site or event, feedback is asked for and actually acted on. And so that gives you the confidence, I think, that they want a lot out of you, but they will support you and any feedback you give will be acted on.
But also, when you’re working with people, we’re really coached to be able to give feedback well, but also to receive it well because there’s no use if everyone’s giving feedback, but everyone’s also really guarded in receiving it. And yeah, like I think I was saying before, it is really a skill to give good feedback because there are people, like in the past who I’ve worked with who are the brutal honesty type, or people who are too scared to hurt someone’s feelings or cause conflict. And both of those feelings, I can see where they come from, but neither of them give good feedback, neither are productive, are they? No.
Yeah, they ask a lot, but they also. I’ve never felt so supported. Like I was saying, we have a data analyst in every team, I feel like there are very few obstacles to me doing the work that I want to do.
Yeah. So you’re given the tools, you’re given a really good team support. And I think there’s something to be said about that feedback environment.
I’ve worked in a workplace before where feedback was one of the biggest priorities and you not necessarily were taught how to take feedback well, but you got used to it. I ended up really, really like it because I was definitely one of those people where I sometimes didn’t want to give people feedback because I didn’t want to disengage them. Where I think during that, my stint there, it was like, okay, I can actually have a really positive impact on people by giving them sometimes constructive but productive feedback.
So, yeah, I love that. I think that you grow so much when you know that feedback is from a good place. Yeah.
And they’re constantly upskilling us and encouraging us with all that kind of thing because it is hard and I don’t know any, like, you just don’t grow if you don’t get that feedback. And it’s very rare that you’re going to find a person who receives feedback and is like, oh, thank you for this precious gift. Sometimes you do die inside a bit, but overall it is really good and it just makes it easy when you see everybody is getting it, the founders are getting that feedback, your own managers are getting it.
If it’s, like, built into the culture. Yeah. And I think that’s what makes the culture so unique.
And I think that people feel that things will change. I think we’ve all been at workplaces where the number one thing that makes you want to leave is you’re like, nothing’s going to change at this place. So I’ve got to go.
And I think Canberra works really hard to attract talent and they want that talent to stay around and making sure that people feel that if there’s something that isn’t working, that it will change. That’s a good way to hang on to people. Definitely.
Yeah. I think that retain, especially at the moment when people are just a little bit more cautious now with where they go, that support and that really solid foundation of a really good culture that wants to retain their people is. Yeah, it’s really good to hear that some people are taking that seriously.
Yeah. And I hope it will change generationally. I really think so.
The founders of Canva are all millennials. Yeah. But I think the way that they approach work and all that kind of stuff is quite different to previous generations.
My dad has been a boss for my whole life, and I think if you asked him to be doing this stuff at work, he would retire on the. You know, I think that we’ve grown up with, when we started in the workforce, bosses from different generations with different attitudes to work. And I feel that this is a millennial approach in some ways.
And I’m not saying that’s good or that’s bad, but it is an approach that is worth trying and is really working for canva. And I think with all businesses, every business has a culture. I think whether you choose it deliberately or not.
And every business’s culture, I believe, has to come from the top down. If your sort of executive team aren’t leading in that same way, you can’t expect anyone else to. And I would just like to say culture is not all being in the same room at the same Time.
Hallelujah. Amen. Totally agree with you on that one.
Yeah, I think there’s especially over the last. I don’t know if you would have noticed it, too, but over the last few months, some of those bigger companies have started to try and get people to come back, at least to like a hybrid situation. But it’s not conducive to retaining that good talent that I think you’ve just got to be intentional about what you’re doing and when.
So I spent a week in Sydney in May for a big design offsite. So they brought all the product designers together that looked. Yeah, yeah, it was.
It was great. And then I spent another week recently with my department, so they brought a big chunk of. Our department is in the Philippines.
There’s people in China brought everyone to Sydney. Nice. And people go, oh, there’s no substitute for human face to face contact.
And that’s so true. There isn’t. But does that have to be five days a week in an office together when you’re doing focus work? I think a lot about a lot of how I approach teamwork just generally is formed by being a musician from when I was seven, where you go home, you practice your parts and everything at home or in a practice room on your own, you make sure that your skills are on point so that when you get together with a band or an orchestra, hopefully everybody else has done the same and you’re all able to collaborate together.
And I think that in sort of tech workplaces, it’s not that dissimilar. Imagine if everyone was practicing their scales. You’ve got a drummer practicing their rudiments.
You’ve got someone on a tuber doing scales and stuffing it up. If you had all those people in the same room at the same time, that’s not collaboration, that’s just proximity and quite stressful. It’s making noise.
Yeah, it is just making noise. So I think about, if you want to get everyone all together, what do you want them all together for? And do you want them to bond with each other? Do you actually want to get into a room with a whiteboard and just nut some ideas out? I think that’s the bit that’s missing from a lot of return to work. Yeah.
No. So many light bulbs are going off in my head right now. I love the comparison between a band and the team, and a lot of the time, that is just what it is.
The bosses or the higher ups or whatever you want to call it, just want to hear noise. Yeah. And it’s like the conductor is like, well, I need people to conduct.
Where are you all? So it’s the same kind of mindset. But I would be lying if I said there weren’t some things that were easier face to face. But part of what made me want to switch into tech was when I moved to NYOB four years ago.
They let you work one to two days a week from home. This was pre COVID, so that was very luxurious. Love that.
And now I don’t think you can turn the clock back. Yeah. I think if Canva forced us all to come in, there would not be enough seats.
So they’re happy to keep it going. Yeah. I think not all workplaces would benefit from full remote.
Some sort of hybrid is fine, but I think it’s a balance between letting people feel flexible. Yeah. And you’re right.
Like, being intentional about the why behind it. But I guess going back to you mentioned that flexibility is super important to you and why you wanted to get into tech. Is there any other reasons why you took that job at NYOB and how you got onto this track of your career? Yeah, well, honestly, I had a lot of health issues and just wasn’t getting the flexibility from my current workplace that I knew they could offer.
They offered flexibility to other people with family commitments, but not for me. And I thought that was not that great. So I thought, you know what? Odly enough, I’ve been thinking that I did want to transition into tech for a few years, and I did the way in that everyone always thinks of, which is through engineering.
And I tried to teach myself a bit of front end dev stuff, and I just got bored. I’d wanted to work remotely. I wanted to move to Newcastle.
I tried to move here in 2017. I couldn’t make it work. So I was like, well, maybe if I can get into this tech company through this non tech role, I can do something technical.
And then once I got in there, I realized that product design was a thing. I did know a few UX designers, but they had come in through graphic design, which is just not my skill set at all. So once I got into this tech company for flexibility and for more opportunities, I realized there was this whole other world.
Yeah, it was really the flexibility that was the draw card, I think. Yeah. And so true that there’s so many perks that people get working in the tech industry, but you don’t have to have a tech brain to like, yeah, sure, it helps, and it’s great if you’re interested in the subject matter, of course, but yeah, you can get the same flexibility working in a support role or working in marketing or there’s so many other avenues to get into that flexible work.
And the thing is, too, tech is so big. Now that I look at my small team, which is part of a slightly larger team, which is part of you, ladders up to how big Canva is, and roughly half the headcount, I think, at canva is engineering, and that is reflected in my small team. So what’s the other 50%? You need that other 50% to work with engineering.
It is truly a partnership, and I think a lot of people have skills that could work in tech and you just have to make the leap. But it seems very hard to get into from the outside. And I do, really.
I remember when I started at NYOB, it turned out this was a UX job, but that’s not really what I thought it was. And I remember walking in and seeing all the big post it walls and having to do stand ups and going, oh, my God, what is, like, what have I done? I’m going to spend a lot of time on YouTube. But, yeah, you’re are.
I think if you’ve ever managed a project, moving into product management or program management in tech is an achievable switch. There’s lots of stuff there and things are changing really fast. Yeah.
And I think tech’s one of those industries that really loves people coming in, contrary to what some people think from the outside. But other skill sets and other backgrounds is super relevant and really needed in tech because it can be like a bubble and fresh perspectives really accelerate things, I think. Yeah.
And to be frank, in terms of talent, we need people to come in from other places. We’ve got what I think has got to be one of the biggest content design teams in Australia, which is 20 people, which I thought was just massive. We still have like 120 product designers, so the ratio is not quite where it would be.
But we’re still hiring. We are trying hiring, hiring, hiring. And I wish that I could get into more people who are in marketing content and those kind of content roles and go come across, we need you.
Your brain works. And nobody I work with and I work with people who’ve worked at Meta and Spotify and lots of other big places, nobody started their career in content design. We all are like ad copywriting or journalism or just sort of general comms.
Nobody has ended up in there. Straight out of uni and product design. There’s a lot of people who’ve switched as well.
So I would say to people, things can be transferable. You just have to a upskill yourself a little bit. But also maybe look at your current job and think about how you could stretch your current job to have some stuff that could get you into a tech role.
I guess you mentioned before that you did something completely unrelated to content design at Uni. I guess if someone was to look at you right now, perhaps in year twelve and say, I really would love to have a job like yours, what advice would you give them to be like, okay, you should take these steps to get to where you’re at. Well, it’s interesting if they were in year twelve because I still don’t think that universities teach product and UX content well, if at all.
Yeah, I agree. It’s actually really interesting. A friend of mine is a teacher in Victoria and starting next year for their year eleven and twelve syllabus in art, they’re going to start teaching Ux UI.
Cool. Which I Think is. That’s great.
Interesting. Yeah. So I don’t think Unis teach it particularly well, but that will change, I think.
And I think as well for someone to be able to teach it in a tertiary setting, you do obviously need someone who is an expert in their field and it just hasn’t been around for that long. Yeah, like ten years ago you wouldn’t really have. I think UX was just starting to get discussed in Australia.
So. Yeah, I just don’t think there’s that many people who are willing to leave their cushy agency jobs. Well, it’s also tricky because it moves so fast.
So what was best practiced five years ago? And that’s a tricky thing with universities. I was really lucky. When I went to uni for both music and journalism, I went to QT in Brisbane, and it’s a university known for having really tight industry links and updating its courses constantly.
I think like every 18 months. So they were really good. But I would say to anyone in year twelve now, there’s so much you can learn from the Internet.
I would start YouTubing stuff, looking stuff up, but just making things. I look back to. I know that I started this story with saying that I was a musician.
What were musicians doing in the mid 2000s? They were on MySpace, they were code in MySpace Skins. I can still remember all the little shortcuts and tweaking my MySpace page and thinking that I was like some hacker because I knew how to put a background on. I think everyone I work with has that, but even before that I was making like nerdy little websites when I was ten.
So I think that just tinkering, just make stuff and know that what your taste is and what you’re capable of, there’s going to be a big gap, but that will change. So I would say just start making things. Just start looking stuff up online.
And even better than just making things, like make stuff with your friends. I look at the people who, when I was writing for different blogs and street press and playing in bands and doing all of that stuff 15 years ago, where we all are now is just crazy. There Are people who have really successful businesses, people who’ve founded nonprofits, who work for big companies, and the best thing any of us ever did was just make stuff with each other.
Yeah, I think that’s relying on your network as well is such a big thing. We’re very lucky here in Newcastle that there’s such a great network of groups and meetups and just being able to get feedback from them and hear about what they’re up to and like, oh, maybe I could help out with that, or, oh, have you thought about, like, I think there’s a really big temptation to just stay. Everything stayed holed up in your computer and not share it with anyone because you’re scared what anyone’s going to think.
Just put it out there. I couldn’t agree more. And I remember when I was younger, they’d be talking about networking.
Networking. I always thought of it as you go to networking events and then have to make small talk with strangers, which is a nightmare for a lot of people. Torture.
Yeah. But again, they were like, oh, networking, so you could meet people who could advance you in your career. No one ever said the people who you hang out with at the Uni Bar, or the people.
We were all on the same online forums, attached to different festivals or different publications. No one ever said, that’s going to be your network. And it has been.
Yeah, those online spaces are still spaces. Yeah. But you’re right about getting out and sharing your work.
I still find stuff that I’ve done in the past on different hard drives and cringe myself into oblivion. But would I ever have got to where I am now without having shared all of that stuff? No. So, yeah, it’s scary.
And you just have to keep making stuff because you’re never going to make perfection unless you just keep doing slightly shit stuff over and over, and it gets incrementally less shit as you go. Yeah. One of the best pieces of advice that I’ve ever got is embrace the cringe.
Oh, yeah. Because if something makes you cringe that you did two years ago or something, then that means that you’ve grown, and that means that you’ve learnt stuff. And that means that if that’s no longer your final draft level work, then you know that you’ve improved.
It’s funny that you say that. I think one of my first jobs out of uni, it was a real accelerator. I was having to do four or five news bulletins a day, like writing, researching, reading, broadcasting.
And then it was, yeah, dang. Yeah, it was pretty hectic. And that was a remote job.
My boss was 1000 km north of me in a different city. But she gave great feedback. She was so good.
And even more than that, when I resigned on my last day, two weeks later, she had clipped my first ever news bulletin that I read when I started this job. And then 18 months, two years later, sent it to me. And I remember doing that first bulletin and thinking I was killing it, that I was so good.
And then she sent me it and I was like, oh my God, I can’t believe I even got this job. This is terrible. But after the two years of feedback and repetition, it was just so much better.
Light and day. Oh, yeah, absolutely. So good.
Right. So we’ve chatted about all the cult stuff and all the transitions and all of the moving around. Were they like some of the main challenges in your career, or do you have any other speed bumps that you’ve had to face? It’s just been linear with no problems.
So a recurring thing, and again, this is very millennial. You hear it all the time, is burnout that’s preceded pretty much every change that I’ve done. It’s because I’ve burnt myself out.
And with, like, a bit of distance from my last bout of burnout, I have realized it’s because I was in environments that were not good for me and sort of set people up to burnout. It’s a bit of a tricky one where it’s like, how much is the employer responsible for burnout? How much is the employee responsible for burnout? Valid question. Yeah.
And, I mean, I don’t want a victim blame or anything, but I definitely, when I was younger, sort of viewed it as a bit of a badge of honor, which I absolutely don’t anymore, because when you quit, your employer will either replace that role or they will go, oh, we didn’t really need that anyway. Whereas the people in your life who actually matter won’t feel that way. So even know Canberra, they talk about being a high performance culture, and they are.
And it has been interesting for me, just with my own level of brainworms, to draw the line between what is high performance and what is burnout. Because in the past, for me, they were really linked to the point where a few years ago, I went, well, I’m just never going to perform because I’ll just burn out. So I’ll just not do anything.
And it was a bit like that quiet quitting thing about to say. That sounds. Yeah, like, I think a lot of us went through that after COVID, but that’s not really sustainable.
You want to feel like you’re doing something good with your time. So that’s been really hard. And actually, remote work has been a huge tonic to not burning out because I’ve got so much time left in my day, left to recover.
I’m not having my social battery drained. I’m also very sound sensitive. So to not be in an open plan office all day is just amazing.
And I think the other kind of speed bump would be wanting to live in a place where the jobs are not. So when I was a journalist, I really actually loved working in regional areas. I grew up in a country town.
I don’t want to go back that small, but sort of regional cities. But I moved to Melbourne because I couldn’t get the jobs that I wanted living where I was. And then it sort of flipped again where, when I decided I wanted to leave Melbourne, I was like, well, that’s all well and good, but where am I going to get a job if I leave? And then COVID happened and my move into tech happened, and I couldn’t quite believe that it had all lined up, but I guess the threat of both those things, like both those struggles, is trying to integrate work and my life.
And for years I had no interest in doing either of those things. I was like, my life is work and it shouldn’t be. Your work, no Matter how much you love it, cannot give you everything you need to be like a balanced, healthy person.
And you might go through times in your life where everything’s a bit more work focused and times where it’s not. But you should never put all your eggs in one basket. And I think learning that a few times took me a little, a few goes to learn.
It has been the biggest struggle. Because you started out in such a demanding industry. Do you think that maybe your work ethic from that has just carried on into your next few roles where it wasn’t as demanding but you felt like you had to give just as much? Yeah, I think that’s probably a good way to look at it.
And it also comes from my family. Being very career focused and working very hard is like a big family value. But I think you get to a point where sometimes you have to work really hard or you literally won’t be able to pay your housing bills or eat.
But hopefully you get to a point where that’s not the case. And you realize actually, if I spend 2 hours on emails on a Sunday afternoon, it’s not going to make a difference. It doesn’t actually really matter.
It’s not going to be the difference between your electricity bill being late or not. But I do also, that was one of the other reasons I left journalism. There was a lot of, we’re saving the world, we’re doing good work.
And I always had a feeling of like, yeah, but I don’t have the nervous constitution to have a job where that’s true. You look at surgeons where if they don’t pay attention, someone could die, or even like long haul truck drivers if they don’t pay attention, like, no one’s going to die from my jobs. But there was an attitude of, it’s just as stressful as if you did have a job like that.
And I think there are people in the world who are cut out for those kind of jobs and they’re a really special breed and most people’s jobs don’t need to have that level of urgency. Yes. Full of respect to people that can deal with it.
Yeah, no, absolutely. Well, I guess is there anything that you do for self care or to kind of keep that work life balance in a good spot for you? Yeah. Again, this was years and years of me not doing anything about that and then realizing I had to.
So everything in my life falls over really quickly if I don’t exercise and I don’t sleep properly. And those two things are a little bit linked. So, yeah, I’m at the gym out at the Hunter Health Project in Mayfield west, four or five days a week.
Nice. So, yeah, lots of exercise, lots of sleep. And really, I have noticed, particularly since working remotely, the first two years that I worked remotely was during COVID so nobody was doing anything fun on their weekends.
But I have noticed that the better a weekend I have, the better I work. So, oddly enough, I’ve been being really intentional with being social. But it’s interesting when you look at little kids, what we need as adults is actually not that different.
You need to sleep properly, you need to get your energy out. You need snacks. Yeah.
You need your snacks, and you need to have fun. And also, much to my own disgust, I’ve got into yoga. And that has, as much as I resentfully admit it, that has really helped.
Yeah. Isn’t it annoying when they’re like, oh, yoga is so good for you? Is it? And then you actually get into it and you’re like, they’re all right. Yeah, it’s so annoying.
But really, if I could go back in time and tell my 25 year old self anything, it would be, you need to stop eating garbage, you need to start exercising and just sleep properly. And that’s going to solve probably 20% of your problems. And then the rest of the things is just like little tweaks here and there.
Yeah. I mean, I still had a lot of problems at 25, but that would have solved, had a cascading effect on the other of them. I totally agree.
And I think, is there any content that you like to consume, like other podcasts or thought leaders, mentors, that kind of thing? I do listen to a lot of podcasts. Not all of them are design related. There’s one that has, I’ve just completely forgotten the name of it.
I want to say designing better, and that one is really good. It’s sort of interviews with product designers. They keep them really sort of like 30 minutes focused on a project.
So, for example, one I listened to recently was the guy who was the lead product designer for Disney plus when Disney. Yeah. So that’s a lot of pressure on one person.
I find that the level of professional development that I’ve got at Canberra has been incredible. I feel like I’ve started a new job and gone back to uni at the same time. I love that.
Yeah. Which is amazing and sort of really unheard of. So I feel like I’m getting a lot of that kind of mentoring from work, and as a result, when I’m looking for inspiration or looking for other things to bring to work, I’m looking in completely other disciplines.
Like, I’m looking in interior design. I’m looking at other ways that people write, particularly because I’ve noticed the way that I write has really changed depending on what I’m doing professionally. Because I started off as a journalist writing for radio.
It’s very speechy. That’s how you speak. Then when I moved to more digital stuff, that changed again, same with comms and now writing for interfaces and buttons and UX flows.
I feel like I’ve forgotten what adjectives are. Short and sweet. Yeah, it’s all very to the point.
So I feel like in order to keep my skills up and to be creative, I like to pull from lots and lots of things that are not tech and are not UX design. Yeah. I think that’s the best way to go about it because what’s the term? You get into the wind tunnel of, like, you can’t see out.
If you just consume so much of that same content that you’re doing day to day, then you got to diversify it a little bit. Yeah, you’re right. You just end up, everyone’s talking and thinking about the same stuff.
But again, that’s not a new idea. Everything that Steve Jobs kind of did was because he took from other disciplines as well. But I think that’s been my whole life, and what I do for work has been shaped by my creative outlets outside of work.
And as much as I would hate to admit it, it probably works the other way as well. Yeah. It all kind of fits in together.
One big machine. Yes. Okay.
Well, I would like to finish up with my last question, which is one of my favorites. If you were to give your younger self any career advice, what would it be? My younger self wouldn’t have listened, but I would say, oddly, and they definitely wouldn’t have listened to this, you have to have something else other than your career because it’s actually going to make your work better if you do. That would be the advice I would give them.
And I think the second advice would be just chill. Things will happen when they’re meant to happen. As long as you keep doing work, you putting in more work is not going to make it happen faster.
Yeah. So be consistent rather than trying to flog yourself. Yeah.
And the thing is too, you always think that, oh, once I get to this milestone I can relax or once I’ll get to this milestone I will have made it and you don’t ever feel that way. So really just relax and understand that the way the superannuation age is going, we’re all going to have to be working for a long time. So it’s within your interests to make it sustainable.
Yeah, that’s actually a really interesting make it sustainable and enjoy the day to day process rather than to have all of the value on that one milestone. I think if you don’t enjoy the process or get value out of the process, you may not make it to the milestone, I don’t think. Yeah, 100%.
Thank you so much for joining me. I feel like I’ve had so many light bulb moments through the this chat and I really appreciate you joining me. Thank you so much.
Thank you for having me.