Professional Development - Seeking advice.

Hello Core77 community. I humbly seek your guidance –

I have worked in environmental and fixture design for retail the last 14+ years and have reached an impasse in my career development.

As an entirely self-taught designer/engineer and carpenter, my skill set is one grounded in on-the fly problem solving and unorthodox solutions. I have made do over the years by assessing design problems that are presented, then as needed, teaching myself the necessary tools to solve them.

However, I now find myself down a road with an employer where this instinct to self-educate is not valued and is, in fact, frowned upon. I find myself feeling stagnant in an organization that doesn’t seem to want to push itself, let alone it’s employees. I seek growth, challenges and opportunities to learn - and I find laziness, ineptitude and an inherent lack of enthusiasm. And so, by and by, I find myself constantly scouring job listings all over the country, in every conceivable design category and find only closed doors.

It seems that what I have come to view as my greatest asset to a potential new employer is in truth, my greatest detriment. It would appear that no one wants the scrappy guy who thinks and problem solves in an unorthodox fashion - they want the school taught drone that will serve as an unquestioning cog in their creative meat grinder.

I consider over and over what the cost (not just for me as an individual, but for my family of 5) to walk away from my full-time corporate job to pursue the educational credentials that seem to stand between me and progress - but my questions to anyone reading is this: Is that really necessary? Am I just stuck in a rut and acting like a child, with a self pitying and myopic view of the world? Should I just bite the bullet and go dig ditches? I just don’t know anymore… as much joy as I find in solving problems presented by others, it kills me that I can’t solve my own…

Is anyone able to share advice or stories of their own history with regard to overcoming the hurdles of being self taught? Any recommendations as to courses of action to create a more “credible” set of skills on one’s resume?

I am not looking for any easy or quick fix, but I am hoping to find reassurance that what I bring to the table is (hopefully) valued in the workplace - and what that workplace might look like… because right now, things look bleak.

Blech. I’m sorry that this is such a loathsome first post to this message board, but I don’t know where else to turn.

I am one who believes that design and new product development can be an apprenticeship and does not need formal education, although I do have a formal education and I may be in the minority with my viewpoint.

That said, I suspect your frustrations stem more from personality and not skills. No one is a cultural fit in every place. Nor should you expect bending from either party to force a fit. If you are not feeling it from your current employer, be fairly certain they are not feeling it from you.

Good luck in finding the right place. Might I suggest 555 Fabrication in Chicago. Always has been a “dream” job for me. And while currently it would be a radical step backward in my “career”, maybe in retirement I could be an apprentice there.

So what is your current job title & duties?
What position(s) are you looking for?

Your greatest asset to an employer should not be your willingness to self educate but your 14+ years experience. Does your portfolio or resume show this? I figure that with 14+ years experience you should have a breath of knowledge in the environmental and fixture design industry, not to mention a few contacts in other companies.

I think you do have a “myopic view of the world” or at least of the design industry. You just referred to 90%+ of the users of this forum as drones. If you spent 14 years in the same company you probably haven’t experienced other design teams and how valuable a lot of those designers are. You are probably very talented in what you do, but it doesn’t take away from school taught designers.

Schooling or self taught shouldn’t affect your portfolio. With 14 years in the industry your portfolio should demonstrate your knowledge and skill. If it doesn’t then there lies the problem. Maybe somebody can review your portfolio? Or maybe your portfolio strengths are mechanical, shop, fabrication projects and you are trying to apply for a designer position?

I think the biggest problem is that you described yourself as a designer/engineer/carpenter. Those are 3 different careers. Maybe choose one? With that skillset it sounds like you would fit perfectly in an in-house design shop. What state/city are you in?Maybe you need to move from doing and into managing?

These of course are all gut reactions/assumptions based on your post. Maybe tell us more about your job & skills.

Totally agree here. A lot of jobs ask for a “4 year degree or equivalent” … the question is what is an “equivalent”? In my book, 14 years of experience on the job is likely pretty equivalent, and I bet it would be to a lot of other professional designers, but probably not HR departments. My advice, put together a kick ass portfolio, the network your butt off with designers, product managers, and engineers at your target employers and try not to apply through those form based HR systems.

I’m no knocking a 4 year degree here, I have one, and for most people in their late teens and early 20’s they are the most sure pathway into the industry, but for someone experienced you should be fine as long as you have the portfolio to back it up. One of my bosses at Nike was self taught. He was file clerk at LA Gear back in the day who took a few mechanical drafting courses. Every day he would put a sketch of a sneaker in the “employee suggestion box”. One day the head of design approached him and said why don’t you sit with us now. From there he went to Sketchers, from Sketchers to Nike ACG, to Jordan, to director of design at Jordan (where I worked for him) to starting the Pensole footwear design academy… So the self taught designer started a design school, with more of an apprenticeship model. Don’t let people hold you back, don’t think of yourself as self taught, think of yourself as highly experienced.

Honestly, outside of art/architecture/design history and some 2D/3D/color theory courses the rest can be learned on the job. Design is really just not an academic activity. Le Corbusier once said that. He also said to burn down all the architecture schools… and then he started one of the most famous art, design, and architecture schools ever.