One Year check in

I graduated with the MS in Interactive Communications in January 2009. (Well, the program was finished in 12/08, but the degree awarded officially in January 09, the ceremony in May 09). It’s been roughly one year since I received it, and I thought it would be good to post a check in.

This year has been rather interesting. Two days before actually completing the program, I lost my full time job as an Interactive Producer. This was unexpected, and part of the purge at this time last year, when the economy was the darkest I’ve yet seen in my life. I had issues with unemployment being “overpaid” from the last go round, and it took me until April to start my first job with the Masters.

The job was horrible. The employers set up the PM department to fail, and to fail spectacularly. It was under the guise of the “bad economy”, but it was just abusive. Unintentionally so, I do believe. But heavy enough that after 7 months of not seeing my spouse, I quit without having a job to go to.

That’s right. I quit.

Nuts you say?

The jury is definitely still out on this one. I’m between jobs at the moment, been interviewing, got some irons in the fire, but nothing has come to fruition. It’s a little scary, but at the same time it’s a source of pride for me. I’m not going to accept less than the best from my employers, just as they expect nothing less than the best from me. It’s this reciprocity which was missing from my 2009 job as a Project Manager/Account Manager.

Yet, on the whole, I feel rather positive. It literally got to the point in my old job where there just weren’t enough hours in the day, and the PM department was putting in crazy mad hours while the Tech department played company-sanctioned video games “during their lunch hour”. Funny how “lunch” sometimes turned into spending half an hour organizing who was going to order from where so that everyone could spend that lunch “hour” on the game. And then the food would arrive and everyone would eat “real quick” before jumping into the game. Come 5pm, unless you had something absolutely dire in the works, the tech crew usually went home. A late night to them was working until 6pm. A late night to the PMs was working until 2am. And it happened regularly.

With the overloaded work docket, it got to the point where I was taking the hit in credibility as the Account Manager/Project Manager 2-in-1 job role. There was no redundancy on accounts… it was just me and my 20 clients with no one who could just jump in and help without requiring more effort than just doing it anyway. No one to delegate to, no management structure above me to rely on, the kiss of death to any sort of schedule was having things escalate until they got to the point where Sr. Management had to step in, because then you had to not only handle the mess, you had to handle the internal process of investigating the mess, and justifying why it got that way, and all of the associated baggage.

First time fired from a client account

I’m not proud of it, but when one of my clients asked to have a different PM assigned to their account due to the fact that I couldn’t get to all of their requests as quickly as either one of us would have liked, I was actually relieved. Having spoken with management, followed proper procedure, documented my work balance issues, and then finally generating a spreadsheet with charts demonstrating how 2 quarters worth of workload was falling unfairly on the PM department, meeting with the CEO and HR and doing everything you could possibly want done… it became very clear that working for my employer was actually beginning to hurt my own professional reputation. Something had to give.

That something was me being employed there. I had asked for their suggestions on how to balance things. None of their suggestions worked because the simple fact was that the volume was just too intense for each of us to handle. The rest of the PMs were equally stressed. There would literally pass days where we wouldn’t say 2 words to each other because of how stressed we all were. And when I would look over and see the new girl playing Farmville and with an entire extra monitor full of IM messages… well, let’s just say that I was unimpressed with that “Senior” PM’s work ethic.

From what I understand after I left they hired on three people. I’d like to say it was to replace me, but they were just responding to my concerns finally. A day late and a dollar short. Well, actually, $10K short. I took a pay cut to land that job. Yes, that’s right, I made more working my “waiting tables” job during school. Immediately upon actually getting the MS I took a pay cut.

More effects of the Masters so far

While that may seem horrible, let me put it in perspective. I was still making more than I had as a senior level graphic designer and art director, although the contributions I was making to the team and the pay scale were inversely proportionate. Too many people thinking that an Interactive PM and a print-based PM should be billed at the same level. No. There’s much more specialized, technical, and communications knowledge required to do the Interactive PM/Producer job the right way. Few people are comfortable with the process, so it requires an educator and a communicator on top of a Producer/Project Manager.

Having the Masters might have resulted in me taking a pay cut for my first job with the credentials, but it also meant that during the worst economy I’ve seen, I found a job and got hired for an April 09 start. Last time it felt like this was just after 9/11 when no one was hiring designers, and I managed to get a long term contract position to ride out the tough times.

On the team at my last job, I discovered just how valuable the ICM program prep really was. There wasn’t a member of the team I didn’t understand at least the basic fundamentals of how they worked. I was frequently pulled into planning sessions for new business pitches which required knowledge of mobile media, or Facebook builds, or whatnot. I realized just how valuable my new skill set really was. And I also realized how it’s going to take a little while before people realize just how much value a good Interactive Producer brings to the table. I know that eventually I’ll move over from the Producer’s role to the Strategist role, or IA role, but it’s all just choosing how to focus within the professional toolbox I’ve assembled from grad school and my life’s experience in ad agencies.

Was it worth the price of admission?

Yes. I may not have a job at this moment, but what I do have are credentials and prospects. That’s golden. Absolutely golden. I’m in a bit of a weird holding pattern right now, hoping a dream job position I’ve done three rounds of interviews spanning 4 months for will present an offer. Praying. It’s the job I really want, now that I know what I’m looking for, and it’s a place which needs the kinds of skills that I can provide in spades. I’ve got a good relationship with many key management players and other stakeholders for the job. I think I can make a positive impact in noticeable ways for the interactive department considering me.

Now I just need that chance. Seems like the pain of every new grad school graduate is that of finding a job. Luckily for me, I’ve got history and experience adjacent to the interactive field, and that sets me apart. I don’t think it’s enough any more to just settle for a job. I’d like to believe that with the Masters I’m now at the level of my career where I can start focusing on finding the plum jobs which are perfect for me at this point and time. I don’t want to climb the corporate ladder necessarily, but to do the kinds of work I’d eventually like to do means that I’ll be climbing it anyway. Strange to think that the ladder is a side effect of the work, but I believe that’s the way it really should be, not the ladder for the sake of the job ladder.

Yes. The ICM program was definitely worth the price of admission for me. I was in the right point in my career and knowledge seeking to be ready to kick my game up that final notch.

See you next year for the next check in.


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