Janet King

Product Manager/Designer/Educator

9 years experience

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By day I work as a Product Manager. All my other time is spent exploring hobbies, doing freelance design, eating pizza, and generally just trying to take it easy. I recently moved from Edmonton to Toronto, while at the same time transitioning from work as a professional designer to that of a product manager; it’s certainly been an interesting year.

At what point in your life did you learn about design, and what drew you to it?

I didn’t learn about design until I was well into my first “career” as an Admin Assistant. I was given an odd project to work on (mapping out the plant and sofa locations within a downtown highrise).

I remember spending way too much time on that stupid project. After that, I started to explore educational opportunities in design.

Who do you consider to be an inspiring woman (alive or otherwise)?

Dolly Parton is one of my number one inspiring females. She’s never been afraid to do her own thing and to be a bad-ass businesswoman. Thanks to my mom, Straight Talk was one of my favourite films from childhood.

Describe your design process.

These days most of my design is done for myself, which makes the process a bit different: less concern about what the client likes or is interested in, for instance. Nonetheless, I always start with a sketchbook. I can’t draw, but even some chicken-scratch sketches are better than jumping onto the computer right away.

After the sketch, I usually jump to the computer and make a rough file. I’ll use this file to mess around with my idea (which is usually massive, unruly and full of not-even-half-baked attempts at what my vision is). I try my best to be patient and gentle with myself, instead of assuming I’ll find perfection in an hour.

From there, I usually move on to a doc that’s formatted as the final output should be. Depending on the type of work, I’ll generally reach out to someone who’s far more talented than I am to get their opinion and to help with it. For example, I recently made a Sasquatch badge for my dad, and I sent that one away to my colleague Andrew Benson for help when I realized that, indeed, I am not an illustrator (ha ha). He gave me some opinions on the form, which really helped.

Anyway, after that I’ll make adjustments and fuss over the details while zoomed in one million percent until I’m happy with the final piece.

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What project are you most proud of?

In my last job, I was working with a tech startup that’s making some incredible stuff with augmented reality. While there, I designed the smallest piece of augmented reality user interface. It’s really interesting to be working in a medium that’s so new, and you can do soooo much with it. There’s very little on the internet around best practices, and I found it to be a really fun and rewarding challenge.

What made that really cool was that Lockheed Martin used this software to build a piece of the Mars space shuttle… so I get to tell people that Mars engineers interacted with my design (hehehe). For real though, I think AR is where I’d go if I were to ever get a job as a designer again. The possibilities feel endless!

What’s the boldest thing you’ve ever done in your professional life?

Hmmm... probably accepting a teaching job at MacEwan University when I was quite young (both in my age and in my career). It turned out okay, and I continue to teach at MacEwan, but wooooooof, that was a challenge… so maybe more “blind” than bold, but sometimes there’s a fine line.

What does success mean to you?

To me, success means I can afford not to think about money 24 hours a day—not rich, just not consumed by the fear of not having enough.

More importantly though, success for me means being happy. Ideally, I want to be excited to be at work and when I leave; I want to feel excitement for my own personal life and for challenges, and I want to be able to leave work at work.

If I was gonna get really crazy though, success would be working fewer than two hours a day from a desk that overlooks the ocean (hehe).

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What’s the greatest challenge you’ve faced as a woman designer?

For over two years I worked at a company with a very difficult VP Product. He was a perfectionist who was also a micro-manager. I would be designing something, and he would literally take the mouse away from me or put his hand on top of mine if I refused to let him take it.

This was an incredibly difficult time in my career. For anyone this would be a challenge, but as a female you begin to question how much sexism may be a factor: Does he not trust me just because I’m a woman? Why did that man get credit for repeating what I’ve already said? These types of questions and a micromanagement style is a recipe for extreme self-doubt and dissatisfaction.

That job left me feeling like a shell of a designer. I couldn’t trust my instincts, and my self-confidence had been beaten to a pulp. When I moved on from there it took me a minute to re-learn that not every boss is like that, and I ended up later having an incredible boss who was very encouraging of me and my abilities (thankfully).

That said, I still struggle today to overcome all the insecurities and mistrust that built up during that time. It’s too bad. Especially since I was laid off when I finally said something to the CEO. So, unless miracles have been performed, that man is still out there behaving in a way that is seriously detrimental to people working for him.

What does it mean to you to be a woman in this business?

Being a woman—or anyone who doesn't benefit from the patriarchy—in this business means feeling tired; it’s a “tired” that most men in this business would never understand. As a female in the tech startup world, I am a rare commodity. There are days—thankfully not everyday—where the struggle even to be recognized at a table is a challenge. When every decision and comment you make and every question you ask is scrutinized by a room full of people (mostly, if not all, men), many of whom have preconceived notions of what you are capable of based on your gender, it is exhausting.

As a Product Manager, I could be in potentially five or more of the above described scenarios everyday. Being a woman in this industry means growing a thick skin and learning that most of how people behave is just ego. Once you can get past that, it’s easier to sit in a room with a bunch of men telling you things you already know 😉

As a woman, I have made career choices that no man would make (pay cuts, etc), in order to plant myself in a more positive environment or to limit my exposure to unhealthy environments. Because yo, that stuff you read about Google and Silicon Valley and the women in these organizations? Those same things happen in the startups that a lot of our peers are working at.

What was your educational experience like?

My education experience was honestly really great. I enrolled into the MacEwan Design Studies program as a mature student with absolutely no design/drawing/art experience. I felt inferior to the other students for most of those three years, but I worked really hard and made AMAZING connections with my instructors. My first job came from an instructor’s network, and no doubt my teaching gig at MacEwan blossomed from similar connections.

If you weren’t a designer, what career would you pursue?

I’d really like to be a mechanic or a carpenter. When I was in high school I was considering going into welding school, but my dad said it was too dangerous. I love working on my own vehicles and am currently planning a tiny cabin build. It’s all similar to design: You have an idea, and at the end you actually get to see something you’ve done or created. For me, that’s really rewarding.

Which of your traits are you most proud of?

In relation to my discussion above about being a woman in this business, other than being laid off, one of the only professional challenges that “keeps me up at night” is worrying that I took up TOO. MUCH. SPACE. in any given meeting. Perhaps I was too aggressive when I told that man across the table for the fourth time that yes, I hhave already thought of that. Or when I called out a coworker for being inconsiderate. That is the shit that keeps me up all night… that and thinking endlessly about the logistics of shipping a project on time and at a high quality.

Who was/is your greatest mentor and why?

Andrew Benson (haha, sorry Andrew)! I guess I’ve never officially referred to him as my mentor… but I have learned so much from him, and I’m so, so inspired by how supportive he is of equality and what an incredible feminist he is and how thoughtful he is and how incredible he is at being a creative/art director and how great the logos and t-shirts he makes for our slo-pitch team are.

He has a seemingly boundless energy to create...and he creates some of the best shit I’ve seen. He’s the bomb.

What are your plans for the future?

My best friend and I are tirelessly scheming over how to work with joy, to escape the 9 to 5 culture, and to create something we’re both passionate about. We’re still brainstorming; we’ll let ya know 🙂

Other than that, I’m a person who doesn’t believe that our futures are a guarantee, therefore, I try not to spend too much energy in the present worrying about a future I may never get…. Most of my energy is spent figuring out how I can work less and feel more joy in the present 🙂

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