When you look back over life, it can make you wonder if maybe the universe has been guiding you all along, for you can see how failures and disappointments of the past transform into the successes and joys of the present. It’s just mind blowing! In this blog though, I am focusing on the pathway to becoming a shipping web application designer, not on the bigger path towards becoming a whole person!
I started my working life in Oil Trading at BP. I was in Tokyo working as Junior Trader/Operations where I excelled in operations, especially the commercial aspects; a key factor was getting a good rapport with the operations guys from the trading houses to swap out open spec contracts to optimize the CPP deals. Trading margins were so tight that clever operations were needed to tip the balance to profitability.
The trading part of the job on the other end, well that was never really my thing. Without a doubt, there were many reasons, not the least being that oil trading in Tokyo in the mid 1980s had no liquidity compared to say New York or even London. But my personality stands out to me the most. For example, if I ever got a good deal, I would feel sorry for the other guy. You can’t trade that way, just as you can’t play tennis or any of the other thousands of competitive roles that center around the idea of winning. But there is one thing you definitely can do with that attitude, and that is design! Designing something is for somebody else to use, and if you make the user happy, it’s a win for the designer too. Design is a vocation where your goal is to improve things for others. So, the very characteristic that undermined me as a Trader is the one that underpins me as a Designer.
Maybe as you look back over your life, you see pivotal events and “aha” moments, and perhaps they didn’t seem significant at the time, but now you can see how they shaped your path. Since joining Q88, my role has been predominantly as a Designer, but it wasn’t that way before. At Heidmar I was IT; at Bitor I was logistics; at BP I was demurrage, trading and operations. Last but not least, my degree was in Engineering and Management.
Working in demurrage in the late 80s, we had no “system” yet. Demurrage claims were primarily calculated by hand (though we did have Lotus 123), and we had no clear picture of overall progress. As PC software started making tracks, I thought there must be something that could do the calculation, generate the telex (yes!), and keep track of the status so we could report aggregated data. I found PC database software from Symantec called Q&A and used it to create an integrated demurrage system. It was so cool; we could report directly out of the same system where we ran the calculations. Looking back, I think the “All about me” principle may have already begun to take shape because, as demurrage analysts, we needed to calculate and send claims; reporting was a side effect.
From there, I moved to a small BP/PDVSA joint venture called Bitor, where I was 50% of the supply/logistics department. We had a very specific oil product to ship and a blank page to start with. I knew I needed to get a system in place before things got too busy. Unfortunately, Q&A didn’t have the power I needed so I looked at other database software like dBase IV, FoxPro and Paradox, but they were too complicated. I was not IT, and I was not a programmer but a business user who wanted a system. Then just in the nick of time, along came Microsoft Access! This was perfect as it allowed me to design and build a robust business system without any significant programming. Looking back, I can see that I was functioning as a Designer at this point!
Another significant factor at that time was really grasping the difference between accounting and business data. I had previously worked in BP’s Management Information Branch for a short time, so I had some knowledge, but this new role made it much more evident. My system was all about the movement of oil – quantity and quality. It had negligible financial data, but still, I found that management came to me looking for financial reporting. At first, I couldn’t quite grasp why that would come from my system instead of accounting. It wasn’t until after I sat down with the accountant and was shown how his data was structured compared to mine that it became obvious to me that real-time financial business data needs to come from the business systems. So I re-engineered my system to include the financials, which also came in handy to the business side as we expanded and increased the complexity of our logistics.
Fast forward to my time at Heidmar. At this point, it was becoming clear that after years in the business I was gravitating towards IT. There were some interesting detours into Systems Administration on my path towards design, including managing the network and Exchange Servers. I particularly enjoyed SQL Server, whether admin, SQL programming or BI, and in a parallel universe I would have ended up as a SQL developer, DBA or BI specialist! I also had some stints in designing and programming in C# and Outlook/Exchange. This was a fantastic experience of reaching the whole IT spectrum, but I can still see the path towards Designer running through it all. After a few years, instead of programming myself, I mainly designed for other people to develop, which requires a whole new level of design discipline.
Looking even further back to my days at university, one of my favorite courses was Industrial Design. I also designed the advertising posters for one of the societies I belonged to. Quite possibly, the journey to design started this far back. All in all, you can certainly learn about design from courses and books, which I have dabbled in myself, but I believe there is nothing like the cauldron of life as a true teacher!
My life experiences have brought me to Q88, where I am now VP of Design. I will continue to blog about my design experiences and discoveries as a way to share insights and experiences that have not only shaped who I am as a person and designer but also how they come through in the products we design here at Q88.