Where to start? Probably the first thought of anyone telling a story. The beginning? Now? Somewhere else?
Now seems good. :) Oh, disclaimer: this is DEFINITELY a tl;dr if you have add, as I trend towards verbosity.
I currently am doing UX consulting (contract work) along with volunteering at a local Entrepeneur and Innovation Center along with working on UX.Life.
I LOVE problem solving, strategy, helping people, improving things, smiles, laughs, joy, my kids, music, nature, connecting, collaborating, woodworking.
I am NOT a visual/graphic designer. I have no background/training in art, form, lighting, photoraphy, marketing.
I guess that sums up the now. Rewind to 1996. The middle. (I’ll go ALL the way back in another story). Graduated high school in south Florida. NO clue what to do next. “Guidance” counselors at my HS were not much help. To be fair, they probably had hundreds of kids in worse shape to help. I got good grades, so they figured I’d be fine. The middle class often gets ignored. (shrug).
I follow most of my friends to the University of Florida in Gainesville. Set my major as Psychology. I was interested in it, but it was just kind of a generic pick. I ended LOVING almost every psych class i took. Behavior, motivation, social psych, cognitive psych….all great as they explain SO much about the strange creatures around me. The only class I didn’t like was abnormal psych. I didn’t much care about the exception oddities. I wanted to know more about how and why most people think and act.
Fast forward 2 years. Loving being in a ska band (I played saxophone and did backup vocals). Friends and family are asking what kind of job I’m going to get with a psychology degree. I think, “I dunno. never thought about the job part. Also, I’m gonna be a rockstar so I don’t really need a degree or to think about a normal job.” I really did think our band was gonna “make it”. More on that in another story.
I was always good at math, and sort of interested in computers, so I had taken a C Programming class for Nonmajors. I LOVED it. Making computers do what I wanted and solving problems with logic was interesting, new, fascinating and fun! I changed my major to Computer Science.
Second half of university was spent on computer science: software, statistics, database, data structures and algorithms (BLEH). It was tough, but I made it and graduated with a BA (Bachelor of Arts) in Computer Science. I sometimes say i got a BS degree (Bachelor of Science) because thats what it felt like: BS.
So now i’m an “adult”. I have a coveted college degree. The year is 2001. The dot com bubble had just burst and there were TONS of out of work software developers everywhere with experience and less jobs than there were a year ago. Yay.
I start off in a low paying Flash/PHP job. Hourly. I think it was $12/hr? Not what I was expecting after 5 years of college and sleepless nights, but whatever. Gotta pay your dues right? UGGH. I learned some stuff, but mostly I learned what kind of job I didn’t want. Low payed people are just not seen as valuable. They are grunt workers to management.
So I quit without anything on the horizon. Did some temp jobs for a few months: fixed sprinklers, answered phones at an office supply store (where, incidently I was when 9/11 happened, cuz I remember hearing about it on the little radio in the office).
I then got, what I consider my first real job, at a small division of WebMD: Medical Manager! A friend from school worked there and told me about it and got me in there. I was a software developer making $36k/year!! I was rich! Oh, I was still in the ska band at this point, and still living in Gainesville (because of the band).
My manager at my first real job was AMAZING. I cannot tell you how important a manager/mentor is. If your manager is not your mentor, FIND A MENTOR! The app our team worked on was a software package for doctors to manage their practice. We were in the process of converting it from a character based app to windows based. (remember, this is 2001!) It was using a software called Progress, similar to Power Builder or Visual Basic.
So my manager essentially was my first UX mentor. He told me to not just code what the business requirements said, but think about the user using it, and where they were sitting, who they were talking to (patient, doctor, delivery person), were they on the phone, drinking coffee, using a mouse, using the keyboard…literally everything a UX researcher/designer should think about. This is WAY before the term ‘UX’ had been heard by me though. He taught me to think of the tab order, and the user’s flow through the views of the UI and the labels on the forms and the wording of the buttons. I don’t know where he learned it but he passed on some of the most valuable knowledge and I definitely owe SO much to him. So if you ever get the chance to have lunch or coffee with Phil Dodds, do it. Such an amazing human.
I spent a few years at Medman (Medical Manager) then moved to Tampa, FL area, worked for Nielsen Media Research as a java developer (HATED IT). My wife and I decided to get out of Florida for awhile, so we moved up to Charlotte, NC with some friends, and I got introduced to financial services.
My first job was with Bank of America, as a contractor. My manager there, Matt Brunsman, was the 2nd most important person in my career, and I absolutely would not be where I am if not for him. Another amazingly awesome, smart, passionate, courageous human. I recommend connecting with him on LinkedIn and if you get the chance to work with him, DO IT. He will teach, listen, share, collaborate…he fought for me, believed in me, guided me, helped when he could…he shielded me and the team from corporate bs so that we could focus on the work. He is truly awesome. Oh, he’s also an ex collegiate swimmer, so he’s built like Michael Phelps. A little intimidating :)
We make the rounds of the banks in Charlotte (BofA, Wachovia, Wells Fargo), then circumstances force us to part ways and I go to Ally, while he moves to a different area of Wells. Wife and I decide to move back to Tampa (oh, after 3 kids, so we can be around some family to help raise the munchkins).
A few years later, Brunsman calls me and tells me he’s starting up a UX team at Regions Bank, HQ’d in Birmingham, AL. Its remote, (unless I want to move to Birmingham, which I don’t) which I had never done, but I figured I’d give it a go, cuz Matt is awesome.
Team was small (6 people: 2 UX leads, 2 CMS support, 1 writer, 1 intranet guy) but everyone was SUPER nice. Regions was still just dipping its toes in digital (in 2012) so there was a lot of fun work to do.
I help Matt grow the team by bringing over a few developers from Ally, and a few friends (one SUPER talented illustrator/graphic designer and another front end developer). I get to participate in all the hiring, strategy, vision, direction, process..it was seriously heaven. I was like the hand of the king, only taller and slightly less drinking.
Our team is killing it. we are on slack all day every day, producing more stuff than IT can keep up with. So we’re getting more requests, more funding, more job openings. It felt like we were an agency within a big company. The team is SOOOO close and tight knit. Our families hung out on vacation. (most of us). we had team outings at lake houses and just really enjoyed life.
During this time I hook up with some people in the Tampa area that want to start a UX Meetup. AWESOME!! I attended some Charlotte UX meetup events and loved the social interactions while learning more outside my day job. I helped organize and run the Tampa UX meetup for about 6 years. Such great folks in the Tampa area (mostly).
Then the day I was dreading…Matt got recruited away :*(
The Regions UX team was scared. This thing that he had started and we had groomed was going to change. Change is scary. Unknown. Especially when things feel almost perfect.
It didn’t change too much at first, and I transition more from design into research. I start up a research team, get a few people from Tampa UX hired…things seemed to be going even better! More and more business partners were asking for research, instead of just design.
That catches you up to July 2019. I decide to leave Regions. I was done with a big public company that seemed more focused on shareholders than employees and customers. I was done being just a cog. I was done feeling trapped. I was hurt, angry, frustrated…so I left. They will say they let me go, but I walked out, which forced them to terminate our employment agreement.
I wanted to focus on UX.Life, a nonprofit I started as a collection of UX resources for other UXr’s. Throughout all the years of “UXing” there were SO many people that helped me, gave me advice, guided me, shared, collaborated..that I want to do the same for others that are up and coming. I feel like UX has a culture of collaboration, empathy and sharing (the ones that are doing it right anyway).
I’m also doing some contract/consulting work but thats just to pay the bills and feed the kids.
So, thats my UX story. If you actually read all this, I am impressed! Hopefully UX.Life helps you out, you share knowledge with others, and more stories get shared. Also, I really am NOT in this for trophies or accolades, simply to make others lives better. I just know that things are only as good as the people involved, and getting people involved in something takes promotion.
UX.Life is not meant to be MY ux life and “hire Mike Gallers”. It is meant to showcase UXr’s around the globe. Their stories. It is meant to provide a way for UXr’s to connet, share, learn, grow, get excited, give feedback, get feedback. I want the Amazon of UX. I want it to have tools, websites, people, articles, videos with ratings and reviews so that up and comers OR experienced pros can go to a hub and know who might know what and where is that thing I bookmarked 5 years ago but can’t find…
Thanks for reading and happy UXing!