It’s 2005. I had graduated from graphic design school five years earlier. Since then, I had built a couple of websites for friends and family, designed some books, dabbled in illustration, but my full time job was teaching English as a foreign language. I really liked teaching and thought I would do it forever. Design was destined to be a side gig, if anything.
The phone rings. You want to be part of a massive web project for a government agency? You have until tonight to turn this mockup into an HTML page. No problem. My main skill back in 2005 was building HTML table layouts to perfection. With the help of tables nested within tables and countless transparent pixels, I could achieve any layout I wanted. I built the screen, uploaded the files to an FTP server, and the next day I was chosen not only to join the team but to manage the other web designers on the team.
Over the next few months I worked with a group of people who lived only a few miles from me, but whom I never met in person. We all worked from our homes. It was at least 6 months before I even met the person who had hired me for this job. The project went so well that I worked with this same team for another 6 years.
I didn’t realize at the time how important this project was. First, it made me fall in love with the web. After that, I hardly did any print design anymore. A couple of years later, I quit teaching altogether and started working as a designer full time. I started calling myself a web designer and later a UX designer. Today, when people ask me what I do for a living I say I design software.
Second, it set me up for many many years of working remotely with all sorts of teams and companies. Working remotely allowed me to move from Brazil to the US in 2007 without having to worry about having a job (well, at least until the 2008 financial crisis hit and my Brazilian money was worth nothing…). I still remember how weird it felt when I eventually got an office job as a designer. I couldn’t concentrate, and I just wasn’t as productive as I was at home. Today, I have a full-time remote job as a product designer.
Working remotely as a designer now is, in many ways, very different than it was in 2005. Today we have amazing tools, while back then our main tools were email and phone. But in other ways, it feels exactly the same. The skills I developed back then are still the ones I use to this day: over-communicating, sharing my work early and often, making myself visible to others, finding ways to make people’s lives easier, building relationships.
I tried to find all that work I did back in 2005, but I couldn’t. All the files died with YouSendit and my Hotmail account that got hacked in 2006. But the learnings still remain, and that’s what matters.