Episode 116 – Seek Out Likeminded People and Nurture Your Creative Side with Ruth John
Ruth John is Phil’s guest on today’s show. For the past 15 years, she has worked in the digital design and development field. Ruth has worked for start-ups, creative agencies and media companies as well as in the telecommunications sector. She specializes in data visualization, animation, audio and 3D. Ruth is also a technical writer and a regular conference speaker.
(0.57) – So Ruth, can you expand on that brief introduction and tell us a little bit more about yourself? Ruth explains that currently she is a self-employed consultant. She specializes in helping companies to build or document creative development. Usually, she ends up filling in skill gaps for her clients, especially when it comes to audio, animation and visualization.
(1.32) – OK, so what led you into that particular avenue? Ruth explains that while working for agencies on front end development projects, she ended up filling a range of skill gaps. One of which was design. Despite the fact that her focus was research and development, she ended having to use her creative skills a lot. It was this that made her realize that she had a flair for design and the creative side of IT and that she enjoyed that kind of work.
(1.53) – Phil asks Ruth for a unique IT career tip. Ruth’s number one tip is not to be afraid to turn work down. Sometimes it is because she sees red flags, other times it is because the job is not fully suited to her skill set. She is especially cautious if it looks like the project has not been spec’d properly or is underfunded.
Phil asks her if that is something she has had to learn from experience. Ruth said yes. When you are self-employed getting the balance right is tricky because you’ve still got your bills to pay. This fact makes it harder to learn to say no and will mean that occasionally you will have to say yes even when the role is not a perfect fit for you.
(3.57) – Ruth is asked to share her worst career moment. Like quite a few IT professionals, Ruth has made the classic mistake of deleting a production database. Of course, that was a serious mistake, but one that was relatively easily rectified because they had a proper backup.
Throughout the early part of her career Ruth experienced sexism. In one office, every morning when she walked into the office they shouted boobs at her. A pretty awful environment for her to work in, but that job did not last long. Fortunately, things are getting better now for female IT workers.
The other negative situation that sticks in Ruth’s mind was landing a very well paid job only to then discover that the working environment was toxic. Plus, the team was not great. That was a very low point for Ruth. Sadly, it meant that her best career moment was rolled up with her worst one.
(5.09) – Can you explain how your worst career experience rolled into your best moment. Ruth said that she left that job. It was a difficult decision for her to leave such a well-paid role, but doing so was extremely liberating.
(5.45) – So, have you learned anything from that particular experience in terms of who you choose to work with? Ruth explained that it gave her a better understanding of when to say no and when to say yes to a project. For example, she recently took on a project that was slightly underfunded. She did so because it gave her the chance to work with someone she already knew and trusted. It turned out to be a great decision.
(7.28) – Do you see the trend of applying multiple technologies to one problem continuing? Or do you think that it is going to go the other way? Ruth said that she hopes multiple technologies will continue to be used. Having options helps people to be innovative, dig deeper and come up with interesting solutions.
(8.48) – What first attracted you to IT, Ruth? Ruth confesses that when she first left university she was not attracted to a career in IT, at all. Her entertainment technology degree was similar to media studies, but, with the focus being on technology. For example, music technology, 3D and film animation. During her course, she did a year of Java programming and hated it. But, despite that, she applied for and landed a job as a web developer and ended up enjoying it.
(9.38) – So, there must have been something that kept you going in terms of wanting to continue to work in the industry? Ruth agrees and thinks that it was seeing 3D artists and video editors at work. That made her realize that they were stuck in a dark room all day. Whereas as a developer, she got to move around, experience more and get involved in all kinds of projects.
(10.34) – What is the best career advice you’ve ever received? Ruth has recently read Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg and found it refreshing to hear someone recognize the fact that “having it all” is not really possible. Currently, Ruth is focused on her career, but definitely feels the social pressure to get married and have children.
(11.38) – If you were to begin your IT career again, now, what would you do? Ruth says she would have more confidence in her own abilities. She really wishes she had worked an environment that had instilled that in her.
(12.18) – What career objectives are you currently focusing on? Because this is Ruth’s 2nd year as a consultant, this year’s target is to make more money. In 2018, she has not quite hit most of her targets. She does not really set goals as such. Instead she has people she wants to work with and projects she wants to be involved in.
(13.27) – What is the number one non-technical skill that has helped you the most in your IT career? Ruth teaches coding to adults. In that role, patience is an essential skill. The course is an intensive one, so there is a lot for the students to take in. Naturally, most of them struggle with various aspects of what they are learning. Getting students through this phase requires a lot of patience, so you get good at it. In time, you realize that this skill is actually very helpful in all aspects of your life.
(14.13) – Phil says that he has also noticed that everyone learns in a different way. Something that has helped him to realize the importance of adapting what you say and how you say it to suit the person or people you are speaking to. Ruth agrees, and comments that in every class you end up with different kinds of learners. So, you have to think on your feet and adapt the way you teach to enable them to complete the course successfully.
(14.50) – Do you incorporate all of those into the way you teach? Ruth does, she also takes advice from her mother and sister. Both of them are ex-teachers.
(15.19) – Phil asks Ruth to share a final piece of career advice. Her advice is to find likeminded people. A while back Ruth was nominated for an award for an article she wrote. It was about a really random subject – doing audio video visualizations using web technologies.
Not long after the nomination, a guy who was doing something similar got in touch with her. They collaborated for a while. In the end they formed a bit of a collective of people doing using similar technology to create music, control lighting rigs and that sort of thing. Over the years, these people have been really helpful, in many different ways.
(2.20) RUTH – “I actually turn a lot of work back or just say no, off the bat, just because I see a lot of red flags.”
(13.20) RUTH – “I like to think about projects that I would like to work on, or people that I’d like to work with.”
(15.26) RUTH – “Find like-minded people.”