Episode 174 – Treat Your IT Career as a Business to Maximize Your Success with Andy Budd
Andy Budd is a renowned Design Leader and agency CEO. He started his IT career working as a designer. During his early career, Andy became a pioneer in the field of Web Standards. At that point, he published his first book – CSS Mastery.
Over 14 years ago, he co-founded Clearleft, one of the UK’s first dedicated User Experience consultancies.
In 2015, he set up the dConstruct conference, which was held for 10 years. It was the first design conference to be run, in the UK. He is also the founder and curator of Leading Design. That annual conference improves design leadership and management. Andy speaks at these and many other conferences that are held across the world.
(1.09) – The first thing I wanted to ask you really was about how you transitioned from the web standards and the CSS aspect or your IT work to founding Clearleft. Andy as a natural transition, and goes on to describe how it happened.
He started his working life as a flash coder, creating games. From there, he discovered CSS. When he did he realized almost immediately that separation of presentation and content was the way to go. Baked into this were standards around accessibility and usability.
Andy was an early adopter of web standards. He had the 3rd table list website in the UK. He got together with two other early standards geeks to found Clearleft.
At the time he was already creating controlled vocabularies, working with information architecture, usability testing and much more besides. So, he was one of the first people, in the UK, to take care of user experience, rather than just making a site look pretty.
For the first few years, it was hard to get clients. Nobody could understand why it took them twice as long to deliver a website and why the fees were higher. In time, that changed. Now, UX design is the norm.
(4.48) – Phil comments that at the time Andy set up Clearleft, a lot of people would not have known much about UX. So, he asks Andy how big a part of educating people about education was to making Clearleft a success. Andy agrees educating potential clients about usability was important. But he goes on to say that the fact people had never really thought much about UX before was also a superpower. Nobody else was really doing it. As a result, as soon as firms began to wake up to the importance of UX Clearleft grew really quickly.
This was especially the case when companies moved away from using websites solely for marketing. Once, they started to use their sites to sell things and transactions were involved the functionality of the website became far more important.
(6.11) Phil asks if the introduction of new devices like iPads and SmartPhones has changed the approach to UX at all. Andy responds by saying that the tools have changed. But, the underpinning philosophy hasn’t really changed. The underlying problem-solving principles remain the same.
However, the introduction of smartphones had an impact in another way. Mobile sites had to be slicker and better designed. At that point, a lot of companies woke up to how ugly, clunky and old-fashioned their main sites were. When they saw how good a website could look and what an effective sales tool that type of site was a lot of firms wanted to re-design their original websites.
(7.44) – Can you please share a unique career tip with the I.T. career audience? Andy explained that for him no single thing led to his success. His approach has to continually review what he is doing and make little course corrections.
But, he does say that working in a company where you are not the best at what you do is a good idea. It ensures that you are continually challenged and stretched. You need to be a continual learner and have a beginner’s mindset.
This ensures that you learn new tools. If you do not, your knowledge becomes stale. At some point, those tools are going to become obsolete. When that happens, you are stuck.
(10.32) – Can you tell us about your worst career moment? And what you learned from that experience. Andy has been very lucky career-wise. So, could not think of anything he would categorize as a bad career moment
(11.47) – What was your best career moment? Andy has had a lot of great moments in his career. His first speaking gig went really well, so that was a highlight.
Meeting Jesse James Garrett from Adaptive Path was also a great career moment. He was sat next to him at a book signing at SXSW South by Southwest. His work has also led to him traveling the world, which Andy has clearly enjoyed doing.
Plus, over the years, he has worked with some fantastic clients. Spending time in Copenhagen working with Nordic Region Banks was a highlight for Andy. Working with Zappos was also exciting.
(13.38) – Can you tell us what excites you about the future of the IT industry and careers? Andy is fascinated by the rise of artificial intelligence. He believes that in the next decade or so, AI means that things are going to get really exciting.
About two years ago, Andy realized he was a bit out of the loop when it comes to AI. Rather than read a bunch of books about it, he decided to pull a diverse group of people together to discuss where AI could take them. The result was really interesting.
It is clear that the landscape is changing drastically. AI will lead to wide-scale automation. As that happens, jobs are going to disappear and be replaced by others. So, people are going to have 2 or 3, maybe 4, careers in a lifetime. That is why it is so important to be a continual learner. Some talk about there being a 4th industrial revolution. Regardless, these changes are going to create winners and losers, but it will also be exciting.
Andy states that we are already moving away from hand coding using a traditional text interface. Coding is set to become more visual, with developers acting more like curators and editors than creators.
(16.57) – What drew you to a career in IT? As a child, Andy enjoyed using the BBC Micro and Spectrum computers. While other kids were out playing football, he was learning to code. He thinks that his interest in sci-fi and love of reading gave him a curious mind, which is why he was drawn to all things tech.
But, he did not realize that he could turn what he viewed as a hobby into a career. Nobody, in his family or circle, was involved in the IT industry. So, he was not exposed to the possibilities.
After university, he did an aeronautical engineering degree. To do that he had to learn how to use CAD, which he really enjoyed and quickly became good at. Once he had finished his engineering degree, he went traveling for 6 to 7 years. During that time, he started to use internet cafes to communicate with friends at home and research his next destination.
One day, while he was in one of these cafes he saw a guy building his own web page. He was creating a travel blog. Later, he met a web designer. He worked for 6 months and travelled for 6 months. Andy decided that he wanted to do the same.
In 1999, he arrived back in the UK, bought a Pentium 486 and learned HTML and how to code. To do this he turned to several sources. One of which was a website called Ask Dr. Web, which was run by Jeffrey Zeldman. In time, he became a friend on Andy’s. It was him that inspired him to learn CSS, which eventually led Andy to where he is today.
(21.25) – What is the best career advice you have ever received? When Andy set up his IT business he read a book called E-Myth. It contained one great piece of advice which was to make sure that you are working on your business, not in it. That means you need to hire people to do the day to day tasks for you, so you can be free to grow your business.
He also explains that you need to see your career as a journey. You have to see it as a business and treat it that way.
(22.24) – Conversely, what is the worst career advice you’ve ever received? You need a business plan is no longer good advice. It is no longer necessary.
(23.52) – If you were to begin your IT career again, right now, what would you do? Andy states that when he got started in the design industry the bar was much lower. The tools and sites were so basic that it was not that hard to compete. You could easily get in at the bottom end of the market building sites for local businesses. Now big providers like Shopify and SquareSpace make it possible for people to put together fantastic sites without employing a technical person.
(26.52) – What are you currently focusing on in your career? Andy’s focus is on helping others to unlock the power of the web. He is very appreciative of what IT pioneers have done to enable him to succeed. So, he wants to pay it forward and help others.
(19.16) – What is the number one non-technical skill that has helped you the most in your IT career? Andy is a keen and experienced diver. In fact, he is a dive instructor. That role taught him the importance of becoming a good communicator. You are working in a dangerous environment, so you need to communicate effectively with your students. If you do not, it can be disastrous. Learning to be a good communicator has ended up helping his IT career in many different ways.
(31.01) – What do you do to keep your own IT career energized? Andy works as a servant leader. He is a boss who is very focused on helping others to energize and progress their careers. Taking that approach has had a positive impact on his career too. It helps to keep him motivated and keeps his team engaged and contributing.
(31.57) – What do you do in your spare time away from technology? Andy’s IT role takes him all over the world. Whenever he can, he incorporates a bit of leisure time onto his business trips. Doing this provides him with the chance to continue to explore new countries and cultures.
Andy also loves good food. So much so, that he has made it his mission to eat at every one of the top 50 restaurants in the world before he is 50. He is really enjoying completing that mission.
He still dives a lot and has recently tried cave diving. Andy has also got into bouldering, which is indoor climbing. He says it is a lot more fun than going to the gym. Participating in the sport has virtually cured the RSI he has picked up from his constant mouse usage. This is because climbing stretches and strengthens the muscles in the hands and arms. More importantly, it works the opposite muscle groups from the ones used while working with a keyboard and mouse.
Bouldering is very popular with the IT crowd. A lot of it is about problem-solving. Planning your route and working out what techniques and hacks to use is all part of the fun.
(36.02) – Phil asks Andy to share a final piece of career advice with the audience. If you work in the design industry, you need a killer portfolio. A CV that shows career progression also helps. But, when someone is hiring a designer they want evidence of what you are able to do.
If you are claiming to be a UX designer you have to demonstrate that fact. For example, when hiring, Andy wants to see photos from user research sessions, as well as interactive, paper-based and animated prototypes. If someone claims they can do information architecture, he wants to see sitemaps, content audits and controlled vocabularies.
(4.34) ANDY – “These days, saying you’re a UX designer is like saying you breathe air or drink water. It’s just what all of us do.”
(5.45) ANDY – “Our clients quickly realized the benefits of not just making a pretty website, but making something that actually delivered business results.”
(8.27) ANDY – “It’s always better to work in a company where you are not the best at the thing you do.”
(15.31) ANDY – “We’re moving towards a kind of visual coding. I think we’re moving much more towards being curators, and editors rather than creators”
(22.53) ANDY – “It’s important for you to be working on your business, not just in it.”
(36.07) ANDY – “For the design industry, having a killer portfolio is everything.”
(37.34) ANDY – “A really good resume should be backed with a powerful portfolio that demonstrates that you can do these things.”