Culture, Design

Dear future colleague, there is no such thing as “the right background”

June 11, 2018

Read time 6 min

Dear future colleague,

Hi. Hello. Yes, you, who are thinking about joining us in a totally new-to-us role, and whose capabilities perhaps lie beyond what you’d consider Reaktorian. Maybe you don’t know where to start, or what to expect. Worry not. I, too, represent a very small competence here at Reaktor. And now that I’ve been here a couple of years, I think I’m starting to figure out which way is up – so let me share what I’ve come to know about this place.

So who am I? I’m a writer. A content person. And I come to you with a master’s degree in 19th century literature. Not quite the thing you’d imagine for a tech company, no? Before I joined the company, I would have heartily agreed: my background sounds way too weird for Reaktor.

Turns out I was wrong; there are lots of “weird” backgrounds here. Have a conversation with a bunch of us and you’ll discover that people here have studied so many different things and worked across some fantastically interesting and diverse disciplines. That’s what I did, and it helped change my mind. I guess that’s my lesson number one: the best career paths meander, take a few weird left turns, and often make for a cracking story. So enjoy your left turns – there’s no such thing as “the right background”.

Learn to let go of the job description (and love the work)

When I first joined, I had such trouble telling people what I’d joined the company to do. Sure, I knew what I could do; but how could I explain it in the context of Reaktor? How would what I know match up with what this company needs? Am I just not using the right words?

I reckon I spent at least half a year just trying to get into the vocabulary here. Then, at some point I had the smallest of epiphanies: I stopped trying to explain what I do, and instead just asked if I could show instead. You might get on a project and not really understand what’s expected; that’s okay. Usually what needs to be done will very quickly become clear to you, even if no one quite knew how to ask for it. It’s kind of great, actually: you get to focus on the work, and stop worrying about what it should be called.

But that still doesn’t answer the obvious question – why was I hired and what exactly do I do at Reaktor?

I feel like I re-formulate my answer on a regular basis, but my current version goes like this: I help our clients and our teams design meaningful, usable content and tone of voice for their services. Sometimes it means working together with a business or service designer to figure out what content there should be in the first place, sometimes it means writing UI copy, sometimes it’s working with a visual designer to make the content work in the context, and sometimes it’s working with developers to translate the conceptual content models into technical solutions. Sometimes it’s helping our clients get to the very core of why they’re building a service in the first place.

But that wasn’t in the job description when I started. Let’s be honest, there was no job description. Which brings me to my next point.

No one will tell you what to do

I won’t sugar coat it: this bit is scary. At all other jobs that I’ve had, someone’s been charged with getting me onto a project and telling me what I should be doing. That didn’t happen at Reaktor, and for a while, I wondered if I was doing something wrong. Was I not on the right Slack channel? Had I missed a crucial part of my induction?

I think this feeling is most acute with rarer competences, where you might be the first or the second hire. There’s a lot of trailblazing to be done. If you find yourself feeling a little lost or like you don’t know what you should be doing, take heart: we think you’re the best person to tell us what you should be doing. It’s a chance for you to make a real impact here.

Personally, I found that the best way to get started with figuring out what I should do was to simply to find a colleague – just one – whom I could start helping. Before you know it, your one person has turned into two, and ten, and then fifty. Soon you’ll have worked with lots of people from across the company. All you have to do is find a person who feels like a natural match for your line of work and start asking “how can I help?” For me, this was designers in other disciplines. If you start feeling overwhelmed, that’s okay too; let’s talk about it.

Luckily, this is a place where people are in easy supply. The experience of joining Reaktor is made a thousand times easier by the fact that everyone is curious about you. They might not know how to best involve you just yet, but they’ll try. At first it might be in small ways (‘can you proofread this?’), but slowly you’ll find bigger pieces and more ways to work together to make something great. The experience is kind of like Fresher’s week at university: the onslaught of information and clubs and projects is inevitable and hard to prepare for. Wear good shoes and don’t worry about remembering All The Names. We’ll re-introduce ourselves when the time comes.

Make room for reciprocity

To make the most of starting somewhere completely new, you have to do the really hard thing of staying open, even when you’re getting an avalanche of new information and all you want to do is close up for a little bit. But when you manage to stay open, you’ll get so much more out of it – new points of view, ideas, friends.

Here’s a pro tip: Reaktor is filled with events and clubs and gatherings, and I’ve yet to find one that doesn’t make all newcomers feel welcome. Start off by going to anything that sounds interesting to you – designer breakfasts, community of practice sessions, trainings, book clubs, the Thursday HIIT training session – and I’ll bet you’ll be welcomed with open arms into all of them. Here, you can start the work of finding colleagues to help and start having discussions with. It’s true that we won’t have a ready place for you to slot in; the great thing is you can carve one out for yourself.

You have to be prepared for this to be a two-way thing. The other half of openness is sharing yourself with us: how do you see things? How do you feel? Tell us openly; we genuinely want to know. It’ll most probably be the start of a great conversation. You’ll inevitably change something about the way we are – and we can’t wait to see how you can make us better. But allow yourself to be changed, too.

This is a pretty fantastic place to grow in. I can’t wait to help you start putting down some roots.



P.S. You’ll find our open positions here.

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