A few years ago, my college roommate and I found an article listing out the worst degrees to choose economically. Number one was Anthropology, which was her degree, and lucky number two was Graphic Design, which was mine. We both laughed and asked ourselves what we were getting into.

I realized then that if I was going to stick with this career in design, I would have to get gritty. So I reached out to Skookum Digital Works and asked about a possible summer design internship. The only problem? SDW didn’t have a summer design internship! But they asked me to come in anyway, and after meeting me and seeing my work, they decided to take me on for the summer. After graduating from Appalachian State in May, I moved to Charlotte and got to work.

That move was over three months ago, and now that summer’s officially over, I wanted to write about what this summer taught me about jumping in with both feet, taking advantage of the professional community around you, and learning outside of the day job.

Get In Over Your Head

This summer, we were moving into a new office, and on one of my first days on the job, the SDW design team was brainstorming ideas for a huge 55’ x 12’ mural that was going to go on one long wall of the new space. I wanted to work on that mural! So I took it upon myself to sketch out an idea: a fun, colorful, mini-NC with the mountains to the West, Charlotte in the middle,  and the coast to the East. Everybody loved it and wanted to see more.

Mel Shields Sketch of NC Early sketch of the NC mural

Over the next couple of weeks, I lived inside of Illustrator and worked on all the details of the final design. I had to take into account all the various SDW branding considerations, and I got to add in several little Easter eggs. Yetis! Sea monsters! NASCAR!. Once everything was done and signed off on, I anxiously sent it to the printers.

A couple weeks later, I got to watch it go up on the wall. This mural is easily the biggest (physical) thing I’ve ever worked on, and if I’d stop to think more about it before I got started, I would’ve been too scared to do it. But, luckily, fun work was the byproduct of me being ready for a challenge and jumping in without thinking.

Full size NC mural *Completed NC Mural *

It takes a village

Every other Friday, SDW holds a Tech Talk, bringing people together over free pizza and soda to network, discuss particular topics, and witness what’s going on in the technology industry. For a new, job-seeking graduate (and anyone else new around town) this communal gathering was a pretty big deal.

What they don’t tell you in college is that once you’ve graduated from the soft, friendly confines of academia, you’re going to have to rebuild most – if not all – of your social network. For new graduates, meetups and tech talks are a natural way to refill that network by just hanging around with people who have similar interests.

This summer, thanks to the Tech Talks, I’ve had the chance to meet lots of people I otherwise wouldn’t have gotten to know, as well as hear presentations on topics ranging from portable solar generators to the missed dangers lurking behind the TSA security line. I’ve met people that will potentially help me grow in my career and keep me interested and plugged in. So, hey you! New graduate! Get out from in front of your computer, and go explore the community.

Never Stop Learning

Since the beginning of my college career, I’ve seen the design industry merge into the tech industry, and it’s always been my dream to be a hybrid designer that could work with both graphics and code. So, this summer, when I saw that SDW was hosting a two-day, crash course programming workshop called Rails Girls, I think I literally jumped at the chance.

Mel Shields and Rails Girls T-Shirt *Rails Girls T-Shirt designed by Rich Robinson *

Rails Girls aims to give tools and build a community for women to learn programming and build their ideas. I learned an absolute ton in 48 hours such as getting comfortable with the command line and an intro to the Ruby programming language, all while being surrounded by like-minded women in my design/tech community.

And... I Got The Job

So not only was my summer eye-opening, instructive, and challenging, but SDW offered me a job at the end of my internship. Of course, I am now elated to work at the premier software development company in the whole Southeast, just a few months after graduation. My experience in going from SDW intern to full time junior designer has been a lot of fun, and with all the cool technology projects we keep taking on, I'm eager to flex my design and programming muscles even more.