On February 27th, we had the awesome opportunity to discuss career transformation and how to build a great team at General Assembly’s Downtown Los Angeles location.
For a 45-minute panel and 30-minute Q&A session, Justin Hall, our senior iOS Engineer, Kim Calderone, our UX and UI designer, and Marc Fischer, our CEO and co-founder, got the chance to give the packed house their candid insight into each of these two tough topics.
It turned out to be a phenomenal night! Thanks so much to General Assembly for having us and Mark Shapiro, host of “The One & Only” podcast, for moderating the discussion. Scroll to the bottom of this article where you can watch the whole thing!
Changing Careers Requires Courage
Changing careers can be scary! Each of our three members participating in this panel know this first-hand. If you’ve been curious about switching jobs, want to move into the tech space, or try something radically different, this part of the panel is for you!
Mr. Shapiro got right into the thick of it with his first question for each of Dogtown Media’s members: “Take us back to that pivotal crossroad, that career moment, when you chose your career path… I want to know what your life looked like on the outside, how it felt internally, and the steps that you took that have brought you to where you are today.”
Justin was first up to bat and capture this moment in his life perfectly. Previously working in the Manhattan commercial real estate space, he was looking for his next career move when he had a frightening epiphany: he didn’t want to work for any of the companies in the industry or in the industry at all anymore!
So he devised a bold gambit. After saving up some money, he quit his job and absolutely immersed himself in iOS programming books. He doesn’t pull any punches about this period in his life, describing the relentless studying and refinement as “dark times.” But once he got his first app published, he realized he could make this happen.
Similarly, before making a change, Kim was a graphic designer working for one of the biggest brands in the world. What sounded like a fabulous fashion-centric role actually left Kim feeling “like a cog in a wheel.” Most days, she found herself repurposing designs for different products, but not actually doing the design herself.
Wanting more, she soon discovered UX and UI design through a class at General Assembly, and the difference between this and graphic design was like night and day. Where graphic design was heavily subjective, Kim loved the change in focus on logic, an absolute necessity for digital product design. She knew she had found her niche and soon found herself at Dogtown Media after finishing her class.
For Marc, the epiphany wasn’t so much focused on “I have to get out of this” as it was on “I have to get into this!” After watching Steve Jobs announced the advent of the Apple App Store, Marc knew he had stumbled upon something special: “This is what I’d been waiting for… a way to build computer technology that runs natively on your device.”
From then on, he spent the next two-and-a-half years refining his mobile UX/UI design and iOS development skills on nights and weekends. After searching for months, he found the perfect technical co-founder in Rob Pope, Dogtown Media’s CTO. After a road trip together, the two exited out from their respective companies and formed Dogtown Media to pursue bringing their numerous app ideas to life.
Building an A-Team
The other part of the panel focused on figuring out the perfect recipe to building an effective team. While many companies and organizations strive for this, it can often be a confounding game of trial-and-error. Contrary to the usual office arrangement, Dogtown Media is a bit unorthodox.
In lieu of hierarchies and compartmentalization, Dogtown’s nimble and small team focuses on collaboration and cross-functionality. And it seems to be paying off! Kim mentions that Dogtown Media manages to remove any ego from the equation; there’s only room for passion and great synergy, and if you’re there working with them, it’s because there’s nowhere else you’d rather be.
Justin hinted at similar reasons for Dogtown’s success in this aspect, mentioning that the team has organically grown into an open culture with open doors. He strongly believes that the cultivated fluid office atmosphere makes people friends, not just coworkers, and also fosters an environment where they can accomplish something great together.
When the question comes back to Marc, he makes it known that these nuances and differences from a typical office space are deliberate. Marc strongly believes that each team member is a leader of their respective role and that there’s no need to separate work by department. By working together at the same time on the same goal, it has allowed Dogtown to accelerate team cohesion, and in turn, accomplishments.
As for tips on recruiting and retaining the right talent? Marc likes to meet with each potential team member personally. Ensuring that they’re a good cultural fit is just as important as their skill fit. And while each of his team members have wildly different skill sets, they all have one thing in common — they love and have fun doing what they do for a living. They love coming to work, and they love the people they work with.
Marc finds this integral to sustaining motivation. As he puts it, building an effective team comes down to making sure everyone has a shared general vision. Reminding yourself of what you’re doing and how it affects others is key to understanding the dent you’re putting in the universe. At the end of the day, it all comes back to the start, the “why” you decided to do this in the first place. Building products with purpose is the biggest motivating factor for Marc, and it’s the reason why he wakes up every morning to do what he does.
Check Out the Whole Talk!
If you liked the tidbits of the talk you just read about, check out the whole thing below! It was a fun, informative night, and we can’t wait to do something like this again. We’d like to give a special thanks to both General Assembly, for having us, and Mark Shapiro, for moderating the discussion.
Nothing worth doing comes easy, but we hope that our discussion helps make the transition towards your goals a little more seamless.
Tags: app development team, development team, general assembly, leadership, los angeles mobile app developer, mobile app, mobile app developer, mobile app developers, startup careers, startup team, STEM careers, team building, team communication, tech careers, tech leaders, tech leadership, tech team