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Life & Businesswe want your job

We Want Your Job: Designer at Dropbox

by Sabrina Smelko

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One of my most-loved tools (and one I often use daily) is . Known for its user-friendly-ness, , and the tireless and talented team behind it all, Designer ’s role fits right into all of those. She landed the position as “resident maker” in one of Silicon Valley’s largest tech companies due to her relentless pursuit of personal education post-graduation — enrolling in various classes from Yale’s online courses in astrophysics, ukelele and lettering lessons. Her curiosity has led her many places throughout her career, from interning at the Cartoon Network and working on a Super Bowl ad, to where she finds herself now at Dropbox.

Originally hired as an illustrator, is now involved in the entire design process at Dropbox – from designing products to picking typefaces to completely redesigning Dropbox’s jobs page (and making ) – which is no small feat, given that her designs affect many of the company’s over 400 million users. Today, we’re thrilled to have Linda chat about her role at Dropbox, being a woman in the tech industry, the most important question you should ask yourself, and last but not least, Chemex coffee. 

Photography by Tim Van Damme

 

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What did you study in college?

I went to the Atlanta College of Art for Graphic Design. Art school was awesome.

How did you end up at Dropbox?

Oh boy. Well, I once visited the Dropbox office and felt like I was in some sort of a dream. By a luck of fate, I interviewed with them in late 2013, they said yes, and there was no way I could say no. So, I packed up my things and moved from New York City all the way to San Francisco.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be a cartoonist or a comedian. And then I wanted to be a musician or a graphic designer. But I’m not done yet…I still want to be a comedian when I grow up. It’s my secret dream to be a Tonight Show host. Gosh, that would just be the coolest job.

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What is the best part of your job?

The very best part of my job is this little feeling I get when I’m making something. When I was little, I was always making and inventing things with my hands because it gave me this indescribable feeling of joy and purpose. Sometimes when I’m working I’ll experience that exact same feeling, and I can’t believe that I’m getting paid for it. It’s incredible. On days when I’m not feeling that as much, I’m surrounded by some really wonderful people, who compete with the title “Best Part of my Job.”

Can you describe a typical day?

Nope. Every day is so different. Each project I’m working on comes with a different group of people to work with, a different schedule of meetings, and different challenges that require some creative problem-solving. So, my day-to-day is always all over the place!

The only constant is that every day starts with a cup of coffee. I love coffee, and I have a lot of different methods for making it at home. Right now I’m doing the Chemex thing. I check my schedule/email/texts/Twitter/Instagram/Facebook and then ride my bike to work. It takes about 15 minutes to get there.

Dropbox has really amazing breakfast, lunch, and dinner, so I spend a good chunk of the day in the office. After work I really love to get out and go rock climbing, running, biking, lifting weights, or seeing friends and FaceTiming with my family…anything to keep moving! I don’t like to sit still for very long.

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What have you learned about life from your job as Dropbox’s resident “maker of things?”

Well, I wouldn’t say that I’m *the* maker of things, but I am one of them. I’ve learned that generally, we are all just figuring things out. I’ve learned to try to not be so hard on myself when I don’t have the answers right away, and to be patient with the learning process to getting there. I’ve also learned to trust my own instincts a little more! Confidence is tough, especially as a lady, but those initial instincts tend to be right, so I’m learning how to lean into those earlier and more often.

What advice would you give someone who would love to work for such a company as Dropbox? How should they get started? What should they study in school or learn about on their own?

Start with a question – what excites you? That excitement is priceless, it can’t be duplicated easily, and it will keep you going when you hit the more difficult parts of the learning process. Don’t just do what everybody else is doing or what you think is expected of you. Trust your gut and create your own path.

For example: If you get kind of giddy when you’re looking at illustrations from the 1950s, absorb as much of that content as you possibly can and really study it, try to re-create it, make it your own. Or if your interest is product design, don’t only research other products and apps, but read about complex problem-solving. Look at the way cities are designed, read books about travel and wayfinding…look outside of your discipline for inspiration. Once you’ve done your research, just be diligent and work hard until you feel like you’ve made something you’re proud of.

And be nice to people. ^_^

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Do you think there are common characteristics amongst people working at Dropbox, or companies of this nature?

Yeah, I think we’re all really hardworking. We get something out of our work that we can’t get anywhere else. Even when we aren’t at the office, our brains are still “on” because the problems we’re tackling are so fascinating. People who work in tech, in my experience, are driven and thoughtful people who are genuinely interested and passionate about their work.

What else would you love to do in this field?

I love to write. I love working on campaigns. I love the idea of writing screenplays. I don’t really have an outlet for that right now, but whenever I get the chance I take it. I’d love to do some more branding and create a product of my own some day, and work on it with a handful of other like-minded weirdos.

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What’s the holy grail in your field – what’s your Oscar?

I would like something I’ve made to end up in a rap song. That’s like the pinnacle of “we made it,” ya know? I hear Drake rapping about Uber or Instagram… I’ll know I’ve really made it when a rapper mentions something I’ve designed. I’ve gotta get Kendrick Lamar talking about my app or something. Then I’ll know.

How do you stay inspired?

I leave.

A cheap way to “leave” is to browse Pinterest and see what other people are spending their time making. I also feel inspired when I watch cartoons, old movies, listen to podcasts or read books.

But the best way to leave is to actually leave. If you’re feeling kind of stuck on a problem, going for a drive or a long walk, or traveling to a different city…it seems to wake up all of the curiosity nodes in my brain. Traveling is so important.

Do you have a favorite project that you’ve worked on? Or one that you are most proud of?

Yeah, I’m super proud of . I co-created this video with Cody Osborne and this production studio Film Orange. We wrote and directed the video together, and I art directed the production of the puppets to get them to look like actual people who work at Dropbox. It was one of those projects that just actually came together exactly how I hoped it would. It was super fun.

 

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