A job for me, part two: good enough

This is my very, very late submission to April’s IndieWeb Carnival topic. It’s also part two of a reflection on a conversation I had with a neurodivergent designer from Denmark. She asked me: how can I be promoted to the all-star Core Team at work, the one that works across products and teams?

Here I am.

When I think about being a neurodivergent1 designer, I think back to 2001, and the math workbook that plagued me. For the life of me, I couldn’t understand why it required that I study addition and multiplication before I look at the order of operations. It’s one of many examples.

I spent a lifetime thinking I was thinking wrong.

It’s 2024 and we’re in the age of neurodivergence. My childhood math problem is now easy to explain. My brain is a meta thinker; it prefers skips and analogies2, and lets me learn rapidly if it can look at the world (and math) from the top down. It can remember minute details, but will forget the secondary task it’s given. My brain thrives in chaotic passion.

In my mid-thirties, I know to care for my brain the way I care for my dog: with great devotion.

Whenever a similarly-neurodivergent designer asks me how they can be promoted from the Search Box team to the superstar Core Team, I usually tell them: go find a new employer. As workers, we continuously ask ourselves: am I doing a good enough job? There’s great value in an additional question: is this environment good enough for me?

Us “neurospicies” must deal with an inevitability in the way the tech industry organizes product-making. The larger a company, the more likely it is that makers work on the parts before they get to work on the whole because the world assumes they’re able to work on the whole only once the parts have been understood.

That’s a perfectly healthy way of looking at human skills, but we should remember that this way is very neurotypical. Neurotypical individuals may demonstrate a correlation between their system thinking abilities and their years of experience. For neurodivergent people, the ability to think systemically can be a very ineffective growth indicator that leaves us feeling unsatisfied in our jobs.

Go find yourself a smaller company, one in need of a generalist designer who can work across all products, offering research, visual design, facilitation skills, interaction design, and whatever else is required. Not because you think you’re the cat’s meow, but because there’s no other way for you to think.

  1. I pretend in no way that neurodivergence is a monolith and that I can speak for all people in this domain ↩︎

  2. Elizabeth Filips has a lovely video on analogical thinking that deals with the study technique of “flattening” ↩︎

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