More thoughts by Mike Monteiro
Remembering Bernard Harmon
Everyone, if they are lucky, gets that one teacher in their life that stands out above the rest. I was luckier than most. My high school art teacher, Bernard Harmon, was ten times the teacher I deserved and absolutely the teacher I needed.
My junior year of high school he called me into his office. He notified me that I had been chosen as a semi-finalist for a merit scholarship and would be flying to Miami for the finals competition. Our school had sent someone to the finals for the last ten years or so, which was a testament to his skills as a teacher. A large chunk of our year was spent preparing for the competition, working on our portfolio, answering essay questions. For most of us, this was our way to college. And everyone from our school who’d been selected to finals had come back a winner.
He sits me down and says, “I don’t want you to be disappointed. Of all the kids I’ve sent down there you’re the one I’ve been more unsure about. I don’t think you’re going to win, so just try to have fun.”
Mr. Harmon was like a father to me at a time when my relationship with my own father was not the greatest. He made me feel like I was capable of doing things I was afraid to, and had no problem taking me down a notch when I deserved it. I did not like disappointing him. And now he was giving up on me. I was angry. I was so angry I cried the whole way home that day.
I was still angry when I arrived in Miami. I was angry as I went through all the exercises of the competition. I was still angry when they told me I’d won. And I was still angry when I went back to school and walked into his office. His back was to me.
He didn’t even turn around.
“Of course you did. I never doubted it.”
Throughout your life you will deal with a multitude of different people, and while “Don’t be a dick.” is a pretty good baseline, ultimately those people will be driven by different things. Some of them will be driven by a need to be liked. Some of them will be driven by a need to prove others wrong.
Thanks to Bernard Harmon I know which one I am.
The most courageous thing I’ve ever seen
When my son Henry told me he was performing in his high school talent show my knuckles turned white as I recalled my own horrible high school experiences. There’s nothing that brings out a teenager’s cruelty like another teenager expressing an interest in something. Anything. The idea of a my kid exposing himself to the vicious cruelty of his peers, and the years of therapy he would need to rediscover this exact moment where everything changed triggered every overprotective instinct I had.
And yet, I knew the right thing was to support him. The kid was taking a risk. And parenting is more about patching up skinned knees than keeping them from climbing too high.
A few weeks later I sat in the audience of his high school auditorium as he took the stage and belted out an a capella version of the Mountain Goats “No Children”. And totally won the audience over. And as he walks off stage he does this little kick that says he knows he nailed it.
There’s no way I would have had the courage to do what he did at fifteen. Heck, I don’t have the courage to do it now.
This kid teaches me so much.
I get into a lot of fights on Twitter. Usually with right-wing freaks, the morally uptight, some form of Christian fundamentalist, etc. I’ve picked fights with the Susan Komen Foundation, the Romney campaign, and assorted Tea Partiers. I probably enjoy it more than I should.
But let me tell you about one fight I regret. I was on a cross-country flight. Bored out of my mind. Checking twitter. Saw a tweet from some random guy linking to a post he’d written about unfollowing me. Now, I could give a rat’s ass about someone unfollowing me, but the fact that he felt inclined to write a post about it, coupled with the fact that I was stuck in coach for six hours unleashed the asshole within.
I started a fight with the guy, he engaged, and before I knew it I’d worked up a scheme where I was trying to get him to 1000 followers by the end of my flight, (He had maybe 100 to start with.) with the sole purpose of getting all those new followers to unfollow him the next day at the same time.
The next day I looked over this guy’s reply stream and it was full of hate and vitriol and name calling. I felt sick. I was responsible for that. I worked people into a frenzy and urged them to pick on this guy.
I did something stupid and behaved like a bully. I punched down.
Why am I bringing this up now? Because it was probably the shittiest thing I’ve ever done online. And people let me know it. I was called names. I was told I did a terrible thing. And I deserved it. And it was fair.
It was a measured response.
I want to be a better person. For the sake of the people around me. For the sake of my son. For my own well-being and happiness. I want to treat others the way I hope they would treat me. Sadly, I know myself too well. I’m going to fall short of that goal on a lot of days. And to varying degrees, we all will. And when I do I’ll deserve to be called out. I’ll deserve to be called names. I’ll deserve to be insulted.
But we all deserve a measured response.
Because when your response is worse than the action that elicits it, then who’s the asshole?
I don’t really know shit about Quakers. I mean, I grew up in Philadelphia, where Pennsylvania Founder and Quaker William Penn’s statue sits atop City Hall. And I know that from the right angle it looks like he’s got his dick in his hand. And I know that William Penn gave Philadelphia its nickname, The City of Brotherly Love, which is a Quaker thing. I know a ton of people who went to Quaker schools in Philadelphia, and by and large they all turned out pretty good people. I also know a few Quaker adults. And out of respect for them, I want to make sure I’m not trying to pass myself off as an expert on all things Quaker. I am not.
I am also not a big fan of religion. I don’t do God. But I’ve got a thing for Quakers. They do God, but it’s more about how you treat those around you. And they don’t do the church thing, they have Quaker Meetings. And the incredibly great thing about Quaker meetings is that everyone just sits there. Silently. And they talk only if the spirit moves them to talk. They only open their mouths if it improves on the silence.
I’m gonna repeat that phrase because I love it so fucking much: “if it improves on the silence.”
This is a phrase that I’ve been holding near and dear to my heart recently. As the world seems to be falling apart, and social media introduces a new level of cacophony of misinformation, speculation, and downright venomous bile — we should ask ourselves, is what I am about to say better than silence? Am I adding anything to what’s already being said? And possibly most importantly, is my desire to say it keeping me from listening to what is already being said. Because waiting for your turn to talk is not the same as listening.
Have I actually improved the silence?
And the best part is that everyone gets to make this decision for themselves. Do you think your dick joke improves the silence? Awesome, post it. Do you think picking a fight with some racist cracker on Twitter improves the silence? Do you really? Think twice about it. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. It’s your call. But I can tell you that in the last week I’ve probably deleted more tweets, after asking myself that question, than I’ve spiked in the entire preceding year.
So, yes, there will be dick jokes. But only when I decide they’re better than the absence of a dick joke.
Welcome, Recent Graduates
It is with great pride that I welcome you to the workforce. I realize many of you are still preparing for finals. Getting your portfolios together. Preparing oral defenses. That sort of thing. But I’m guessing that right below the surface of those immediate and real concerns, the anxiety of what comes next may have started to take hold.
It’s cool. I am here to help you. I am a job creator. And contrary to what you may have been told in school, you are about to enter a market awash in opportunity. Especially if you’re entering the technology and interactive design market. Which doesn’t mean that you’re not gonna have to go out there and nail an interview—because you will. So if you’ll give me a few minutes of your precious time I have a few tips that may help you land the job of your dreams.
- Get your house in order
Don’t even think about looking for a job without an online presence. If you’re a designer you better have an online portfolio. If you’re a developer, show me some code samples. And don’t just show me your work is pretty, describe what problems you were solving.
And as much as I hate to say this, get a LinkedIn profile. Otherwise, prospective employers are gonna look at your Facebook page, which should be cleaned up but not to the point where it’s obvious you’ve cleaned it up. Leave a beer bong shot or two.
Buy a decent outfit to interview in. Tights aren’t pants and flip flops aren’t shoes.
- Where are these jobs at, fool?
Good question. There are a few excellent job boards you should get familiar with. Start with Authentic Jobs and 37 Signals Job Board. Stay away from Craigslist and stuff like that, they’re shit shows.
- Get names
When you finally find a job you want to apply for do some research. Find out the name of the person who’ll be receiving your email. Hint: They’re not called Hiring Manager. (Also, if you assume the hiring manager is a man, you suck.) If it’s a small shop, just address it to the principal by name. Don’t address your letter to the dog, even if the company is stupid enough to list a dog on their website with the rest of the staff.
- Even better, network
“Networking” is kind of a gross word. It’s true. But, nepotism is real and making those connections will serve you throughout the duration of your career. Hiring can feel like an exhausting crapshoot. People hire their friends and their friends’ friends before they start picking random strangers from the [email protected] inbox. Tell everyone you know what sort of job you are looking for and ask for introductions to anyone they know who works in your desired field. Then, when one of these people is asked “Hey, do you know anyone looking for a job?” your name will come up.
You can go to a “networking mixer” if you like drinking with sad people in uncomfortable clothes, but it won’t be nearly as effective as working your existing friends and relatives. Even your professors. They had dreams once.
- No one wants to read your cover letter.
Write a good email. The goal of the email is to get an in-person interview. Explain why you’re qualified. Explain what you’d bring to the job. Sound genuinely excited about this new field you’re entering! Do not apologize for your lack of experience. It’ll be obvious when you tell me you’ve just graduated from college. Don’t be overly familiar, no matter how “wacky” you’ve heard the workplace is. You’re not applying to be anyone’s friend. The fact that you can write a solid, straight-forward email that gets right to the point and maybe shows just a glimmer of personality goes a long way.
Put the email in the body of the email. Plain text formatting. Do not attach your letter to the email. I’m not going to open any of those attachments anyway, and I’m certainly not going to open them when I’ve asked you not to attach anything. I may click the link to your website. If your email was well-written.
Also, I’ve never read a resumé in my life. But if you insist on giving me one, don’t lead with “Photoshop” as a skill. Tell me you know how to combine typefaces and have a solid understanding of color theory. That’s a skill.
- Prepare for the interview
You got an interview? Fantastic. Time to prepare. Find out as much about the company you’re applying at as possible. Google them. Read their site. Get familiar with the type of work they do and who they do it for.
Prepare questions for them. At some point during the interview you’ll be asked “Do you have any questions for us?” You should have some.
“What’s it like to work here?” is a dumb question. “I notice a lot of your work is in editorial, do you worry about the economics of that market?” gets you a second interview.
- Dress the part, be the part
There is a school of thought that says your brilliance will shine through even if you’re wearing a ratty hoodie and a stained t-shirt. It’s stupid. You’re gonna get some graduation money. Spend it on some decent clothes to wear to your interview. Your Flickr-stalking/research should tell you whether a suit will impress or terrify your prospective employers.
Don’t hug any of your interviewers. Before or after.
- Not to be a self-serving douchebag, but…
Read my book. I wrote it just for you. It’s got a ton of good lessons that will guide you through your career. Trust me on this. It’s $18.00.
- Don’t apply at Facebook
Seriously, do you think so little of the sacrifice your parents made sending you to college that you’re willing to just throw your life away?
The Best Parenting Advice You Will Ever Get
I am 30 years old and holding a urine-soaked stick with a pink line and freaking the fuck out.
The most amazing thing about that little tableau is that, unlike most of the stupid situations I’ve found myself in during my less-than-model life, there are quite a few of you nodding along right now and thinking “Yep. Been there.”
I am 30 years old, sitting on my front stoop, holding this stick in one hand and a cigarette in the other hand. I am coming to the realization that I am about to be responsible for another human life. That I should probably put the cigarette out. And I am trying to figure out if I am ok with this.
And I had better figure this shit out very quickly, because inside the house is another human being who is undoubtedly freaking out even more than I am. And I need to go reassure her.
I think of my own childhood. Which wasn’t great. And I think of my mother, my father, how they treated each other, and in turn, how they treated their kids. And I don’t want that. But I am so afraid I would raise my own child the only way I’ve seen a child be treated. And it freaks me out.
Which makes me realize I am already thinking of raising this child. And I picture us walking along together with my hand on this kid’s head. And it feels right.
And I realize I can do this. That I want to do this. And I decide that for this to work I cannot run away, I cannot give up, I cannot make a half-assed effort. I can fuck up, but only if I hang around to fix it. And for that to happen I need the relationship to be between me and this new person-to-be-named-later — something new. We will create our own thing. And it won’t be modeled on anything that came before.
So I forgive my parents, put out my cigarette, and go inside.
The Most Difficult Design Conversation You’ll Ever Have
You are sitting in your client’s office. Or on the phone with them. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is they are giving you feedback. You are proud of your work. You did the research. You can explain your choices. You can tie them back to the goals that were set at the beginning of the project. You are a good designer. You dotted your i’s, crossed your t’s, and remembered to use real honest-to-goodness apostrophes.
And now they are giving you feedback. It is not good. They are ignoring the research. They are ignoring your rationale. They are not just telling you what to change, they are telling you how to change it. And you know that these changes will lead to nothing good. They’re not right. They’re going to have an impact on the potential success of the project. You know because you’ve done this before. And because you’re a good designer.
And like a good designer you try to explain your rationale. You explain why you made a certain choice. You explain how it contributes to the goals. And you explain how their changes undermine the goals. Their goals. And they tell you to do it the way they just told you to do it anyway.
And you think to yourself this is the most difficult design conversation you’ve ever had. And you start thinking you should give in. Fuck the rationale. If you give them whatever they want, this conversation ends that much quicker.
Which is true. What’s not true is that this is the most difficult design conversation you’ll ever have. That one comes six months down the road.
That conversation comes after you’ve done everything the client asked you to do, even the things you knew were terrible ideas. And the project fails, and the client calls you into their office and says “the project failed”. And you say “I knew it would, but I did everything you asked me to do anyway because I was scared of getting fired and scared of upsetting you.”
Because both of those things are about to happen, sport.
So why not risk them happening while there is still a chance to solve the problem correctly? Before you’ve blown the project budget, before you’ve wrecked the project schedule, before you’ve cost other people their jobs by not doing yours.
10 Things I Love About You (San Francisco edition)
Disclaimer: I moved to San Francisco in 1999. I was part of the last wave of douchebags that came here to strike it rich. I was one of those people. But I stayed, and I made this city my home. I love this city. It is insane. It is a mess. It is broken. And it is beautiful.
San Francisco has been dealing with those people, those who came here to strike it rich, for a very long time. Whether it be missionaries looking for savage souls to save, miners looking for gold, or nerds looking for funding, San Francisco does a decent job of attracting the hopeful, culling out the douchebags, and rebuilding itself around those it wants to keep.
This list is in no way exhaustive. Nor it is an attempt to gloss over some of the city’s serious problems. But it’s a reason to believe those problems are worth solving.
Karl the Fog
Look up towards Twin Peaks around mid-afternoon and you’ll see one of the most amazing sights in the world. A beautiful blanket of fog about to descend upon the city. And I’m not talking about some weak-ass mild fog. I’m talking about a thick luxurious milky blanket of cool air that protects the city from the ridiculous heat the rest of the country’s been dealing with. Karl is a gift.
We can’t make pizza for shit. Fact. But we don’t need to. Because if you were eating pizza you’d have less room for that burrito from Taqueria Cancun. It’s less than $10 and fits perfectly in the water bottle holder on your bike.
We’re a three hour drive from snow, a train ride away from the beach, and an hour’s drive over a beautiful bridge from the tallest trees in the world. We’ve got not one, but two huge city parks. We’re surrounded by water on three sides. The next state to the west of us is Hawaii. If this were Civilization, San Francisco would be the Pope spot on the board.
And we’re small enough that no matter how drunk you get, you can walk home from anywhere else in the city.
Mission Dolores On Sunday Morning
Take a walk over to Mission Dolores on a Sunday morning and you’ll see a line-up of those little ice cream carts waiting for church to get out. Hang out long enough that you can see the little kids running out of mass in their Sunday best to get their ice cream. That was the deal: “You come to mass and afterwards you can get ice cream.”
Not a bad seat in the house. Sit in the upper deck and face the Bay. Between pitches you can watch ships passing back and forth. And if Karl is agreeable you can see all the way to the Oakland hills. And there’s been the occasional ring ceremony (but probably not this year).
Amoeba’s bigger. And has more stuff. But the people at Streetlight are friendly enough that when someone drops off six boxes of records that have been sitting in their basement for twenty years, they’ll let me go through them before putting them in the bins.
Our Fire Department
Most of our buildings are old. And packed together. And made of wood. Many with horse hair insulation and electrical systems that pre-date the gold rush. Just in the last year, three houses in my neighborhood have gone up in flames. And in every single case, the fire was contained in time to spare the houses on either side. Our fire department kicks ass.
But women are pretty awesome anywhere.
We boom. We bust.
Most of all, San Francisco is a survivor. It builds itself up, draws people to it, and then when it’s had enough, it shakes them off. It celebrates the good times because it knows the bad times are probably around the corner. And it makes it through the bad times because it knows the good times are coming. And it’s happy to have you aboard, under Karl’s protective blanket, and you’ll do well here. As long as you remember the main character in our story isn’t you. It’s the city itself.
Leaving is easy.
Now, I’m not here to convince you that my city is any better than yours. I hope you love where you live as much as I love where I live. Everyone should love where they live. But love isn’t usually easy or free of messiness. And great love never is.
The city isn’t here to serve you. You’re entitled to no more, or no less,city than you’re willing to work towards. And you’ll get out of it no more, or no less, than you put into it.
And if you’re not willing to work towards a better San Francisco, we have seven U-Haul dealers within the city limits that can serve your needs.
Honorable Mention: Mitchell’s Ice Cream, my bartender Peter, the secret Addam’s Family pinball machine only I know exists, Frank Chu, Delancey Street Christmas trees, Musée Mecanique, nuns with glitter in their beards, dogs everywhere, watching a nerd trying to chase the kid that swiped his iPhone down Market Street, 22 Fillmore moving theater, Sutro Tower, Castro Theater, my idiot friends running into the freezing ocean on New Year’s Day.
Frank the Dairy Farmer
His whole life Frank had wanted to be a dairy farmer.
He grew up on a small farm where his father grew a couple of crops and raised a few animals. Of all the animals Frank loved the cow best. And in time, with help from his mother, he learned to milk it.
So when Frank grew up he moved to the valley, found himself a job, and managed to save up enough for a small piece of dirt and some cows. And he set himself up milking those cows, who he took good care of. The cows rewarded Frank for his love by producing enough milk that Frank set up a little store next to his farm and began selling milk to his neighbors.
Frank made enough money at the little store that he bought a few more cows and started selling his milk to the folk in the nearest town. And Frank got himself a little truck to make deliveries. And hired a few local folk to help him milk the cows, who he always treated well.
Frank grew to love delivering milk and seeing the smiling faces of his customers as much as he loved milking cows and he decided he wanted to make even more people happy. He wanted to supply the entire valley with milk.
So he approached the rich gentlemen of the valley. He put together a deck. And a five-year plan. And got his finances in order. And put on his best suit. And invited the rich gentlemen of the valley over to his farm. He gave them a tour. Showed them his cows. And they all sat down to a big glass of milk with a slice of pie, which his wife had made using butter she’d churned from their cows’ milk.
And when they finished their pie, Frank stood up to make his presentation but one of the rich gentlemen of the valley cut him off and said, “We’ve seen all we need to see, Frank. We’re not investing in your farm. We’re investing in you!”
And they wrote him a check.
Which Frank used to buy the adjacent plot of land, buy 100 more cows, and expand his milk delivery area to include more of the towns in the valley.
And the people of the valley were happy for Frank’s milk. They were even happier when he started to deliver butter, cheese and ice cream as well.
And the rich gentlemen of the valley were happy with their investment. And on occasion would drop by the dairy farm to check on Frank. And the cows. And often suggested that Frank buy more cows. And they wrote more checks. Which Frank would use to buy what the gentlemen told him to buy. After all, he owed his success to the rich gentlemen of the valley.
And the day came when the rich gentlemen of the valley suggested to Frank that it was time to expand beyond the valley. They introduced him to rich gentlemen who lived beyond the valley. He gave them a tour. Showed him his cows. And they all sat down to a big glass of milk with a slice of pie, which his wife had made using butter she’d churned from their cows’ milk.
And when they finished their pie, Frank stood up to make his presentation but one of the rich gentlemen who lived beyond the valley cut him off and said, “We’ve seen all we need to see, Frank. We’re not investing in your farm. We’re buying it. The papers are all signed.” And all the gentlemen who weren’t Frank shook hands and lit cigars as trucks drove up, loaded up Frank’s cows and drove them to a slaughterhouse.
The Sad Cushion of Design
Imagine that there are two chair shops across the street from each other. Both of them are designing new chairs. One of the shops takes the design of the chair into consideration from the very beginning, before they even start building. They hire the best chair designer they can. The chair designer researches other chairs on the market to find out where they’re lacking, they may ask people what they like and dislike about their current chairs, they research different materials, they consider the chair company’s budget, and they source materials and manufacturing to make sure the chair is built right. The whole time making sure they’re within the profit margin they want, or need, to be in. They test different chair designs. They make adjustments. They test again. They come up with a solid design that meets both their company’s goals and people’s desire. The chair goes into production. It sells well. Everyone is now rich.
The chair shop across the street also makes a chair. These guys select OK materials, they make a seat, some legs, a back. It’s definitely a chair! Then they hire a chair designer and say, “Make this a comfortable chair!” The designer adds a sad cushion to the seat. The chair bombs. Everyone dies of dysentery.
This is the value of good design. We understand it in common objects like chairs, clothes, shoes, watches. But when it comes to web sites, we tend to think of it as a surface layer that can be applied at the end. But in truth, design is happening from day one. It can be intentional, or it can be happenstance. But for design to be truly great, it needs to be built into your projects from the very beginning. Because if you’re not doing it, you can bet your competitors are.
What My Mom Taught Me About Client Services
I was very lucky growing up: my mom was a seamstress. Admittedly, this meant being marched off to school in a series of plum-colored home-sewn leisure suits throughout the late 70s. But for all the shame and inorganic fabric I endured, I also got to watch my mom work. The way a seamstress approaches her work isn’t too far off from a designer. They decide to take on a client. They discuss your goals, which in her case were usually wedding dresses, her specialty. They discuss the wedding venue, the number of guests, how classy an affair it was going to be. And after a glass of wine they discussed whether the dress would be white and everyone would giggle. Then mom would bring out a photo album of dresses she’d made for other brides, everyone would go through it oohing and ahhing. More wine would be poured. At some point the bridal magazines would come out and pages would get ripped out and taped to a wall.
Throughout the course of the dress getting made, the bride would come back to the house various times for fittings. Alterations would be made. Hems were adjusted based on smiles and frowns. Sometimes based on how much wine was poured. All the while it felt like they were doing this together. I mean, my mom literally couldn’t finish the dress without the client’s involvement since it had to fit on the client’s body. So both the seamstress and the client had important roles to play. And my mother had absolutely no way of evaluating her work without the client’s participation.
And my mom didn’t judge the work on how well it looked, or how much she got paid, or even how happy the client was. She judged it on whether she’d eventually be invited to the wedding. Which she usually was. With my brothers and me in tow. And I can tell you, when the bride went up the aisle, and the crowd lit up, there was nobody in the church more proud than my mom. That was her metric of success.
I was lucky enough to watch all of this happen from the time I was old enough to remember. I was getting a master lesson in client services in my own house! From my own mother. A lesson on how to treat clients, how to build relationships with clients, and how to work with a client, instead of for a client.
One more thought by Mike Monteiro will be published
- Thursday, 19 December