Talent Spotlight: Michael Parker
Where did you grow up and what was it like?
I grew up in California, in the Inland Empire. I lived in Rancho Cucamonga, it’s a very quiet, nice place to live right at the foot of Mt. Baldy, you get that beautiful view of the hill. One way to describe it for me was pop punk music, nice summer days, and hanging outside with your friends. I lived there until 6th Grade when the recession hit which caused some change in our life. We ended up moving to San Bernardino which was essentially a complete culture shock for me as a kid, as it was an entirely different environment and experience. I ended up living in San Bernardino throughout high school, and I have to admit that I’m thankful for the experience, I believe that growing up in both Rancho and San Bernardino really set me up with life skills for any situation, and showed to me early that you can make the best out of anything if you truly want to.
Outside of work, what are you irrationally passionate about?
Hmm lets see…irrationally passionate about? It’s definitely hard to pick because I’m a pretty impulsive person so naturally I have a ton of hobbies that I obsess over. So I’ll have to pick one of them and that would be Muay Thai. Most of my other hobbies are creative based things like music, production, apparel, things like that so I’d say Muay Thai is that place for me to break away and feel the grind of hard work and pushing past mental barriers. I love it, and it truly makes me a happier person overall.
It’s rather common that Product Designers have uncommon paths into the discipline. Walk us through the process that you went through to get into Product.
Well in high school I didn’t really plan for the future in all honesty. I was really focused on this band that I played in that was relatively locally popular and was driven into that dream. But once I graduated something just switched in me and I decided to leave the band and join the Navy. When I was in the Navy, I was a Hospital Corpsman, and ended up specializing as a Pharmacy Tech. I started going to pharmacy school and was set on being a Pharmacist. After a few years, however, I just didn’t have the passion and felt like something was missing. I had been doing branding and design since I was in my band and had really missed doing something creative. I decided not to reenlist and go to design school instead. I went to the Art Institute of Orange County for 2 years for graphic and web design. As I was going to school I knew this is what would make me ultimately happy and was motivated to do anything to get my foot in the door somewhere. My buddy was a photographer at a company called Weedmaps, I applied there for months trying to get a design job on the marketing team but no response. He ended up letting me know there was an opening on his team for a photo editor (something I did not do, but knew I could pick up quickly). He got me an interview and I ended up getting the job. I worked on that team grinding my work with haste to open up time to offer up some design assistance to teams around the company. The word got up to the product team that they liked my designs, and they had an opening for a production designer. They needed someone to design branded banners and work on interaction designs. It worked out that they asked me to join their team and I was so stoked, my design dreams were starting to come to fruition. As I was on that team I realized I wasn’t too experienced in product. I had done some work with some companies while I was in school but nothing in house for a big company like Weedmaps. I had to learn on the fly. I would grind every day to get as much work done as I could so I could have extra time to learn on the job, shadow the product designers, take courses, expand my interaction skill set and get into prototyping with code, after a while I started working on the product assisting all of the Sr. Designers with their projects. A while later one of the designers ended up leaving to another company and I asked to be placed on their product, and it worked out! I ended up completely falling in love with product design, it checked all of the boxes for me from a creative/visual level, to an intellectual level. It challenged me in all the right ways. I always find it interesting that this wasn’t really a consideration of mine, I always wanted to do branding or something along those lines but really found love for building great products.
We talk a lot about our jobs being the opportunity to imagine the future and then make it real. What vision do you have for the future and want to make real?
I strive to design human-like products that facilitate a frictionless experience.
To truly make technology perform digitally as we would expect them to in reality.
I believe as time goes on our focus as designers needs to be on making design more human-like. Effortless would be another way to put it. As technology advances, we need to grow with it.
Not everything we do works and that’s okay. We learn from those things. What is the least successful product or project you’ve contributed to and what did you learn? (No need to mention real names if it’s an issue)
To be truthful some of the least successful projects I have worked on have been some of my own ventures! A buddy and I once tried to start our own creative agency, we had zero idea what we were doing. We had passion, ambition and a ton of drive. It got us to a lot of interviews with potential clients, some that were willing to pay us big. But at the end of the day they ended up falling through. One thing I can say I’ve learned from this (and a few others I didn’t mention…) is that you can do everything yourself. No matter how skilled you are, or how hard you work you will always fall short. I learned that you need to find the value in others and build a team, invest into other people and empower each other. My friend and I, we tried to do it all alone, everything us, late sleepless nights, lots of cool ideas…and who knows it could’ve worked, but ultimately if we had the wisdom to invest into other people we would’ve been able to do much more, and who know what would’ve happened. This is something I’ve carried with me throughout my career as a product designer. Mentorship is important, I am so grateful for all of the mentors I’ve had, and still have to this day. It’s shown me that as I grow in my design career, I want to be that mentor for others, and when I’m managing a design organization someday soon, that will be one of my guiding principles is to teach others to do the same.
What’s been the most exciting part about joining Sidebench so far?
Joining Sidebench has been perfect. I have been so happy here since I joined. I was going through a season of burnout and just not feeling the passion like I used to, and coming here has completely flipped the script. Each and every person is driven, passionate, smart, and super talented. It is an extremely empowering culture here as well, we all want each other to win and that’s the best part. It’s contagious and it’s a breath of fresh air. The amount of collaboration and autonomy you get is unheard of…most of us only have dreams of such company culture. I know just about every designer I’ve ever worked with has agreed with me that we always want more autonomy and more collaboration from the start, and I can say that Sidebench has hit a grand slam. I am stoked to see what the future holds, Sidebench works with so many cool companies, it’s really a designer’s dream. Thankful for everyone, and this opportunity!
We love to find people that ADD to our culture vs fit into our existing culture. What are some cultural aspects that you’ve experienced that you hope to bring with you?
I truly want to bring my lessons from my failures as an entrepreneur. You can’t do everything yourself…..in fact, you won’t. My goal here is to empower as many people as possible and to help build a strong design culture, and that doesn’t just pertain to the design team. I want to help empower others to feel like they can truly understand product design, so we can all work in unison.
Describe your super power or describe what unique skill/perspective you bring to the team here.
One thing I’ve learned about myself is that I move fast, I can grind when I need to grind and do it at a high level, with a lot of depth. This is something that I’m thankful for because I can open up more time when needed to learn, grow, and mentor.
What skill, practice, behavior, hobby or habits are you currently working on?
This year is all about balance for me. I am a pretty impulsive person, and tend to lean to the end of obsessiveness when it comes to creative things. Pairing that with my fast moving personality, it usually leads to great outcomes. But with that comes periodic seasons of burnout which I am aware of, so my goal this year is to focus on balance, even if that means saying no sometimes to things I really want to do. I’ve always done a lot at once, there was a few years where I was grinding in my career, trying to get that startup going on the side, training muay thai multiple times a week, playing in a band and recording music, trying to start a clothing line, and still trying to find time to get in some gaming. The goal this year is to balance the time, my theory is doing less of each will end up allowing me to do more overall and for longer.