My Job Now: Matt Kump

Tue, 12 Dec 2017

Welcome to My Job Now, a blog profile series featuring workers from across Canada. Engage with the SFU Public Square community by reading stories of career aspiration, professional development, and bumps along the road. 

Matt Kump is a Senior Product Designer at Slack. He focuses on building communication, collaboration, and administration tools for large companies that want to work more effectively together.

When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I don't think I really had a singular dream job as a kid, I just knew I liked making things. Maybe a chef? Maybe a musician? Honestly I still don't really know. That said, my uncle taught me how to build my first website when I was 11 years old, and I learned how to use Adobe design tools not long after. From then on it seemed like all paths led to me using those skills in some way. I remember in… 10th grade, I think… we had a project in a Business class asking us to pick our ideal job and make a poster explaining it. Not knowing anything about creative industries, I picked 'Advertising Manager', to give you a sense of how much I knew about what I was doing.

How has your career path unfolded so far?

Throughout my teens, I played a game called hattrick, which is a fantasy soccer management game. In it, you can have a logo for your team, so I decided to make my own. One of my opponents saw it, and asked if I could make him one. It seemed like fun, so I did! Repeat this story exponentially, and I've made over 1000 logos by the time I was done highschool. To be completely honest, I was never very good at the game, but I'd managed to find a niche and a community of logo designers that kept me in it. Now that my adult life was looming, it felt obvious to me at that I should go to school for Graphic Design.

I started at the Art Institute just a few weeks after finishing my last day at Kwantlen Park secondary. I had a head start in some of the technical side, already knowing the software pretty thoroughly, but I spent the next year and a half (they only offered diplomas at the time) learning the ins and outs of the processes and theory of actual, professional design. Combining that education with my entry-level skills of web development, I went to look for work as a web designer. Not really what the program had trained me for, but it felt like the right move.

Luckily enough, a web agency was hiring a Junior Designer, and I was extremely fortunate to get the job, where I worked under some incredible mentors. After being there for about 3 years, Vancouver started a chapter of Creative Mornings, a monthly lecture series put on for the creative community before the workday started. The first speaker was Stewart Butterfield, who was talking about his team's project at the time, Glitch: a non-violent MMO about creation and community. I was interested in it, so decided to follow the game's twitter account. A few days later, seeing that I followed the account and was a designer by trade, Stewart DM'd me saying I should apply for the open UI Designer role they had. I wasn't sure what to do, but it seemed foolish not to at least follow up. Sure enough, it went well and I started working on a game. Definitely not something I planned for.

Sadly, we shut the game down in December of 2012. I stuck around with the core team afterward to work on the first iterations of what would become Slack. After a few months of contracting on that, I moved on to a new role at a mobile development studio, which let me meet some incredible designers and engineers, and learn more about designing for mobile. A few months into my time there, the company ran into financial issues, and many of us left. I got lucky again (sheer luck is a very recurring thread in this story), and had just a week prior gotten an email from a small game studio working on a new augmented reality game that was looking for a UI artist. I got in touch, and it seemed like a nice mix of my last two jobs' skill sets, and came on board.

It was fun working with a small team of people on a focused product again, but the team wasn't quite clicking creatively. It got to the point where I was just hoping to someday go back to my old team who were now full-steam ahead on Slack. As it turned out, that opportunity came up in May of 2014, when I heard Slack was looking for a designer again. So, I asked if I could come home, and was welcomed graciously. I've been working there as a Product Designer ever since, learning and growing along the way.

The way we work is constantly changing, from the types of jobs we have, to where we do them. What new opportunities or challenges do you think the future of working might bring?

For knowledge work, distributed work is a major consideration future businesses will have to make. Modern technologies have made this possible today, but most businesses still work in a reasonably traditional method, believing in the power of centralized workplaces and working hours. Making exclusively remote work successful is both an opportunity and a challenge going forward. Timezones make truly distributed work very difficult, as a-synchronous communication is often seen as inefficient. I'm also interested in the power of AR and VR to help resolve some of the distancing that can happen, but I'm only cautiously optimistic. 

What challenges have you faced in securing your desired employment situation?

Well, as you might be able to tell from my story above, everything about my employment has been serendipitous. As such, most of my challenges are personal… mostly imposter syndrome. Vancouver isn't one of the world's great design cities (sorry Vancouver), so having benchmarks and direction can be difficult here.

If you were offered a guaranteed basic income of $1,000/month with no strings attached, how might your life be different?

I'm not sure it would drastically change my life as it is today, as I'm in a very fortunate position. I might try and reinvest that into the design community here, to encourage more people to see it as a viable option for their livelihoods.

Are there any projects you are working on that you would like to tell our readers about?

Sure! This is reasonably outside my professional life, but I help out with a beer festival focused around saisons and wild ales called Farmhouse Fest. We celebrate these styles for their diversity and complexity, and use it as a platform to encourage local breweries to experiment, while also giving breweries from around the world a chance to come and see what our province has to offer. It takes place in the summer, so I'd recommend following along on social media or joining the mailing list to get info on 2018's event as it comes together.