I am a solutions integrator for Phillips 66. It’s kind of a liaison between business analysts and all the technical disciplines related to project work. Projects are assigned to me and I make sure all technical resources that need to be engaged are engaged. There’s a lot of logistics work required and secondary to that, I do operational support for a handful of applications. That can be anything from updating passwords, upgrading to new versions of software, installing brand new systems, and fixing problems. And when there’s an incident that comes up, like if a customer that says something isn’t working, I am the one who figures out how to fix it.
So how did I go from a getting a Bachelor of Arts Degree, emphasizing Graphic Design to working for Phillips 66’s IT department?
I’m glad you asked.
From Creative Department to Call Center to IT
At the time, I had already acquired an undergrad degree in Marketing and all the things I was interested in required experience in programs like Photoshop. With that, I decided to go back to school to learn more about the field of marketing and advertising. I ended up getting an internship with Citgo in their creative arts department and assisted with their website projects. After that, I worked for a start-up web design company up until I graduated in 2001. But after 9/11 took place, that was one of the first areas of funding to get hit. A lot of our projects fell through and the company couldn’t afford to keep me on anymore.
I was unemployed for a while, but ended up getting a job for Cingular in their call center. There, I worked with a gentleman, who at the time, had been hired by Hertz Rent-A-Car in Oklahoma City. I learned they were starting a whole new initiative called Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) that was designed to take data from one system to another system that was not compatible. He approached me about working for them. One of the reasons he was interested was because he said I had the foundational skills that he was looking for.
He told me that people that go to school for a creative profession are trained to think a certain way. They a have a unique perspective and they may be able to spot creative solutions to problems that are not immediately evident to other people. A company can run into a problem and right off the bat people are saying, “we don’t know how we’re going to get past that.” But the creative responds with: what are some things we can do? They tend to think outside of the box.
They did everything in Java, which is an object-oriented language, but because I knew HTML from my graphic design classes it wouldn’t take me long to learn. He told me he could teach me everything else I needed to know. I decided to give it a try and ended up staying there for four years before joining on at Phillips 66 in their refining IT.
Going Down a Different Career Path
A lot of students have the mindset of: I have a Liberal Arts Degree so I’m going to be in the creative industry. They are heading down a certain career path and think they know ultimately where they will end up. But the truth is, you may end up graduating and working in the finance arm or the marketing arm of a company. Even more surprising, you could end up being really happy and fulfilled doing that, even though it’s something completely different. Regardless of where you do end up, you will still be using the same mindset and creative process to solve problems that you were taught in school.
Creativity Applies Across the Board
There’s a chance you might end up doing creative things that are not in the traditional way you were doing when you were in school, but this gives you the opportunity to stretch your mind, to use the processes that you learned and implement those in a business and in a technical situation.
When people come to you as a graphic designer, it’s your job to listen to their need, determine what they want, and guide them to the ideal result. You are discovering what they want, why they want that, and then determining the best way to get that across. Essential they are coming to you with a problem that needs to be solve. And you use that creative process to find the best solution to whatever that problem is.
It’s the same in IT. That same creative process and problem-solving skills become interchangeable. You’re still able to be creative when you implement solutions because problems are everywhere no matter the department or company. Creativity at the end of the day is just problem solving and that applies across the board.
Make yourself aware of what’s out there. Get outside your building, check out other schools, other disciplines, internship boards, and learn what companies are in your area and which ones are doing things that interests you. Look for opportunities, find companies that look interesting, and see what internship opportunities are available.
Whether they’re in the arena of energy or doing finance, if there’s some field that interests you, go see what opportunities are there.
Advice for Students Getting a Liberal Arts Degree
Unless you’re doing fine art for yourself and trying to sell it, more often than not, you are going to be working for people and with people. You need to be able to develop the ability to work well with others, have good email communication skills, good phone communication skills, and the ability to communicate clearly with others.
A Wide Foundation of Experiences
While some companies may recruit for specific majors and disciplines, there are other companies that don’t look solely at that. That being said, they will look at your other experiences. What you do in your extracurricular activities on campus is going to speak to that. If you have opportunities to stretch yourself in different clubs and organizations, take them. If you can show companies additional skills, gifts, flexibility, and a wide foundation of experiences and knowledge, that will stand out to them.
Be Willing and Open
Be aware of what you want to do, but have the willingness and the openness to try new things. I understand it can be intimidating when somebody comes at you with an opportunity you haven’t trained for and that you don’t know anything about, but the willingness to learn and being open to new ideas goes a long way. Always ask:
- Is there something you can take from it?
- Does it give you the opportunity to stretch your mind?
- Does it give you the chance to solve a different kind of problem than you’re use to?
When opportunities come out of left field, don’t dismiss them, but instead, think about how it could benefit you and be willing to give it a chance. Not all of them might be related to your Liberal Arts field, but this gives you the chance to experience different types of environments. It might end up being more structured than something in the creative industry, but it allows you the chance to understand what it would be like to work for a company that’s outside your scope. And who knows, you might really enjoy it.