David Domzalski, Financial Bin: Please provide a brief background of your experiences prior to your current position.
Corissa McClay, @MakerCraft: I graduated in 2008 from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. Throughout college I worked with various Pittsburgh start ups on a wide variety of projects. Some of these companies are Bossa Nova Robotics and Redzone Robotics. I mostly did graphic and corporate design, as well as play-pattern and toy design and video production.
After I graduated I worked at Mallet &Co. on data entry, and eventually became their graphic design department. Shortly after leaving Mallet I started my own company, where I am today.
DD: What does a typical day look like for you? What do you like best about your field?
CM: My work day starts around 9am. I handle the majority of the company’s design work, marketing, promotion, and business needs. I also manage a small team of development contractors. Most days I have a mix of these things to do. Mornings are for email and ordering my day, and then late morning/ lunch time/ afternoons are for the larger things, like creating marketing materials or blog posts. I’m also the public face of the company, so any events that we participate I’m generally the company representative.
My time in the office ends around 7pm, and then after dinner I generally spend the rest of the evening researching trends and events in the fashion, tech and mobile industries, teaching myself things I need to know to run the business, and brainstorming things we can do to push the business forward.
DD: Why did you choose this field in particular?
CM: I learned how to make jewelry from my grandmother, and have been doing that for about 10 years. In college I spent most of my time with Game Art and Design majors, so I was always pretty up to date on tech happenings. Then my husband became a software engineer, so I was even more exposed to tech and development. I never really sat down and picked a field. It feels far more like a natural extension of my life experiences. I can’t imagine being anywhere else.
DD: What challenges have you faced in the tech industry?
CM: There’s always something new, so it can be hard to keep up. Keeping a balance of being close enough to the leading edge, but not being too far ahead of your customers is even harder. We’re finding now that we may have been just a bit too far ahead in our platform choice, and are stepping back a bit.
There’s another layer of difficulty for me, because even though I run a tech company, I’m not a developer. We’ve all gotten good at communicating about the product, but there are times when I need to have the developers take a step back from the jargon and explain why this or that isn’t possible, or is harder than we expected.
CM: I got really lucky in college with some amazing teachers. After that I got lucky again with AlphaLab, the incubator we were accepted into. Not only did they constantly bring in people to teach us what we needed to know, but we got three mentors in the entrepreneurial and business community aroundPittsburgh. We got mentors who were really well suited to our needs, and now they make up our advisory board.
DD: What books would you suggest for other women in the field to read?
CM: This may seem odd, but I’m going to go with science fiction, and specifically anything by James Tiptree/ Alice Sheldon. She (they’re both the same person) has a lot of strong female characters, and writes science fiction very accessibly. Science fiction has always made tech seem much less intimidating to me, and I think it’s partly why I took to it so easily.
On the business side I’d recommend ‘The Four Steps to the Epiphany’ by Steven Blank. That really shaped how I ran the early days of the company, I there’s a lot to be learned from it even beyond the basic strategies he shows you. And if you’re selling to customers instead of businesses try ‘Marketing to Women’ by Martha Barletta. I don’t always agree with some of the gender essentialism statements she makes, but her work is backed up by research and tries to take us away from some of the awful marketing directed at women we see today.
DD: What advice can you offer to women are executives, business owners, or entrepreneurs in the tech field? Where should someone starting out go to school or get their first job?
CM: I think being self-taught is essential. Develop a love of learning that goes beyond just what you learn in school. The world in general, and tech in particular, moves too fast for anything else. This applies to those just starting or who are already established. It’s one of the best things I did for myself and my career.
Do get a degree, but I really think bachelor degrees are more a marker that you can stick with something for that long, that you have staying power. Find a school that will teach you the basics and learn everything you can to build on top of it. Never stop. If you can find teachers that will let you tailor your assignments to outside projects and freelance that will help even more.
Similarly, pick a job that you will be learning every day. In each job I’ve had I had to learn new things, and learn rapidly. I don’t think I’d be where I am if I hadn’t gone that route. So do projects on the side, take internships, or work freelance. Do whatever you need to to be always adding to your skill sets, because if you don’t you’ll fall behind.
And start networking immediately. I’m a terrible introvert, so I didn’t do this, and it’s really hurt me. You need to start forming relationships with people in your field as soon as possible. Offer to help people, make friends and keep in touch. And this isn’t mercenary; really caring and creating actual give and take is essential.
Make sure to check out the Financial Bin’s first book, Entrepreneur Intervention: Triumphs & Failures of Entrepreneurs, available now in paperback on Amazon and CreateSpace and electronically through Kindle, Nook, and iBooks.