Role Call: Real Women in Web Design

Caitlin is a web designer in Connecticut.

Role Call is a Petal + Sass blog section featuring interviews with professional young women occupying diverse careers- and their advice to teens.

Name: Caitlin Garzi

Age: 26

College & major: University of Connecticut, English

Graduate school & concentration: Kansas State University, English (specializing in Rhetoric and Composition)

Past Jobs: Bath and Body Works, Greeter at the Danbury Fair Mall, YMCA Camp Counselor, Writing Tutor, Writing Instructor at Kansas State University.

Current Occupation: Associate Director of Digital Marketing, Web Designer

How did you get involved with website management? One of my old bosses used to say that most people just kind of fall into their dream jobs by saying “yes” to things. Web design and digital marketing was that way for me. My very first job was for a family friend at 15. I did a lot of filing and transcribing, and then when I’d finish everything I’d go find my boss and say, “What else can I do?” Before long they had me upstairs working on a computer making videos with Java and coding their website using HTML.

I’m also really fortunate to have grown up surrounded by technology. At 16, I worked at my dad’s computer company, Southridge Technology Group, LLC. As his administrative assistant, I was always looking for something I could take off his plate. When he said he wanted to redesign the website, I said, “I can work with the developer.” I’d Google how to do everything; before long I was using Photoshop and Illustrator. At this point in my career, I’ve launched 15 websites.

What educational steps does it take to pursue web design? I’m an English major, so everyone is always shocked that I love Excel and manipulating data. But English majors are trained to make sense of seemingly disparate information, to look at unrelated details and create a narrative that can be backed by evidence. A website is just like a book. You look at the data and use it to support a narrative. But in web design, you actually get to act on that data and change the narrative.

What do you love most about web design? I think what I love the most is making something new and beautiful. I probably should say that I like communicating, or I like making it easier for people to find what they’re looking for, but if you ask any designer, that feeling you get when your brand new website is live for the first time, and it’s so crisp and uses the latest trends and technology– I mean that’s just a great feeling! Another thing I love is the data involved.

Why do you feel women are underrepresented in the tech field? There are multiple factors– women are told early on in life that they’re not good at math. The things that get a lot of folks into coding (video games) are not made or marketed for women. Many executives are men, and so are more likely to hire men. And a lot of tech companies are big on “culture fit,” which can sometimes mean that if mostly men work there, women don’t fit the culture. Software platforms used by millions of people are designed for men and with men in mind; perhaps Twitter’s abuse function would be a lot more effective if they had more women on the programming team, or maybe video games would have less of the ‘damsel in distress’ element if women were designing them.

However, I am really skeptical of thinking about traditional office jobs as the only meaningful form of work. I do know a lot of women who work in design and digital spaces, and a lot of them happen to be freelancers and entrepreneurs. They’d rather work on projects and in spaces that fit their needs, and have the flexibility to decide what to work on and when they do it.

What advice would you give to girls considering a career path in web design? I would tell them to build things! I made probably about five or six websites (really not that great) when I was in middle and high school. But that taught me how to move within softwares and codes. The next part is learning the design– where your eye goes first on a website, principles of font, that kind of thing.

I would also say to read everything. So much about doing web stuff is about reading: the instructions, what other people are doing, and the latest trends. I read all the time, and it allows me to learn new functions of software I use every day, but didn’t realize were there.

What would you wear on an interview? I always wear a black skirt and jacket (a suit) with a red blouse and black pumps and tights. I think it’s important to dress professionally. It puts me in the zone for an interview to look and feel smart.

What are a couple of your favorite websites related to your field? I love the Hubspot Marketing Blog. They’ve got great advice and how-to information packed into smaller blog posts. Another favorite is McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. A bad Yelp review on your business’ page can seem so tragic in the moment, but McSweeney’s always puts things in perspective with their satirical posts like, “Yelp Reviews of a Brick.”

Looking back, what general life advice would you offer to your former high school self? I remember in high school being so devastated about the smallest things, like not being able to go to a party because I couldn’t borrow the car, or other really silly stuff. If I could give my high school self advice, I’d say, “In one year, none of the things that seem so important right now will matter at all, so just chill out!” I’m not sure I’d listen though!

Any other words of wisdom? Just focus on loving yourself and being happy with who you are. Everything else good stems from that: from self-love and acceptance.
You can view examples of Caitlin’s work at www.caitlin-garzi.com
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