A Jane of all trades and mistress of none… (life before Edinburgh)

A foundation year in art, led to a specialism in jewellery design, particularly with an interest in sensor-activated jewellery. This led to degree in jewellery design (Middlesex University/Hornsey College of Art) and a pursuit of wearable computing, some research into armour (functional jewellery) and an investigative project into how you can capture a heightened sense of colour in body related pieces.

Art college was great, but the focus there (to me) was always on developing ideas and not enough about the execution…. so whilst there was always a lot of fantastic thinking, sometimes the practical output was less impressive. So after year one, I left my jewellery degree and embarked on a foundation year in engineering. As a former art student, an ancient biddy of twenty years and one of just two girls in the class… I was something of a celebrity. During this year we had a guest lecture from BT’s futurologist at the time…Ian Pearson. He spoke about contact lenses with street maps on, smart clothing and headsets… yep, I was salivating at the front. This was what I left art college for.

So I got his card, emailed him and sent on my C.V, with some pictures of the work I’d done at art college. Months passed and just when I’ve given up hope, a chap called Alex Loffler contacted me. I was being invited for an interview at BT’s science park near Ipswich and I was very excited.

I must have spent around half a day there, involved in what seemed like casual chats. I saw people with headsets, a video-conferencing semi-dome – I guess this must sound dated now, but back then (and in contrast to the dull theoretical nature of university lectures) – this was captivating. Since Alex was a geek-Jedi (Alex if you ever end up reading this in the future, this is meant as a compliment) and I was effectively leaning towards design at that point, he passed my details on to a product design guru  – Matthew Polaine, who offered me a summer placement in their lab of future stuff.

What I didn’t know was that Alex and Matt were involved in a BT initiative called Brightstar, which was set up to generate commercial value from BT’s many technical patents. Together with a few other colleagues in similar mental space, they planned to start up a company called Rocking Frog.

“Rocking Frog is the mobile personalisation technology business within BTexact Technologies’ corporate incubator Brightstar. The underlying premise of Rocking Frog’s technology is that as advanced mobile devices and networks become increasingly available, users will require their mobile phones and other mobile devices to provide relevant, timely, personal and business-related information and services appropriate to their location and in accordance with their own personal profile.”

http://entrepreneurship.mit.edu/Downloads/MIT-RockingFrog.pdf

When Matt announced this, he gave me a choice – I could either keep the placement in BT, or I could transfer it with them to Rocking Frog. As if this was a choice…. I chose start-up culture, with the placement arranged between the first and second year of my degree. (See below)

Following the foundation year in engineering, I discovered a scheme (CATS)where you could put together your own degree. This would have been over 10 years ago (so around 1998/’99), when universities were only beginning to capitalise on the growth in digital industries. I wanted to study design alongside computing and marketing and CATS seemed to be the most effective way for me to do this.

Following the first year of my degree I spent a summer working for Rocking Frog (design/usability).

After the second year, I spent the summer working for Brightstar (PR/marketing).

Graduation took me to MZA Ltd as a trainee consultant and then a small freelance project with Thinking Materials (wearables consultancy in Stockholm). I then returned to Scotland and worked for two start-up companies in Dumfries and Galloway. The solitude and simplicity of working in a remote, converted bothy with sporadic satellite broadband was sufficient to push me to Edinburgh, with my first agency job at bigmouthmedia in Edinburgh, in 2005.

And it’s be an interesting education in agency life. I’ve gained some fantastic lessons/insight from some very hard lessons and it’s taken a good five years to feel like a graduate in digital space. I’ve spent most of these five years apologising for being naive about search marketing, about advertising processes, being too people focused, being challenging in all the wrong ways, being almost continuously out of my comfort zone and now, finally, I feel I have something to offer.

So it’s been a long post to cover how I got to being a “Jane of all trades and mistress of none”, but since a lot of people don’t mix their disciplines as much I do (that’s not meant to sound arrogant), a little insight was considered necessary.

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