Joseph Craig – Painting to Programming


Joseph is a software engineer who started his career as a visual artist. Here’s his story:
I started my undergraduate studies at Edinboro University in Pennsylvania. In high school I had enjoyed drawing and painting , and had an influential teacher Bobbie Russell – who had attended Edinboro and who encouraged me to develop my talents. I earned a BFA in Fine Arts/Applied Media Arts (Graphic Design).
So, happily ever after, easel and all?
Here’s the thing. I struggled with the client-artist relationship. For example, shortly after I graduated, Coors came out with a campaign that featured geometric shapes in pastel colors…and most of the people that I was working with wanted something that echoed that (at the time, very trendy) campaign. I realized that art was so personal for me, that I couldn’t – and wouldn’t – subject my work to the whims of others.
What was your next step?
After graduating, I entered a limited placement  business program, trying to find what I liked. (I eventually earned my MBA and also an MIS) with a specific focus on marketing. I surprised myself – the math and business classes came much easier than I thought they would. As part of the curriculum, I had to take a software class. The professor teaching that class, Father Dave Cottingham, saw my potential and placed an extra effort in introducing me to the computing world. It was there that I found my niche. You see, there’s a large amount of graphic design involved in developing user interfaces – especially in web oriented applications. So, I’ve been able to use my knowledge both in designing user interfaces, and in communicating with the graphic artists hired to design those interfaces.  I think the combination of having a strong Foundation in both Design Principles and Software Engineering is  important.  Often, Graphic Artists learn programming to design user interfaces or programmers try their hand at design.  To have had a solid background in both provides me with the skill sets to communicate with both to better relay what is required and to understand the walls they may be running up against in a project.
I’ve found that I really enjoy analyzing business processes and transferring those manual processes over to software.  For example, I consulted for a bank which had a complex system of meetings interspersed with printing out documents and sending them up a chain of approvals before they could provide a loan to a corporation.  I worked to automate that process where the documents were instantly available to everyone, they could comment as needed and the chain of approvals was controlled so that it couldn’t go to the next level of approval until prior requirements were fulfilled.  The project incorporated analytical skills while providing a measure of creativity in addressing addressing user needs, which I really enjoyed.
Loaded question: do you still make art?
I do! Actually, the most positive aspect of switching careers was that I was still free to do MY art while pursuing a career that I enjoyed and paid well. (Although, I found that I didn’t spend
as much time as I envisioned doing painting, which I’ve corrected within the last year and a half.)
(Editor: I’m looking forward to a Joseph Craig original for my walls!)
What advice would you give to someone struggling with their professional situation?
Don’t worry about making the wrong choice.  Instead, focus on finding the right career path.  Just because you have a degree in one field doesn’t mean you need to limit your career to that field.  The switch may be daunting, but, in the end, you need to be happy doing the work you do.  If you really want to be involved in a specific field and find it isn’t for you, look at careers that incorporate elements of that field but are more suited towards your strengths.
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