I was born in west Toronto and raised by two artistic and entrepreneurial parents who taught me to do what I love and never give up, no matter the obstacle. I have an older brother and a younger sister, which puts me in the middle and suggests that I had to be a lot more creative to get noticed.
My mother is a self-taught painter and art teacher for children and seniors, and my father started his career as a tradesman painting cars and later taught himself how to renovate entire homes, which is what he does today. Growing up with two self-employed parents meant helping out from time to time, and they were not shy about putting us to work. My mother taught me about highlighting and shading and how to paint the perfect rose, while my father taught me about repairing holes in drywall, interior painting, and how to hammer a nail in one swift downward motion.
My parents were children of the 60's and equipped our household with a stereo in every room, so I developed an insatiable love for music from a very early age. My father also let me connect all the stereos in the house each time we moved, so I quickly grew familiar with audio cables and signal flow.
A League of Their Own
My mother was great at ensuring we were involved in as many things as possible growing up; she had me in swimming, dance, skating, music, and baseball. But it was the latter, which would end up becoming a decade-long obsession. When the film, A League of Their Own came out in 1992, I was already playing hardball on a little league team in Oakville and took to the film like a kid with candy. I've seen the film so many times that I'm probably the worst person to watch it with today because I can quote nearly ever line. I idolized the women in that film, but especially Dottie Hinson (Geena Davis) for her remarkable leadership, maturity, strength and skill, and I aspired to be like her when I grew up.
A Technophile Emerges
Whenever we'd get our stockings at Christmas, my mother would always try and hide makeup in the bottom of mine. If my athleticism didn't already give it away, I wasn't exactly that fond of beauty products and often remarked to my mother that I would have preferred headphones. Those who are closest to me now know that the newest technological device or digital magazine subscription are the way to my heart.
When camcorders became popular, my parents bought one and I would try and monopolize it whenever I could. I've always been fascinated with human behavior and the ability to capture specific moments on camera or on film, so I became quite the avid photographer and videographer in my late teens and early twenties.
My parents enrolled my brother and I in a local music school when I was 15; I played the drums and he begrudgingly played the bass. The school put a few of the students together to form a grunge rock cover band, and my brother and I soon found ourselves playing music competitions around Southern Ontario. I joined junior band in high school and got a chance to study percussion and play several other percussion instruments, like the timpani and cymbals. I loved the drums and also found great solace in heading down to the basement during my teenage angst years to beat out my frustrations.
When I moved to Guelph for university in 2002, I wasn't able to bring my drum kit with me to residence, so I sold it and bought a guitar. I got really into the guitar and started composing original songs and performing at open mics and festivals around Guelph. You can listen to a few of my old tunes here. Eventually, I discovered electronics and software like FruityLoops, Reason, GarageBand and ProTools, and started experimenting with electro-acoustic compositions and modulation. I bought an iBook, a Novation x-station 25, two KRK Rokit 5 monitor speakers, a few pedals, an amp, and a new Larrivee guitar. My inner technophile and music geek were satiated. I took music composition seriously all throughout university and in the two years that followed, but it tapered off once my career in the business side of the industry picked up.
In addition to composing music, I also loved discovering and listening to music. While writing papers during undergrad, I would have allmusic.com open to read up on new genres and artists, Kazaa open to download new music, iTunes open to listen to the new music once it was added to my library, and then MS Word open to write my paper. Several arduous hours later, I would have a finished essay and a handful of new artists to listen to and reference in conversation. It wasn't until 2009 that I would be able to put all this musical knowledge to use, as it was then that I started my career in the music industry, sourcing and licensing music for film and television.
I had previously travelled to New York and Florida and backpacked through Banff National Park, but it wasn't until I embarked on a month-long adventure around North America via train in 2003, that I got bit by the travel bug. During that month, we visited every major city in Canada as well as along the east and west coast of the United States. I took hundreds of photos and struck up conversations with dozens of interesting people along the way. My favourite was a woman who had been riding the train from the west to the east and was writing a novel on pads of yellow lined paper. I can't recall what her novel was about, but the thought of this woman sitting on a train, starring out a window, observing life in and outside of the train as it moved from coast to coast, was romantic and inspiring.
After I graduated from Guelph with my English degree, I moved to Busan, South Korea to teach English. It was in South Korea that I fell in love with the ocean and mountains. I would get up early every Sunday morning and hike with the local Koreans up to the mountain top, visiting temples along the way, and take in the sights while listening to music on my iPod. It was a vast period of reflection for me during a very pivotal time in my life.
I saved enough money while teaching in Busan to spend the next few months traveling in Europe. I explored Frankfurt, Prague, Sopot, Berlin and London. I took several thousand photos and met so many wonderful and interesting people, some of whom I'm still in touch with today.
I returned home to Toronto after nearly a year away and wasn't quite ready to end the adventure, so I bought a one-way ticket to Vancouver and started a new life on the west coast.
Foot in the Door
After sending out about a dozen resumes and introductory cover letters to music companies all over Canada, I received two replies: one from a music supervisor I admired for her work on the L Word, and another from a composer agent who was serendipitously looking to expand his team. A three hour coffee meeting later, I got my start in the music business, working as an associate agent for Canadian composers.
During my time at the agency, I helped rebrand the company to become more global in scope, started up a new music licensing division to accommodate the new recording artists on our roster, acted as a music licensing agent (researched productions, compiled demos, negotiated license fees and publishing rights), and assisted the President with daily operations. It was a small team, but a lean team, and I got to be involved in everything from representing clients at film festivals and managing the website, to designing brochures and setting up our new project management software.
In 2011, I returned to academia to pursue a second B.A. in Communication Studies at York University, with a focus on critical technology studies and user experience. During my studies, I worked as a freelance web designer and content strategist for music companies and creators. The following summer, I secured an internship at the Canadian Independent Music Association and spent my time conducting research and drafting formal comments and interventions to the CRTC on behalf of the Canadian independent music sector and its stakeholders, namely independent music artists, labels and publishers. At the end of my internship, I was offered a position with a national music funding agency (FACTOR) to manage their communications department; I accepted the position and completed my studies part-time in the evenings.
During my time at FACTOR, I oversaw the development of a new digital distribution system for FACTOR-funded music; the production of two promotional videos in support of a new campaign to raise awareness of FACTOR-funded success stories; the creation of a comprehensive social media strategy; and the user interface design for their new website and online application system. It was the latter experience that opened my eyes to the field of user experience and gave me the confidence to shift my career focus. When the website project was over and my role primarily returned to communications strategy, I left my position and devoted the next six months to strengthening my skills in user experience and user interface design.
Learning & Leading Design
My path to a career in design has been somewhat circuitous, but it ultimately helped me become a more self-aware and empathetic designer.
In 2014, I completed my Honors BA in Communication Studies (summa cum laude) at York University after several arduous years of combining full-time work with part-time studies. During my final year at York, I furthered my skills in human-centered design through the development of an interactive prototype for a Web application geared toward helping students discover the right funding, training, and experience to help launch their careers. If you're interested in viewing the results of my study or reading my honors thesis entitled, A User-Centered Design Solution to the Education-Jobs Gap, click here to access the full PDF.
I started out as a product designer working on the redesign of a cloud-based content experience platform for marketers. I had the opportunity to work end-to-end on the Web application and hone my skills as "generalist." In 2014, we immigrated to the U.S. and I received an offer to join the Card design team at Capital One, which had just acquired Adaptive Path—a consultancy for which I had great admiration. I was the third designer hired to support Capital One's "Card" line of business, which grew to over 70 designers by the time I left to join Capital One Labs. I was mostly involved in responsive Web application design, but as the team grew and my passion for people management became known, I was quickly provided with the opportunity to manage a small team of junior designers split between our McLean and Richmond, Virginia offices. Capital One's design team grew strictly from professional recruiting, and given my connections with Carnegie Mellon and my passion for higher education, I took the initiative to develop a two-year rotational program for new graduates alongside a member of our campus recruiting team. The result is detailed here and came to be known as DDP—the Design Development Program. I later led recruiting for the first cohort of new grads to the program, which involved traveling to campuses at top design schools across the country, public speaking, interviewing, and being an ambassador for life as a designer at Capital One.
After delivering a PAM talk in front of 400 colleagues and executives at Capital One Headquarters in 2015, I was searching for a new team that would provide me with the opportunity to work on experimental research involving the creation of a new KPI centered on subjective wellbeing. And thus began my time at Capital One Labs in Arlington, VA alongside some of the most talented design, tech, and data science talent Capital One has to offer.
Over the years, I grew increasingly interested in service design because it encourages holistic thinking and collaboration. I like taking a step back to make sense of all the interconnected aspects of an experience, while also working with cross-functional teams to rethink and redesign these experiences to be more human-centered and aligned with organizational goals and values. I enjoy working on projects end-to-end and getting involved in everything from ethnographic research to synthesis, ideation, prototyping, evaluation, iteration, design, analysis, and socialization.