A global corporation or a start up? Small indie game company or a leading digital agency? Somehow start-ups and big established corporations are always juxtaposed, and as a young professional you are supposed to always choose one over another. For young designers out there there’s always the misconception that if you want to be really creative, push the limits and do “your own thing”, you choose small indie companies and start-ups, and big corporations are often portrayed as being stable but stagnant monstrosities where it takes years to finally start making any impact. Some pluses, that are somehow often downplayed, include huge knowledge capital, excellent resources and libraries for your work, strong internship/co-op culture and, most importantly, support from those who have 20+ years of experience in the field that you are making your first steps in.
I didn’t know I could have the best of both worlds until I landed a co-op position with Emerging Technologies at SAP Labs Waterloo, specifically within the AppHaus (locally referred to as WatHaus). Working in small but diverse teams that spread from Palo Alto and Vancouver to Toronto, adhering to company standards but still having your own style, making your own things while using all the corporate resources available, being just a small fish in a big pond but still being given a voice and an opportunity to make design decisions, working with enterprise solutions but being at the forefront of innovation – the whole experience has been incredible so far.
To reflect on my current journey, I came up with a Top 4 list where WatHaus has erased the difference between the corporate, the start-up, and the agency.
1. Digital Future and Innovation. As a UX designer in SAP Labs Waterloo’s Emerging Technologies team I’ve been pushed to work on things I knew nothing about (hello, food fraud detection) or knew even less than nothing about (hello, mining pits). Being a part of a big company came with the perks of collaborating with the biggest players in the industry and with creating solutions that have a potential to bring real innovation and disrupt the entire industry. But being a part of the WatHaus also means working on a wide range of projects and problems that I face every month change as well as ideas, partners, and concepts. What would we be working on next? The world is our oyster, and here at the WatHaus we adopt a “fail often, fail fast” approach as we continue to work on creating the digital future with the best innovators in the world.
2. Opportunities and Explorations. The biggest fear one can experience as a novice UX designer (besides your design concept not working) is that your work would be insignificant and all you would do 24/7 is move pixels on the screen redesigning the utterly boring comment section of a feature that is hidden under “advanced” subsection of the “extra” features section on 5th tab of the settings page that is also hidden somewhere deep and on average 0.000001% of all users have ever opened it. As a designer at the WatHaus, not only do I have a unique opportunity to be at the forefront of innovation, I can actively be a leader and make meaningful design decisions. Working on a wide range of products also meant that the WatHaus gave me, as a designer, a chance to research and explore various problems and then form an opinion to stand by as well as have a sense of ownership over my designs and decisions. “I made this” are every designer’s 3 magic words.
3. Open Space Concept and Open Communication. What’s a young designer’s second biggest fear? Being stuck in a small cubicle with a tiny lamp and a fake dusty plant with no colorful sharpies, Post-it notes and white walls to burst your creative ideas on. Designer’s paradise, on the other hand, includes industrial looking space with high ceilings, as many white walls as possible and an unlimited Post-it notes supply. There’s something about erasing physical walls around people that makes it easier to jump fences, be creative, and think outside of the box. The WatHaus has it all. Your creativity and communication are not limited by physical walls around you: you can easily and casually reach out to people either to get help or share an idea. And since all walls are writable you can go right ahead and sketch it.
4. Cross-collaboration and Knowledge Capital. As much as designers like being hermits, they also like being a part of multidisciplinary teams and working in creative and collaborative work environments that promote honesty, creativity, and equality. In the end, there are no limits to one’s growth. Developing professionally means learning the best from people around you and especially from those, whose expertise is so different from yours. When you work in a WatHaus open space all these come by default and you feel more inspired and motivated just by absorbing the knowledge around you. Moreover, depending on the project, your bigger SAP team can shift and change, and you are gradually exposed to all the amazing people across Canada who share the same passions as you. And being a part of a big company means that there’s always someone to gain valuable learning experience from and the possibilities of learning are exponential. Knowledge capital that the company has already accumulated is yours to grab and to pass on, while being a part of a WatHaus smaller team makes it so much easier to learn how to apply it.
Far from being well known among UX design students, the WatHaus proves to be a place where someone’s creativity might strive and blossom and where someone’s passion can lead to the most amazing results ever. And the WatHaus also proves to be SAP’s best kept secret because I don’t really know how to explain to my peers and fellow designers why they haven’t ever heard about this place before.