What Working in the Tech Industry Taught Me About Creativity

After I graduated college, I landed my first full-time job at a tech company — an ecommerce consulting firm, to be exact. I remember feeling so clueless the day of my interview; showing up with the portfolio I’d scraped together with all of my writing from various creative writing assignments. I discussed my essays, some of my poems, and my senior project — a graphic novel — as two interviewers sat across from me at a conference table smiling politely, allowing me to feel my way through my first real interview. Somehow, I landed an internship position as a Quality Assurance Analyst testing computer code, and I had no idea what to expect. I knew it wasn’t what I wanted to do, but ever the student, I was intrigued to learn the ins and outs of the job.

It took me a long time to adjust to my 9 to 5. At first, it felt like I had lost a lot of freedom. I was accustomed to a different schedule almost every semester with new classes, new binders and notebooks, and the celebratory syllabus at the start of each class. Now, it felt as though every day was the same: wake up, get to the office at nine, break for lunch at noon, get to the gym at six, make dinner at eight, bed by 10 or 11pm. And then, the workday would start over again, and somehow, every day, despite the routine, computer code and data continued to confound me.

In order to do my job effectively, I needed to understand highly technical processes, development cycles, and tech jargon – don’t even get me started on tech jargon — topics that were never covered in Intro to Postmodern Literature or Contemporary Nonfiction. I felt completely out of depth with every task I was handed, and I struggled to find the strength to dive into these tech topics that just didn’t interest me. For so long, I misinterpreted my inexperience and naivety with cultural and creative difference, and I was sure I wouldn’t be happy until I was out of tech and merrily on my way to a career I deemed to be “more creative.”

In the meantime, I clung to every creative opportunity I was given. Any excuse to escape the monotony of computer coding, I dove in. I created PowerPoints for general managers, wrote thought leadership articles for our company’s blog, created color-coded documents for clients, etc. Any work that slightly resembled something “creative,” I was all over it — but even that didn’t feel like enough. As an analyst, I was responsible for testing website html, java script, API calls, tax calculations — any area of our client’s websites that needed maintenance, I would attend to it, and there just wasn’t a ton of opportunity for creative expression in my day-to-day. Or, at least, that’s what I told myself.

 

Creativity Requires Grit

I was unhappy. There were days when I wanted to put in my two weeks. There were days when I cried in my car. There were even days when I contemplated leaving for lunch and never coming back. But I stayed because I knew it was better to stick it out than pessimistically burn a bridge. In order to do this though, I needed to change the story I was telling myself about my work, and by extension, I needed to change my views on creativity.

When I studied creative writing in undergrad, I didn’t really pursue my degree with any sort of strategy in mind. There was no plan; I simply knew that I wanted to write. Looking back, I don’t think this was the best approach, because when I graduated, I wasn’t really prepared to sell myself as a writer. I didn’t even know where to look for a job in my field.

My devotion to creative writing also gave me a jaded perspective on creativity. I was exposed to the works of somatic poets like C.A. Conrad, and creative individuals like Miranda July. I read Fun Home four times in one semester and felt so inspired I tried to replicate the work with a graphic novel of my own for my senior project. I thought to be creative meant to devote yourself entirely to your work. I had trapped myself in this notion that when you’re a true artist, a true writer, there’s no room for anything else — especially a stuffy, corporate gig testing computer code. And, as you can guess, my writing suffered. In fact, I didn’t write at all because I gave myself no room to do so.

Ironically, giving myself room to write started with crafting a website. I used my knowledge about DNS configurations to set up third-party hosting, and my experience with testing html to customize a WordPress template. I started writing a few posts at a time about nutrition, fitness, friendship, and relationships, as well as some personal essays, all of which sat perpetually in a draft state as I struggled to feel confident about my writing. I even walked away entirely from my blog when it got to the point that I felt like I would never go live with anything I wrote.

To my surprise, when I revisited my drafts, I realized my writing was clearer and more concise than it had been in college. The topics were stronger and more consistent, and I was expressing myself efficiently. It took me some time to realize these strengths had developed from my experience translating complicated documents of technical jargon into layman terms for our clients. This was the first time I realized my connection to creativity wasn’t gone; it had simply matured.

 

Inspiration Does Not Have a Singular Source

Not only had my exposure to technical jargon strengthened my writing, tech also quickly became a source of inspiration for writing topics. For so long after graduation, I enviously read articles on websites like The Cut, Manrepeller, and Medium feeling as though I would never get the opportunity to see my work featured online anywhere because I was too far removed from the world of writing.

Working in tech gave me an interesting perspective — in addition to a litany of ideas — for writing topics. After a long day at work, I would rush home and jot down my ideas for essays about working in a male-dominated field, articles about search engine optimization (SEO), reports about user interface trends. I realized it was a creative feat, in and of itself, to find interesting writing prompts from arguably boring tech topics. And the more I stuck to what I knew, the more I was able to find inspiration from topics that had once figuratively (OK, literally) put me to sleep.

After I put this spin on the analytical tasks I was handed on a daily basis, researching suddenly took on a journalistic spirit and writing technical reports and documents felt much more like reporting. I garnered a reputation as a good point of contact for our clients’ creative teams whenever they needed to understand complicated digital processes and suddenly everything clicked: this was the creative outlet I could lean into and the skill I could leverage to get back into writing.

 

Creativity Is Not Black and White

I got my first writing gig with The Fold Mag. OK, truth be told, I wasn’t hired to be a writer, I was hired to help develop an SEO practice for their editorial content to help generate more organic site traffic. Easier said than done, but my technical knowledge gave me great instincts, and in return, The Fold Mag gave me the opportunity to write articles about current events and women’s issues, the type of writing I had been longing to do, and before I knew it, my writing was live and I felt confident enough to hit “Publish” on those drafts sitting in limbo on my own blog.

As I continued to assist clients on the ins and outs of their website’s code base, and I continued to write on the side, my relationship with creativity changed from a black-and-white perspective to a perspective with a little more grey area. I now am no longer hard on myself when it comes to writing. Instead, I give myself ample space to make mistakes, take on topics that I find challenging, and rely on my grit every day, just as I had done when I was a novice in the tech industry.

It’s truly odd to acknowledge that the most valuable lesson I learned about creativity didn’t come from Somatic writing exercises, an esoteric prompt, or a complicated writing process. Rather, creativity came to me when I was pushed out of my comfort zone and presented with a constraint that, I thought, had all but killed my creative spark.