My IA Story
My IA Story:
I was studying Marketing at University of Alberta when I decided to go on a limb and take a coop posting as a Web Publisher in the neighbouring province of Saskatchewan. Saskatchewan, being the heart of the great white north, offered the prospect of adventure... and besides, it was only 4 months, right?
At the time I had a fascination with media, which was why I was taking marketing, and I thought this job would be a good chance to learn more about the internet. One of the questions in my job interview was "what search engine would you use to research something on the internet?" I scored big points with my answer of "Google" - back then google was still a bit of an insiders secret.
Time went on & I began to enjoy my stay in Saskatchewan. The lack of spectacle (in the Guy Debord sense) meant that people found ways to make their own fun. My 4 month work term eventually became 12 months. I took delight in riding polar bears to and from work every day... that's how we do things up here in Canada when our cars don't start.
Not that the job was that great really. There were two things in particular that characterized the work for me... First, it took forever to upload a simple text page to the public server, leaving me with frequent periods of 5 minutes at a time staring at a blank screen. Second, our job was simply to get the content up there, nevermind presenting it in a way that it could be understood. Neither of these were particularly great for my sanity - both of them frustrated me beyond dimension. I started scribbling little notes by my desk with things like "computers do not understand facial expressions."
One day I walked into my boss' office to find a sleek looking book on her desk. "Oh, what's this?" I asked. It was a paperback, a mostly black cover with red and white text. The synopsis of the book started on the front, and dropped off unexpectedly, continuing on the back. At once I had a feeling about this book - you might even call it love at first sight. The boss hadn't read it yet, (and I don't really think she intended to) so she lent it to me. This was Richard Saul Wurman's 'Information Anxiety 2.'
I took the book home to my basement suite and devoured it. Suddenly, all of my problems and frustrations had been articulated. They had words. I was not alone. I remember going for a walk afterwards, and feeling that the whole world had changed around me. I now knew what I needed to do for a living.
Time went on, and I learned more about information architecture and experience design through my netscape browser in my little basement suite in the north. I soaked up everything I could about the discipline then, which wasn't much really.
Eventually I returned to the University of Alberta, and changed my degree to Management Information Systems - the closest thing I could find that matched my understanding of what Information Architecture was at that point.
At school I rubbed shoulders with Comp Sci students who were fascinated with logical structures of programming, but had no interest whatsoever in this pesky thing called a "user." I attended classes with business students, who were really more interested in their own career ladders than in making things better for anyone.
I quietly finished my degree, still believing I was the only person in the country that had a vague understanding of what Information Architecture was, and why it mattered. The time came to look for a "real" job... and I lost it.
I had been going to all the different IT meetups and dinners, doing all the networking you are supposed to do, but still: "Information Architecture?"
"Oh yeah, we have a very advanced server / client architecture set up for our clients. Very effecient, enables server-sides scripting..."
Like I said, one day I lost it. I got so mad that there was such a large Information Technology community in the city, yet no one seemed to have any idea that people would eventally use the products they were developing, or cared to think about how to make things best for them. Like any upright citizen in a democratized country, I decided to hold the powers that be accountable.
I went downtown and walked into the office of every IT consulting company I knew of. The receptionists could cleary sense my repressed, yet polite rage when I came in.
"Hi. My name is Adam. I'm doing some ah.... Career Research. Can I talk to your Information Architect?" I asked with tight lips and a fixed stare.
"Oh, you mean our Technical Architect? Sure, I'll just see if he's available..."
And so on. I don't have to tell you how the rest of this day went. I spent the whole day talking to people who had no idea what I was talking about. Information Architects were apparently as elusive as the Canadian Sasquatch.
Finally at the end of it all, someone at one of the consulting agencies knew someone who knew someone. His contact had just started a small startup in town, and he could put me in touch. At long last I would be able to meet a real, live Information Architect instead of just reading about them. They did exist, and there was one in my city. Walking the same streets I did.
We sat down, and immediately it was clear that I had a bit of a ways to go before actually getting into the field. Yet he offered a small freelance contract to me: a content inventory. Needless to say I spent days on it, doing the best I could. And I did a pretty good job with it. Still, his company was a brand new startup, and it was pretty critical for them to have staff that could hit the ground running at that point.
Back to the cold, hard streets for me, but at least now there was hope: Information Architecture was real. Information Architects were out there.
Fast forward 10 years or so, and today I am working as a Senior Information Architect with the Office of the Chief Information Officer in the Province of British Columbia. Like most Information Architects, the path to get here was definitely not a straight one. If anything I had to do a lot of bush-whacking actually. But I love what I do.
I've done time working in Database Development, Project Management, Business Analysis, User Experience Design, and am now learning about Enterprise Information Architecture, working towards establishing a cross government metadata registry or ontology. I'll also be speaking at the Information Architecture Summit in New Orleans this year, spreading the gospel of metadata.
And while I refer to the Polar Bear book (and its children) more often than 'Information Anxiety 2' these days, I'm still designing for the common goal: a digital world that we can understand, navigate, and use.
Thanks for reading my IA Story folks, keep up the good fight!